The Wall of Life

Reflecting on recent events got me thinking that life is something like a brick wall.  You probably recall the Pink Floyd number Another Brick in the Wall?

As we go through life we add bricks to our wall, bricks made up of experiences and actions, some good and some not so good.  It all starts with the first bricks which create a foundation and on that we build our lives, one brick at a time.

Some people build a small wall but that’s okay because, well built, it allows others to sit on down, to take a break and be supported.  Small is not bad.

Others are able to build bigger walls, many bricks, layered through multiple threads of life’s experiences.

What holds all the bricks together?  I would suggest its love, faith and hope.  Love as we know is the glue that holds us all together and in the walls of our lives it provides a great bond for our bricks.  Faith is the belief that our lives do matter – not only to us but to others around us.  And hope is the expectation that tomorrow will come and that we can give something back for the riches that we have enjoyed.

Sometimes a brick is not strong or good but as long as there’s not too many of these then the wall will cope.  We all have an off day or make mistrakes but the other bricks in our wall help overcome their weaknesses.  And the cement binds them all together to keep our wall straight and strong.

Busy with our own walls we rarely have the chance to step back and look at what life has created for us but sometimes others do look over our walls and do acknowledge what is on our walls.  One of our weaknesses as humans is a reluctance to acknowledge what others achieve, regardless of whether its a low parapet or a towering wall, and so when someone does come along and say “your life is a marvelous wall” we get a surprise.

So even though we might be just “another brick in the wall” keep building and celebrate your wall, mix the cement of love, faith and hope well and keep adding bricks, whether they are small or big.  And take time to acknowledge the walls of other people’s lives for you never know when the opportunity will come around again.


Greedebt – a new word!

My recent post about Joseph and his Techno IPod certainly got a few people thinking but my frustration with politicians and leaders continues to grow as fast as the worsening financial crisis in Europe.  An article in the Dominion Post recently had news that Greek politicians wanted to withdraw from the European Union and start printing their own currency.  That’s a bit like Labour’s election promises of more benefit money and National’s claims that they can get grwoth going again.  It all appears to be fairyland stuff to me.

The problem seems to me to be a cycle of greed and debt so I’ve invented a new word to describe this cycle -greedebt.  Coming from the phrase Greek Debt which is going to be an implosion second only to the shock waves that will come out of the collapse of the Italian economy, it describes the economic cycle of  growth fuelled by ramapant consumerism generating unrealistic and unnecessary demand paid for by debt which is in turn fuelled by greed which eventually overwhelms the ability of the economy to sustain the growth – hence greedebt.  I’m sure the economists in this world will be able to tidy up the definition but let me use some examples to explain.

There is an economic mantra that says all will be solved by growth but as long ago as 1990 John Robinson in his book Excess Capital was describing the paradox of poverty and plenty, how the fruits of human progress are destroying modern society and the environment.  “The capitalist system, into which the citizens of the developed markets countries were born, thrives on growth.  Once created, capital must be reinvested into some new profitable enterprise.  Such a system eventually experiences wobbles when the economy becomes sufficiently prosperous.”  I would add to Robinson’s idea the thought that modern society, in all its inventiveness, allowed greed to stoke the fires of growth.  How much can any man need?  I know we all want more but how much do we really need?  So greed, the lust for bigger, better, more helped fuel growth – but at what cost.

As consumerism became the new religion we wanted more but didn’t have the means to pay so the greedy came up with lots of ways for us to have now, pay later.  When my wife and I started on our married life we saved to buy a section, eventually built a modest house (with debt of course) and when we moved in our total possessions amounted to a bed, a dining room table and chairs, a fridge, a washing machine and a car.  Over time we saved and laid a drive, built fences, erected a car port, bought a clothes drier, got more bedroom furniture for the arriving family and then treated ourselves to a telly.  Today when you buy a house the list of things that come with it is extensive.  Its a turn-key package paid for with debt in many cases.

At the national level the same thing happens of course.  In the Greek economy I am lead to believe that no-one pays taxes, everyone gets generous handouts such as superannuation and all this has been paid for by debt.

Hence my new word greedebt – debt fuelled by greed for more.

The worry is what happens when the house of cards that is the world’s financial system begins to fall?  One card at a time, will the house come tumbling down?  What does a post capitalist world look like?  What will it mean for the average person like me?

So many questions I think I might rush out and buy myself an IPod to satisfy my want for gadgets – booked up on my credit card of course.



How many zeroes are there in a trillion?

I was talking to Roger recently and neither of us were sure how many zeroes there are in a trillion.  Its sounds like there’s a lot but we struggle with billions so getting our heads around a trillion is a bit like looking at the night sky and wondering how far it all goes.

The night sky with comet

Night sky with comet 2007

I looked it up on wikipedia and found out that the way we talk about trillions means there’s 12 zeros in the number.  A million has six zeroes and a billion has nine zeroes.  Adding another three takes us up to a trillion.

Mind boggling as they say.  And this is in a world where worry about one or two zeroes is never far from many people’s minds.  The way our economy is managed is making a mess of many people’s lives and they are struggling to cope with the daily bills which only have one or two zeroes on them.  Power bills are growing ever more expensive and if there’s one thing that represents the worst of the market economy it has to be the way essentials like power and telecommunications have been managed.

This Government is hell bent on worshiping market forces.  We see it with the current debacle over land in Canterbury.  “Leave it to the market” to sort out supply and demand they say.  But its mot a normal market and those fortunate to have parcels of land and the developers are laughing all the way to the bank.  The number of zeroes on their bank accounts will increase while others are left to fend as best they can.

As the USA struggles to get to grips with its multi-trillion debt and countries like Greece find it difficult to make the change thats needed in its economy, its important to remember that at the bottom of the pile, not seen under the  zeroes, are people.  Their lives are touched in many ways by the decisions of all these politicians yet the politicians seem to be oblivious to anything but the vote, the number of zeroes on the score cards from the ballot boxes.  They do and say whatever it takes to grab another tick against their name.  Regardless of the impact on people they do the popularist thing.  To me thats unethical and reflects the worst in our political system

Until they can get over their fascination with all these zeroes our country, in fact the western world, will struggle to make headway against the looming tidal wave of zeroes in our debt.

Trillions?  Whats the next big number after a trillion?  Did you know that the biggest number listed on wikipedia is a centillion which has 303 zeroes in it?  Perhaps another taste of Trillian (from the Hitchhikers Guide) might get me over my current grumpiness.

Joseph’s techno i-Pod

Young Joseph was having a hard time.  His many older brothers and sisters were always picking on him and making life miserable.  He wasn’t sure how many family members there were but when they had pizza he was lucky if there were  enough slices in two pizzas for him to get a piece.  Life at school wasn’t much better but he stuck with it and eventually through study and hard work became an accountant.

One of his strong points was economics and over the years he watched as the people around him got increasingly into debt.  More and more material possessions but only possible through mounting debt on credit cards and bank loans.  He was uneasy as this didn’t seem to be the way things were meant to be and he recalled the biblical story of Joseph who had a coat and was a man of dreams.  It seemed to the modern day Joseph that there was a historical precedent to where the world was heading and he worried.

In his job he was given a new fangled thingy to let him stay in touch when he was away from the office.  The boss thought he should keep up to date with the action and this i-pod would let him do that.  Joseph enjoyed being able to surf the net while he was out and about in his job but still he worried that all the news he was reading was just the same – nations spending more than they could afford, getting further and further into debt, and people in those countries becoming more and more poverty stricken and losing control of their destinies.

He decided to post a post on a blog site of the Prime Minsiter.  They wanted feedback and so he would give it to them.  Would they listen?  He didn’t know but Joseph felt he had something to say and he would say it.  Here’s what he posted.

My name sake Joseph predicted seven good years for Egypt followed by seven bad years so he urged the leaders to store the surplus from the seven good years to tide them over in the bad years.  They heeded him and disaster was averted.

It seems to me (said the modern day Joseph) that we have had seven good decades since the end of the second world war.  Nations have propspered and the standard of living has improved for many.  For some nations the good times have been slow coming and for some the greed of the wealthy has kept them in poverty or deprived them of their resources.  In those nations that have prospered people haven’t been storing the surplus to help in the future, instead they have been gorging themselves, becoming fat and idle, ignoring the pain and anguish and desperation of many so that the few can live in luxury and excess.

The seven good decades are ending and I am predicting that we face seven decades of famine – famine not only in terms of food but also in resources and in spiritual well-being of the people of the world.  Starvation for many and a life of misery when dust is all that children and mothers and fathers have to eat.  Water taken from their lands by the greedy nations will leave them dying in the sun.  The people of the so called developed nations will reap what they have sown.

By ignoring the plight of the poor and needy in their communities they will face an increasing tide of people wanting to breakdown their doors to plunder their mansions built from greed and immorality.  The police, increasingly expected to keep the haves safe from the have-nots, will be overrun by the sheer scale of the breakdown of law and order.  Governments will find themselves isolated and overrun by the people wanting a share, anything at all to keep them and their families alive.  Governments will scratch their heads and wonder why is this happening, blind to their indifference about what sort of society they have created.

Joseph hit the send button and it wasn’t long before his boss was on the phone.  “What have you done Joseph?  What is this blasphemy you are preaching?  Don’t you know the best interests of our company and therefore your position depend on the benevolence of the nation’s leaders?  And here you are, predicting doom and gloom?  That’s not what they are all about, they are there for the fat cats, the greedies, the well-off and we get our cut from their good fortune.  I’m sorry you are banished, exiled, outcast.  Oh, and I want that i-pad thingy back please.”

With that, Joseph was without a job, cast on the heap of the unemployed.  And what was worse his link with the internet was gone too.

Of course that’s not the end of Joseph’s story so, just like his Biblical namesake, Joseph will be back with further installments in his story.  Meanwhile, do you think he was right?  Was his boss right to sack him?  Should those in leadership positions be heeding his warnings?  Are we really in for seven decades of “famine”?

New Super Hero needed!

I’m wondering if its time for a new super hero to come to the rescue of our civilisation?  I grew up with the comic book Phantom and his mysterious dog Devil who came to the rescue of many unfortunates.  Then there was the caped crusader, Batman, and his sidekick Robin who kept the lowlifes of Gotham City in check (as an aside I really enjoyed the Batman ride at Movie World on the Gold Coast).

Super Man was probably the most well known super hero in my earlier days. Who can forget reading about the reporter Clark Kent stepping into a telephone booth and doing a quick change into Super Man then flying off to save someone from danger or disaster.  Perhaps that’s our problem – not enough telephone boxes around the place and Clark Kent has to go in search of one resulting in him being too late getting to the scene of the action.  There’s a telephone booth near the Port of Napier gates but its windows are often broken.  Maybe time, and our preference for fine food and wine, has caught up with Clark like the rest of us and, having put on weight in his older age, he keeps sticking his elbows through the glass of the telephone booth.  As a result by the time he rings up Telecom to report the damage its too late for him to fly off on his mission.

Super Woman was the gender balance for Super Man but perhaps time and good food has caught up with her as well and she can no-longer get into that outfit with the extremely narrow waist.

So we need a new super hero, someone who can fly to our rescue averting financial collapses, expanding credit limits and staving off creditors with mighty blows.

Thanks to the imagination of my grandsons perhaps there’s hope for us yet and suitably qualified super heroes might want to apply for these positions.

Super Mark(et): living in the bowels of a warehouse somewhere is a person who could take on the role of Super Mark(et).  The primary tasks are to fly (or perhaps ride at high speed in a super market trolley) to the rescue of old ladies whose shopping bags break or mothers with kids who create mayhem in the aisles or housewives struggling to interpret grams per $ or calories per kilo.  Super Mark(et) would appear in a puff of granulated sugar and offer the old lady some plastic handles for her broken bags, or a smack around the ear for the obstreperous kids, or he’d whip out his trusty calculator (solar powered of course) and calm the befuddled housewife.  Then we could get him to take out a large felt pen and with one stroke reduce all those prices thus reducing in an instant the cost of living.

Super Ann(uation): so that there is gender balance this position of Super Ann(uation) will provide respite for the elderly and aged and those of us struggling to make ends meet.  Super (Ann(uation) will infest all our computers and hence our bank accounts to make all those money problems go away.  With her X-ray vision coming to our aid we’ll know what investments to make and which ones to avoid as Super Ann(uation) probes the dirty dealings of financial advisors and speculators.  Able to tear a Company Annual Report in half with her bare hands she will reveal all that lies behind smarmy words and  columns of financial numbers.  Rounding up loose change and spare cash Super Ann(uation) will bring much happiness to people who might otherwise have to trade in their walking frames to buy their lotto tickets.

Anyone interested in applying should fill out an application form and send their $5 application fee to me.  They should also send this to 10 other people inviting them to send it to 10 more and so on, each time sending me $5.  That way I am sure Super Ann(uation) will be looking after me and I’ll be able to enjoy the services of Super Mark(et) more often.





Our veterans deserve better Mr Mapp

All credit to the Queensland Reds for winning the Super Rugby crown for 2011 but at the same time full marks to the Crusaders for a great example of Kiwi stoicism.  In the face of many challenges both these teams have done well and fully deserve their accolades (even in defeat).

The Crusaders have travelled great distances this year to play their games since the earthquakes in Christchurch disrupted their plans but they are not the only ones who have travelled great distances.  According to HB Today the Defence Minister, Wayne Mapp, has been overseas (at our expense of course) to Crete to take part in ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.  Its right and proper that New Zealand should be represented at such events but if the report in our local daily is to be believed the Government and Mr Mapp are to be condemned for the way they have treated our veterans of that battle.

If the journalists have got it right Mr Mapp and his entourage spared no expense including luxury accommodation and lavish meals but excluded our veterans from all of this.  They had to pay their own way, receiving only a small $2,000 grant which as anyone who has travelled will know barely covers the airport taxes to get on the plane.

These are the men and women who fought the battle.  They are the ones who the people of Crete and other Mediterranean countries so admire and respect.  These are the people who faced their enemy and fought to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.  Where were Mr Mapp and his hangers on when all this happened?  They weren’t there of course so I question what right he’s got to go and take all the glory and kudos, to spend lavishly on himself and to be part of the pomp and ceremony when our veterans were the real heroes.  They were the ones that should have been flown first class and put up in great accommodation, wined and dined at our expense while the others, politicians in particular, should have taken a back seat.

I am absolutely disgusted at yet another example of how self serving our politicians can be, tightening the purse strings around the necks of the hoi polloi while looking after number one.

Mr Mapp should a) apologise and b) refund the travel, accommodation and incidental costs that those veterans incurred in getting to the Crete commemorations.

I salute the veterans – its because of the sacrifice made by people like them that Mr Mapp is part of a parliamentary democracy and I am able to blog to vent my displease with his actions and attitude.

Cooking up trouble

I’m having problems finding the ingredients for my cooking.  Having taken up doing occasional meals in the slow cooker I am enjoying trying out the various menus and making my small contribution to the running of the household.  But finding the right ingredients is a challenge.  I need a tin of whole tomatoes but the nearest supermarket doesn’t stock any, well not NZ made ones.  Plenty made in Asia and even the Watties ones, which I expected to be locally produced given HB’s agricultural base, were imported (from Italy).

I don’t go shopping at the supermarket with my wife very often because I used to be a grab the cheapest and run shopper.  Not the lady of the house though; she inspects everything and makes a real effort to buy NZ made wherever possible.  Now I’m all in favour of this and its good to know that the food on the table is not likely to be plagued (literally I suppose) with contaminants of some sort, but its a real challenge.

So where is this leading?  Down in Dunedin the forces are mobilising in support of the railway workshop people in an effort to retain their jobs.  The Hillside site was established in 1875 and has been responsible for making some of NZ’s iconic railway stuff but the proposed axing of jobs comes about because of the move to maintaining foreign built rolling stock.

Throughout the country we’ve seen the loss of jobs as companies have either moved their businesses overseas in search of lower cost manufacturing opportunities or they have closed up shop in the face of competition from cheap imports.  Some NZ businesses have managed to find a way to keep going and all power to them I say.

The people of Dunedin have the right to take up this cause on behalf of the people who face job losses and I wish them good luck in trying to achieve a good outcome.  But I wonder how many of them will, once they’ve been on the protest line for the day, hop in their foreign built car and drive to the foreign owned supermarket and buy imported food without even looking at the labels.  Every can or box of food made in China or Malaysia or Italy that they put in their supermarket trolley threatens the job of some other Kiwi.  But then we all want the cheapest don’t we, at least until its our jobs that are threatened.

It seems to me that this is another case of NZ’ers wanting it both ways (a subject I’ve blogged about before).  If we were really serious about keeping NZ jobs in NZ then we’d all be inspecting the label on everything we buy and wherever possible buying the one that says Made in New Zealand.  Unless we all do that then the situation in Dunedin will just be repeated elsewhere many more times.

Do we need an NZERA?

The appointment of Roger Sutton as Chief Executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has been widely welcomed as a good move and in the best interests of the region.  From the little I’ve seen of him on telly I would tend to agree.  He has the communication and leadership skills to bring great vision and drive to a very important organisation.

What a pity that our politicians don’t have the same skills.  Words like self-serving, poll-driven and short-term thinking spring to mind when I hear a politician speak.  The drive to retain power in a system that sees them facing the risk of being sacked every tthree years stunts their ability to think and act in the best interests of the country and its people.

I am of the view that New Zealand faces a disastrous economic future unless something drastic is done to sort out our problems.  I’ve posted before about the economic impact of the leaky home crisis, the Christchurch earthquake and the meltdown of finance companies.  These things, along with world economic conditions, will make life very hard for us all.  But what are those responsible for managing all this doing?  Making minor adjustments to things like student loans schemes and Kiwi Saver (but not their own super scheme I note somewhat cynically).

Perhaps we need to sideline the politicians and appoint a New Zealand Economic Recover Agency headed by someone like Roger Sutton?

Someone able to assess the situation, get a handle on the key factors plaguing this country and then make the hard decisions,not just short term, to help us make progress and get back to a reasonable standard of living.  Not a political appointment, subject to three yearly changes of governments, but an enduring appointment (obviously with safeguards) of someone with vision and leadership skills to sort us out.

So bring on an NZERA.  I’ll vote for that.

Up, Up and away!

Over a period of several days we watched with interest as a building (historical but not importantly so) was attacked by workmen, its cladding removed and base exposed.  Then it was jacked up into the air and lowered onto the back of a large truck for removal.  As we passed the site on the corner of busy Napier street each day we speculated as to where it was going but all was revealed when its journey across the road (no more than 50 metres) was completed early one morning.

The physio building
Pic004 April 2011

What would the vacated site next to the medical centre be used for?  Was the medical centre expanding? Would it be car parking for the medical centre?  All that expense to move the building must have been for a good reason we thought, but we quickly learnt that it was to enable the adjacent car sales yard to expand.

As if we didn’t already have enough land covered by car sales yards and we don’t already have enough cars consuming energy and polluting the air with their carbon emissions.

Throughout NZ there are many such car yards and as you walk past them in the morning you will often see the cars sitting with their motors running so that the car sales people know they are ready for the next customer who comes in and wants to look at the vehicle.

Obviously I’m a driver and use a car to get around so I’m as guilty as everyone else but I do have pangs of guilt so you’ll have to bear with me in this blog.

The question I’ve got is what are we going to do when the oil runs out?  Some, like me, think thats closer than we care to think about but others think its decades away and we’ll have some technology solution by then.  Whichever way you look at it the time will come and then we’ll have to change something in the way our society works.

So more space being taken over by car sales yards in a street in which two new dealerships in new or refurbished buildings opened in the past few years doesn’t seem like great progress to me.

Its a very wet day here so now I’ll have to get the car out to go to town, driving past the car sales yard on the way:-)

Where is God?

Where is God?  A question you might ask given calamatous events all around the world, and even in our own communities.  A question that deserves some thinking, and if I may be so bold, some words.  Not answers because the question is too big for answers, but lets see where words take us in this blog.

Your response to the question will probably depend on whether you view God as a divine figure, a father or parent, a heavenly being perhaps, or whether your consider the concept of God to be a human construct, one created out of human experience, expressed in language in an endeavour to make sense of the realities of this world.

My particular thinking is the latter.  Not for me the God of the parking space (this is when you get in your car to go to town you pray to God that a parking space will be created just for you when you get to the supermarket even if you happen to change you mind on the way and got to the mall instead).  Sorry, this divine being, holding the fate of individuals in her/his hand, doesn’t do it for me.

I’m at the stage in my journey where I see the hand of God (a human construct), the work of the divine, in the world around me expressed in the everyday pleasures and calamities of and through people.

When we look at Japan or Libya or Christchurch or our neighbourhood we see ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Motivated by compassion, justice and love they are in there rescuing people they’ve never seen before, caring for neighbours they wouldn’t normally talk to, making a stand for those people in their community who are oppressed or suffering or down trodden or excluded.  And it doesn’t have to be  mighty works –  love as shown in a kind word, a cup of tea,or  a phone call is God seen in our lives.

So for me God is there, not making this cracked earth shake and quiver, not sending rolling waves of water crashing into villages, but rather encouraging and uplifting people to help and rescue and comfort people.  God is in the hearts of the children down the road baking cup cakes for Christchurch; in the strong arms of the firemen working in dangerous conditions to pull people out of buildings; in the brains of the engineers selflessly working to contain the nuclear reactors in Japan.

Go God!

ps I’m not sure where God fits into the lives of Hurricanes supporters:-(

pps Obviously these words don’t explain death and distress and pain as epitomised by starving children dying because the leaders of their nations are corrupt and tyrannical or families in NZ torn apart by the scourge of drugs such as P. I’m not sure that the concept of a father figure God can explain that either.  To me it lies within (there’s a church song that says “the kingdom is within you”) and so we each have the ability, the capacity, to be a source of good in the world or to be a source of bad.  Jesus certainly shows us which is the better way.