TrumpLand

I have predicted, of late, that we are watching the decline of the American Empire. I say ’empire’ but, like the British empire, America’s empire is  not a legal entity in the sense of actually having an emperor  like Julius Caesar, Suleiman the magnificent or Napoleon. But in the modern context I refer to empire in the sense of dominating global currencies. By that criteria, America ascended the imperial throne at the end of World War 2. England was poking its military nose around the world back in the 17th century and by the late 18th and 19th centuries their manufacturing technology and their formidable navy led to domination of global trade, through India, Africa, Hong Kong, the South Pacific and the Americas.

All was going well for the Brits during the 19th century but by the early 20th century America was starting to get the better of their balance of trade. The USA now had their own cotton gins. However Britain still remained the centre of world commerce and much of the global trade was conducted in British pounds and all major currencies were pegged to gold bars.

Then came World War 1. It was such an expensive war that many countries, Germany in particular, had to abandon the gold standard to pay military expenses; those currencies devalued rapidly. Three years into the war and even Britain needed to borrow money to keep going and the Yanks were there to help out. Britain was forced to abandon the gold standard and the British international merchants who traded in pounds found their bank accounts severely depleted. The greenback $US was now the leading reserve currency.

When World War 2 broke out the US stayed out of the conflict for a long time but nonetheless profited greatly from the war as the main merchant of weapons, ammunition and supplies to the allied forces. They required payment for most of it in gold and by the end of the war they held most of the gold on earth in Fort Knox.

The Americans only entered the war after they were personally attacked at Pearl Harbour by Japan which was an ally of Germany. Playing a major role in ending the war in Europe gave them the opportunity to claim top of the table seat on the global international stage. In 1944, delegates from forty four Allied countries met in Bretton Wood, New Hampshire, to come up with a system to manage foreign exchange that would not put any country at a disadvantage. It was decided that the world’s currencies couldn’t be linked to gold, but they could be linked to the U.S. dollar, which was linked to gold. The agreement was that the central banks would maintain fixed exchange rates between their currencies and the U.S. dollar. The United States would then guarantee to redeem U.S. dollars for gold on demand.

So now, instead of gold reserves, other countries accumulated reserves of U.S. dollars. Needing a place to store their dollars, countries began buying U.S. Treasury securities, which they considered to be a safe store of money. Now one country’s currency virtually replaced the international currency of gold. How would that work out? Well all went jolly well during the relatively peaceful decade of the 1950’s. America was Camelot. Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy were the three great emperors of America. I say peaceful, but WW2 had actually delivered two contenders for world domination, the USA and the USSR. The allies tried to buy a compromise, splitting both Germany and Korea into Russian/American zones of control. Russia tagged China to support the North Korean communists in their war against the south and USA and that war ground to an unresolved stalemate. And then came Vietnam. Russia had shown no interest in Vietnam until USA decided to throw bags full of money to support the French to suppress communism in North Vietnam. That is when Russia began to get interested and in 1954, the kitchen got too hot and the French pulled out. The start of a very expensive war that, in my opinion, started the collapse of the American empire. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy launched an ambitious and expensive “Great Society” social programme intended to end poverty and racial discrimination in America. Or effectively to try to prevent what was now becoming a very nervous cultural divide in America. Much of the proposed funding however went into an increasingly expensive war in Vietnam and the late 60’s exploded in violent cultural riots.

The collapse started, as the creation had started, with the greenback. The war had became so expensive, in addition to the “Great Society” domestic programme, that in 1971 Richard Nixon had to abandon the gold standard and flood the banks with paper money. This created the floating exchange rates that we have today. However despite large deficit spending, trillions of dollars in foreign debt and unlimited printing of US Dollars (the last incidence was the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8) the U.S. Treasury remains the world’s reserve currency because the world trusts that the US will always remain solvent. The US gross domestic product is way ahead of anyone else at $US18.5 trillion. That is bigger than the whole BRICS (China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa) trading bloc combined.

But everything balances tentatively on trust and confidence. The trust and confidence that the US is politically stable enough to maintain its economy. What could possibly shake that trust and confidence?

His name is Donald Trump. He did not cause a cultural divide in the USA, but he is the highest profile manifestation of it. There is a cultural chasm in America that the rest of the civilised world did not really understand. Not until the good old boys motivated themselves to get sufficient numbers to the polls to elect Donald Trump and he has shown us all very clearly what a problem it is for them. It appears that the Civil War never ended because although militarily defeated, and laws forced upon them, the hearts and minds of the South were never changed. The cultural difference is as entrenched as any tribal conflict in the middle east. It may have been suppressed by the force of law, but mainly it was suppressed through lack of leadership from the south to stand up and raise the Confederate flag once again. Donald Trump was seen as that man. He talked the Confederate talk. He promised brick walls against the Mexicans, the gates closed to Muslims.

The original English migrants in the early 17th century were the Puritans escaping religious persecution in their home county of East Anglia. They settled in Massachusetts and brought their distinctive East Anglia twang with them which was the basis of the general American accent, albeit modified by other European groups that migrated to America, especially New York.

But it was the Royalists (Cavaliers) who left south and southwest England in the mid seventeenth century to the safety of America when the civil war in England broke out. They left because they opposed the “Parliamentarians” wanting more power over governance. They brought a completely different culture of royalist aristocracy opposing ‘government by the people’ to America and with it they brought the distinctive South England drawl. They settled further south in Virginia and the Carolinas. They bought vast tracts of land and grew tobacco and cotton crops. They imported slaves on British slave boats and exported their cotton and tobacco to England. They established a social hierarchy where even the serfs were happy for their aristocracy to run the politics and businesses and for the slaves to be lower on the social structure than them. And that formed the basis of the southern lifestyle that the Confederates went to civil war to protect. Charlottesville August 2017 demonstrated that the surrender in 1865 was only a cease fire, not a capitulation. The month after Trump was sworn in the Charlottesville Council voted 3-2 to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. In August a riot broke out as white supremacists marched opposing the removal. The confederates had declared war. General Robert E Lee had his army in support once more. The Liberals also turned up ready for the fight. A white supremacist drove a car into a crowd; a woman was killed and 19 people injured. Trump appeared unconcerned. White nationalists and neo-Nazis celebrated US President Donald Trump’s remarks about the protests when, after being pushed persistently to make a stance, he denounced violence “on all sides” rather than explicitly condemning white supremacism. After two days, following massive pressure from his own camp, Trump added “including KKK, neo Nazis and white supremacists.” No one believed him. Racism is alive and strong in the USA, has Trump as a sympathiser and is the basis of the great cultural divide.

Washington DC is making life very difficult for Trump. Even Trump would agree that being president with so many enemies is no fun. He knows who likes him, those good old boys down south and the mid western solid rural folk. Significantly, after Charlottesville, polls showed Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Dakota: North and South, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, West Virginia  are all in the 50-60% Trump approval rating in Sept 2017. Florida and Georgia are close at 48%. Suddenly the states don’t look quite so united.

 

 

Would Trump be the sort of guy that would see himself as general Robert E Lee reincarnated? Would he like a general’s uniform with medals and would he like to establish a royal, ruling Trump family dynasty?  Yes I do think he might like all thatWould he relitigate the South’s old claims? Would they follow him? Especially the strategically vital and lucrative marginal state of Florida? 

If he declared Florida as the capital of a new country his Mar a Lago home becoming the presidential palace then I think Florida would lap that up with Georgia following like a lamb. Finally has the Mid-West/ South got enough money to fight a war with the Yankees? Did you think they were just chicken farmers and moonshine bootleggers after the civil war?

Donald Trump’s ‘Mar a Lago’

Actually, very wrong. Texas is the second largest economy after California. Apart from the bigger than anywhere farms bringing in huge agricultural revenues and ten billion barrels of oil, they have NASA there and all the spinoff aero-tech businesses that brings. North Dakota is the next largest oil producer with a very respectable 5.7 billion barrels of oil. Mississippi is full of huge hi-tech, high wage factories including the $1,4 billion Russian owned Severstal steel mill producing steel for cars. the Yokohama tyre factory, Nissan factory at Jackson, GE Aviation at Hattiesburg, Hybrid Plastics, one of the top ten nanotechnology producers in the US. They have a Rolls Royce engine building plant, a navy shipbuilding plant and a plant building unmanned helicopters for the navy. Mississippi is a busy little state. Tennessee has GM and Nissan car plants, 142 solar power companies, manufacturing plants for Whirlpool and Electrolux, Eastern Chemical and Delta faucet companies. Tennessee has won economic “State of the Year” award in 2009, 2013 and 2014. And Florida does more than a bit of orange juice too. It has the fourth largest economy in the US behind California, Texas and New York. Florida produces over $100 billion worth of food;  70% of the country’s citrus and in the winter months supplying 80% of the country’s fresh fruit and veg. It’s aerospace and aviation businesses contribute over $140 billion. The Florida tourism industry employs a million people, 10% of the workforce, and earns $US54 billion pa. Allied to tourism is that Florida is also full of wealthy retirees and the flow on bio-tech research and Life Sciences industry is substantial. If the secret to eternal youth is going to be discovered, it will probably happen in Florida. Bundle up the smaller states rural economies with these and you have a combined GDP of $US 6-7 Trillion. It would be the third biggest GDP in the world. It would be bigger than Japan and Germany and bigger than the UK and Russia combined. It would not be an insignificant little country for Trump to preside over.

But this would not be a war with swords and cannons; the weapon of choice would be currency. The first battle would be to destabilise the US dollar, shake the trust and confidence of the world in retaining the $US as the global currency standard. It need not even involve printing confederate banknotes; imagine the effect on the value of, and confidence in, the $US if Trump went to Bitcoin or ZCash or one of the others and said “I want a $US trillion worth of your finest crypto currency my good man.” I am no currency trader but I understand basic supply and demand and so I know the effect of someone selling off a trillion of the USA’s most important asset. Adopting a crypto currency for the Confederate States of America, or Trumpland as he would refer to it in his tweets, might just create the critical mass to allow a crypto currency to takeover from the $US as the international currency standard.

When the American civil war broke out to preserve their “unique culture”, the Union only had this domestic war to concern itself with. If they had a problem with the Southern/Mid Western states today, that has to be balanced with its Homeland Security priorities and its military roles in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea. Trump could just walk away from all that. If the US Dollar gets undermined then: ‘New York, you have a problem’. The east coast wold be completely cut off from the west coast so maybe California will expand its borders to include Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington State and Hawaii and declare itself the  independent country of OprahLand? Montana becomes an isolated state so may choose to just get right out and join Canada? Maybe the remaining 19 states of the USA: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio,  Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin, will just then rename itself New York the country or Washington or whatever? Who knows? It happened in the USSR.

 

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Fingers on buzzers everyone

Ok, so just how many people do have a finger on a Nuke buzzer?

Putin and Trump, obviously.

Add to them the Queen of England (just be grateful it’s not the Duke), heads of state of France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel. South Africa used to but no longer, and now we can add North Korea to the list.

But is it really Kim Jung Un’s finger on the North Korean button? Because if you thought super yachts are a rich boys game, nukes are in a whole other league. North Korea, with a population of 25 million people, only earns about $US4 billion from exports, mainly coal and woollen suits and spends more than that on basic essentials like oil and Cristal champagne for the top table. That puts them in the economic league of the Congo or Jamaica. That does not make for a guy who can afford to sit at the biggest swinging dicks table and build nukes in addition to a massive and very well armed conventional army, navy and airforce. North Korea has an active military force of just under a million men, with over 5 million in reserve. The USA bill for it’s nuclear programme averages $US20 billion pa.; its total military budget, with 1.3 million active servicemen and women, is $US600 billion pa. They support this with exports over $1.5 trillion. That is well above Kim Jung’s pay grade.

So if you accept the current tension with Kim Jung Un’s nuke tests is, in effect, a “Go home Yank” protest, then who, apart from this ‘poor as a church mouse’ North Korean, would want to be behind that message? Well the Arabs come to mind quickly. George Dubbya and Tony Blair were convinced that Iraq had WOMD, but when they went there, the cupboard was bare. Is it possible Saddam had simply relocated his weapons development programme to North Korea? That programme would have stopped after Saddam was toppled of course but could the programme have been put back on the market in 2015 when Iran was very reluctantly forced to stop their nuclear weapons programme in order to relieve the international economic sanctions that were crippling their country’s economy. Is it possible they just also went to North Korea and picked up Saddam’s tab?

But let’s also start right back with the dividing up of Korea (as with Germany) after WW2. Russia got North Korea and USA got South Korea. Russia later did a deal with China letting them be responsible for introducing communism to their neighbour. USA occupied the South and just five years after WW2 ended, the Korean War started  when Kim il Sung, Jung Un’s granddad, after he got the green light from Mao Tse Tung, and armed with Russian tanks, invaded South Korea. That ended in a stalemate that continues today. Russia and China clearly want USA out of there.

Remember the Americans only entered WW2 when the Japanese, allied with Germany, bombed Pearl Harbour. So why was a resort island thousands of miles offshore such a deal breaker for the USA and what were the Yanks doing owning an island in the South Pacific in the first place? Interesting story, I am glad you asked. Back in the 19th century a number Americans were over in Hawaii organising the sugar business. A chap named Sanford Dole, born in Hawaii of American parents, worked his way up in the Hawaiian legal infrastructure eventually sitting on the Supreme Court. Then he got ambitious and overthrew the Queen of Hawaii and declared Hawaii a Republic. Then in 1898, the USA were discreetly assisting Cuban rebels to get rid of the Spanish when the USS Maine mysteriously sunk in the Havana harbour. That sinking swung the debate in Washington and Uncle Sam then declared war on Spain. Most of the Spanish Pacific fleet was over in the Phillipines which Spain also occupied, so the Yanks had a word to Dole and used Hawaii as the USA naval base from where they sailed into Manilla harbour to take on the Spanish. Short story shorter, the war was all over by Christmas and as a result the Yanks found themselves in charge of the Phillipines and Guam as well as Hawaii after giving Sanford the Governorship job.

Obviously they valued this little collection of Mid-Pacific naval fortresses and after WW2 thought South Korea would add nicely to the USA’s military influence in this Asian region. That is also why they went into Vietnam, because Russia was backing North Vietnam. But just as the USA didn’t like Spain sitting in Cuba on their doorstep with their navy and soldiers, nor do Russia or China like the Yanks sitting on their doorstep with their planes and ships and troops and rockets and guns. Just as Spain had to suck it up at the end of the nineteenth century, and Khruschev had to suck it up over Cuba in ’62, so might America have to suck it up now.

So back to Kim Jung’s little nuke games. There are any number of nations who would not be sorry to see the USA out of the Asian/Pacific region. Observe that Iran and Russia are allies in supporting Syria against its rebels; observe that Turkey, once a strong US ally is now buying missiles from Russia. They could each be playing a role in either arming North Korea or in playing some support role. Consider the persistent rumours that Russia played some interference role in swinging the unimaginable election of Trump into a reality. Trump went into the election very much with a siege mentality: vowing to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Trade Deal; to block immigration, to build the Mexican wall. Just the sort of man who might just pull up the American drawbridge and pull out of the Asia/Pacific with enough pressure. Putin would read Trump like a book.

Trump is just a TV reality-showpony, so when the hard men of the real world say: “fingers on buzzers please gentlemen, this is not a drill”  Trump has nothing in his hand but his dick. He can’t drop a nuke on North Korea. The radiation fallout would decimate populations of USA allies South Korea and Japan, including US personnel based there, to say nothing of their biggest trading partner, China which is just itching for a legitimate opportunity to drive America out of the region.

A conventional invasion of North Korea is possible; a sudden strike to try to neutralise the ten thousand conventional rockets pointing at Seoul before blasting the city of Pyongyang to rubble the way they did in Baghdad. But Trump would need to be assured that North Korea would get no advance warning and that he would achieve total victory within minutes. Because Jung Un has nukes buried deep in bunkers, that could be mobilised in minutes. One nuke on the US Base in Guam, as he has already threatened, then the South Koreans and Japanese will get really nervous about the US military bases in their countries and join the “Go Home Yank” call. Germany, Turkey and anywhere else with US military bases will also get nervy. And Jung Un does also apparently have a nuke that he could send anywhere along their west coast from Seattle to San Francisco or LA which will have the USA calling “come home Yank”.

His generals (still remembering the humiliation of Vietnam) will be carefully explaining that scenario to him in simple language so, before he faces the humiliation of his forces in Guam being nuked and there being nothing he can do about it (with the whole world against him), can’t you just see Trump making that speech:

I did not get elected President of this great country to send our brave boys to fight and die because of someone else’s stoopidity. America has done more for peace in Asia than any other nation has ever done for peace anywhere on the planet, anytime in history.  For more than seventy years we have been there in Korea trying to stop them killing each other.

But, you know, sometimes you have no option. China could have stopped North Korea in a minute; just shut off their oil supply and the problem is over. But oh no they did not want to upset Kim Jung Un. So we said ok, if you won’t do it the easy way then ok I will blow North Korea off the face of the earth; but oh no, no one wants that either. Oh no Mr trump, you cannot use the nuclear weapons that Kim Jung Un is threatening to use. So now they just want America to send in its fine young men to fight their war for them, in a way that gives Kim Jung Un a chance to win with his army of five million. Fighting on the ground with no doubt very high casualties to our forces. But you know what? I am going to walk away from that table because there is nothing in that deal for Americans. Only death to our soldiers, grief to their loved ones. So if they do not to listen to their American friends, and we have been very, very good friends to them. We have tried to bring them all together in peace by building their economy for them and giving them opportunities; yes we built their industries for them, out of friendship; 

But now it is now time for America to do what is best for Americans. We don’t need other people to make our Levis. We invented Levis. We don’t need them to make our cars! We taught them how to make cars! We make the best cars in the whole world! ! We don’t need their technology. We are the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and we will build the most technologically advanced missile defence systems so that no one will ever, ever threaten the USA again. I warn everyone now, if anyone points a missile in the direction of the US, we will obliterate them. No warnings, no questions. And we will control our borders with a technological wall far stronger than any brick wall. When I talked about building a wall, some people assumed I meant a conventional wall. Those people underestimated me and that is a big mistake. A very big mistake. I promised you I would make America great again and I am keeping my promise. Because I always keep my promises.”

Meantime back in the Kremlin, “Well comrades, with help from Mr Trump, we are making Russia great again. He has cancelled the trade agreement with all the Asian-Pacific countries as predicted and that has seriously weakened his support; Britain has weakened the EU and the emerging economic powerhouse of the world is our BRICS consortium with over 3 billion people. Soon we will bring in more members as our friends. Trump has had to withdraw his troops and missiles and ships from across our border in Korea because he kept making stupid statements he could not carry out and  already South Korea has been talking with our friends in China. Japan has lost all confidence in America and we will talk to them soon about BRICS and maybe sort out the Kuril Islands at the same time. Europe doesn’t return his calls anymore and Angela will start to put on pressure to remove their military bases because they will attract more and more terrorists. We will see to that. All the easier to expand our borders in Europe”.

History shows us the future. Global superpowers are as cyclical as the climate. America’s summer is over. Trump heralds the Autumn (which the Americans ironically call the Fall). The Russian bear is emerging from its hibernation.

And in Beijing and Tehran they will be saying: “Bye bye Yankee, you have a nice day ok?” 

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A deal is a deal

It just takes all the fun out of being a conspiracy theorist when the conspirators don’t even put up a decent pretence anymore. Yes I am talking about Romain Poite’s penalty reversal in the final minutes of the third test of All Blacks against the Lions; the penalty that would have given the game and series to the All Blacks. To get one thing out of the way, I really don’t give a toss about the result of a Lions game. It is the entire Northern Hemisphere of rugby minus, arguably, a couple of French players, up against New Zealand. Effectively it is a multi-national Barbarians game and it is hard to get tribally passionate about it. I am far more passionate about the Highlanders / Crusaders quarter final next week. Then its all about the Bledisloe Cup series against Aussie. How we love to beat Aussie. After that the Southern Hemisphere Rugby championship which will probably be us against the respected old foe, the Saffas. Those are games worth getting your blood pressure up over.  But someone obviously seems to think it was politically, or commercially, important that the Lions, the cream of 190,000 player pool,  at least came out on par with the All Blacks and so back to the open admission of administrator match-fixing.

Ok so full-time is almost up on the clock, the scores are all tied up (although most of All Blacks points from tries and all of the Lions points from penalties awarded, but that’s another story). All Blacks kick deep into Lions territory and the ball is fumbled by the receiver and then caught by a Lions player, Ken Owens, in an offside position. No argument about that, from anyone. Owens realising he has stuffed up drops the ball which is scooped up by Leinert-Brown as he heads off for the try line and the winning try. So the rule is that the referee must allow play to continue to see if the infringement leads to an All Black advantage (ie a try). Before he finally awards the penalty or scrum depending on his ruling of what happened.

Leinart-Brown beating last line of defence as whistle is blown

So, with illegal decision #1, referee Romain Poite immediately blows up the game just as Leinart-Brown beats the immediate defender, with three All Blacks in hot support. Romaine instantly chooses the lesser of two dangers and prevents the try by awarding a penalty to the All Blacks. Then looking at the proximity to the goal posts he realises that the penalty is almost a certainty to be converted to three points and a win to the All Blacks. So he has to buy some time for instructions from head office. He calls for a TMO ruling on the incident even though he has already, illegally, stopped the movement that would probably have resulted in a try. This was to check for possible obstruction by an All Black and confirmation of the offside position. But the real issue was Poite’s decision not to allow play to continue when he clearly saw the real threat of a last minute try to the All Blacks playing out before his eyes. As obvious on the big screen, confirmed by the TMO, there was no All Black interference and that Lions player is definitely offside, penalty to the All Blacks stands. TMO, George Ayoub confirmed the penalty decision, certainly no challenge by sideline referee on the spot, Jaco Peyper, and clearly agreed into his mike by man in the middle Romain Poite. Then in the few seconds it took for Romain to go back to the two captains to announce the result of deliberations as confirming the penalty, Poite acknowledges contact in his earpiece from the far side touchline referee, Jerome Garces with a “Oui Jerome” and a few seconds later Poite utters the magic words that dispel all pretence of a fair decision. “We ‘ave a deal, we ‘ave a deal about the offside from 16; it was ‘accidental off side’ no penalty, play for a scrum.’ So, denied the required ‘advantage option’ that looked likely to lead to a try, then checking with the TMO on his decision (knowing the ‘denied advantage’ simply could not be reinstated) and then having the TMO confirmation of the penalty suddenly reversed to a scrum on yjr opinion solely of the far side touch judge, with no further consultation with the TMO, has to be the most bizarre sequence of decisions in rugby history.

Poite admitted on open mike that a deal had been made behind the scenes and privately passed to him into his earpiece during the few seconds after the penalty decision had been confirmed between him and the TMO, but before he returned to the players to confirm the decision. A deal with whom? Steve Hansen said after the game he accepted the final decision and would not answer media questions about it. And so now it became an “accidental offside” under law 11.6 (which still had to allow the ABs to play on for the probable try) and so the whole series fell flat. The pretence of a fair rugby series without administrator interference had evaporated. That was the ‘pants-down’ moment for the conspirators.

But only the media and the fans are complaining, and that won’t last long. By the time the first Bledisloe Cup game kicks off the incident will only live on in the minds of pub-quizmasters with a rugby theme; no one else will still care about it. Those from coach to water boy know only too well that their lucrative lifestyle is dependent on keeping the sponsors, including Fox Sports and Sky Sports all happy. Predictable outcomes and absence of controversy do not make for maximum viewer ratings and sponsors pay for viewers. A million happy kiwis just do not have the purchasing power of tens of millions of viewers in the northern hemisphere. Steve Hanson knows that, Kieran Read knows that, blind Freddy knows that. Apart from that there was an army of Lions supporters breaking all airport traffic records and adding very significantly to the New Zealand economy and of course we all want them to have enjoyed their tour and ‘y’all come back again real soon’.

But referee bias isn’t just a reality of the professional era, back in the good old amateur days we always accepted that the All Blacks would not win a test series in South Africa because their referees cheated; equally of course the South Africans could never win in New Zealand. Local referees were just tacitly accepted as a home team advantage. And local referees had to turn up at their local pub after the series, who could blame them?

The only real problem I have with this Lions referee match fixing incident from a fan’s viewpoint is that the Lions team was selected at the outset based on a 90:10 proportion defence to offence game plan. Selecting players whose natural skills are for negating free-flowing rugby and selecting a very, very good goal kicker to take advantage of the frustration they cause. Fifteen tries over ten games, including one semi professional Barbarians team, and five provincial teams is a pretty dismal effort for the cream of the British Isles and Ireland. Don’t get me wrong I like a solid defence play as much as the next man and a totally free running score of twelve tries to nine  would bore me senseless. A great game of rugby works around the 50:50 balance of offence and defence plus or minus 10%. But that of course leaves the outcome of the game largely up to players and that may not necessarily suit the investment goals of the sponsors. A game based 90% on defence and played in the dark alleys of rucks and mauls gives so many more opportunities for the outcome to be controlled by the referee and whoever whispers unheard into his earpiece in the few seconds before he makes his call.

If Poite ever gets another international game after that outcome then the administration is openly giving us, the fans, the middle finger. What I would give to see the eye exchange between Kieran Read and Sam Warburton when they shook hands at the end of the game. I suspect the eyes would have been in agreement saying, ‘ What a bad decision for both of us but, if we want the sponsors’ big bucks, then a deal is a deal.’ But somehow it feels like an ominous moment for the credibility and thus the survival of the sport at this global level. The sport is infinitely more exciting than it was when I played; infinitely more accessible; live-streaming video around the globe rather than listening on a crackly radio. And yet, somehow I no longer have the passion I once had for the thrill of the 13:0 win over the Springboks at Carisbrook in 1965 in an era who we only played once every five years, home and away, so we only saw them here once a decade. By comparison the 57:0 win over South Africa in 2017 at North Harbour was actually just a bit sad. We now play them twice a year every year as well as playing South African teams in the Super Rugby series several times a year every year. It is now light entertainment, a lucrative business; it was once a major ‘pride of the nation’ tradition.

Footnote: Over a month later Hanson is asked by media what happened; Hanson confirmed an official ‘please explain’ has been sent to IRB, but the IRB have declined to explain. Two years later we are no closer to an explanation, but Jerome Garces was honoured with the privilege of refereeing the 2019 World Cup Final and Romaine Poite was his assistant referee in that final. An unexpected decision was that a New Zealand referee, Ben O’Keefe, was awarded the other assistant referee position. A deal is a deal.

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Is it in the stars?

Being a Pisces it would have been remiss of me not to acknowledge that today is a solar eclipse in Pisces. And not just any solar eclipse but actually the grand finale act of two years of solar eclipses and the likes of this solar eclipse in Pisces will not be seen again for a very long time. And a long time in cosmic terms is very long time. I watched a great series on the Pyramid Code on Netflix (yep finally got internet flowing from a trickle to a river) and from this great series realised that a great year in earth terms is actually 25-26,000 years; that is the time it takes us to wobble the 360 degree circuit of the twelve constellations, moving at a snail’s pace one degree each 72 years. So approximately one degree every single human lifetime. 360 x 72 = 25,920 to go from the winter solstice sun being in, say Aquarius, moving all the way around the circuit until it is in Aquarius again (according to my memory of the 70’s, even though cool cats claim that if you remember the 70’s you weren’t there, and the musical “Hair” (yep saw it in Melbourne in ’71) then this is actually the dawn of the age of Aquarius. If my maths is correct we will spend just over 2,000 years in Aquarius so we are still just starting on that trip, man.

Any-old-how, back to the pyramids and just how old they are. Carbon dating and the records of the local pharaoh has us dating the construction of the pyramids as 4,500-5000 years ago. But carbon dating cannot date stone! It can only date organic matter. So that is the archeological equivalent of painting your house 10 years ago and having a carbon-dating analyst declare your house is 10 years old. No doubt there was a bit of repair work done during the time of the pharaohs as the limestone coating crumbled away, leaving a carbon footprint 4-5,000 years old and no doubt the pharaohs did build replicas of the Giza pyramids for their own grand tombs and these are genuinely 4-5,000 years old. But let us focus on the originals, the three pyramids of Giza. The big question is that we know the Egyptians of 4-5,000 years ago simply did not have the technology to build them. Anyone who has studied the pyramids or even visited them concurs with that. There is a flat surfaced circular stone at the site that simply cannot have been carved by primitive tools. The location over a magnetic lay line, the mathematical and cosmic precision of the dimensions and location on the planet’s surface, the alignment with the stars, none of this is coincidental nor within the non-computerised capabilities of the Egyptians of 3,000 bc. At this point everyone just shakes their heads and thinks of something else.

Back again to the “great year” of 25,920 years. That is real and mathematically undeniable. From this there is the theory that just as in our 12 hour day we humans have energy cycles going high to low, creative cycles, mood cycles, and just as our planet has seasonal cycles, all perfectly natural, so too does the planet and the human species have great “age” cycles. We move from light, or enlightened, ages to the dark ages in cycles. It is the natural way of things.

Some speculate that humans have destroyed the planet and undermined the morality of our species so irreversibly that we face an imminent “Mad Max” scenario. But what if, in reality, our species has already had its Mad Max age; here is the chart that those naked onstage performers in the Hair Musical  were working off. In the 25,000 year great cycle, the last Golden or enlightened age ended about 18,000 years ago. great_year_smAccording to this chart of the great year cycle, our civilisation then gradually deteriorated into silver and bronze phases until it slumped into the darkness of the iron phase. Enter Mad Max when hordes of barbarians roamed Europe with armour plated bodies riding chariots, tanks and eventually aircraft to inhumanely slaughter people at a whim. As an example, in 2013 the oldest known megalithic temple was discovered at the enormous site of Gobekli Tepe in Southern Turkey. The oldest parts of this great temple are accurately dated back to 12,000 years ago. But what is most interesting is that the newer parts of the complex are markedly less impressive than the oldest parts of the complex. What started as brilliant engineering and architecture became progressively much less impressive as the centuries rolled on in complete contrast to what we would expect. The standard of civilisation was in a noticeable decline. But now we are now just emerging from that dark place and it is all upwards and brighter as we enter the next golden, enlightened age of Aquarius. I can sense the mocking coming through the screen already but look at the extraordinary progress in technology in the 40 years since the 1970’s relative to the 4000 years before. We really have to stop thinking of civilisation in terms relative to our own personal lifespan. We cannot be so small-minded as to think that anything beyond our written and witnessed history books simply never existed. Or that history existed only in the most primitive forms until it evolved to the ultimate glory which is us (well, I mean me, not us).

And the pyramids are staring at us, stone-faced, as monuments that long before us was an age of inhabitants, presumably human, with technology that we are only now starting to catch up with.  It is only in the last 50 years that we have developed (or remembered?) the computer technology that may now enable us to contemplate a technological achievement like the great Pyramid of Giza.

So back again to the question of just how old the Giza pyramids and Sphinx are. The Sphinx is an astrological alignment facing due east for the Spring equinox, which is no accident. It is in lion body form, which also was not just a whim of the architect and the sun at spring equinox was last in the constellation of Leo in the 9,000 bc era. At the moment of sunrise then, if you turned 90 degrees to face due south you would have seen the three stars of Orion’s belt appear in the exact same alignment as the three pyramids of Giza. This again is not coincidence; the Egyptians were very astrologically astute. This is far more scientific than the age of some organic matter on the current surface of the pyramid. This would put the construction of the Giza pyramids back in the silver age and, coincidently, about the time the planet had to start recovering from the great comet strike and global deluge as detailed in an earlier blog,

But if we could build a great pyramid, why would we? Well, perhaps as a far superior energy source than fossil fuels for a start. You see the latest studies of the Giza pyramids have concluded that they were in fact super power plants producing an ecologically friendly ‘implosive’ power source rather than the fossil-fuelled ‘explosive’ power source. They were all built in hard granite and, as we all know, granite makes the highest quality batteries. granite-batteryThen they were sheathed in a low conductive limestone to contain the energy within.

The largest of the great pyramids was actually gleaming white in its original state. The other two smaller pyramids were red and black granite respectively; very AC/DC. There was a water table beneath the pyramids, they were built on a magnetic lay line and they had the direct energy source of the sun. In effect, all the elements of a power generator that could supply the nearby city.

Let there be light. And there was light.

Recovered memory of ancient technology will save our planet and bring us into the next golden age. It is written in the stars. This is the dawning of enlightenment.

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Oh mighty Zeus…..

we are here to worship you and seek wisdom. After forty plus years of flirting with the supreme deity of Zeus, aka planet Jupiter, yesterday NASA put a spacecraft, Juno, into orbit around the planet for the ultimate research project which will, hopefully, unlock the secrets of the origins of our solar system and our own creation. Powerful stuff when you get a computerised audience with the supreme deity of humanity’s ancient cultures.

Since the 70’s we have sent nine space missions up that way; it is the best part of 600 million kilometres away, or in more manageable terms, from Dunedin to Oamaru and back again once a day, every day for 7,000 years and when you say it like that it doesn’t seem so bad.

In 1995 Galileo actually entered Jupiter’s orbit and stayed there until 2003 and observed Jupiter. Juno’s mission is to get to the very core of Jupiter and get answers to some fundamental questions about the creation of our solar system, and of us. Juno will orbit in a path that passes over Jupiter’s poles and will measure microwave emissions, the gravity field and the magnetic field, which apparently is how the scientists will gain the vital clues into the formation of our solar system. 
Zeus_2Don’t ask me to explain how all that works, I was bewildered just watching a real estate agent hovering a camera drone over the house next door. But if you ever wondered why  Zeus (Greek)/ Thor (Norse) / Taranis (Celtic)/ Jupiter (Roman) was associated with the lightning, hammer and shield wielding warrior deity, considered the chief of the planet-gods in their mythologies, you might be interested to know that Jupiter is in fact a protector of earth. The massive energy of magnetic field and gravity of the gaseous giant has either deflected comets back out of our solar system or taken one for the team when its gravitational pull has dragged asteroids and comets to their death and preventing them turning their attention to earth. Such impacts are noted regularly and there is calculation that Jupiter’s size and gravitational pull drag in up to six asteroids/ comets per year. But some of the comets and asteroid strikes that our astronomers have actually observed have been real monsters.

Back in the eighteenth century there was a comet that appeared in our skies known as Lexell’s Comet, named after the astronomer Anders Johan Lexell who first calculated its orbit. He showed that the comet had made a close approach to earth of just 2.2 million kilometers. That was the closest a comet has ever been witnessed to approach the Earth and, in astronomical terms, it was a very near miss. Lexell worked out that with the speed the comet orbited around the Sun, we would see it again in 12 years, possibly a lot closer to earth and, if in an attack formation, would actually smash earth. In 1782, however, the comet was nowhere in sight.

The French mathematician Pierre Simon-Laplace then calculated that the comet had experienced a set of encounters with the giant planet Jupiter. After the 1770 sighting from earth, the second encounter with Jupiter modified the comet’s orbit, ejecting it from the Solar System altogether and removing it as a potential hazard.

A very serious comet in more recent times was named Shoemaker-Levy 9. The comet had orbited the Sun for billions of years but, in the 1960s or 1970s, it changed orbit and made a close pass at Jupiter and the giant planet captured it and it orbited Jupiter on a highly elongated path. On July 7, 1992, it passed so close to Jupiter that the planet’s mighty tides (hammer/ magic belt?) tore the comet apart. When it was re-discovered a year or so the comet had a squashed look due to having been smashed into fragments.

Fragment GBy observing the orbit of the comet, the astronomers calculated that it would collide with Jupiter in July of 1994. Having broken up the comet into bite-size chunks, the first piece of the comet that was pulled onto the planet’s surface was about 2 kilometres in diameter and hit with the equivalent of over a million one-megaton nuclear bombs exploding at the same time. It was probably Zeus’ version of having a really good curry, I imagine. That, however, was not the largest chunk which was fragment G. As illustrated, it made quite a bang.

More recently again in 2009 an asteroid impact, from a rock some 500 metres long, created a created a surface dent the size of the Pacific Ocean. Jupiter is just like our great big personal bodyguard. And the latest asteroid strike to be captured on camera was in fact on St Patrick’s day this year.

So if  Jupiter is the mighty protector deity of earth then that explains why, as a planet, it was so respected and revered by ancient cultures as the warrior hero-god. In Norse Mythology, Thor (Jupiter) rode through the skies during a thunderstorm to kill the giants, the enemies of the gods (planets), and to kill the mighty serpent that flies through the skies with the lightning from his hammer and his magical ‘belt’ that doubles his strength.

In Greek mythology, Zeus, the presiding deity of the universe, ruler of the skies and the earth, was the god-master of all natural phenomena in the heavens. The personification of the laws of nature; the ruler of the state; and finally, the father of gods and men. At his command, mighty thunders would flash and lightnings would roll; he represented the grand laws of unchanging and harmonious order, by which both the natural and the spiritual world were governed.

Just how the ancients had any knowledge from which to create such myths about Jupiter performing such god-like protection roles is a matter of speculation, but the reality is, they did. But whatever the ancients thought, this is the moment when we finally have the technology to approach this chief planet deity that can unlock the secrets of the solar system and finally ask ‘what’s it all about, Alfie?’ 

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The seat of civilisation

So what is it that absolutely defines civilisation? That tipping point when our species moves from uncouth barbarian to civilised being? Let me jump, with no further ado, to the answer: it is plumbing.

I remember making that decision back in 1978 while watching what was the original reality TV show when twelve couples and three children were placed in a re-created iron age village. These original Greenies were frothing with romanticised anticipation of the opportunity to demonstrate that man and the planet were so much healthier back in the pre-industrial ages and life itself so much more satisfying.

It was hilarious. One of the first tasks, being practical people, was to arrange for their communal latrine. There is nothing more ‘back to nature‘ than taking logadvantage of an already fallen log as the communal lavvy seat and digging a trench beside it for the containment of the communal waste. Job done, now for a well deserved communal dinner. They spotted a hen and thought that will do nicely. I would have kept it for the eggs but what do I know about sustainability, I bow to the wisdom of the village earth mother who they elected (I forgot, they did that just before designing the ablutions block). Eventually, after an extraordinarily clumsy hen-butchering effort during which, I suspect, the hen decided to pretend to be dead just to get it all over with, they had their chicken dinner. And so to bed for the first self-satisfied night (not intended as a euphemism, but may well be)  in their communal bed-hut.

And, in the middle of the night, the chook got her revenge. Oh dear, you have to be so careful with chook; it can be dodgy if not butchered and cooked correctly and this chook was a long, long way from being undodgy. It was probably still technically alive when they ate it. So as their second mistake dawned on them (their first mistake was the design of the latrine, but more of that later) it became clear why such romanticists were, forever after, referred to as the greens; nothing to do with the colour of grass, everything to do with the colour of the faces of this lot as they stumbled barefooted in their hemp undies to where the fallen tree lay and then fought like primal beasts for the spot with the least bark upon which to place their soft white bums while they communally sprayed arse-gravy into a far-too-shallow trench.

And so morning dawned on these twenty seven very unwell greenies. Their first day in the iron age now seemed as romantic as a newly married couple waking with a stinking hangover and a squashed turd in the bed. And they just realised they would no longer have eggs for breakfast. It all went downhill from there, apart from the trench filled with arse gravy which just sat there attracting flies and awaiting their return.

And so, in spite of the subsequent impact of the internet into our lives, my conviction remains unwaveringly that the tipping point between civilisation and barbarism is with our ability to instantly turn a pile of poo into a shiny white bowl of clean, clear water with a hint of citrus. Thomas Crapper was, to my mind, the founding father of our civilisation.

I raise this now because it is our local body election year and the time for us to elect our village leader upon whom we will depend to ensure our latrines are well plumbed and that we are not served dodgy chicken. So first let us reflect on our current village earth elder, Dave Cull. What did we know of him when we elected him? Well he was a TV presenter and a published author on all things DIY. Handy about the house. Knows a few things about pipes and drains, the fundamentals of our civilisation. Perfect. The sort of good practical bloke to whom you can give a miner’s hat with torch and leave him to happily wander through our sewers and mud ponds to ensure all is well. 

FloodThen came the big flood of June 2015. What happened? Even I know that floods occur when drainage inflow exceeds the outflow. The official response came quickly. A prophetic mayoral announcement in the local newspaper, headlined, “End game for South Dunedin” or something similarly dramatic, put the blame squarely on mother nature and her annoyance with our failure to remain in the Iron Age where we belonged. “The seas are rising” said the wise old one, “we are being punished for offending Gaia with our toxic fumes. We will have to have a conversation about abandoning South Dunedin, either that or find a few virgins to sacrifice”. A year later after many hundreds of paid hours of ‘investigation’ we find that the cause was, as the common man said at the time, the failure of Council staff to sweep up the autumn leaves off the streets, check the pumps and clean out the mud tanks before the rains came.

The Otago harbour tide gauge has shown an average annual rise over the past one hundred years of 1.28 millimetres. The current level is almost the same as it was forty years ago. The problem is confirmed as being that the mud tanks, put in after we reclaimed the harbour shallows for housing, were simply too full of mud. They need regular cleaning out. In spite of having a DIY expert as Mayor, this did not happen. Under questioning from Radio NZ the mayor spluttered that it wasn’t his fault, the system was designed to cope with a one in fifty year flood and this flood occurred within the fifty years. Excuse moi?? The last South Dunedin flood was ten years ago so did our DIY mayor think he had another thirty nine years before having a bit of a look at them?

Well just for the record, long before we could ever be accused of excessive carbon emissions, Dunedin experienced regular major floods that did not have anything to do with any fifty year deal with mother nature. In the first century of our city’s history it was North Dunedin that suffered the wrath of the gods of flooding. Major floods, with the Leith River bursting its banks, occurred in: February 1868, January 1870, February 1877, November 1883, December 1911, August 1913, April 1923, March 1929, November 1933, April 1944, September 1946, February 1955.

But there were no Mayoral proclamations during that century saying ‘we need to have a conversation about the end game for North Dunedin”. The North Dunedin flood protection just got better and better as experience was built up. In the late 1950’s the water channel from George Street to Great King Street was straightened with a high velocity concrete channel. Boulder traps were built upstream of George Street and in the late 1960’s  a larger boulder trap built upstream of the Malvern Street bridge. North Dunedin is now safe and happy.

So South Dunedin just needs a basic programme of sweeping up leaves before they wash into drains, clearing out the tanks before each rainy season and making sure the pumps in the pumping station are working. It may even require a bit of channeling work like the Leith did or more sea-wall construction. Then, Dave, I really do not think we are needing to ‘have that conversation about the end of days’.

But what we really need is a total review of Council priorities (which means who we choose on the upcoming village earth-mother elections). For the South Dunedin mud tank problem is just the start of our city plumbing issues. If our mud tanks were neglected because they are out of sight out of mind, when was the last time the mayor went for a wander through our sewers? The job we elected him for. The preservation of the very basis of our civilisation. And what is the state of the water pipes to feed our showers or fill our baths. Close behind the essential need to have a civilised crap, is the need to have a nice hot bath or refreshing shower on demand. It is for good reason that we have the age-old maxim, cleanliness is next to godliness.

Truth is, the plumbing of our city is old, very old. Some sections of piping are an ancient hundred years old when clay pipes may not have been as robust as today’s standards and our population was half what it is today. Would the Dave Cull that we thought we knew from TV’s Home Front tolerate that? As author of such riveting reads as “NZ backyard DIY Projects” and “Kitchen Essentials“,  our plumbing should have been a DIY job right up his alley, so to speak. Condition critical. Priority #1. But it is not. In this city, under this mayor, priority #1 is that a couple of dozen middle-aged men can park their SUV’s in South Dunedin on a Sunday morning, put a black pudding down the front of their Lycra’s and pedal off on one of the city-wide routes that will take them to the cafe of their choice for a latte and slice of cheesecake. ‘Yoghurt not cream thank you, my body is a temple’.

We are now being fed alerts from Council that the budgeted $20-30 million earmarked for the cycleways could well head northwards to $100 million and this money “will be found” quote/unquote. And the city plumbing can wait a few years until we have completed our priority of building end to end cycleways through the city.

What we need to do is take Dave Cull and his Council, feed them some dodgy chicken and make them spend the night sitting bare-arsed on a log in the dark. That should re-set their priorities for a civilised society in Dunedin.

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Howdy neighbour….

A big truck blocked my driveway yesterday morning. It was here to load up all the earthly possessions of my neighbour of 30+ years and shift them somewhere else. This should be a time for having a beer and a farewell barbecue to chat about all the good days; about having watched our children grow from little kids to parents themselves. A tear in either eye, a staunch man hug, a brave wave and promises to keep in touch wafting into the wind.

But it wasn’t like that. Truth is he hasn’t spoken to me for well over twenty years. Nor I to him, if I’m honest, but he started it. I was the one who actually spoke last when I delivered the final words of our final conversation those 20+ years ago which, to memory, went along the lines of, “ you bring your hose over here, Stew, and I’ll shove it up straight up your arse for you.”

Seemed just a little harmless neighbourly banter to me; even if I had carried it out, a bit of colonic irrigation should not have been unwelcome, I would have thought, given he seemed to have shit on his liver over such a minor little dispute.

I should explain, 20+ years ago, before Helen Clark’s insane reign, it was not uncommon for homes to have an incinerator at the bottom of the garden. For incinerator read: a 45 gallon oil drum with the top cut off then forced down to about a foot from the bottom held in place by a couple of metal rods someone found somewhere to form the base of the incinerator and below that a hole roughly cut out to allow air to suck up and increase the potency of the flame. When the old drum rusted to useless, you phoned a bloke who knew a bloke with a truck (borrowed from his employer who presumably has a need for drums of oil and always wonders what happens to the empty drums) who turned up on a Saturday afternoon with the new one. It cost a slab of beer from memory. What you Post-Clark (=PC) children have missed out on! What fun days they were. Load the drum up with all the newspapers, cardboard boxes and what have you, throw a bit of motor mower petrol on for good measure, drop in a lit match and Bob’s your uncle. In the autumn sweep up dead leaves and throw them on top. I tell you it was very cheap entertainment on a Saturday afternoon and burning a drum full of bits and pieces really is something of a primal-spiritual experience.

Well to most of the world it was. But neighbour Stew was a “health inspector” from the Council. That job title is a euphemism for miserable little interfering gnome. Straight out of the Hobbit, was Stew. I caught him once previously, sifting, uninvited, through the ashes of our incinerator. I calmly enquired what the fornication he thought he was doing? He claimed the immunity of his illustrious position within the Council which apparently gave him the right to enter properties for the purpose of seeking evidence of the burning of toxic substances such as plastic bottles. He delivered this little homily looking exactly like Gollum from the Hobbit searching for his Precious. That’s when neighbour is pronounced nay-boor. But at that point Ava emerged and things got a bit ugly. Things were said.

And it wasn’t only incinerators. Wee Stewie took his responsibilities for enforcing the Council by laws very seriously. We were getting a few kitchen renovations done. Nothing too major and it was only by peering through the kitchen window from Stewie’s side of the house that anyone could see any sign of building activity. Then the building inspector knocked on the door; claimed to have been just walking past and thought he could notice a bit of non-consented building activity down the side of the house, behind the garage, out of view of the street. That could have been the very first Tui billboard, but Kiwis didn’t drink that horse piss back then. Stewie denied all knowledge of how the building inspector happened by our quiet little dead-end street, but what do you think? If it looks like dog shit etc etc.

Talking of dog shit reminds me, we owned a lazy, friendly old labrador called Ben. Even though it was not his specialist subject Stewie was no stranger to the dog by laws either. The result was that our dog became great friends with the dog ranger. She would often ring up at work and tell us she was looking after Ben for the afternoon as Stewie was up to his old tricks again. It turned out that Stewie had invented a sport called dog-fishing. One day he was actually observed hiding behind his hedge throwing a long piece of string baited with a piece of meat onto the street. When a passing dog took interest, Stewie would lure it into his yard, shut the gate and rush inside and, while the dog was distracted with the meat, Stewie would call the dog ranger. Good old section 5.3 of the Dunedin City Council Dog Control By Law, ‘dogs shall not wander onto private property,’ got them every time.

Sam had a birthday party one year and invited two or three hundred of her closest friends. True to Stewie form, the noise control officers turned up with their little headphones and sound-register machines. Unfortunately the party had not reached the noise levels to qualify as a neighbourly nuisance which, to my mind, defeated the whole point of the party. Stew was a fun guy, the life and soul of any party.

KilroyAnyway, the reason for the offer of colonic irrigation which led to the 20+ years of silent treatment was that one afternoon, Kilroy style, he had proclaimed his intent and his duty to come over with his hose and extinguish my incinerator which, he claimed, had exceeded the permitted hours as specified in the Council by-laws for the disposal of approved materials by incineration in your backyard 45 gallon drum. He decided against testing my resolve to shove his hose up his bum and so, to drive home the point, my incinerator burned happily into the evening sky in blissful challenge to the appropriate by law. On his side of the fence he must have fumed as much as my incinerator and secretly vowed never, ever, ever to speak to me again. A vow he kept, for which I am most grateful.

But some time after, for a reason I never found out, the Council decided they no longer needed wee Stewie’s health-inspecting services. That was a bit of a dark time for poor old Stew. Enforcing Council by laws was his raison d’etre. Now the strutting little health inspector was stripped of his stripes, his clipboard confiscated and he was ceremonially drummed out of the city council health-inspecting squad. For a Ronin there are few options left as they wander the countryside in shame. But Stew, however, was fortunate to find a new role in another council, this time for the inspection of waterways. So off he would go, of a morning, in his safari suit, armed with his butterfly net and specimen jar to wander the ponds and the rivers of the countryside in search of bits of floating turd. But, to be perfectly honest, that probably isn’t as much fun as it sounds. It had neither the status nor glamour of inspecting incinerators for molten plastic and kitchens for rodent droppings, but at least it got him out of the house. And it was in the great outdoors that Stew had an awakening and discovered his inner entrepreneur. For out in the countryside he saw wood; lots of wood, just lying around waiting for someone to cut it up into fireplace sized bits and burn it. Stewie had turned to the dark side. If the City Council would not pay him to pour water on incinerators, then he would get in the business of creating the fuel for more and bigger fires. He would fill the skies with the vengeful smoke from Stewie’s well-cut firewood!  He bought a little truck, complete with a personalised plate declaring “Wudy1- I do got wood”. That might seem a bit cocka doodle dooey for a wood-chopping turd scooper but, to be fair, after a dark period in the emotional wilderness, he was now back in the game with his truck continuously loaded up with logs, pallets and assorted bits of scrap wood all ready for the big chop. It was the perfect career for him; having such a low centre of gravity made him perfectly suited to chopping logs and scrambling over stacks of firewood and so, once again, his happy whistling wafted over the fence.

But it wasn’t all hard work for Stewie. When he wasn’t chopping wood and fishing for turds, he knew how to have a good time. He discovered the thrill of flying model airplanes. Oh how we marvelled at them buzzing around the neighbourhood like angry wasps. I could only watch on in envy at this dashing young man with his flying machines. He took it very seriously and even went away to model airplane flying events around the country with lots of other people of a similar stature, if not age. No doubt, as they sat around the campfire in the evenings after an adventurous day’s flying, Stewie had them in awe with his tales of stalking renegade turds, ‘you get down-wind and sniff the air‘. If they had any doubts before about what they wanted to do when they grew up, they were surely inspired by Stew.

But when I say he did not communicate, I have to admit that he did sort of communicate reasonably recently. I just did not reciprocate. I had started parking my car outside his house instead of mine. I just thought that, since he was such an anal little prick, this might irritate him to distraction. Yes I know it was childish. But what I did not realise was there was, apparently, a Council by law that specified that I park no closer than one metre from a neighbour’s driveway. I was probably 20 centimetres short of a metre. But as if to show me that he was no longer the sort of sneaky little scrotum who would call up the Council, Stew left me this note on my windscreen:

Pure gold

I give him credit for a neighbourly warning of the danger of parking 20 cm too close to his driveway, but the truth was probably that when he phoned the Council they put him on hold for a couple of hours listening to muzak. Whatever, the important thing is that our footpath now has a red paint line on it to help me, in future, maintain the legal distance from his driveway and avoid the wrath of a parking officer who might happen to be passing down this dead-end street in search of vehicles that might be parked within a metre of the neighbouring driveway. Apparently there are no council by laws about painting red lines on footpaths.

So while we may not have been close neighbours over the decades, I had to accept my share of the blame for that. And he was a neighbour for 30 years; he was part of my daily life for over ten thousand days and I realised that, in a way, I would miss old Stew. So now, as he drove away for the last time, it hit home to me that I may never see him again; that I may never get to say what really should have been said a long, long time ago, I felt the urge to call out, “Stewie, Stewie……I may not have actually said the words to you before but, Stewie… mate, you are a grade-one little wanker.”

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A bad haircut day

Yesterday was haircut day. A brief time to settle back for a pleasant natter with my hair-cutter. The parking meter outside was out-of-order so I was hoping not to be too long at the hair cutter to avoid a parking ticket.

As luck would have it, no-one was in any of the four chairs on this mid morning, so this shouldn’t take too long as long as my hair cutter didn’t natter on too long. But the natter was far from what I would normally expect in a men’s barber shop. One of the other hair-cutters (female) was trying on and modelling some pants for the other staff that she had bought online. The pants were bottle green instead of the black she thought she was getting, the waist fitted a bit funny and the length wouldn’t look so bad if she had different heels on, but otherwise an exciting and successful online shopping mission was completed.

“So how are the shops doing around here?” I enquired. “Oh its terrible,” I was told, “so many have closed down all up and along the street.”

” Mmmm so I suppose fewer people coming in to their hair cut then?” I speculated. Went straight over her head as three of them looked on while the fourth was tending to me, their sole customer and one other bloke who popped in for some tobacco that they didn’t have in stock (would have to get the boss to order more). Anyway, sensing my opinion on the subject, my hair-cutter assured me that she preferred going to the shops because she was too short and wide to shop online. But there won’t be any shops left to attend to your short, wide needs I thought. At least I hope I only thought, these days I have a tendency to think aloud without realising it.

Credit D. Lloyd photographer 1976

Credit D. Lloyd photographer 1976

I recalled a few days ago noting the name “Johnson’s” still visible at the top of a building in George St and starting to recall what businesses were actually along the main street when I wore a younger man’s clothes. Johnson’s was a fish shop. A good one too, nowhere near as good as the Best Cafe in Stuart Street, maybe not even as good as Fresh Freddy’s in St Andrew Street, but certainly in the top 3 or 4. And as we went along we remembered Wing On Fruiterers, Eskrick’s butcher shop, Queen Anne pastry shop, Pacific Fruit Supply and on and on we could have gone. George Street was just like an old European market. Now their windows either promote boutique fashion stores, Australian Banks, the fine purveyors of credit and debt rather than meat, fruit, fish or pastries, or Colliers’ For Lease signs. Who could have imagined such a retail landscape change back in the heady, hippy days of the sixties and early seventies.

But now they are all gone as the ‘think-big’ eighties dawned and we all bought into the convenience and excitement of the supermarket. The independents collapsed and the supermarkets grew. Now in a blind taste test the only way that I could differentiate between beef and lamb is by the flavour of the sauce normally used with either. The meat itself could be anything; it is water-logged, preservative-polluted, indeterminate flesh. I have a lot more salads these days and it is nothing to do with moral vegetarianism.

And now we are watching the rapid closure of the boutique fashion stores because we prefer to shop online at the global supermarkets based in China or Bangladesh. So exciting, so much more convenient. So what? just a few shops. But when the shopping for every conceivable product goes off shore to the global online super-shops, so does the manufacturing.

In the same time that I recalled the shops that once lined the main street, I also recalled the things we used to make and do here. I recall the number of printers we had in Dunedin in recent times, before it became more exciting and more convenient to get printing done in Hong Kong. Now we don’t need so much printing because we no longer have any printers working here to buy things off other manufacturers. They used to print brochures for businesses like furniture manufacturers. But furniture can now be imported online from Indonesia in flat pack, much more convenient and cheaper. Where have all the furniture makers gone? long time pahassing..?

In Dunedin we used to make Fisher and Paykel appliances, now made in Mexico. We used to make soap! McLeod’s soap; we used to make electric heaters, Zephyr heaters in Kaikorai Valley. We used to make mattresses at Arthur Ellis, we used to make trains in Hillside Workshops. We made biscuits when Cadbury still had the Hudson name on its letterhead. We made woollen yarn and blankets at the Roslyn and Mosgiel woollen mills; Ross & Glendining, Hallensteins and Sew Hoys manufactured clothing; Methvens made taps and all sorts of plumbing equipment, McSkimmings made bricks and pipes at Abbotsford;  engineers were everywhere making all sorts of products. And on and on it went.

I was in the advertising agency business back in the 70’s. Princes St was our Madison Avenue. Not the Mad Men, we were the Princes of Advertising. (You thought the street name was Princess? you were wrong!). Our agency was only one of four national ad agencies with an office in Dunedin: Ilotts, Inglis Wright, Charles Haines and Dormer Beck who were all busy little beavers selling Dunedin made products around the country. We all organised photography, brochures and advertising campaigns for a vast selection of Dunedin businesses. That is how much productive business that Dunedin had back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Now there are no national ad agencies in Dunedin, they followed the yellow brick road.

Collectively over one or two short decades, we all bought into buying at the big overseas supermarket, we went global. We travelled a lot more. We made overseas contacts. We imported. We have absolutely destroyed the economy of a great little city (and country). Now the most creative business in Dunedin is the Australian banking industry. They create credit and false hope. Where once money issued had to be linked to the value of gold stored by the government, now money has no foundation other than the will over governments to keep putting more numbers onto more digital accounts so perpetuate an illusion of wealth in the hope that they will survive another term in government. The truth will lose an election, the people only vote for hope. Our individual and communal debt builds and, in reality, the Australian banks own Dunedin. And they bought it cheaply as they gave us all the credit we wanted to buy whatever we wanted from the global supermarkets rather than keep on making it ourselves. Our Scottish forefathers would weep into their Wilson’s.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 12.28.30 PMWhere once, not very long ago, if NZ Rail wanted a train carriage they came down and talked to the people at our Hillside workshops, today they can order one cheaper on the AliBaba website.

Today Dunedin essentially is a University town and that is probably successful because the University operate quite independently of Dunedin City Council and has the managerial talent to run a very smart business. But they have also setup Otago University branches in Auckland and Wellington and no doubt are embracing online technology as well to sell their education. So don’t bank on the Dunedin campus growing. The Dunedin campus experience is probably more to do with the well publicised, willingly tolerated, party culture  that students can experience in Dunedin.

While all these nostalgic thoughts were running through my mind and I was wondering what job prospects faced our young people I passed this scene.  graffitiThree able-bodied men spending the best part of a morning painting out the illegible social protests of someone with a spray can. I wondered whether one of these men was formerly a skilled wood-turner in a furniture factory? or could one have machine-lathed steel parts for a train carriage? Could one have once been a skilled brick-maker? Who knows? But if so and if they wanted to continue to ply their skilled trades, they would have needed to have moved to Asia. Nothing here in Dunedin but a paint-brush a hi-viz vest and $15 an hour less tax to spend on the cheapest goods the internet can provide. And successive governments at both local and national level have let it happen, even encouraged it, as they went on trade mission junket after trade mission junket and were wined and dined around the globe. Sister cities, trading partners. Our politicians have been babes in the wood. Today we no longer have the resources or skills to actually make the basic products upon which we depend for our survival. One well-directed solar flare, from the hundreds that are emitted annually, and our satellites will be fried, along with our ability to dial-up the internet or even make a phone call.

That haircut really ruined my day. If I want to invest in any business for the future, I think it would be the “Hunting and Fishing” retail franchise. After a single generation experiment in global trading and subsequent loss of our skills of manufacture of the products required to sustain our civilisation, I think the farmer and hunter gatherer may again find a vital role in our Kiwi society. Meantime, if you want to save what little economy you have left in your community, whenever you have a choice you must buy locally made and sold. It might cost a little more but at least they won’t be bottle green and they might fit better. Throw a local manufacturer / supplier under the global supermarket bus and you are throwing another chair on the fire.

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The power of language

Two hundred thousand years ago, give or take, we acquired the problem-solving gene that defines Homo sapiens. Intelligent man. The Bible poetically refers to it as eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. And the first problem we had to overcome was the very limited ability of homo erectus to communicate with each other. For achieving dominion over all the beasts of the land and birds of the air required strategic planning, co-operation, idea sharing, imagination. It required language. And sophisticated language.

So we developed it and thereby achieved great things as a result. So successful were we in fact that the Bible also records that God and his angels became alarmed that we had built the Tower of Babel and were challenging God himself, (Gen. 11: 6-9) “the Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.”

So the solution to denying Homo sapiens intellectual ambitions was to create confusion in their ability to communicate with each other. And we still carry out this confusion of languages today. Language is just as often used to confuse as to illuminate. We are fundamentally tribal and we use language to define our tribe and confuse other tribes. We can be amazingly co-operative within our tribe and brutally violent to those outside our tribe. The Middle East and African conflicts are largely created because of the political desire to unite tribes into artificially created countries under a common language. It just is not working. They define their community by their language not by artificial lines on a map. In Papua New Guinea there are between 800 and 1000 languages. It is our ears more than our eyes that tell us if someone is from Northland or Southland, New Zealand or Australia, England or America. The Americans were from England so why did the founding fathers create such a distinctive accent? To define themselves as a new tribe of Americans? Even within a city, the East-End London Cockneys developed their own rhyming slang primarily to confuse the outsiders who could not be trusted and, of course, the old Bill.

My interest in the power of language was piqued this week by hearing a Ted X lecture by a Vietnamese immigrant in the USA, Phuc Tran talking about the subjunctive mood. Probably like you, I could not recall back through my youthful education when the intrigue of the subjunctive mood was explained by my English teacher. But to recap, the subjunctive mood is used in English to explore imaginary or conditional situations.

“If I were prime minister I would ban brocolli”

“If it had not rained we probably would have gone to the beach”

“If I could just make this thing do that then the outcome would be…”

Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that has not yet occurred. And as such the subjunctive mood is so critical to the fundamental point of language for Homo sapiens, that is to problem solve. For problem solving can only occur in the language of imagination.

Which is why Phuc Tran’s talk was so interesting. He was raised from a child in the USA and so was very familiar with the subjunctive mood in English. Phuc Tran has taught Latin, Greek, German, and Sanskrit at independent schools in New York and Maine and was an instructor at Brooklyn College’s Summer Latin Institute. In 2010, he served on a committee to revise the National Latin Praxis exam for ETS. Phuc currently teaches at Waynflete School in Portland. But his parents were raised in Vietnam and although his father was a lawyer and politician with the expected skills in the Vietnamese language, and yet he had no comprehension of the subjunctive mood in that language.

That came to light in a very poignant way. When they were escaping during the fall of Saigon, the Tran family was about to board a bus to the airport when young Phuc became hysterical. In calming him down they missed the first bus and caught the second. That first bus was hit by artillery and all on board were killed. The second bus made it safely. So today Phuc ponders the ‘what ifs’. His father cannot comprehend this line of thought. His father does not do “what ifs”. His father says “Why on earth do you waste time talking about what did not happen?”

His father has a point. And in that point we can also see that the subjunctive mood has two very distinctive moods. On the positive side it is the pathway to discovery, to problem solving, to inventiveness, to progress. On the dark side it can spiral down into regret, fear and fatalism. Sometimes through history some of our greatest geniuses were also among our most troubled minds. Soaring with the positive possibilities, then spiralling down into the negative fears of failure. The subjunctive mood is a wild horse that should not be ridden bareback; it needs reins, saddle and stirrups.

Phuc thinks that absence of the subjunctive mood may be the reason for the stoic resilience of the Vietnamese people. Does that mean that they are also an unimaginative, uncreative race because they do not have a subjunctive mood in their language?

Of course Phuc’s talk attracted some intellectual debate from other linguistic academics over the true definition of the subjunctive mood and whether the Vietnamese language does express it in different ways to English.  That is not a debate I wish to explore as, whatever the outcome, the point is what a significant tool language is in the development of our species and how fascinating it is that we have this conflict that originated in the time of babel whereby language is used as much to divide us as it is to unite us. Anyway the only Linguist’s observation that actually made any sense to me was from my daughter, Samara, who studied linguistics at Otago University, when she simply observed that the culture creates the language, not the other way round.

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Beware falling debris

What goes around comes around. So if, as my recently read historian/ author Graham Hancock  so convincingly proposed, fragments of a big comet hit earth about 12,800 years ago causing the great Biblical flood, we should be wondering whether there are a few decent-sized remnants of the debris stream still doing the circuit of the solar system and, if so, will they be back?

As already outlined in last week’s blog, Hancock’s theory is that pre-deluge there was a highly intelligent civilisation living on the planet quite separate from the majority of Homo sapiens who were still hunter-gatherer nomads. It was only post-deluge that archeologists see the emergence of farming and domestication of animals and people. And why would there not be an advanced civilisation 13,000+ years ago? Homo sapiens had been around for around 190,000 years at that time; an advanced intelligence could quite conceivably have emerged. And if we look at the Biblical verses in Genesis 6 immediately preceding the story of Noah and the flood, we read the story that “The Sons of God took the daughters of man for their wives and had children by them. These children were the great men of ancient times. At this time the Nephilim (cast down/ giants) were on the earth.” We also note in the Book of Job, that the “Sons of God” were clarified as angels who made up God’s Council, and indeed, also according to the Book of Job, Satan was one of these “Sons of God”. Genesis also tells us that it was Satan who tempted Eve, a daughter of man, with the gift of intelligence (his ‘fruit’ from the tree of knowledge). So far from being a wacky conspiracy, Hancock’s theory actually has the backing of the Bible in addition to his own archeological and astronomical research.

Gobelki Tepe, Turkey

Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

So let’s think about that. A civilisation existed 13,000 years and more ago that was at least as advanced as we are today. According to Hancock’s research there was a huge comet impact around 12,800 years ago that caused massive global flooding and plunged the earth back into an ice age, from which it had been recovering, for another 1,000 years. Post-deluge signs of the emergence of ‘civilisation’ often focus on the megaliths, the pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge in England etc. These have been carbon-dated and aligned with Egyptian records to date them as approximately 4,000 years old. Carbon-dating however is based on dating organic matter, it cannot Stone column Gebekli Tepeactually date stone itself. Hancock’s analysis of Egyptian history concludes that the Pharaohs to whom the pyramids were credited, were in fact quite probably just repairing or extending older constructions. His study was inspired by the discovery of a huge megalithic monument site, Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey. This massive construction was, for some reason, back-filled with rocks soon after it was completed and so enables the archeologists to precisely date its original construction to 12,600 years ago which is a couple of hundred years after the impact of the comet.  The first discoveries of the agricultural revolution on the planet also come from this archeological site.

The Israelite Bible talks about Noah and his ark taking plants and seeds to Canaan, near Lebanon to repopulate the world. Subsequently, Moses’ Israelite army, under the instructions of Yahweh, God, slaughtered the Canaanites who included the ‘giants’ who were descendants of Ham, son of Noah to claim Canaan for themselves as their promised land. Sumerian clay tablets dating back to as far as 5,000 years ago are the oldest written documents discovered. They pre-date the Bible by over 1,000 years. They also have a tale of the Flood, although their hero of the flood is named Ziusudra not Noah. The cause of the flood in Sumerian texts was not so much the ‘evil’ of mankind but rather that they were simply too noisy, bothersome and populous for the gods to tolerate any longer. Just too many of us starting to make a bloody nuisance of ourselves. I do get that. Many is the time that I have been surrounded by a crowd of noisy and bothersome people and wished I could just create a flood and flush them all away. In these Sumerian clay tablets is also reference, post-deluge,  to the seven sages, the magicians of the Gods, travelling and sailing to different parts of the globe on a mission to re-civilise the world. Egypt was first port of call for the civilising process, Turkey and Babylon not far after. China was also an early starter in the modern civilisation process followed by Japan. South Americans have similar tales about Gods arriving after the flood and teaching them metal-craft, gold-smithing and the engineering skills to build intricately designed irrigation schemes on the sides of mountains and precision pyramids with accurate astronomical references.

Cabbadicia underground city, TurkeyHancock’s research led him to the Zoroastrian texts referring to Vara, underground multi storey shelters recorded as having been built to preserve the seeds of the best of homo sapiens, plants and animals, awaiting the post-deluge ‘long winter’ to pass. Hancock did then visit the Cappadicia region of Turkey where a large number of these multi-level underground constructions have been discovered, as detailed in my previous blog. His conclusion is that an ancient, highly sophisticated civilisation, at least as technologically advanced as we are today, predicted the arrival of the comet and preserved the seeds of man, plants and animals in these underground laboratory-shelters. Then, when the dust settled and Cabbadiciathe planet was ready for replanting, a handful of the survivors took ‘civilisation’ including a genetically intelligent species of human, the best plants and animals to distant parts of earth, teaching their technology to the surviving more primitive hunter gatherers, introducing domesticated farming, pottery, metal-smelting, urban development, legal and commercial systems, art and languages. Ten thousand years later, here we are.

Image of possible Mars base

Images of proposed Mars base

If intelligent man (homo sapiens) was recovering lost knowledge it was very gradual in the first few thousand years, to be expected I guess. So often our primitive neanderthal and earlier primate genes got in the way. It took 10,000 years to get to the Industrial Revolution but since then our intelligence growth has been exponential, matched by our population growth. In our own lifetime the computer age has provided us with outcomes for our species well beyond the capabilities of our own brains. Today we are even landing crafts on far distant Mars

mars_gallery_habitat_2and planning a human settlement there. You may recall my earlier blog on our mission to Mars. The reason why our global leaders would commit billions to developing a Mars life-support system when we have so many more immediate needs for that funding here on earth is a mystery at this point. Unless, as Hancock speculates, the remnants of that comet may actually be quite close mars_gallery_habitat_1to returning. His reasoning was complex and, to be frank, I turned off. It may well be possible. If there are those influential astrophysicists who have reason to agree with Hancock, then a life support module on Mars could be our generation’s version of the underground life support complexes found in Turkey where the seeds of man, plants and animals were preserved awaiting the effects of the comet strike to dissipate. If we had been around 12,800 years ago would we have wanted to survive? Freezing, starving, or being one of the lucky ones living underground for a few hundred years to preserve the species. Never seeing the sun through the dense dust in the atmosphere. If it happened again tomorrow, would we want to be a survivor on earth or even living in a bubble on Mars protecting specimens that someone in a few hundred years might take back to planet earth if / when it recovers?

While I am awfully grateful that the sons of the sons of God did survive in the underground Turkish cities for however long it took and then undertook their re-civilisation mission on earth for however long that took, this time around I am very aware that I have either neither the critical intellect nor the billions of dollars to score a seat on the last rocket out of here to Mars. So I think I will sit quietly pour a brandy and toast those wonderful sages who went to so much effort to ensure that I would be able to do so. For I would not want the gods to think me too noisy and bothersome to deal with and I shall set up a ‘lets not make any noise and maybe the comet won’t come’ movement. Surviving on earth for however many minutes, days, months or years in such post-apocalyptic conditions seems a very dreary prospect.

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