March 2008

So the chicken or the egg? The egg or the chicken? If you’re following my way of thinking the chicken is the egg and the egg is the chicken. You can’t separate the two because they’re both the same thing. They’re only considered different things because we have chosen to give them names that separate them. But fundamentally, the chicken and egg are one. You cannot have one without the other, so there never could have been a time when one existed in isolation.

And so it is with the knife. The knife was always there. It is still there. It will always be guiding itself into my hand, and will always be placed against that throat. Those whimpers of fear will always be there, just inside the channel of my ear, waiting till the rush and noise of this current water stills, to release themselves into the ether, and dissolve.

I first remember seeing the knife over a hundred years ago, on a shingle beach not so far from where I now sit. It was a bleak day and the southern winds were howling through the Cook Strait. The outcrop of rock to our right was as always some consolation, but the water was still cold, my fear mounting. To my front the work crew were hauling hard to get the Right Whale up onto the shingle shore, as high as possible. The tide would turn soon and we would have to work fast. The knife was thrust into my hand, and I was told to hold. If one came too close, to stab it.

It was the year 1836 and I was 23 years old, a full 12,000 miles from Kent, and I was a flenser sent to make his fortune on a stone beach 20 feet deep and 80 feet long perched beneath a towering jungle.

Flenser, you ask? Later my job was to stand back while the hatchet-men hacked through the great whale’s skin, then to myself carve the blubber from the beast, a slab of flesh as much as I could carry, and to take it up the beach to the pots. It was hard, stinking, greasy work, the stones slick with blood and oil, the air laden with the sailors foul language, the smoke of the wood fires, the salt air barely cutting through the haze of rotting flesh and bones.

When the whales were in we worked all day, every day, and slept clothed and rough in poorly thatched huts. I kept the blade with me at all times, my protection against accusations of laziness, of not carrying my share of the load, and of not being relegated to the station of ‘useless’, or ‘no-hoper’.

They were hard days on Kapiti. The worst being the fear. The fear that Te Rauparaha would come along the island, for the wily little bastard was less than a mile away, the fear that disease born of the filth we lived in would poison us, and the greatest fear, the worst fear, that my footing would fail me.

Because for now my job was the watch for the Great White sharks the like of which you have never seen that preyed in those blood-soaked waters. They would launch themselves onto the beach while we hauled ashore the whales and tear great hunks of flesh from the carcasses. The slippery-soled man would himself become their meal were he to fall into the breakers beyond the whale.

And there I was standing guard, a boy with a blade, frightened beyond his wits, if not only for fear of seeming a lesser man than I was.



This obsession with the need to own your home is slightly baffling to me, and always has been. I’d like to say that it’s a Kiwi thing, but the lunacy seems to extend to other countries as well. Or at least that was my experience in Australia and the US.

I understand the feeling that renting gives a person a slight feeling of unease, especially if your landlord is the kind of arsehole who’ll boot you out on a whim, or because they want their mates to move in… This happened at a flat I was living in on Tasman St. But compared to the hell that is repaying 150% of the initial borrow then renting isn’t all that bad. After all, as long as you’re not the sort to get jumpy about the prospect of moving into another house then the prospect isn’t something to keep you away at night.

Frankly, the Weekend Dominion Post scare story is as annoying as it is fatuous, with its emphasis on the ‘crippled’ couple who have to fork out a whopping great $800 per week on the house. But they’re happy because ‘it’s theirs’. Well, I say you’ve been sucked into the mortgage trap.

For starters $130k per annum is a pretty good income. There are plenty of people who would love to bring that home. One of my brothers is bringing home a meagre $16 per hour. Work that out in yearly income while you stop your damn whinging…

Plus, the figures presented by the DomPost simply don’t add up.

The Millers supposedly saved $35k over two years. Let’s assume that’s a full two years. Now, I don’t think that’s actually all that great a savings record. If they’re willing and able to pay $800 a week for a mortgage then they should have been willing to save that much per week as well, less rent.

So working off the DomPost’s “two years”, we can guess that this couple saved $35k divided by 104 weeks, for approximately $340 a week. And then you factor in the rent money.

I think the old conventional wisdom “rent money is wasted money” is only true is your rent is about the same expense as the mortgage. In this couple’s case they’ve obviously made a big jump to the mortgage price, and that money is wasted money. By why! I hear you shout. A mortgage is money in the bank! You have the security of an appreciating home!

Well, I agree with you, but only partially. Let’s make the very large assumption that this couple was living in a small one-bedroom flat, and paying about $200 per week. The difference between what they’re paying now ($800 per week), and the rent is $600. That’s a huge jump right?! $600 smackers out of the budget?!

Nope. They were already parting with $340 a week in savings. This money has to be factored in, because although it’s “savings” it’s dedicated mortgage money. The money is gone once you buy the house, and you keep spending it in the form of mortgage payment. The actual increase in cost is $260 a week. (rent $200 + saving $340 + pound of flesh to bank $260 = $800).

The question I ask myself is this. Why weren’t they saving the extra $260 in the first place?

If they know that the minimum they could handle living in, and afford, was about $350k (but they foolishly went $420k), then why not save as if you’re already living there?

The handy Raboplus savings calculator says that at current interest rates they could have saved $62,000 in two years if were also banking that extra $260. This would have dropped their current mortgage payments by about $65 a week, and saved them $45,000 over the lifetime of the mortgage. Again, this works off the assumption that they’re paying cheap rent.

This story is extremely misleading. Yes, I can see that they can’t afford to have a child because one income will drop out, and suddenly they can’t afford to eat, pay utilities, and pay the mortgage. So… why burden yourself with the $800 per week albatross?

It’s just typically Kiwi thinking. It’s like 4 million Hare Krishna all chanting house, house, house, house, and to the detriment of bringing up kids.

Here’s some big news people, renting ain’t all that bad. Sure you lose some security, but once you factor in repairs, mortgage, constantly rising rates, insurance and unexpected circumstances then you’re not actually that much better off with a house.

And generations of children have been brought up in rental homes.

What’s more galling is the amount these people earn. The stated income is $130k per annum. That means they’re bringing home a whopping $800 per week, each. Sure, the mortgage is too expensive, but that’s just a reason to avoid one, not a reason to give up hope.

For a reasonable rental in a nice suburb you could expect to pay no more than $400 per week. That leaves them $400 spending should one of them leave the workforce. A bare-bones electricity + phone they might lose as little as $40 per week to utilities (an average of $120 electricity monthly, phone of $40, no internet, no SkyTV). They’d want to be living like goddamn kings to not be able to live on that money…

So bad news “lovely couple of Wilton”. That newspaper has made you look like whingers.

But, instead of staying renting in their $200 place and making $31k a year (or making $26k in a $300 rental, or $21k in an ostentatious $400 rental) , this couple has spent $41k per year on a mortgage, and they’ve only got 25 years of that bullshit left to go!

And worse, they’re only 26 and 28!! Another two years of saving, but saving as if you’re paying that mortgage, will mean they’ll still have stacks of time to churn out a few rug-rats.

Blimmin boo-hoo.

Like all Kiwis obsessed with owning they’ve fallen into the trap of giving the bank huge amounts of money every year instead of saving. If they saved the money they might have nearing a whopping $180k in 6 years, and then be well into that much, much smaller mortgage.

There’s actually a million different types of fried bread. What I ate in Arizona for example was a very different thing to this recipe, which I’ve heard people call “French Toast”. I’ve always associated French Toast with bread buttered on both sides and fried though… Ah well.

In the “tough times” we’re experiencing here in New Zealand I thought that a low-cost, but nutritious option needed to be posted. And this is a recipe my grandfather learned during the Depression which was, you know, actual tough times. Not just a debt-fuelled binge coming to an end…

Anyhow, this recipe is incredibly simple, and focuses on using stuff you might have around the house already. We used to go stay at the Grandparents place when we were kids, and the old boy would cook this for us while the old girl slept in. It was a time when we got to spend time with him alone, and cooking this always makes me think of him.

And food should be like that.

So if you’re needing comfort food for any reason, this one might be for you.

To the right I have some white bread that we haven’t been using so it’s going stale, some eggs from out of the fridge, and some milk.

It’s that simple. All you’ll need otherwise is salt, a small amount of butter (use olive oil if that’s too expensive, probably better for you anyway!), and a frying pan.


Fate is, after all, and extremely funny thing, isn’t it? Not funny ha hah ay, but funny like quirky, weirdness in your life. We can each map out our futures and stride towards them, but fate will always manoeuvre us towards something it wants us to experience. Not that I’m a fatalist mind you. We all have choices and those choices are effected by us. But if that fate has put you in a situation where you’re looking into the eyes of a terrified kid then… you’re probably not making the right choices in the first place. Right?

But hell… I was seven years old for christssakes.

Because like I say, you can be the responsible one, and be making good decisions (relative to your age), and still be screwed by the things happening around you.

Fate puts a drunk in your kitchen, and fate puts a knife in your hand. But the choice to use that knife is what separates us from fate. No where is it written that you have to plunge the blade. No where is it written that you have to stand back and let bad things happen.

What is written is what you bring to that decision. Each of us are a story in the telling, a bunch of words jumbled together in a great big ball, just waiting to be unravelled by the kitten of fate, swatted, tangled again, and left behind to work it out for ourselves. Those words are written into our bodies themselves, spoken by long-dead voices and sung by long-dead parties. We’re each just a song-sheet issued to two dead people in an aeon past, one passed down between successive canoodling couples. Our bodies are their bodies, their waters spilling into our meagre lives and flowing onwards in an inexorable stream of humanity, forever.

So, and I say without any meaning to arrogance or hubris, I am New Zealand.

That seven year-old boy in a paddock is this nation, because the entire history of this place from woe to go is written into his skin, his bones, his feeble muscles, his clenched fists and bulging eyes. Every event ever seen in this place is his story.

My body has walked this land since the day mankind first set foot here. I’ve seen every sunrise, felt every cold night, survived every winter. I’m made of all it’s foods, I’ve drank most all of it’s rivers, swam in its waters since day one. I’ve killed and died in its wars, and bought and sold its commerce. And I say again. I am New Zealand.

And every second of that history was pushed into a moment.

A choice.

A fate.

Another river held briefly at bay by the single slither of a knife’s edge.


Roll up for your one and only chance to win!!

Actually… BUY!!

A priceless Robert Muldoon toby mug, which was enjoyed the sweet, sweet embrace of David Farrar’s lips, is on sale at TradeMe!!


Get in an bid while you can!!

I can see that I should have been a little faster on this one.

But hey, someone finally explained what zeitgeist means the other day… I always thought it meant being a little too happy about others misfortune. Except I think they confused zeitgeist with ‘avant-garde’. Which is pretty funny, because if you work in the public sector it’s often a little like, “garded-zeitgeist”.

The Germans will have an actual word for it though.

The idea of push-pull interaction between public and public-sector via social media is something a lot of people have been mulling over recently, and there are new examples of agencies putting all the theory into practice.

And what does this push-pull distinction mean? “Push” media is the traditional, sit on the couch, eat chips, be fed entertainment interspersed with advertising type. You tune in when you have to, because that’s when your favourite show is on. But “pull” media is something new and different. When you go to YouTube it’s to find something. You go when you want to, and you go on your own terms.

The marketing/advertising types are currently working hard to figure out how get their products in the faces of internet users, and the threat is that public service agencies will start to use the same types of methods to engage with the public at large. This is of course the kinds of stuff that people like the NPSC blog are asking that we avoid.

The nubbin of the problem, to my thinking, is ensuring that we transform our approach to public engagement via social media, and not just medium-jump with the same old ways.

I first encountered the transformation concept when working in a previous agency and was trying to argue that a particular process solution fell within the parameters of the Electronic Transactions Act 2002. A problem had arisen where a ‘standards’ team within the agency was convinced that the solution my team was proposing was not allowed by the Act.

The details are unimportant, but what had occurred was a bit of limited thinking. In the minds of the ‘standards’ team a paper transaction could only be moved to a text transaction, and they were unwilling to consider the transaction to have occurred if any other format was used. We, on the other hand, were arguing that was important was the function the transaction served, not the format of the transaction.

As I say, details -> unimportant. But the ‘standards’ team were behaving the same way as many of the old ‘push’ media cohorts, you know, take whatever you’ve got and dump it into the new format. Both seem to be missing the point entirely…

With the advent if social media applications, and our want to use them (note: not “need”), we need to transform the way we think about engagement. And the first port of call should always be, is there a business need for this application? The second is, are we just using it because it’s “so hot right now?” There’s plenty of that thinking going on as well.

Once you get used to the idea that there are clear, and acceptable, boundaries to using social media in e-government, then you need to think about what kind of product you’re intending to use. What is the function you’re trying to achieve? Are you just pushing something out to the public? Or are you trying to pull people into an engagement?

If you’re genuinely desiring the latter (or required to by your superiors…), then you need to re-imagine how a ‘pull’ relationship works. You can’t just “build it and they will come”. You need to conceptualise your little slice of the e-government arcade, and build the kind of space people will feel comfortable engaging with both you, and other citizens. You know, bring them in, sit them down with a cuppa and a good read.

As opposed to just adding to all the noise out there by building a sophisticated “yelling machine”, i.e. the TV or the stereo.

They always talk about that, ay? That pitter-patter of little feet and what it means for the happiness of families. Each of them a little bundle of joy. A trouble that’s a little one. Every goddamn cliché you can imagine all packed into a 3 by 2 crib and stuck mewling and crying in a room to look at a over-priced mobile and a ceiling of ‘ivory’.

It’s at that age that you can’t imagine them doing all those things they’ll end up doing to embarrass you, to bankrupt you, to keep you up till 3am wondering. Well… what am I saying… of course you can imagine it, I’m imagining it right now, aren’t I? But it’s all the bullshit I got up to that I’m repeating. So at worse the best I can think is, don’t be the same kind of little bastard I was…

And it’s when you flip that one on it’s head that it starts to get more relevance. We’re each of us nothing but trouble to our parents, and they were nothing but trouble to theirs in return. It’s an endless cycle of pissed-off old people and semi- or irresponsible youth. But like I say, flip it on its head and take a look at it. What happens when we’re the ones who suffer at the hands of our parents? What happens when we’re the ones loaded down with responsibility, the ones who are worried to death about what they’re up to? What it is to be a 5-year-old kid standing in the doorway while some fucker slaps a patch of blood the size of your helpless fists out of your mother into a stain on the fridge you just came to get juice from? What then?

What am I asking?! I hear you ask. What am I trying to coax out of you while you sit slightly stunned thinking you were going to be reading a missive on parenthood? Hmmm? I’m asking what you do to cope with a history unfolding in front of you, falling in front of you, a history ordained by fate and written on the leaves of a book made of pointless, meaningless dollar bills.

And I ask this because I can still see it like it was yesterday.

I’m standing in a paddock, with the blue skies reaching from horizon to horizon. The grass underneath my feet and stretching out towards the rugby club in the distance is winters green, and the air crisp, prickly. My breath is coming in ragged, rough gasps because I’ve been running, and my best mate is yelling, screaming, “Tell him!! Just fuckin’ tell him!!”

The fences around us are there to keep in stock we’ve never seen, and they’re falling slowly into disrepair. They’re 50 feet from us and they’re a weathered grey of the kind you only seen in old farmland. The wire is slack on most.

There’s a seagull squawking, and flapping about above us somewhere.

And I’m 7 years old.

And I’m holding a knife to the throat of another child.


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