July 29, 2007

Keynglish, Part 1

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THE JOHN KEY INTERVIEW

They say New Zealand politicians can’t be bought, but tell that to the person who, just before Christmas, shelled out more than $4,000 to have lunch with new National Party leader John Key after a charity auction on the Zillion website. All we can tell you is the mystery buyer wasn’t us. Instead, IAN WISHART caught up with John Key and his deputy Bill English for their most in-depth media interview yet on their vision for New Zealand.

JOHN KEY


KEY: My view is that this brand is in incredibly strong shape, these are values and principles that go back 70 years. And if you really look at the sort of things that, say, for instance Holyoake was saying and you apply them to what I've been saying in the last three weeks, then I think you'll find there's a pretty strong match there. I think the reason that the party has endured for so long is that those values are very very durable. Now of course individual policies come and go, what worked for Holyoake and others won't necessarily work for me in terms of absolute policies, because the environment is different, but I think one of the aims of that speech is to really spell out that while I've used a slightly softer tone in the last few weeks, than maybe Don did, that fundamentally we are still going in exactly the same direction with values that line up with where we think New Zealand is heading.

INVESTIGATE: It's been an interesting time in politics, particularly since Labour took over in 1999, and I guess the period up to the 2002 election, where it had its vicious electoral defeat was marked, I think, by National still trying to establish what it actually stood for. Is there a danger in the slightly softer tone that the clear delineation between National and Labour won't be kept?

KEY: Well, yeah, look, there are always risks as, in a sense, I don't think beneath the surface, Labour has truly moved towards the centre, and I think the language they want to use and the spin they want to put on things is that they've got a tinge of blue in them, if you like, and they are hunting in the centre ground. Inevitably that's where most New Zealanders inhabit and if we don't try and win that space then by definition, it pushes us out to a much smaller audience. And clearly we want to win the bulk of the party vote come Election 2008. So in a sense, we don't make any apologies for hunting in that ground but I think there will be very different outcomes. Fundamentally, we trust the private sector and we trust New Zealanders to make good judgement calls for themselves and their families, and we don't think Labour does and we think that their response is always one of the sort of Nanny State where Wellington knows best. When you see the results of the last few years, I mean, health is just a classic example, no one can say that Labour hasn't thrown enormous amounts of money at it - they've taken the spending up annually from $6 billion to about $10.5 billion a year, but the results are at best pathetic. And why is that? Well, because they're hiring as many bureaucrats as they are nurses. So I think you'll see a very different approach from us, but one that the public will buy into, and I don't think it's one where they will be intimidated by it. I mean, my view is that if someone is looking for a hip operation or a knee operation, they care about the quality and the timing of that operation; in the end, the hospital that carries it out is probably irrelevant.

INVESTIGATE: I see the suggestion that women in Nelson/Marlborough will be without epidural services, because the government has rundown the health system to that extent, in what is a major provincial city.

KEY: That’s an example of where their priorities are wrong. I think you can argue the same case with Pharmac – I mean, Pharmac’s funding has been static for the last four years, in nominal terms it’s been around half a billion dollars. In the last election campaign our policy was to increase their funding reasonably dramatically, and of course we were going to do that by not rolling out a subsidy in another area, but we thought that was a better allocation of funds. Now, that doesn’t mean it’ll be our policy in 2008 but what it shows is, I think, that we are prepared to tackle – you can’t just look at these incredibly large portfolios and just argue that there’s one solution, throw a bit of money at it and you’ll get the right outcome at the other end. I think you really do have to demand productivity and performance and have the right allocation of resources.

INVESTIGATE: From my own time in Government working for Mike Moore in 1986, one of the key things in that first Lange administration was the perception, the hangover from the Muldoon years, of “bureaucracy capture”, whereupon a lot of the civil servants at the time had been with a National administration for years and were used to dealing with National and were very suspicious of the incoming Labour people. The reverse is now the case, you have bureaucracy capture with Labour – Tamihere touched on it in his interview with Investigate last year about the networks that now exist in the civil service. How seriously do you treat that as a problem?

KEY: I think the winds of political change drift pretty rapidly in Wellington, it’s a world that revolves around the Beehive and Parliament, and my sense of the anecdotal stories and approaches below the radar screen that we’re getting at the moment is that the core bureaucrats in Wellington can sense pretty rapidly a change.
So while, superficially, they may have nailed their colours to Labour’s mast for a while I think they can see that the time of this government is rapidly coming to an end and they’re making pretty clear and overt signals that they want to work with us. Of course, we’ll have to demonstrate through our policies and our people that we’ve got the goods, but I think we very much do.

INVESTIGATE: One of the issues, with the State Sector reform of the 80s, and it’s been a bit of a bugbear for parties in Opposition when they want accountability out of Ministers – is that Ministers now say “well, we can’t touch these civil servants because it’s all independent…” – Is there room for more political control of the senior departments and so forth so that you can get accountability back into the political system?

KEY: Well I think you do need accountability. My guess is that the public will be looking aghast at the Liam Ashley case, and asking why a Labour party in opposition were so quickly calling for heads on the National side when we had Cave Creek, and yet when it comes to Liam Ashley they’ve been pretty quick to accept that they are politically accountable but not responsible, and therefore they don’t intend to do anything about it. So I think the public is entitled to accountability, and across a wide range: accountability even just for value for money – I think New Zealanders know they are paying a hell of a lot in tax, that the government expenditure has increased dramatically and in part that’s putting pressure on inflation in New Zealand, yet coming out the other end is something that even the incoming briefing to ministers confirms – to describe it as “sub-optimal” would be gilding the lily. It’s really a very low level of productivity. Yet every quarter for the last 20 quarters we’ve seen the state sector wages rising faster than the private sector, so there’s a real imbalance here. Government is a big beast now, and we need to have that beast performing if New Zealand’s economic growth and productivity levels are going to get us back into the top half of the OECD.

INVESTIGATE: Well that gets me back to the question about bureaucracy capture, because there is this perception that we have an elected political system, but it has been disconnected legislatively from the civil service that it operates –

KEY: Well I think that’s been a deliberate political ploy by Labour, I think you’ve seen that through the DHBs – that was a level put in place to ensure, again, that they were responsible but directly not accountable. Every time you ask a question they can simply say ‘Well that’s a matter for the DHB, take it up with them’, and when you try and take it up with them you get a blank response. I don’t think any of us should underestimate that Helen Clark is a cunning woman who understands the systems well and has worked them to her best advantage.

INVESTIGATE: So is a Key government likely to be brave enough to figure out some way to bring that accountability back in legislatively so that it can control the public sector?

KEY: We’ll certainly take a look at it. I think it is important when money is spent – and we’re talking about very large sums of money – that people feel there is a process of accountability. It’ll probably never be at the level that every journalist and lobby group would want, but I think nevertheless there are improvements that can be made.

INVESTIGATE: In other words the pendulum has swung too far?

KEY: That’s my sense of it. Like it has in so many things with Labour, it never self corrects until it’s exposed.

INVESTIGATE: If you had to describe the Labour years, and taking the good with the bad, what would you say their biggest achievements are?

KEY: Arguably they’ve been in the social policy area, you know, whether it's banning smoking or changes that they've made in areas like civil unions - I'm not arguing whether they are good or bad, I'm just saying that they've achieved a result. If you look on the other side, economically, while I think they would point to the fact that there’s been reasonably strong levels of economic growth and job creation, I think if you really look at their policies they've just been riding a wave that they did very little to create. And I think when you really look back on the Clark years she won't be remembered for what she's achieved. I think she'll be remembered for the way that she managed her caucus. There's a big difference.

INVESTIGATE: On the flipside of the same coin. What are their biggest weaknesses?

KEY: Well, their weaknesses are, I think, they have very low levels of aspiration. Fundamentally, Michael Cullen and Helen Clark are deeply conservative people who doubt Kiwis ability to really make it on the world stage, so they don't invest in things like infrastructure heavily, because they're just not quite sure whether we'll make it or not. Everything is done incrementally, everything is sort of second-guessed and micro-managed, and my sense of it is that New Zealand is sitting on a huge opportunity, which if it doesn't capture in the next 20 or 30 years, will really set us back, because for the first time in our history we are probably in the fastest growing time zone.

We've got a world around us that’s rapidly going to start buying the kinds of products that we want, but equally we're facing competition that most Kiwis haven't really focused on, coming out of countries like Latin America, for some of our core areas like agriculture and forestry and wine, and ultimately the same thing could be true of tourism. And so I think you've got this sort of interesting world where on the one hand, there is this great opportunity – and the Internet is the same thing: all of a sudden people can tap into a billion people worldwide, have a niche product that they can sell from New Zealand and from their home (which may not necessarily be located in downtown Wellington or Christchurch), so the opportunities are limitless, and the tyranny of distance has been removed. But on the other side of the coin, the competition is coming from people that we are not solely focused on, and it's coming on stream pretty quickly.

So it is not a scenario where New Zealand is doomed if it doesn't get its policies right, but it's a scenario where we don't achieve what we are capable of achieving. I think that would be hugely frustrating for Kiwis, and it's also, I might add, extremely dangerous, because we're sitting on the border of a country which is pretty aggressively focused on building its competitiveness - in the form of Australia - and we're already seeing that: 685 Kiwis leaving a week. We’ve got a brain drain that the OECD is starting to mention as our number one issue, given that it is the highest in the developed world. So I think we really have to worry about those competitive threats and the only way to fix that is to come up with a set of policies under a timeframe, and with a commitment, that are world-class, that do sort of challenge where New Zealand could be if it wants to achieve the kinds of outcomes that it is capable of achieving.

INVESTIGATE: Catch-22 for National: under the new Brash leadership when he came on board, his Orewa 1 speech, catapulted the party back from the political doldrums to the point where it almost won the last election. He touched a nerve quite clearly on this whole issue of race and multiculturalism and everything that went with it. How difficult is it to you as a new leader to keep that support there and yet find a way of navigating a softer line?

KEY: Well I think firstly, that obviously it’s critical that you maintain your core support, and I'd say National's core support is in the mid-30s. I think that's sort of where it sits, and that's probably fundamentally true of Labour - we probably both have core support of around about 30 odd percent. But we had a particularly bad year in 2002, partly because MMP is very cruel to you when you are doing badly because they don't necessarily jump to the centre-left, but they just go off to a party on the centre-right, and we saw that in 2002. The good news is its kind to you when they think you're going to win and you're doing well, you pick up a whole lot of people who vote for a winner even if they are a little unsure. So we obviously need to maintain our core support, which is critically important.

The future of New Zealand is changing and we need to change with it. If we don't, then ultimately there is no long-term future for the National party. Political parties represent the populace if you like, and we need to be part of that. If you really look at the policies, as I've said, fundamentally our policies on race have not changed: we believe absolutely in all New Zealanders being treated equally before the law, we believe in a speedy settlement process of historical claims and we believe in the abolishment of the Maori seats - if there's a change, then it is over the timetabling of when that abolition will take place. It's likely that our first caucus in February will come up with something that will reflect, arguably, a more conciliatory timetable around the abolition of those seats.

So really, in a sense, all I changed is probably the tone. I make no apologies for wanting to talk about the language of development, not the language of grievance. But I do that for a number of reasons: firstly, of course as a political leader I could spend my life absolutely honing in on everything that separates us, and these days we are a pretty multicultural society and there are lots of differences. But equally, I believe that we've got to focus on what unites us and sort of have enough maturity as a country to say ‘there's a lot that binds us together’, and even though there are many voices singing the same song, we've also grown up enough to recognize there are some differences as well.

INVESTIGATE: We are heading into a world that is increasingly turbulent, and I raise the example of Investigate columnist Mark Steyn-

KEY: I know him, yes.

INVESTIGATE: -and Steyn has just published a book called America Alone where he makes a very telling case that, for example, Europe as we know it with its various different European cultures, will effectively cease to exist within one generation because of the huge influx of immigration from overseas. I think Muhammad is now the most popular name for baby boys in Belgium, and I think running at number two in France, so you are getting this huge cultural tidal shift. And that's part of the reason they've had these riots over there. But what he is basically saying is, the world is a very changeable place and the demographics are changing - in the West our birth rates are falling and our populations are becoming older. What does this mean in the next 15 to 20 years for New Zealand?

KEY: I think we know that there will be a changing ethnic mix in New Zealand - most of the forecasting indicates that this is likely for the reasons that you pointed out, that we have a birth rate that is below replacement and unless we want to see our population fall then it is likely there will be some [ethnic] change.

I think our position is slightly different in Europe. Europe's had fairly open immigration for lots of different reasons, New Zealand's been a country largely based on immigration. So I don't think we need to be fearful of that. But I think we should just apply sound tests, which are: it's our country, we should choose who we want to come here and who doesn't come, and in choosing that we should pick people who we think can make a contribution, that can ultimately settle in and become New Zealanders. My sense is that we've achieved that pretty well so far. There's always a process of digestion if you like, but I feel pretty confident we can manage that process.

INVESTIGATE: Is there a need as part of that process increasingly to have some sort of national written constitution so that everyone who is a citizen of New Zealand understands what our basic principles are and we swear allegiance to that?

KEY: A written constitution, not necessarily, but one of the things you've seen in Australia, and I have some sympathy for, is that through the curriculum and through the education system they promote very heavily to young Australians, wherever they come from, a deep understanding of Australia's history, of its natural fauna and flora, all the historical icons of Australia. I think that's something that can be looked at in New Zealand, because I think it is very important that when people come - not that they forget their historical roots - but the thing that will make any country work is not that we have differences, because clearly we will have some, but we also have something that we feel binds us together. What it means to be a New Zealander.

At the moment, I would argue that we are best at expressing that when we are not in New Zealand, when we see each other on the tube in London or we are somewhere else. I think, increasingly, Australia has done quite a good job of that, you've seen this sort outpouring of nationalistic pride on Australia Day, my sense is New Zealand will evolve with the right political leadership to that. In other words, a sort of coming together of what it means to be a New Zealander, and there are certain pathways we can do to help achieve that in a world which, as you say, is likely to have greater immigration as a feeder of its population.

INVESTIGATE: In terms of the rise of yourself and Bill English to leadership, I was reading the blogs for the next few days afterwards, and the reaction from some of the right-wing blogs was, “Oh heck, it's Labour lite!”. What's your reaction to that, have they got reason to be fearful or do you think you'll be able to persuade them and keep them on board for the next couple of years?

KEY: I think we will absolutely keep them on board. Look, there will always be a wide range of views. Again, if you go back to Holyoake, I think, he said if the party agreed with him 60% of the time he was doing pretty well. You are never going to get somebody who is going to agree with absolutely everything you say, and every policy you take as a leader, even as a political party.

So in the end it comes down to a kind of theme, and values and the way you handle the decision-making process. Of course there will be some on the extreme right, who will want to have policies that we are not likely to be advocating, and again some on the extreme left, who will want policies that we are not likely to be advocating.

Again, I make no real apologies for saying I take a relatively pragmatic view of things. In the end I want policies that work, but pragmatism should not be mistaken for not being decisive. I think we proved in the early weeks of the leadership that we are certainly prepared to make decisions, even hard ones, and we will make them pretty rapidly. I think even in my political career in the last 4 1/2 years, I've proven that through things like the tax plan, which was the biggest tax cutting plan that New Zealand has seen in its history. So I don't think people can say that I'm not prepared to make hard decisions or decisions that when I believe in them I'll back them.

INVESTIGATE: Is this a sign of how you will treat your responsibility in government - as Helensville MP, you were personally not worried about civil unions but you had a large amount of lobbying going on in your electorate that suggested the people in your electorate who had voted for you did not want that passed. Still in a conscience vote, you opted to recognize the will of your electorate. Is that something you see as being fundamental to being a politician?

KEY: Yeah, and you can take two views on conscience issues, one is to say that you vote on your own conscience, only what you think matters and to hell with the people that you represent; the other thing you can say is that you operate in the House of Representatives as their representative. I've chosen to take the latter view. Often the latter view coincides with my view, I mean, I voted against the Prostitution Law Reform Bill, because in the end I thought it was bad legislation as much as I got intense lobbying about it. It's not that I'm too gutless to make a decision, because I will certainly make them and I make them all the time, but I kind of feel like the people of Helensville, who put me there, expect me to represent their views in Parliament, and I do. Behind the scenes you'll see me doing that quite aggressively on a number of issues, one or two that I won't bother sharing with you, but I can tell you from a local perspective that it's been slightly different view from views others might have held and I'll strongly advocate for that as well. In those instances, if the party has a different position, then I'll be bound by the party's position as I expect all of my MPs to be. But I'm not afraid to stand up to the people that put me there, and I think any politician that forgets who put them in Parliament will rapidly find themselves on civvy street.

INVESTIGATE: What about citizens initiated referenda on conscience issues, is that something you'd support?

KEY: Yeah, I think there is some room. You can't overdo referendums - where you get to a point where the vote is on everything - because it becomes really difficult. And one of the really difficult parts about referendums as well is that you ask really simplistic questions for what are really complex issues. But, nevertheless, conscience issues are largely about the kind of society that we want, and some things, at a pace that people feel comfortable with. And I don't think there is anything wrong with having that kind of view.

You wouldn't apply it to everything, and there are certainly times when political leadership is required. You can take a simple example, where there are certain things around race for instance, where you couldn't have - even if there was a majority - them inappropriately flexing their muscles on a minority. We are a better society for having politicians and leaders who, in the past, have stood up to that. And you can sort of quote Martin Luther King down. But I think that, in certain instances, there is a place for binding referenda and we should not be afraid to use them.

INVESTIGATE: The Hager book that has attracted so much attention in the media, perhaps undeservedly, the general mutterings continuing behind the scenes would suggest that there were no leaks, that somehow somebody has hacked into National's computer system - is that a concern to you?

KEY: It is a deep concern and I think all New Zealanders should be very concerned if that's the case, because really we are talking about something very sinister, if that's occurred. We are meeting with the police, we need to get to the bottom of it. We know they are taking it very seriously. One of the reasons that we certainly hold the view that it is likely our systems have been either hacked into, or there has been something occurring, is simply the sheer volume of information they have. It is just not credible that it was just a bunch of e-mails that someone left on a plane.

INVESTIGATE: Your deputy Bill English is a conservative Catholic boy, do you believe in God?

KEY: What I have always said to that question in its many iterations, is, look, I have lived my life by Christian principles. I don't go to church, I was never brought up in any major way in a terribly religious household. My mother was Jewish, which under Jewish faith makes me Jewish. I do go to church a hell of a lot with the kids, but I don't want to hold myself out to be something that I'm not. I'm not Bill, I accept that, but I kind of try and live my life as best I can by a set of rules that I think works.

INVESTIGATE: In terms of the votes that you're out to capture by 2008, who are you after, what is your target market?

KEY: It's got to be women. Women are the clear audience - not that they don't like what we've said in the past - I think it is adding on to the message that we've had. So that's the first one, and I think the second is urban liberals and young people. But right across the board, I think there is room for improvement.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:07 AM | Comments (0)

Keynglish, Part 2

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BILL ENGLISH INTERVIEW

INVESTIGATE: In terms of what you see as the biggest issues for National over the next two years, what would they be?

ENGLISH: As the finance spokesman, the biggest issue for me is taking the economy forward in a way that rewards people who take risks, and shares the benefits and growth with New Zealand families, and it doesn't all end up in the government surplus.


INVESTIGATE: There has been an issue for several years now about the red tape, the compliance costs, and even the negative incentives that go on, how are you looking to tackle some of this?

ENGLISH: Look, I think that's really important, because we’ve gone down the track where the bureaucrats have set out to eliminate every risk. Now, you cannot have economic growth and success in business without risks, so New Zealanders want to work in a team but they want an entrepreneurial, and aspirational culture. And that is gradually being mothballed by continuous unnecessary regulation that is designed to get rid of every risk - and you can't.

INVESTIGATE: You see it not just in the business sector though. With this particular administration, you are seeing that same attitude applied right across the social sector, and protection for everything. Is that a problem overall?

ENGLISH: Yes, it is a problem. It's a problem because of the kind of attitudes it creates. Because if the government says that it's got the answer to everything, and if there's any problem they will fix it, people lose a sense of responsibility and consequences. National's view is, the government is there to underpin what people do, not dominate it.

INVESTIGATE: I asked John Key this, about bureaucracy capture in the civil service. Given that many of the people in senior positions were liberals appointed by the original Lange administration in the 80s, an incoming National government has to deal with that. How do you deal with a civil service that is possibly inimical to what National stands for?

ENGLISH: Well I don't believe all of them are, I mean, this is a public service who want the opportunity to serve the public instead of the Labour Party. I meet civil servants regularly, who are frustrated with the way that Labour thinks that putting together a list of things to do is the same as doing them. And that putting out a strategy to deal with some issue amounts to fixing it. What they want is the chance to be treated with respect, regarded as professionals. They don't want bucketloads more money, because they know that that's leading to a soft spending and low quality government. So I'm reasonably optimistic that the civil service is as tired of the Labour government as everybody else is.

INVESTIGATE: Is there enough accountability in the public service at the moment in your opinion?

ENGLISH: Not at the moment, no. And where there is, it is the wrong sort of accountability - I'll give you an example, this is Labour's definition of accountability: you remember a guy named Kit Richards? He wrote an e-mail the government didn't like. The guy loses his job, and can never be employed in the civil service again, while Labour are in power. Liam Ashley dies, brutally murdered, while he is in the custodial care of the state. No one has resigned, no one is responsible, no one is accountable. And that stinks. So Labour focuses on accountability for meeting Labour's political objectives, and if you get in the way of that you get dealt to. But accountability in the public service? That's long gone.

INVESTIGATE: Looking at the Brash years that followed on from your own leadership of National, why do you think National bottomed out, then bounced back up - what do you see, having had the advantage of being there at the helm, what was the thing that turned it for National?

ENGLISH: When National came out of government, it had a bad dose of low morale. I had some views about where it should go, that amounted to a longer term strategy, and I didn't articulate that very well. They wanted quicker results that got them back in the game and rebuilt the confidence of the party. Don Brash came in as a bit of a punt at the time, he only just got across the line to the leadership, but it turned out the public responded to him better, I think, than most people expected. It also meant that with a small caucus after the 2002 election, once the leadership changed it did settle down, because we stopped arguing about the leadership and got on and did a bit of work. What Brash did was gather up - in the 2002 election a whole lot of centre-right voters knew National didn't have a chance and Prebble and Peters picked a lot of them up, and Peter Dunne, with some pretty simple messages, and Brash gathered them all up. The job now is to extend beyond that group of voters.

INVESTIGATE: Jane Clifton in the Listener called John Key “Helen lite”, there is a perception that by sounding softer that National might abandon some of the ground that it has won. Is there any danger of that happening, or does the party have a cunning plan?

ENGLISH: No, there is no danger of abandoning core positions that have been hard-won and are good for the country. Some of this is just about the man for the times, and I think John Key has had a great start to the leadership because he is seen as the man for the times. Don was suffering a bit, just from being seen as a guy who had outstanding public service in the 90s, but might not be able to carry that through. So we are not going to be abandoning core positions. Look, our view of the world is fundamentally different from Labour's and I don't agree with this “Labour lite” stuff. We have to work within the constraints of MMP, which means you need to have 51% support in the Parliament for what you do - you used to be able to do it on 35%. So, of course, our job is to convince the public that we can manage the politics on their behalf, and at the same time achieve our direction, because increasingly we are moving to wanting a direction that is about aspiration, responsibility, risk-taking, and getting ahead.

INVESTIGATE: Just on the MMP point, you've seen over selective governments the damage that MMP actually does to the minor parties, every time a party enters into a formal coalition with a major one they get eaten. How will that affect politics long-term?

ENGLISH: I think it would be a mistake to judge MMP on what has happened so far to the small parties, because a number of the small parties are personality cults. So there's no particular reason for New Zealand First to exist except Winston Peters, you saw what happened to the Alliance, and then Progressives because that was dominated by one guy, Jim Anderton. United Future are going to find it hard to live past Peter Dunne's life in politics.

Now you are getting the emergence of parties that have a much stronger base, and that is the Greens and the Maori party. They've got a stronger base because they can exist regardless of the leadership - and the Greens have shown that, without Rod Donald they are still polling pretty well. They have learnt from watching all the variations that Clark has put in place, that they can get the right amounts of independence and influence, so I would see MMP in the future reflecting this. Those parties will be much more resilient than the ones who've been at the centre of MMP so far.

INVESTIGATE: One of the things that the Greens and the Maori party have done is to try and steer clear of formal coalitions.

ENGLISH: Yeah, that's one of the lessons! Don't let them swallow you up, and don't spend too much time around the Cabinet table because then you become responsible for everything instead of just your own brand. And the second thing is, that you have to have a strong clear brand that is about issues, not personalities - and that's where Act have a challenge because Act have lost their way on issues, they've become a personality party. And if they stay that way then they might get through a few more elections but they are not a permanent part of the system.

INVESTIGATE: In terms of her Majesty's loyal government, Helen Clark and team, how daunting are they, heading into a potential fourth term, for you and John Key?

ENGLISH: We are not daunted at all. This is a government that has done what it came to do, they are now looking tired and scratchy. I can see the signs, because I've been there, the signs of a fading government. They think the process is much more important than the result, so you just get endless strategies and collaborations and partnerships but no results.

They are getting scratchy and bad tempered and trying to bully the media, the past results of their personal and political judgements are catching up with them. That's what happens to third term governments, and we are not daunted by them at all. They got a long way in the past by talking their own book about what competent political managers they are, but in the end you get judged on results, not political management.

INVESTIGATE: During the Brash years, what would you say are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of National coming out of that time?

ENGLISH: I think the biggest strengths would be the hard work that's gone into building some strong positions with the New Zealand public around lower taxes, around the way government should deal with Maori - we're not going to give those things away. I think also Don's temperament and professionalism had a big impact on how the National party operates, it's a hidden effect, but a very important one. The party became more professional and better at making decisions under Brash. Coming out of it I don't see too many weaknesses really, John and I would be the first to acknowledge that we have a terrific platform of 40 plus percent of solid public support to build on.

INVESTIGATE: The Nicky Hager book, as the dust settles from that, there seems to be a growing suspicion that there was no leak out of National, but instead somebody hacked into the Parliamentary servers and stole your e-mails. What are your views on that?

ENGLISH: Yeah, look, what you are seeing here is years of spying and burglary and theft at the highest levels of New Zealand politics. Watergate was one burglary, this is much more extensive than that. So it is really important that the police focus on getting to the bottom of how all that material came into the hands of Nicky Hager and his book. Hacking is one option, I think theft and burglary is another, and I think the rash of political stories we've had about politicians in the last 12 months indicate that there's been fairly extensive private investigator or other spying activity on senior politicians, and who knows who's next.

INVESTIGATE: I have covered governments for something like 25 years now and in my view this administration would have to rank as one of the most corrupt - at an objective level, just in terms of all the stuff coming up around them - what's your view?

ENGLISH: This is an administration that has corrupted the whole political process. I have seen good, strong, experienced civil servants, reduced to gibbering idiots, because of the arbitrary control and punishment systems run by the government. I have seen all sorts of interest groups who have strong views, and in the past had advocated them aggressively in the public arena, bought off by the current government, with threats and promises. And then we've seen the straight out corrupt use of the taxpayers’ money and Parliamentary privileges, just this year, in the pledge card and Taito Phillip Field. That comes on top of a record that stretches back four or five years - no Prime Minister has been interviewed more often by the police than Helen Clark.

INVESTIGATE: What do you think of Helen as a leader?

ENGLISH: She's a ruthless and clinical leader, she's respected for her political competence, and not loved for anything else, except perhaps in the arts world. She has set a benchmark for MMP management that future governments have to reach for stability, because she has had a stable team. She is focused very much on her own stretching power, and that is shown by the fact that she has failed to renew the Labour Party. She has gone for making sure that her prime ministership is stable and not contested. She hasn't tried to ensure that the Labour Party can keep on governing, and they are about to pay the price for that.

INVESTIGATE: In light of your own political career, do you regret the Brash years in any way?

ENGLISH: No not at all. Politics comes and goes, timing is everything in politics, some of the things I was trying to do were just before their time. But the time is right now. Don Brash added much to the National party that I could not have added, even if I had been more experienced than I was. So, no, I have no regrets. I think we are in great shape now for a long and stable period in government, and that's what we are working to achieve over the next 18 months.

INVESTIGATE: Your relationship with John Key appears to be good, people were speculating that Bill might put ambition before the task at hand but you seem to have a good relationship.

ENGLISH: Yeah, we do. And that's because we think the same way about a lot of political issues, so that helps, we can make decisions quickly, because we are not arguing the point, and I think that's been demonstrated recently. The other reason it works is that we complement each other. John is a terrific marketer, a very appealing media presence, and I've got the experience of government and policy. I think we have a strong professional respect for what each can do it, and that's why it is working so well.

INVESTIGATE: Labour has made such an issue out of social engineering, its social policy programmes and the like, how does National achieve its new focus without being seen to be slipping towards what Labour has made such an issue of?

ENGLISH: Look, I think that's a real challenge. When you look at Labour's track record, the things they really cared about were those things where they were telling other people how to live their lives, and doing their social engineering. On the economy, and their delivery of services to the public, there's been a lot of talk - billions of dollars - but they are not really that focused on it, so they haven't got anywhere. One of National's core principles is freedom, we need to make sure that we don't get sucked along, in the environment that Labour has created, into accepting things that unnecessarily take people's freedom away or that have the government telling people they can't take risks that any consenting adults would think they should be able to take.

INVESTIGATE: On the whole global warming scenario, which I know Nick Smith has done some work on, there is, it appears, emerging with the National a belief that global warming is human caused. Yet there is a lot of scientific argument to the contrary. Is National wedded to the idea that it is human caused? Because if it's not human caused, then there is nothing we can do about it.

ENGLISH: We are open to the science, there's got to be good science, and not hysteria, driving the policy. We've become quite worried that policies are going to be driven by this Armageddon mentality that the world has far too many people and far too much carbon, and it's all going to unwind within the next 20 years. So we want to make sure, we've got an open ear to the science, we don't go along with this idea that Labour do that you're either - what do they say? - Helen Clark calls you a ‘climate change denier’, and it sounds like something out of the Inquisition – ‘how dare you!’. In fact, the science is complex, in our view it has moved in the direction of human causation, if more and better science says that's not the case we are open to it. In the meantime, we do believe that the risks are great enough that we need some insurance.

INVESTIGATE: What about the United Nations report suggesting cattle are a bigger contributor to global warming than cars? I would have thought, if you go back 8000 years, there would be millions more bison, elephants and antelope roaming the planet, than we have cattle now.

ENGLISH: The difficulty with climate change is going to be untangling the political agendas from the real science. It is going to suit a whole lot of people to believe that cars are not as polluting with climate change, because it would be very unpopular to curb people's capacity to drive their cars around. In New Zealand, that is a very dangerous idea, because our biggest single exporter is based entirely on cows, and that's Fonterra. Our job as a political party is to come up with sensible and reasonable policies that don't put our economic growth at risk, that don't put people's freedom to make their own decisions at risk because of some hysteria. That is a real danger, we are going to see Labour casting around trying to rebuild credibility on the environment, and look like a government with some vision, and there's a risk we'll get some pretty stupid policies as a result.

INVESTIGATE: Mark Steyn's new book, America Alone, is warning that the world is about to become a whole lot more unstable as Western civilisation heads into an unprecedented death spiral, caused by falling birth rates, rising abortions and rapidly ageing populations, while Islam is set to take over Europe within a generation. That's a pretty grim picture, if National becomes the government, how do you prepare for that kind of future?

ENGLISH: Demography is destiny, I am absolutely convinced of that. A community that stops breeding, which the Western - particularly European - countries have, is going to get swamped by those who do breed. It's a pretty fundamental fact of life on Earth. And we, in some respects, are not a lot different in New Zealand. There's a couple of points that matter: firstly, societies that can adapt to it I going to do well, and societies that really struggle with the demographic changes are going to be riven with conflict. And we've seen how nasty and brutal as conflicts can be. You've seen it in Iraq, you're seeing it in Africa, you are starting to see signs of it in the Pacific. I'm optimistic about New Zealand, though, because we have had our own reasonably intensive internal debate about history and who belongs where, and actually we have managed it pretty well by any international standard. So I think one of our advantages is going to be our ability to adapt to these demographic changes. The hard bit is going to be sorting out our role in the Pacific, where you've got the Chinese and the Taiwanese competing for influence, you've got ethnic strife in a number of places we hadn't expected before, you've got political instability in the Solomons, Fiji and Tonga. We've got a number of those communities heavily represented in New Zealand, and I don’t think we've got a clue what to do - New Zealanders are so used to having the moral high ground, where we can preach about foreign policy and cultural difference to everyone else, that we're just a bit bemused at the moment about what to do when we actually have to deal with the ugly reality of these issues. National has started already this year, on really trying to get its head around what is going to be quite a different world than the one that National was attached to, which actually ended around about 1985.

INVESTIGATE: One of Steyn's points in his book is that countries like New Zealand and Australia, because of the distance from world trouble spots may end up becoming immigration magnets for cultures fleeing Europe as those societies continue to break down.

ENGLISH: We are going to look a lot more stable, just because we don't have the geographical pressures, we don't have these populations on our borders, but I think that flight won't just be English-speaking for European - it will also include the middle-class of every country from Indonesia through to Zimbabwe. In fact, the arrival of the Zimbabwe migrants here is perhaps the shape of things to come, but they certainly won't be all European or English-speaking. So our ability to adapt to it is still going to be really quite important.

INVESTIGATE: With an incoming National government, is the anything in terms of Labour's - particularly their social agenda - policies that you would tweak?

ENGLISH: It depends what you mean by social agenda. The one thing that you can be sure of is that National is not going to carry on down the road of social engineering. When Labour had got through the prostitution bill and the civil union Bill, in 2005 the public said ‘enough!’ and every politician got that signal. What I find out is that the public are much more worried about the breakdown of fundamental social order, particularly around families, than they are about creating ever more rights and responsibilities that lead to that breakdown.

INVESTIGATE: As education spokesman, you'd be where of the tensions that exist within the education ministry and the teaching profession, whereby a lot of them are what you would call urban liberal Labour supporters and have a particular worldview that they have brought to the education portfolio themselves. Does National have any plans to look long and hard at where some of these things are ingrained in the public service?

ENGLISH: With respect to education, we've got one definite plan about teaching kids how to read, write, and do maths - and that is a private members bill of mine that got drawn last month to set national standards for literacy and numeracy which will focus schools on making sure kids can read and write and do maths, regardless of the political leanings or the educational theories of the people who are teaching them. They'll have a job to do, it will be clear what is, and they'll have to get on and do it. I think there is scope a stronger focus on schools on citizenship and a proper understanding of New Zealand's history. The problem is that too many people in the education establishment believe the same thing at the Labour Party: that the history of New Zealand is the history of the Labour movement, and that is wrong, and that's been one of the things that got us into trouble about Maori issues - that whole left-wing view of history. The third thing that I'm interested in - and these last two are not policy yet - is getting an ethos of enterprise and entrepreneurialism into our schools. Traditionally our state system has been anti-business, and anti-private enterprise, because of the political backgrounds of a lot of the staff. I see some very good things going on in schools now, through things like the Young Enterprise Scheme, but in the future I'd like to see business, in particular, take a really strong interest in their local schools. Get trades and business right into the heart of the education system and show our kids that there is a pathway for aspiration that is about self-reliance, about initiative and about reward for risk. There's not near enough of that in our schools now.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:05 AM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2007

Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0: Feb 07 issue

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SCOTT ME UP, BEAMIE

Ian Wishart discovers speech recognition software is light years ahead of where it used to be


It was in the mid 90s that Dragon and I first became acquainted, and I won’t say it was love at first sight. I remember walking into a Noel Leeming store and being told to come back in a week when the new, Dragon 2.0 version would be out - “much improved” on version one, the salesman assured me.

I bought it, and given the limitations of the old 486 processors (remember those?) and the software, it worked OK. Good enough to be novel, not good enough to write a novel, if you get the drift, and certainly not as fast as speaking or as fast as a good typist.

As a writer and book publisher, there were however certain tasks – like dictating someone else’s handwritten book manuscript – that made speech recognition software useful.

I vaguely recall purchasing Dragon 4.0 at some point then misplacing it, and so purchasing Dragon 7.0 a couple of years ago when, again, I needed to dictate 50 pages of transcripts of a major Maori hui dating from 1861 for an Investigate article.

It would be fair to say I was impressed by Dragon 7.0 and its ability, once I had trained it, to handle complex Maori tribal names and places like Whakarewarewa. Nothing wrong with version 7 at all and I still have it on one of the office computers, but when Mistral Software – the NZ agents for Nuance who now own Dragon – sent through the latest release, Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0, I have to say I was blown away.

The speed at which the software now translates as you speak is incredible, and the accuracy is stunning to boot. We used it over the New Year break here at Investigate to compile the John Key/Bill English interviews in this issue – I simply played back the interviews on my MP3 recorder and live-dictated the questions and answers into the computer. The software transcribed so rapidly (Dragon boast 160 words per minute) that most of the time it was waiting for me, while I was trying to repeat a politician’s words on the wing so to speak whilst dropping the ums, ahs and pauses.

Like much of the software, and for that matter hardware, on the market today, Dragon 9.0 is capable of far much more than the average punter will use. In some programmes that’s a negative because they’re so complex to navigate and unlock. In Dragon’s case the company has always erred on the side of idiots, offering a package that allows users to either dip their toes in or plunge in. Like peeling away the layers of an onion, regular use of Dragon 9.0 turns up new tricks and new options on a semi-intuitive basis.

It can, for example, scan a downloaded voice memo from a digital recorder, Palm handheld or Pocket PC device, and automatically transcribe and type it out. Bluetooth headphone support is built in, allowing you to pace the room wirelessly while dictating. If the idea of bells and whistles excites you, why stop at dictation? Dragon is also pitching virtually keyboard-free use of your computer simply by talking to it.

There’s a memorable scene from the 1986 movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where Scottie confronts a 1980s desktop computer and tries desperately to make it respond to his voice. It was to be a further 11 years before the first Dragon programme hit shop shelves to help make Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic vision real.
Dragon 9.0, however, is itself galaxies away from its 1997 ancestor. Nuance are boasting 99% accuracy with the latest version and, for the first time, no lengthy training process. In previous versions time had to be spent reading set scripts for yonks while the computer got used to your voice patterns. No longer. In what Nuance claim is a world first, it’s virtually out of the box and go, and the software learns intuitively the more you work with it. Streamlined processing means coughs, sneezes, ums and ahs are all screened out, so they no longer appear on screen like a swearword in an Asterix comic.

As an office tool it’s excellent. As a homework aid, it allows students to much more quickly add passages from books or encyclopedias to their work

There are specialized versions available for the legal and medical professions, and the standard version of Dragon 9.0 kicks in at NZ$259 with a “Preferred” edition aimed at small business/home business users at $449, and a Professional edition for corporate and network use available as well.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 08:55 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2007

Healthy goals

Healthy goals

Claire Morrow seems to have been given some Tony Robbins CDs for Christmas

2007, Year of the Car. I know, I know, it’s not very United Nations; in 2007 I plan to in-crease my ecological footprint. I have been telling everyone (for most of 2006) about my new year’s resolution. I have a small page in the back of my to-do book that lists the indi-vidual steps involved in learning to drive. Step one - purchase learner’s handbook (check). Step two - find said learner’s handbook (it’s in this house somewhere!), step three - get learner’s permit. Step four - if no progress has been made by the end of March, consider behavioral therapy...and so forth.


The most popular new year’s resolution is to get more exercise. About 60-70% of people make three or more resolutions. About 40% of people succeed, and maintain their success for more than two months on the first attempt. About 17% fail 6 or more times, but still achieve their goal in the end. So that should inspire you.

I am always somewhat surprised by people who don’t make new year’s resolutions - most people are just busy doing other things or have goals privately in place that they don’t feel the need to discuss at length, but there are two interesting sub-groups I have noticed. The “I’m so fine the way I am” group (may I suggest honest and searching appraisal as an appropriate goal for 2007) and the “I can’t change” group. The latter have things they reckon they would like to change but they couldn’t actually be bothered changing them. It’s like saying “I want to earn lots of money...but I don’t want to work for it”. Psychotherapy might be a good suggestion, or antidepressant medication. If you couldn’t be bothered changing it...stop complaining about it. C’mon. Get with - I detest this phrase - the programme.

Research has actually been done – repeatedly - showing that in spite of the gut scorn we might feel about the overly optimistic on New Year’s Day, new year’s resolutions are actu-ally a useful thing, and most people use them to improve their lives. A shock, I know. You decide you want to achieve something, then you do what you need to achieve it, and then - as if by magic - it’s achieved. Not as much is known about what divides those who don’t achieve their goals from those that do, but enough is known about what constitutes a good behavioral modification plan that broad outlines of what will be most likely to work can be offered. Do you have your pencils ready?

(many “New Years” resolutions are actually made around the end of January or beginning of February, when things are settling down after the silly - or flat out stupid - season)

You must have put some thought into what you want to achieve, and be fairly motivated to achieve it. It is no good declaring that you will quit smoking (because you know you should and are tired of being hassled) when in your heart of hearts you know you like smoking and want to keep smoking, but figure you can white knuckle it through a few weeks to teach the hassler a lesson, and then light back up when they’re not looking. That is acting, but it is not a realistic goal. In that case a realistic goal might be “I would like to smoke less, exercise more and be more assertive”. You are looking for something you want to achieve for your own sake.

You need realistic expectations. You don’t just learn to drive in January. Frankly, I will be lucky if I find the book in January. You can lose 10 kilos by February, but it will make you ill. Best aim for lose 1 or 2 kilos a month so I can wear a bikini next summer. Priorities again. I would like to lose 10 kilos, but I have other things I want more. Losing 10 kilos is not something I am highly motivated to do. Weight loss didn’t even make my list. A com-mon resolution is to spend more time studying or working (23%). Aside from the obvious question (why?) the next really good question is - where will this time come from? You can’t just make more (if only!). So more time studying is not going to be much use to you in the long term if you achieve it by sleeping less (although this is a common short term strategy, and very effective for some people, it’s not going to work long term). Likewise if your mission is to spend more time working, you might want to check with your kids before you start skipping soccer practice to analyse flow variables. Ideally, you would actually find a way to work or study so that you achieve more in the same time. Or you would like to have a flexible timetable that you stick to. Or you would rather study on the train than listen to your iPod on the train this year. You get the idea.

You need a plan. Well, not everyone does, some people just do it, as the slogan says. But the most effective goals (the ones that stick), tend to be better planned. You make a mini list of things you need to do to achieve your goal. Going out and buying the hand-book is a first step. It has a date attached to it (The goal does. I haven’t seen the hand-book in months so who knows what it has attached to it.) When you achieve that part, you move on to the next bit. You can’t overdo it to the extent that your first step is to order 5 or 6 books on reducing clutter. Ordering 5 or 6 books on reducing clutter does not reduce clutter. One book might, so long as you read it. Your goal needs to be very specific and have a date or series of dates attached to it. There is no need to quit smoking on January one. You can make quitting smoking your goal, and set a date to quit. Then you spend a few weeks preparing, then you quit. A goal of “be a better person” is hard to measure. Clarify what you mean. You might mean volunteer work or you might mean baking for the bake sale. You might mean you will stop throwing rocks at puppies. “Wear a bikini next year” isn’t specific enough, and you can’t measure it. Nothing to stop you. You mean “lose 1-3 kilos a month until I reach my goal weight of_____”

And of course the other 2 stalwarts - if at first you don’t succeed, try try try again. People should have a plan B (what to do when things go wrong - and there will be stumbling blocks, practically guaranteed) and get support if you need it. Including, of course, tell people your plan. So I’ll let you know how the driving goes.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 01:00 AM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2007

Burning down the house: Feb 07 issue

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BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE

The kitchen, the kitchen, the kitchen’s on fire at Eli Jameson’s place

The holidays bring visitors from around the world, and for the past few weeks I have been playing host to my old friend insomnia who has apparently decided he needed a break from the harsh northern winter and the Seasonal Affective Disorder that is its constant companion. I’m not sure which aphorism is more appropriate here: that houseguests, like fish, stink after three days, or that when even your neuroses have neuroses, well, you really do have problems.

In any case, three a.m. found me sitting up watching the sort of stuff one watches late at night on pay TV. No not that sort of stuff - get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about lifestyle programming, specifically cooking shows. Now regular readers of this column will know that I’m horrified by the current state of cooking programming and its programming-executive driven shift away from what is maligned as “dump and stir” TV and towards the clever gimmick. (Anyone who is interested in reading more about this transformation should check out - it’s very generously online - Bill Buford’s article in the New Yorker of 2 October 2006 on the rise of food television.) But then again, I’m a purist.

Anyway, the gimmick behind the show I was watching was that a New York chef, himself the very model of a Modern Masculine Metrosexual, would travel around America’s flyover country, the unfashionable bits in between the coasts, and sort out home cooks’ inability to bake a ham or boil water. In the episode I was watching, a very nice lady had written in because she was depressed that she couldn’t flambé some dessert or other -- crepes su-zette, I think it was.

I was immediately struck by two emotions: envy and amazement. Envy, that in every damn lifestyle and reality show I see set in the US, Americans seem able to afford vast homes with barn-like lounge rooms and kitchens that could have been equipped by Gordon Ramsay himself. And amazement that anyone would have trouble setting fire to something in a kitchen. I couldn’t work out whether such a skill - or lack thereof - was, as the song says, a blessing or a curse.

Me, I’ve been setting a lot of stuff on fire lately. It all started a couple of months ago at my annual turkey fry. Yes, turkey fry. Now for those of you not familiar with this custom, it originated in the southern United States, specifically Louisiana, and involves the deep-frying of an entire turkey in a vat of oil heated to around 180 degrees Celsius. Accomplish-ing this is not an easy task, and requires some specialist equipment. If you want to do this, head down to your local Chinatown and get an outdoor wok burner that hooks up to your barbecue’s LPG tank. I cannot be much more helpful than to tell you that mine has no English characters written either on the equipment or in the documentation (which is all in Mandarin) other than the word RAMBO, and when you fire it up it produces a roaring blue flame that looks and feels like someone just hit the afterburner switch on an F-111. On top of this you will need to get a really large pot. This accomplished, frying the turkey could not be simpler, and what you get is -- trust me on this -- one of the tastiest birds you will ever eat.

All one does is get a good free-range turkey, around five or six kilos and a lot of frying oil. Peanut is best but expensive; anything with a high smoking temperature will do. Start by plonking the bird into the empty pot and filling with water until it is just covered.

Remove the bird and use a screwdriver or some other implement to mark the resultant water line as this is how high you will want to pour the oil. One wants enough oil to cover the bird but not so much that the stuff boils over. I think you see where this is going. When ready to fry, heat the oil -- I can get 3 gallons up to temperature in about 15 minutes with my rig -- and carefully lower the bird (which you have dried well and seasoned with salt, pepper and some cajun seasoning) into the oil. The pot will bubble up spectacularly, settle back down and in about 45 minutes pull it out. The skin will be golden and crispy, the meat moist and tender.

Where I went wrong this year was to add an extra two-litre bottle, “for good measure”. Aiding me in the actual lowering of the bird was my friend the Major, a veteran of several foreign theatres of war including most recently Iraq. This is relevant, because as it turned out it was good to have someone on hand who is cool under fire. With fifteen other guests surrounding the vat and the gas burner powering away, we put the turkey in. And as predicted the oil bubbled up. And up. And then, unfortunately, up and over the sides. Two jets of fire shot up the side before settling down into a scorching conflagration of flaming hot turkey grease and oil that could only be tamped down with a heavy application of - wait for it - kitty litter.

The turkey, as it turned out, was delicious. The backyard pavement on which this occurred may never be the same, though: for weeks it drew every cat in the neighborhood.

RECIPE: Bananas Foster

So it was Mrs Jameson’s birthday the other night, and I decided to finish our home-cooked feast with this great recipe (which, oddly enough, is also a New Orleans creation). It’s a great capper for a romantic dinner because it is easy, delicious and impressive (especially if your kitchen is in view of the table, or you decide to do it tableside. To recreate this you’ll need:

1 cup brown sugar
75-100g good butter
2 bananas
100ml good dark rum, such as Havana Club, Mount Gay or Myer’s
1 hefty pinch cinnamon
2 scoops quality vanilla ice cream, ideally but not necessarily home made.

Method:
1. Open your bananas and split lengthwise. Heat a pan over high heat and melt the brown sugar and butter together. When the mixture has turned into a nice caramel, slide in the bananas and fry on both sides, coating with the sugar.

2. Now here’s the tricky part. And by all means, don’t pour directly from the bottle lest you conjure the ghost of General Molotov. First, turn out the lights for maximum effect. Then, pour in the rum carefully and then tip the pan forward to catch a bit of flame from the stove, or use a match if cooking on an electric. Flames should dramatically shoot up, and when they settle down add the cinnamon. Arrange the bananas with a scoop of the ice cream on two plates and pour over the remaining rum-caramel.

The key here is to make sure you don’t be too generous, as I was, with the rum. Otherwise you might find yourself, as I did, finishing your special evening sans eyebrows.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 12:43 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2007

Valencia: Feb 07 issue

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AMERICA’S CUP 07: ON THE SPANISH RIVIERA

Elio Leturia checks out a stopover in Barcelona, while Jay Clarke finds the Silver Whisper cruise liner is well up to the task of being an America’s Cup viewing platform

With the America’s Cup about to kick off in Valencia, Spain, this year, the big cruise lines are offering a number of packages to capitalize on what is likely to be one of the most hotly-contested and spectatored events in the Cup’s history. For the first time, the Cup is being raced in modern Europe, the hub of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

The cruise liner Silver Whisper is being used as an oncourse viewing platform/hotel for the races and for the first time has been given permission to shadow the Cup racers down the course. Whisper will be departing for Valencia from its rival Mediterranean port, Barcelona on 22 June, which means if you time your flights properly there’s time for plenty of R and R in Barcelona for a few days prior.
Barcelona is a city of contrasts, especially between the medieval sites and the newer, modernista areas. It's easy to navigate and walkable, though you'd need a map in the charming and narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter.

Here are your reference points: Gran Via De Les Cortes Catalanes runs parallel to the sea and divides the old city from the modern. La Rambla in the old city divides the Gothic Quarter from El Raval. Passeig de Gracia divides the more modern Eixample neighborhoods.

Placa de Catalunya is the hub, at the end of lively La Rambla and at the beginning of chic Passeig de Gracia. It is the best place to begin after having taken a bus from the airport (around 4 euros compared to a much more expensive cab ride).

The placa, or plaza, is a big, open space where multitudes converge and move off in different directions, looking for stores to shop in, sights to see, restaurants in which to dine. In the area there are stores, good restaurants, fast food chains, business offices and a busy subway stop.

Let's begin by walking in the direction of the sea, following the famous La Rambla. It's like a carnival, busy and buzzing with tourist attractions. Magicians, mimes, musicians, exotic-animal vendors, beggars and fortune-tellers share space with tourists and strollers.

To your right is El Raval. It is the poorest area of the old city and its reputation has been one of vice and crime. It used to be known as Barcelona's Chinatown. Now, it has its share of interesting places and affordable restaurants, even if it is a bit seedier in spots than the Gothic Quarter or more modern areas.

Among Raval's spots of interest are the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Antoni Gaudi's magnificent Guell Palace and the Gran Teatre del Liceu. But if you are looking to explore the flavor of the city and the friendly demeanor of the locals for free, visit the Mercat de la Boqueria, a "modernisme" (Barcelona's version of art nouveau) structure made of metal, where you can do your grocery shopping and choose from an extensive array of prime local ingredients and produce from seafood, breads and fruits to spices and vegetables.

There is the old Hospital de la Santa Creu, which holds the Catalunya library (3 million documents, says National Geographic's "Traveler Barcelona" book), where you can see students chatting in a building dating back more than 600 years.

On the other side of La Rambla is the Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, a labyrinth of medieval streets filled with stores, bars, restaurants, hotels, churches, a breathtaking cathedral (work started in 1298) and Roman ruins.

With its dark corners, cafes and history, the Gothic Quarter showcases a unique personality. An afternoon here is spent weaving through the crowds of tourists who fill the narrow, cobblestone streets, and you could easily spend days exploring its alleys and walkways.

Next to the Gothic Quarter, you find El Born, a neighborhood that has been restored and embellished. It is home to the Picasso Museum, where you can see artwork from his early years (Picasso spent his youth in Barcelona). Be sure to walk through the 700-year-old Carrer de la Montcada, which houses grand galleries and sophisticated bars.

At the sea edge of La Rambla, south of El Born, you find the monument to Christopher Columbus, then the waterfront.

Facing the Mediterranean Sea, you notice a commercial area with numerous malls in what is called Port Vell, next to the water. Feel like shopping? This is a good place to find affordable items. You will also find the aquarium and the Maremagnum, a complex of stores, eateries, bars and discos.

Facing the port, another neighborhood called La Barceloneta is to your left. Once a group of warehouses, it harbors pricey seafood restaurants and blue-collar housing in amazingly narrow blocks. Beyond that is the beach, which bubbles with sun seekers.

On the other side of Placa de Catalunya, there is a dramatic change in the streetscape, as the view becomes that of modernist buildings and streets laid out in a grid. It's L'Eixample (the extension), a district divided by Passeig de Gracia and its elegant stores, tapas bars, cafes and restaurants.

This is a different face of Barcelona. Modernisme is the main architectural style, and it's a delight to the eye. For Barcelonians, L'Eixample can mean a place to live, a place to work, a place to enjoy the nightlife and especially, a place to shop. Unfortunately, most everything is expensive.

What can we do here on the cheap? Try walking. In just one block on Passeig de Gracia you can admire the facades of three architectural wonders: Gaudi's extraordinary Casa Batllo, with its undulating lines and balconies resembling jawbones; Puig i Cadafalch's Casa Amatller and its geometrically tiled top floor and, at the corner, Domenech i Montaner's Casa Lleo Morera, with its magnificent windows and bulging balconies.

To see what's inside these and other modernist buildings, you can buy a Ruta del Modernisme ticket that gives you access to these and other buildings, as well as other museums and attractions, at half-price within 30 days. The price is 3.61 euros for adults, 2.40 euros for students and senior citizens.

A couple of blocks away on the same street you find Casa Mila, or La Pedrera, another Gaudi marvel. It's so convoluted and striking, it's difficult to describe. But think of the movie "Star Wars." You will feel you are in outer space. Gaudi practically eliminated any straight lines in the architecture, from staircases to floors to ceilings.

Following the work of Gaudi, you have to see Sagrada Familia, a cathedral, still unfinished, more than a century in the making. Inspired by Gothic cathedrals, this church's design is unique, with its swirling towers and busy details.

Ten blocks from Casa Mila, Sagrada Familia has eight finished towers which represent the apostles (four others are to be built). Drawings show that more towers are part of the original design, with the tallest representing God as the central axis.

Work continues, but what you can see already is enough to take your breath away. It looks as if its towers were made of sand eroded by the wind. And still the overall effect remains solid and imposing.

Eight euros buys you a visit from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. during the colder months. The site is open until 8 p.m. from April through September.

If you're looking for more Gaudi at an even more reasonable price, visit Parc Guell, which is free. Originally conceived as a garden city, two homes were built in a setting supposed to hold 60. The park makes you feel as if you are in a fairyland, with its curved benches, fountains and plazas covered by colorful mosaics and sculptures of real and mythological creatures. From the park, you can stare out over the city to the Mediterranean and feel the pure and clean air.

If you're looking for a smoke-free environment, try Starbucks. There are three of them, the only smoke-free places I found in Barcelona.


On board the Silver Whisper, of course, it’s a different story again. I knew I was going to like the Whisper as soon as I stepped into our suite. Our stateroom, like all others, had a walk-in closet - a feature that instantly convinced my wife that we were truly on a classy ship. Our bathroom was equipped with double sinks as well as a tub and separate shower - notice, not EITHER a tub or shower, but BOTH.

Beyond the sitting area with its plush sofa and chairs was a veranda, a nice place to read a book or enjoy a cocktail while gazing at the restless sea. The mini-bar was pre-stocked with sodas and liquor of our choice, and canapes were delivered to our suite every day at 4 p.m. Sometimes it was hard to leave our room.

But of course we did, and found the rest of the ship just as elegant as our stateroom. Soft colors and rich woods gave the public rooms a warm feeling, and we never had to memorize fancy names for ship spaces. The decks were numbered, not named, the bar was simply The Bar, the restaurant was The Restaurant, the spa was The Spa, The Humidor was the cigar smokers' den, the Terrace Cafe had a terrace and the Panoroma Lounge indeed provided a panoramic view. Simplicity can be elegant.

It and its sister ship, the Silver Shadow, are the line's largest vessels, but with a maximum of 382 passengers they'll never threaten today's giant cruise ships, which can carry more than 3,000.

Which is how its guests like it. Luxury cruises do not come cheaply, and Silver Whisper's clientele are discriminating yet very down-to-earth people, we learned.

Such people demand a certain level of excellence, and they get it aboard the Silver Whisper.

First, they demand service that is several cuts above that on mainstream ships. Our cabin attendant, a young Italian woman, was always around with a happy smile, making sure our needs were met. Dining room waiters did their job with skill and pleasantry, even knowing that tipping is a no-no on all Silversea ships. A room service meal was just as fine as the restaurant's, and if they said it would be there in 10 minutes, it was.

We generally took a buffet breakfast in the Terrace Cafe, which transformed itself in the evening to an elegant, reservations-only alternative restaurant. We often took lunch on the pool deck, and I thought it was sort of incongruous - considering that people were in shorts or bathing suits - that waiters stood by to carry our plate of hot dogs, potato salad or whatever to our table, just as they did in the dining room. A nice touch, though.

In the evening, we took most of our meals in the dining room, where the menu was inventive, the food excellently prepared, the choices broad and the service impeccable. I was particularly impressed with a cannelloni that was delicate in taste and texture. Lifting an ordinary dish like this one to such heights was, I think, the mark of a good chef.

Complimentary wines of high quality were served with lunch and dinner, with the sommelier choosing ones to complement the entrees. But passengers could order different selections if they chose, also complimentary. Bottles of rarer wines like the grand crus, however, carried charges that ran as high as US$785 a bottle. Yes, there were people who ordered them.

In the Mandara spa, services were keyed to a high level. Businessmen breaking away from their workday gruel might go for an Executive Men's Facial to smooth out those pinstripe worries. Women could luxuriate in a Javanese Honey Steam Wrap treatment, which uses cinnamon, ginger, sea salt, coffee, honey and steam, or go for a Hot Lava Rock Massage, in which spa personnel massage client's bodies with steamed lava stones covered with a blend of rich cocoa butter. Luxury? Yes, indeed.

Onboard diversions ran along traditional lines. Books, magazines, games and movie video tapes were available in the library. Daily bridge games attracted several tables of players. Trivia quizzes, musical and otherwise, were popular, and in the evening we enjoyed pre-dinner and post-dinner shows in the two-story show lounge. Other than the fitness room and the pool, there were few activities for more active passengers. Shore excursions, too, were more geared to the older travelers the ship caters to.

On sum, Silversea gave us an experience well above what we've had on any other ship.
It doesn't get any better.

SILVER WHISPER
Gross tonnage: 28,258 tons.
Length: 186 metres.
Beam (width): 25 metres.
Passenger decks: 7.
Passenger capacity: 382.

GETTING THERE:
Lance Green at New Zealand’s Viaggio has managed to secure berths on Silver Whisper for kiwis wanting to see New Zealand win back the America’s Cup on the Mediterranean. Green, who has extensive background in the cruise industry, argues the liner’s smaller size and upmarket décor make it the perfect viewing platform for the America’s Cup, allowing guests the advantage of both watching live from the decks as the yachts duel their way past, and also the close-up action on the live TV coverage on the ship and in the suites.
“Throw in the fact that we’ve secured a package with no hidden costs, in NZ dollars, and we’re confident this is simply the best way to see the races, bar none.”
Ph 0800 100799

Posted by Ian Wishart at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2007

Book Reviews: Feb 07 issue

In association with The Nile
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FLYING A KITE

Michael Morrissey tracks the Rich, and finds a skeptic promoting unproven theories of her own

THE RICH By William Davis, Icon Books, $29.99
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Judging by earlier titles such as It's No Sin to be Rich, Have Expenses, Will Travel, Children of the Rich - Davis is much given to writing about the wealthy. It is a breed of which he thoroughly approves. He vehemently attacks the arguments that being rich is a matter of exploitation. Terms like “stinking rich” and “filthy rich” spring from envy or flaunting of moral superiority, he says. He also makes favourable mention of those who give large sums to medical research or other worthy causes. Examples include Elton John, Eric Clapton and Bill Gates. The world's wealthiest person, Gates has put $29 billion into a charitable foundation and claims he will give away 95 per cent of his wealth before he dies. Bravo Bill!

And if this sounds too serious, just remember – as Davis reminds us – the rich do buy things like yellow submarines, Zeppelin airships and five-foot-high acrylic aquariums shaped like elephants.

While it is heartening to read about the wealthy giving back the money to the wider community, Davis does not examine any of the sharp practices and ruthless conduct that often accompany the building of a large company though there is a chapter dealing with rich crooks. To be condemned by Davis you have to be outright crooked. Puzzlingly, Pablo Escobar, the Colombian cocaine drug warlord and arguably the richest crook in history, is not mentioned.

In case – though it is probably unlikely – you find yourself invited to a weekend house by Old Money, Davis lists some handy tips on how to conduct yourself. Don't, for instance, boast about a recent deal through which you made a packet - “simply not done”. On no account be impressed by the $50 million Picasso hanging on the wall of a room as large as a football field. After all, you are used to such luxuries, right? You must participate in any silly parlour games played by these idle folk. Suitable topics for discussion include horses, dogs, gardens, taxes and, of course, problems with servants. Old Money conducts itself thus: “We do not hustle, we do not push, we are not aggressive”.

Alas some of the rich, especially those showy folk called nouveau riche, appear not to have heard of these rules. Examples might include William Randolph Hearst, Donald Trump, Richard Branson and the late Elvis Presley. Monarchs are usually not bashful about flaunting their wealth either as Davis duly reveals. The rich can be found everywhere though still mainly in the United States followed by Germany, Russia, Japan and Britain.

While providing an informative Cook's tour of the famous wealthy, Davis's accounts and analysis tends to be shallow and the inner psychology of what drives people to stop at nothing in the accumulation of wealth is not explored in any depth. His writing style is banal and often given to generalisations when particularity would have better exampled his case. Eg “... cancer and heart disease continue to kill many people ...”

While many a successful entrepreneurial rise to success has been made by ignoring negative advice - “It can't be done. It costs too much. It's risky. It takes too long to get returns” - there is, in the name of pro-wealth positivity, little examination of the overwhelmingly larger number of people who also ignored sensible advice and wound up broke. And, one wonders, is Davis himself getting rich by writing about the financially over-endowed? For his sake, I hope so.


MICRO NATIONS by John Ryan, George Dunford and Simon Sellars, $29.99
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If you stopped someone in the street and asked them, “What is a micro nation?” their eyes might momentarily glaze then they might respond, “A small country?” And they would be right. But in the context of this fascinating, entertaining and handsome little book, a micro nation is more or less an imaginary country invented by a single individual or a few which may have no actual territory or a very tiny amount, e.g. the “nation” founder's own property – though there are some interesting exceptions to this definition.

Though some of these “countries” have no dominions to rule or no recognised government, the ingenious inventors have composed a geography and history. Some even have passports and stamps. One of the grandest of these non-United Nations recognised nations is the Hutt River Province principality in Australia.

Hutt River was founded in 1970 by wheat farmer (now Prince) Leonard George Casley, after a dispute with the legitimate government about his crop allotment. The Hutt Valley nation is one of the larger micro nations covering some 75 sq kms with its own passport, visas, stamps and currency. In a spirit of invention that may owe something to Jonathan Swift and Lord of the Rings, The Hutt also has Province magnets,T-shirts, stickers, commemorative spoons, badges and CD recording of the national anthem plus a Royal Art Collection. There is a tearoom that offers light snacks but if you plan an overnight stay you are advised to bring your own food. Relations with the Australian government have proved difficult - it failed to recognise the province and demanded taxes – so the Prince declared “war” in 1977. So far no shots have been fired.

Other colourful examples - though they are all colourful - include Freedonia, which was originally named from the Marx Brothers' film Duck Soup and associated with a disastrous claim to land in Somalia; the Copeman Empire which consists of a mobile caravan in Sheringham England - the owner and King, who owns a corgi, offers cucumber sandwiches and tea for a modest fee; Lovely, an invention of British comedian Danny Wallace who fronted a 6-part TV programme entitled How to Start Your own Country; Danny's own country consists of his own flat, address not to be revealed – though a map is provided. In terms of exotic appellation, my favourites are the Sovereign Kingdom of Kemetia, Principality of Trumania, the Kingdom of North Dumpling Island and the redoubtable republic of Kugelmugel. There are more of these novel geographic beasties that you might imagine – Micro Nations has 52 entries but one website lists over 100.

Are there micro nations in New Zealand? Indeed, there are. Two are mentioned here – Whangamonona near Stratford which in micro national terms has the full monty - its own football team, beer, hotel cafe and motor camp. “Buying a passport (NZ $3) is advised as the border guard has been known to be armed with water pistols”. Honourable mention is made of Borovnia, an imaginary land invented by Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme who murdered Parker's mother in Christchurch in 1954 and recently the subject of the excellent Peter Jackson film, Heavenly Creatures.

So far so good. But why no mention of the Sultanate of Occussi-Ambeno, an imaginary micro nation with an historical foundation - a former Portuguese enclave in east Timor excised from maps when Indonesia invaded in 1975 - invented by the mildly notorious Bruce Grenville. Apart from its magnificent stamps, it has an elaborate history and geography, and the photograph of the Sultan may possibly be Grenville himself in a fez.. Fauna include the Garuda bird and the flying Naga Unggu which curiously is related to the flightless Komodo dragon. I can only urge the editors of Micro Nations to do a revised edition and include this third kiwi micro nation.

Obviously an imaginary country without any territory is a lot easier to create than one that lays claim to any land. Attempts to create new nations micro or otherwise in the real world are fraught with peril. When a Las Vegas real estate property developer had several barges of sand poured on a reef just off Tonga and christened it Minerva, the Tongan government sent in troops to pull down the Minervan flag. To make it really difficult, the wet-blanket 1982 United Nations Convention of the Sea decided that any micro nation created at sea falls under the jurisdiction of the nearest country. Unless you own your own patch of dirt, the conceptual country existing purely as a work of fiction looks the safer bet.


IN THE NAGA'S WAKE by Mick O'Shea, Allen & Unwin, $32.99
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Mention the Mekong river to most people and you might get a mention of the golden triangle – and not much else. This gripping travel account will expand the reader's knowledge of the world's eighth longest river – 4909 kilometres long. The kayak-based journey successfully completed by Mick O'Shea and his companions is not for the faint-hearted, involving numerous class V and the even more terrifying gateway to terror, class V-plus runs on boiling white water.

The Mekong – which is sourced in the Lasagongma Glacier - along with the Indus, Yangtze, Yellow, Salween and Brahmaputra rivers originate on the vast and high Tibetan plain. Surprisingly – for this reader – fish can be found at 4600 metres above sea level. Journeys like these are a two-edged sword – much of the time death is not far away; at the same time O'Shea writes: “I don't think I ever felt more alive.” And that was just at the beginning of his adventure. The last time a comparable exploration had been done was over 100 years earlier.

The author's daring is not just on the physical level - which involved 12 hours a day on the turbulent river – but also deciding to proceed without a permit. In the grand tradition of exploration, if you run a rapid you get the right to name it - or should one say, re-name it as the local inhabitants may already have named it.

Like all specialist activities, kayaking has its own vocabulary. So we have wave trains, rooster tails and keeper holes. The latter is a whirlpool that keeps the kayaker whirling around in trapped circular fashion. Also “fat bastards” - big walls of crashing water named after the character in the Austin Powers' films. In contrast to the gripping descriptions of battling turmoiled water, there is the generous warmth and hospitality of the Tibetan people, some of whom were more than a tad worried about O'Shea's death-defying feats on the mighty Mekong.

In the latter part of his book, O'Shea gives a lyric account of his travels through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma and notes with regret that the enormous Chinese dam projects on the Mekong will have a devastating effect on the lives of river-dependent tribes and people down river. He also reminds us of the devastation wrecked in Laos during the Vietnam war by American bombing and the tragedy of Cambodian landmines. All in all, O'Shea's tale is a triumphal run through troubled waters.


ODDZONE by Vicki Hyde, New Holland Publishers, $29.99
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Vicki Hyde is a leading New Zealand skeptic. She is chair-entity (!) of the New Zealand Committee of Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal aka NZ Skeptics and also manging editor of SciTechDaily Review. Mention of Little Green Men is enough to bring her out in a Large Green Rash.

In this tidy tome, she disposes of UFOs and aliens, ghoulies and ghosties, mediums and psychics, possibly surviving moose and moa and, in the last and largest chapter, hoes into alternative archaeology. But before tackling these controversial notions head-on she has an interesting introductory chapter entitled a “Toolkit for the Mind”. She makes the philosophical point that “if something cannot be explained it does not mean it is inexplicable”. She reveals that her own early reading has charted the familiar path of the believer in “alternative thinking” e.g. lashings of science fiction (Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov) plus Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich Von Danikin. However, rather than becoming a convert, she has reacted back into the apostasy of being a skeptic.

As she points out, many an investigator would give their eye teeth for absolute proof of mind-to-mind communication but various offers of considerable sums of money from the likes of Harry Houdini, James Randi as well as skeptic-minded organisations in Australia, India, England and New Zealand have failed to produce convincing demonstrations and tend more to show the opposite. She concludes by noting that proving something is not the case is more or else impossible. To prove there were no moas left in Aotearoa, for instance, you would have to search every square inch of New Zealand. On the other hand, to prove there is a moa all you have to do is capture one and produce it – so far no one has succeeded. And it seems highly unlikely – though there's always that lingering romantic hope. After all, the storm petrel was re-discovered 155 years after it had “disappeared”. Cloning, anyone?

To her credit - in case you think Hyde is a cast-iron skeptic about anything that runs against science - she instances the existence of meteorites. The French Academy of Sciences dismissed their extraterrestrial origin until some 3000 stones fell near L’Aigle in 1803. No one now doubts that they come from beyond the earth.

Some of the skeptical explanations for not-quite-explained phenomena are cheerfully romantic. The first New Zealand UFO sighting in New Zealand occurred in 1909. Hyde comments, “It's just possible that a lone German Zeppelin cruised through New Zealand skies in 1909.” What an exciting idea! - worthy of a Peter Jackson film. On the other hand, alien abductions fail to convince her. Some UFO abduction proponents claim as many as five million Americans have been abducted while here in New Zealand the total is a more modest 3000.

Barry Brailslford, Martin Doutre, Ross Wiseman and most recent of all, Gavin Menzies, are all considered by Hyde but in her view fail to prove their colourful theories concerning Waitaha tribe preceding Maori, or the Celts, Phoenicians or Chinese arriving in New Zealand prior to other ethnic groups. I am sure I am not alone in wanting some of these assertions to be authentic; and if they not literally true then they are the stuff of exciting fiction. The possibility of relevant special effects films is even more pulse-raising. Imagine a fleet of Chinese junks sailing into New Zealand and encountering Maori tribes! That Hyde has not quelled a mythological yearning in her own mind is indicted by her concluding thought that if hoofbeats heard at night prove to be a unicorn, give her a call – or is this her ever present skepticism?


UNCOMMON ENEMY by John Reynolds, Polygraphia, $29.50
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John Reynold's first novel belongs to a genre that continues to fascinate – what would happen if Germany had won World War Two? Dozens of examples of the genre have been published. Prominent titles include The Sound of His Horn by Sarban, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick and Fatherland by Robert Harris. The Sound of his Horn and Fatherland were both set in Europe and Philip Dick's book set in America. Daringly, Reynolds places his Nazis in New Zealand.

Uncommon Enemy is an intriguing alternative to the more expected Japanese takeover which is prominently featured in an essay in the recent anthology of speculative alternative history New Zealand As It Might Have Been edited by Stephen Levine – “What if Japan had Invaded New Zealand?” Curiously, many more novels have been written about Germany winning than Japan emerging victorious. Though not formally part of this particular strand of alternative future fiction, C.K. Stead's Smith's Dream comes to mind as another exploration of a neo-fascist takeover of the New Zealand government.

In Reynold's well-detailed period piece, Auckland and nearby environs are the centre for much of the action. In particular, Auckland's North Shore - a more than familiar literary landscape as a consequence of Devonport/Takapuna being New Zealand's largest literary colony so to speak – is the backdrop of much of the vigorous in-fighting that features in this book.

The hero of Uncommon Enemy is an idealistic high-spirited young man called Stuart Johnson, and from early on in the novel he is locked in combat with the odious and bullying Hamish Beavis. Initially, they are rivals for the affections of Carol Peterson, and later, perhaps a little predictably, given Beavis's aggressive nature, they found themselves as ideological protagonists. Stuart joins the resistance and Hamish joins the Nazis.

War time Premier Peter Fraser has a cameo role as a leader who pays the price for refusing to make a Nazi salute by being assaulted by Von Ribbentrop's henchmen. Reynolds describes an effective Germanisation of England and New Zealand – fascist Oswald Mosley is made Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill's home becomes a Gestapo headquarters and the Duke of Windsor is reinstated as King Edward V111; in New Zealand, the Northern Club is occupied and the Academic Values Authority squashes academic freedom at Auckland University College with the decrees of its New Order.

A secondary thread in the plot which adds to the mounting drama of the story is the presence of a couple of White Rose members one of whom does not turn out quite as she seems to be. The White Rose was a student resistance group against the Nazis in wartime Germany. The novel reaches an exciting climax which leaves a lingering strand of hope for the future of the resistance movement. Reynolds' novel should be enjoyed by those old enough to remember New Zealand's wartime years but also by younger generations interested in the dark possibility of Nazi rule.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)