• Belle and the Community

    Belle is a lovely fifteen year-old border collie who belongs to our friends and neighbours at Bryan’s Beach, Michael and Judy Corboy. Belle, in her old age, can hardly see or hear, but – as a constant participant at social gatherings and as a regular presence in her daily walk on the beach – she is well-known and much loved by all of us at Bryan’s Beach.

    A few days ago, she asked, as was usual in the late afternoon, to be allowed outdoors for a spell. It was a cold, wet and windy afternoon and, worryingly, she failed to return at the expected time. Michael and Judy messaged all their local friends through the local community online network to alert them and to ask if they would check their gardens, ditches and sheds for any sign of the missing Belle.

    As the news of Belle’s possible plight spread, the local community mobilised. Darkness was falling, but parties of searchers walked the beach, checked ditches and ponds, and shone torches into dark corners while calling her name.

    But there was no sign of Belle.

    Many of us began to fear the worst. We began to picture the poor creature, disoriented and uncertain as to where she was, in the dark and unable to see or hear, and having perhaps fallen into a tight spot from which she could not free herself.

    The search went on till late at night, but to no avail. As midnight approached, the volunteers were reluctant to give up and had to be told to go home and that the search would resume in the morning.

    Messages of concern and hope continued to pour in. Even neighbours overseas on holiday sent messages to signal their distress. Michael and Judy hardly slept a wink. In the morning, with hope fading, Michael decided that he would have to retrace the searches he had already made. He found himself walking along the bottom of a deep and narrow steep-sided drain that ran alongside the road on which they lived.

    He stumbled along, through blackberry and puddles, flashing his torch ahead of him. The light suddenly picked up what he thought might be the white ruff around Belle’s neck. He bent down and discovered that it was indeed Belle. She was face down in the ditch and immobile, her black coat having made her indistinguishable from the black darkness of the night.

    Michael is 72 years old but he found the strength to lift her out and carry her home. The news that she had been found was joyfully welcomed by the Bryan’s Beach community. Belle was dried, warmed and fed, but had difficulty in moving. The cold seemed to have got into her bones.

    She was taken to the vet and was found to have lost a kilo of her normal weight and to be in need of rest, but otherwise to be on course to full recovery.

    Judy and Michael agree that there are lessons to be learnt from the experience. Judy says that Belle’s days of being allowed to go off “on frolics of her own” are over.

    Michael, who is something of a philosopher, says that “whether or not, as some people dispute, there is such a thing as society, there certainly is such a thing as community – and we saw it in action last night. Even in our despair, we were warmed by the concern and generosity of our friends.”

    We are all lucky to be living in such a community.

    Bryan Gould
    7 July 2019

  • Where Did That Rule Come From?

    “We wuz robbed!” is the classic cry of the disappointed losers of a closely contested sporting contest – it is very much to the credit of the Black Caps that we heard no such sentiment from them following the stunning (and, for them, shattering) denouement of the Cricket World Cup final.

    No one can doubt that England won the match fair and square within the framework of the rules that were applied.

    Yes, the Black Caps had their share of bad luck, not least in respect of Ben Stokes’ boundary when the ball ricocheted off his bat as he was diving for the crease – but luck plays a part in most sporting contests.

    And there is little point in bemoaning the closeness of some of the calls – as when Martin Guptill attempted to complete a second run to win the match in the super-over. Close calls are always with us in top-level sport.

    And no Kiwi could complain that Trent Boult signalled that a six had been scored when he caught the ball on the boundary from an English bat, and trod on the rope – we expect nothing less from our Black Caps.

    But we might want to take a more critical look at the rule that was applied in order to decide the outcome of the match. Where did that rule come from?

    How was it that the criterion adopted was the number of boundaries scored by each side in the course of the match, especially when, on the face of it, a much more obvious and appropriate criterion was available.

    The common currency of scoring in cricket is runs and wickets. The point of the game is to score more runs than one’s opponents while, in order to do so, at the same time not losing wickets. In principle, one would have thought that if two teams score the same number of runs but one loses just eight wickets whereas the other is bowled out, the conclusion must be that the one with wickets still in hand has had the better of the game.

    Why was this obvious distinction between the two sides not adopted as the deciding factor? Indeed, I would go further and say that it should have been such a decisive factor as to render unnecessary any super-over or other such device.

    By opting instead for the number of boundaries scored, the rule-makers gave a double advantage to the England team, since the value of the boundaries they scored had already been taken into account in the total of runs they had accumulated.

    This is not a plea to re-adjudicate or re-litigate what was a wonderful match of which England were worthy winners. But I do suggest that the ICC (or any successor authority) should think more carefully about the rules they adopt when the two finalists finish in a tie.

    Let us at least hope for a rule that is based on some rationale in cricketing terms and is not just plucked out of the air. Here’s to another great final in 2023!

    Bryan Gould
    15 July 2019

  • The Trump-Kim Bromance

    It may be that we have all misinterpreted the somewhat surprising “bromance” between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. It has been all too easy to assume that it is Kim who is cosying up to Trump rather than the other way round, that t is Kim who sees himself as a supplicant and as an acolyte of the American president, and who seeks to gain some reflected glory from his association with Trump.

    But recent events suggest that this is a misinterpretation of the relationship – that it is Trump who is star-struck and who seeks to learn from, and to inflate his image through, his links to his apparently junior partner.

    The evidence for this is Trump’s obvious keenness to emulate his North Korean counterpart in so may respects. Trump’s unprecedented Independence Day military parade, for example – jets overhead and tanks rolling down the streets – seemed more typical of Pyongyang than of Washington and to have been lifted straight from the North Korean dictator’s playbook.

    But this surprising departure from American practice is not the only evidence of Trump’s admiration of the North Korean way of doing things.

    It seems clear that Trump is impressed not just by Kim himself but by the whole Kim dynasty. He seems to cast an envious and admiring eye on the Kim family’s ability to perpetuate its rule from one generation to the next. This, surely, is what lies behind Trump’s stated wish to remain President for an unending future, his warning that he might refuse to accept an election defeat, and his attempts to insinuate his daughter Ivanka, and other family members, into the higher reaches of world leadership.

    A Trump dynasty is clearly in his sights.

    The Kim regime seems to offer the American president, in addition to the glorification of military power, other useful precedents as well. Kim, Trump will have noted, does not need to worry about criticism from the media; so Trump has made persistent efforts to undermine the whole concept of a free press. He is very selective about the media outlets he is prepared to deal with and has put an end to the daily press briefings that traditionally – and essentially in a democracy -have provided the media with the opportunity to hold the executive to account.

    Dictators – from Hitler onwards – have relied greatly on propaganda to sustain them in power; the “big lie” was, after all, a technique refined by the Nazi regime. Trump has learnt from Kim that people will usually believe what they are told by those in authority, and he has proved that denying the truth, using techniques such as the “photoshopping” of pictorial evidence, will allow him to provide “alternative facts” to convince his supporters.

    And Trump has registered that Kim operates under no constraints imposed by the law or by the courts; Kim simply assumes that he is above the law – the classic stance of the dictator. Trump has followed suit; he has also adopted a policy of refusing to comply with the law – and that includes the provisions of the constitution – and of providing himself with an insurance policy by stacking the court benches with his political appointments.

    The evidence is overwhelming, in other words, that Trump is a would-be (albeit trainee) dictator, and that he is Kim’s pupil in such matters. He does not seem to possess enough self-knowledge to realise that adopting such a subservient relationship to the Korean dictator is far from “making America great again” but has reduced the supposed “leader of the free world” to the status of a client state.

    Sadly, Trump’s admiration for, and subservience to the model provided by, Kim is all of a piece with his regard for other undemocratic regimes – his approval of and close relationship with President Putin of Russia, President Duterte of the Philippines and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia being obvious and recent examples.

    Friends of the United States can only hope that the American people will recognise the danger they are in, and will in due course re-assert the democratic values that have underpinned the Republic for most of its existence.

    Bryan Gould
    7July 2019

     

     

     

     

  • Off The Fence – In The Right Direction

    Jeremy Corbyn, we are told, is being advised – not least by his deputy (as well as by some of his would-be successors) – that he must come “off the fence” on the Brexit issue if he wants to bolster Labour’s chances in a general election.

    Those offering this advice clearly have in mind that he should declare himself and the Labour party as supporting the Remain option – positioning themselves, in other words, amongst those who would defy the decision taken by the British people in a democratic vote on this centrally important issue.

    How sensible and well-founded is this advice? The first point to make is that such a step would represent for Corbyn, even if the advice were both well-intentioned and well-founded, a reversal of his own personal convictions and, as such, would signal his willingness to put electoral considerations above principle – hardly an approach that would commend itself to large numbers of his own supporters and voters who rightly expect more from someone who presents himself as a conviction politician.

    That in itself would lead him, one hopes, to reject such advice. But, of equal significance, it is highly doubtful that the recommended course of action would produce the electoral benefits claimed for it.

    Jeremy Corbyn, more than any of those tendering such advice, understands very well why so many Labour voters voted Leave. They had had enough of being ignored, of no one listening to their catalogue of complaints about EU membership, of their day-by-day experience of lost jobs and pressure on their housing, on health and other public services, of their sense of having ceded the power of self-government to a foreign entity.

    He understands how mistaken is the vision peddled by Remainers of the EU as a socialist nirvana, how incompatible is this idealised version of the EU with the reality of one dominated by unelected bankers and bureaucrats, and committed to serving the interests of multinational corporations and neo-liberal doctrines.

    He knows that this perception on the part of so many voters (and especially so many potential and actual Labour voters) that the EU serves the interests of the few could only be magnified by any proposal that the referendum result should be over-ridden.

    Yes, there is an argument from the viewpoint of seeking electoral advantage for coming off the fence – but the direction of the dismounting should surely be towards a greater and more clear-cut commitment to giving effect to the Leave vote.

    It is surely the case that Labour’s (and Corbyn’s) ambivalence on the issue has handed huge gains to Labour’s competitors from all parts of the Brexit spectrum. Labour voters – both actual and potential – who value democracy and self-government and who agree with or at least respect the referendum decision have been tempted by the certainty of the Brexit party’s position, while those of the Remain persuasion, who would like to see Labour taking a more pro-EU stance have not been convinced by Corbyn’s shilly-shallying but have transferred their allegiance to the Liberals and Greens.

    The net result of Corbyn’s stance so far is to have re-shaped the political landscape – and against Labour’s interests. It has handed the Tories the opportunity to replace an unpopular and ineffectual leader with someone of much greater popular appeal and to provide him with a ready-made campaigning issue – support for democracy and standing up for Britain’s interests – which will be hard to counter in a forthcoming general election campaign.

    Jeremy Corbyn should, in other words, ignore the siren voices which offer a mistaken vision of electoral success if only he would reverse direction by committing Labour to the Remain cause and proclaiming that the referendum majority got it wrong.

    Such a course of action could only compound Labour’s problems. The best course would be to stay true to Labour’s basic values of democracy and self-government, and to give priority to the many not the few.

    Bryan Gould
    4 July 2019

  • How Much Foreign Control Is Acceptable?

    To express concern about foreign ownership and control in New Zealand is often to invite accusations of xenophobia and economic illiteracy. It is worthwhile, therefore, to rehearse the grounds for that concern, and to explore the various forms it can take.

    The most obvious manifestation of foreign influence is when New Zealand assets pass into foreign hands. The downsides of that change of ownership are largely to do with the loss of economic benefit.

    If a significant part of the New Zealand economy is bought by overseas interests, the economic benefits produced by that asset – the income stream, the capital appreciation, the technological know-how, and so on – flow offshore rather than remain in New Zealand.

    The consequence of such developments and of the repatriation of profits to foreign owners across the exchanges is that we are a smaller and less wealthy economy than we would otherwise be, and have greater difficulty in balancing our overseas payments – which acts in turn as an inhibitor to future growth.

    We might include, in this catalogue of disadvantage, assets which have other than a purely monetary value. Foreign companies that bottle our water for export to profitable markets overseas, for example, are using an asset to which we do not attach a market price, but we should not kid ourselves that we are losing nothing of value; in a world when clean water is increasingly scarce, to allow its consumption by overseas profit-seekers is short-sighted in the extreme.

    The fact that our major commercial banks are owned by Australian interests and that the multi-billion profits they derive from their New Zealand operations are repatriated each year across the Tasman represents a further loss of national wealth and a further burden on our balance of payments.

    Nor is that the only price we pay. Given the important role played by banks in our overall economic development, their Australian parentage means that essential elements in the economic management of our own economy are in some senses beyond our control, since the significant decisions taken by our banks will reflect Australian interests rather our own.

    So, our own government – however much it may want to see that decisions taken by the banks on interest rates, mortgage policies, and monetary policy more generally, reflect New Zealand priorities – has to deal with important agencies whose primary loyalty is to their Australian owners.

    There are other examples of foreign entities, by virtue of their significant involvement in our economy, being able to influence domestic policy to suit their own interests. We need only recall the demand made by Warner Brothers some years back that the influence of trade unions in the film industry should be reduced, and the shameful readiness of the then National government to accede to that demand by changing our labour laws so that film industry workers became self-employed contractors rather than employees, to understand how vulnerable we can be to powerful overseas interests.

    We can amplify this analysis by looking at a further instance of potential damage if we allow foreign interests to become too powerful. No one doubts that one of the most formidable obstacles to effective protection of our vulnerable environment is the primacy we accord to profit-seeking enterprises and commercial interests more generally.

    How much more significant does this consideration become if the commercial interests involved are foreign, rather than New Zealand-owned? How much more likely is it that environmental downsides will be discounted if the oil company seeking permits to drill in our coastal waters is answerable only to foreign shareholders rather than to the New Zealand public?

    And will foreign enterprises display the cultural sensitivity and awareness that are required and appropriate in today’s Aotearoa/New Zealand? Will they understand the value we place on the bicultural and multi-cultural dimensions of life in our country or on the social and workplace advances we have made, often ahead of the rest of the world?

    A truly sovereign country will legitimately want to limit the influence of those who are based overseas but seek to play a significant role in our national life – a role that might have deleterious consequences not just for our economy as measured in dollar terms but also for our national identity, our social cohesion and our environment.

    Bryan Gould
    19 June 2019