October 2007


Cassino is a relatively short history of the contribution of the New Zealand army to the Italian campaign of World War Two. It’s written primarily as a narrative, and draws a lot from the personal accounts of various veterans.

In a nutshell, if you’re a history buff you’ll probably find Cassino moderately interesting, but I’m not sure that the account adds all that much value to our collective knowledge of what transpired in Italy in late 1943 and 1944. Williams has a tendency to glance across major events, and tends to focus on a few of his most and least favoured characters to the detriment of the details of the warfare.

On the positive side, the jingoism you normally expect from this type of account is minimised, although a little pomposity does sneak in an make itself known from time to time. One of the downsides of military history I guess.

My biggest impression after reading the book is the complete futility of the Italian Campaign. Once invaded the Italians capitulated immediately. It might well have been better to focus the men and resources that were spent at Cassino in a more wise theatre, but Churchill, in all his wisdom *cough* pressed for Italy to be a front.

Added to this the sheer incompetence of a number of generals, and complete misplacement of others (particularly Freyberg, the general of the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force), and you have a recipe for disaster.  The number of blunders, idiotic decisions to attack well-entrenched enemies, the complete annihilation of the town and Abbey of Cassino, and the loss of life was staggering.

My next impression was the carefully balanced stupidity and arrogance of Americans. Here’s an example. When it was realised that the NZLers couldn’t take Cassino they were to be relieved by an American infantry division. The Kiwi Non-Commissioned Officers at the front briefed the Americans, and warned them to approach the town in small groups, as silently as possible, and under cover. No sooner had this briefing ended than 80 infantry come marching down the middle of the nearest “road”, singing, talking loudly, and generally making themselves a big target.

They were promptly butchered by artillery. But here’s the amazing part! The survivors didn’t take cover. They hid from the artillery fire, then ran out to either rubberneck/help their wounded. The Germans promptly shelled them again, killing a whole lot more.

Insane. Thank grace that my generation never had to either fight, or fight with those idiots.

Terrines are one of those food that are easy to impress people with, but extremely easy to make. Hard to make well of course, but what isn’t.

Here’s our bad boy to the right.

Looks a little like a block of fat at the moment, but you’ll soon see it isn’t all that bad for you. Terrines are one of those peasant foods that are made from all the budget ingredients, but just became a little trendy. (more…)

Another mystery novel. This one was slightly different though, centring on a New York gangster with tourettes syndrome. The guy’s boss has been killed, and he’s out to try and find the killers.

This is a compelling, hilariously funny and insightful book. Lethem writes brilliantly, and manages to keep you engaged with the characters and the narrative with an ease you wouldn’t anticipate considering the subject matter.

The story is based around an orphan called Lionel Essrog, who is found by a petty gangster and taken under wing. Along with three other orphan boys he becomes a one of a “family” referred to as ‘motherless brooklyn’. (more…)

An interesting post from No Right Turn this week, who notes the origin of Labour Day, and joins others calling for the limitation of the working week to 40 h0urs.

The motivation for the shared concern Idiot/Savant expresses is a statistic that 20% of New Zealanders work more than 50 hours per week. Some of the stats, and people talking about them are included in this article.

‘Interesting’, I thought. ‘it’s glad to see someone sticking up for the little guy.’ Having worked in service industries, where 60-70 hour weeks are the norm, and where you’re regarded as a ‘kitteh’ for not pulling double shifts of 15 hours or more, mandatory limits on hours could be a good thing.

Except where they don’t work because you have to employ too many individuals to make them effective and efficient. Kitchens for example work better when chefs and supports work longer hours.

But, I/S is right. Longer hours means a tougher life for those working them. Life-Work balance is not only something that should be shared by all workers, it should be practiced by employers as well. A more relaxed, happy country is better for everyone.

It was then that I read this article over at Well Urban.

Apparently, wage workers in the cities aren’t the one’s pushing up the national average. It seems that this average is being pushed up by rural and primary workers, as illustrated by Tom Urban here. The “over-worked office drone” stereotype might well be a myth. At the very least, I/S’ concern that workers are being unduly exploited in working long hours might be an over-statement of the case. Farmers are of course self-employed.

I’ll try rustle up some more accurate data than that presented in the blogs/newspapers, and get back to you.

Well, at the risk of putting te ngeru among nga kereru, there’s something I’ve been wondering about ever since the kerfuffle earlier this year over naming and identity.

The way I remember it, Hannah Ho started up a fairly substantial debate around the application of the label “white” to majority New Zealanders. This debate was mostly held over at a conference website, here.

I’m not much interested in getting back into that debate. Pretty much everything that could be said was, and it all started to get kind of circular.

I’ve been thinking about the motivations for the argumentation that occurred though, and something very interesting popped up. In a nutshell, the issue was the application of the title “white”. While it’s obvious that the majority of New Zealanders are racially Caucasian, what’s not always accepted is that with that race comes “white culture”. It’s only natural. And why? Because most New Zealanders don’t seem to see themselves as a distinct racial group. The identity splinters into country, nationality and culture of origin. Consequently, the label “white” ends up as a kind of catch-all for everyone who doesn’t belong to a racial, religious or ethnic minority. In other words, a simplification, or stereotype.

And that lead me to another thought. Why do majority New Zealanders so dislike being tarred with the “white” brush?

For one, they don’t like the suggestion that they’re “oppressors”, or “the man”. This is actually perfectly natural, and the sort of response you’d get from any majority who was labeled with a slightly derogatory term.

More interesting though is the issue of naming, and who gets to name groups. One of the things that define majorities is that they get to say what things are. They name places, events, festivals and the like. They define the national languages, and the national symbols. Again, this is normal, and global.

I’m coming to the opinion that this could be the underlying reason so many people react against the type of thing Hannah has tried to do. Although it was not her intention, Hannah has stepped into the majority, but as a self-identifying minority member, and named the group. Result? People freaked.

And why? First we need to disregard that “white” in the way Hannah was using it is commonly perceived as a derogatory label, as in “whitey”.

What is more important probably runs closer to the title of Tze Ming’s blog. Their is a long-standing concern about the yellow peril, one manifested in the success of xenophobic politicians at becoming re-elected term after term.

The fact of the matter is that naming places and people is also what colonisers do, and the collective memory of colonialism is still very close to the surface in New Zealand. I would hazard a guess that New Zealanders would be unhappy with any label they did not chose themselves, and to reflect their own view of themselves.

Well, not so sure what the title refers to, other than the tattoo one character has on their buttocks.

No, wait, just checked an online reference. It’s a hat tip to a little-known film about a stuntman who tried to jump a mile-wide river between Canadia and the US of A. Which figures, considering the attempt to jump the Cook Strait. On a bicycle.

This is one of those films you’ll love to have a laugh at. Full of bogans, booze and boobs, it’s the kind of slapstick humour you’d always need to see on New Zealand screens. Irreverent, slightly crazy, and blokey as all hell.

But, just quietly wondering? Have the Back of the Y guys jumped the shark? Not so sure they haven’t. Where else do you go with stunt-based humour after this one?

Let’s start with sincere apologies to anyone who’s not RSS. There’s obviously been people visiting the site in the past few weeks while I’ve been persona non-grata, and I promise to resume normal blogging real soon.

Unfortunately, something called the “Rugby World Cup” has gotten in the way a little.

But, I’ve been busy putting up material over at The Dropkicks, and on behalf of the Dropkicks good old Public Address.

As I say, normal transmission will resume shortly.

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