29 January 2009

Sometimes People Say the Nicest Things

... and it makes all the effort seem worthwhile. It was a real fillip to discover these comments on All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens tonight:

Inflight Reading

Not sure how many copies of Transported are left in the airport bookstores, though ...

25 January 2009

"Swings and Roundabouts: Poems On Parenthood" Revisited

Shortly after the publication of Swings and Roundabouts: Poems on Parenthood (which you can buy online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad), I gave my initial thoughts on the book, but said that I wouldn't review it because I have a poem in it.

Well, I changed my mind. I've completed reading Swings and Roundabouts over the past two weeks, and though I'll leave my own poem Coverage to speak for itself, I want to reiterate what a good book this is.

It's true that Swings and Roundabouts is likely to speak most strongly to parents, but these poems are strong as poems, not just as aspects of parenthood. After an excellent introduction by editor (and parent) Emma Neale, the book is organised in chronological order, starting with pregnancy and ending with the deaths of children and parents - though the tone of this final section is not morbid. The poems are interspersed with quirky and enjoyable photos by Mark Smith.

This is predominantly an Australasian anthology, but it also includes poems by Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds and Louise Glück. In her introduction, Emma Neale suggests that Lauris Edmond could be regarded as the local poet laureate of childhood, and she has five poems here. Many well-known New Zealand poets are represented.

There are hardly any poems I don't like, but poems that especially stand out include "Helpless" and "Yellow Plastic Ducks" by Graham Lindsay, "The Vending Machine" by Anna Jackson, "35/10" by Sharon Olds, "Your Secret Life" and "Your Secret Life 2" by Harry Ricketts, "It Allows a Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen" by Les Murray (and yes, the title does make perfect sense, and is very moving, in the context of the poem), "Festive Lentils" by James Norcliffe, "Stay in Touch" by Laurice Gilbert, and "The Names" by Lauris Edmond.

But if I had to choose just one poem from this book, it would be "Child" by Sylvia Plath: small, vivid, memorable.

Like a child, like this book.

18 January 2009

Southern Ocean Review: The Final Issue

The 50th issue of Southern Ocean Review, which has just been posted, is also the last issue.

Every three months for over a dozen years, on the 12th of the month, editor Trevor Reeves has got an issue of Southern Ocean Review on line. I don't know whether that sounds like much of an achievement to you, but to me, that shows an incredible level of dedication to the task in hand.

But I don't mean to imply that Southern Ocean Review has been notable only for the regularity with which it has been produced. Take a look at the roster of contributors to the current issue and you'll see that there's a mixture of lesser- and better-known writers. This has been true throughout the magazine's history.

SoR has always been a hospitable place for new writers to find their feet. My first contributions to it appeared in Issue 6, and I had a couple more stories and several poems appearing there over the years, with my most recent contribution being in Issue 48.

In addition, each issue of SoR has carried a series of short reviews of New Zealand books and literary magazines - the final issue's review column includes a review of JAAM 26, which Helen Rickerby has blogged about. This review column has probably carried the most comprehensive reviews of New Zealand literary publications, and in particular, small press publications, during the last dozen or so years.

So I'll be sorry to see Southern Ocean Review go, but I also hope its closure will free up more time for Trevor's own writing. I'm going to interview Trevor within the next couple of months on this blog, so I'm looking forward to that opportunity to find out what he has in mind.

In the meantime, do check out Southern Ocean Review while you have the chance.

11 January 2009

Diary of a New Zealand Cricket Fan

12 November 2008: New Zealand Cricket announce that, due to scheduling conflicts, the previously-announced international cricket tours by the West Indies and India in Summer 2008/09 will not proceed. They are to be replaced respectively by the Turks and Caicos Islands and Bhutan.

14 November 2008: New Zealand Cricket announces that, following detailed research on weather patterns which shows that the east of the country had the best weather leading up to Christmas, all pre-Christmas international matches will be scheduled in the Chatham Islands, 750 km to the east of mainland New Zealand, and all post-Christmas matches at Milford Sound.

22 November 2008
: Diarist takes son out for first cricket practice of the year. They work on batting, bowling, and retrieving ball from small, angry dog.

2 December 2008
: New Zealand cricket announces creation of a full-time motivational speaker position as part of Black Caps infrastructure, to join psychologist, phrenologist, psephologist, garbologist, and escapologist. Batting coach position remains vacant.

6 December 2008
: Tony Robbins, well known for his late-night infomercials, appointed to NZ Cricket motivational speaker position.

7 December 2008: Turks and Caicos Islands arrive for pre-Christmas tour.

9 December 2008: Announcement in Goa that, in additional to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Indian Cricket League (ICL), a Goa Outstation League (GOL), featuring eight teams of domestic and international players, will be formed to contest a Twenty20 competition beginning in 2009. GOL immediately begins recruiting New Zealand test players, ex-players and fringe players not already signed up to the IPL and ICL.

10 December 2008: Unnamed New Zealand U-19 player accidentally signs to IPL, ICL and GOL on same day. Lawyers briefed.

11 December 2008: First Test between New Zealand and Turks and Caicos begins in Waitangi, Chatham Islands. Rain stops play after 3 balls.

15 December 2008: Test ends in draw. Scoreboard: NZ 0/0 (0.3 overs)

18-22 December 2008: Second Test also ends in draw. Scoreboard: Turks and Caicos 0/0 (0.2 overs). "We can take a lot of positives from this series", says New Zealand coach Tony Robbins.

Late December, early January: Christmas, one day matches, etc. Diarist takes son out for second cricket practice. They work on cutting grass, mowing pitch, and remedies for heat exhaustion.

8 January 2009: Kevin Pietersen resigns, and Peter Moores is sacked, as England cricket captain and coach, due to musical and personal differences.

8 January 2009 (p.m.): Diarist woken by surprise phone call from a "Colonel Mustard" of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), sounding out diarist's availability to take over as England cricket coach. Caller explains that he is investigating option of appointing Grimsby-born one-test England veteran Darren Pattinson as the new England captain, and that as both Darren Pattinson and your diarist were born in Grimsby, diarist was therefore logical choice as coach. Diarist says that he will think about it.

8 January 2009 (p.m., later, after restorative brandy)
: Diarist makes return call to ECB to decline coaching job, instead recommending Arjuna Ranatunga as coach and Douglas Jardine as captain.

9 January 2009
: Unnamed source within ECB leaks details of late-night call offering coaching position. Diarist described as "tired and emotional" in English cricketing media. Lawyers briefed.

16 January 2009
: In cascade of developments, Tony Robbins appointed as new England cricket coach, John Major as captain, and George W. Bush as motivational speaker. In simultaneous announcement, residency requirements relaxed so that Kevin Pietersen can be appointed as New Zealand cricket captain and Peter Moores as New Zealand coach.

22 January 2009
: Bhutan arrives for three-test, one Twenty20 International (T20I), seventeen One-Day International tour. Coincidentally, formation of new Bhutan Royal League (BRL) announced at special meeting of New Zealand Cricket Players' Association.

25 January 2009
: Diarist takes son out for third cricket practice, aiming to teach son to play cut shot. Diarist then bowls series of leg-side long-hops which are deposited by son into gorse bush, storm drain, nearby supermarket carpark, etc. Diarist eventually convinces son to take guard two feet outside leg stump, and completes session on satisfactory note by bowling son with knee-high full toss. Diarist reaffirms that he will buy pads for son before next cricket season.

Feb, March 2009
: First two tests against Bhutan, entire ODI series, and only T20I rained out without a ball being bowled.

3 April 2009
: Third and deciding NZ-Bhutan test begins on time at Milford Sound during unexpected summer. New Zealand win toss and opt to bowl.

7 April 2009: Third and deciding NZ-Bhutan test ends in thrilling fashion. Set 27 to win, NZ reach 25 without incident before succumbing to fast, hostile inswinging yorkers from Bhutanese pace bowler W Younis (no relation). Bhutan celebrate one-run victory. "We can take a lot of positives from the first 25 runs," says Moores.

8 April 2009
: Diarist sounded out for motivational speaker position with Bhutanese side.

07 January 2009

Climate Change 2009: Hope Abroad, Farce At Home

When I started this blog, I used to interrupt my regularly-scheduled programming quite often to talk about my other interests, including climate change, energy policy and the need for a sustainable transport system. I stopped doing that after a while, figuring that I'd stick to my knitting on this blog and post about those issues elsewhere, but at the start of a new year I think it's a good time to take a peek at the year ahead in climate policy.

My starting point is that climate change is real; that all or almost all of the recent sharp rise in average temperatures is human-induced; and that it is one of the most pressing dangers facing our planet – all the more so because it exacerbates other problems, such as food shortages and species extinctions. Climate change and oil depletion ("Peak Oil") are two sides of the same coin: both result from our gluttony for fossil fuels.

The Audacity of Hope

My overall assessment is gloomy for New Zealand, and a little brighter for the world as whole. To take the brighter part of the assessment first, world climate negotiations have been mired in despond ever since the Bush administration came to power in the US. Whereas Bush was a climate change denier by both conviction and association, President-elect Obama appears to grasp the reality and the seriousness of climate change, and his appointments reflect this.

If Obama is serious about action on climate change, and if he can use the clout of a newly-elected president effectively, it may not be too late for a meaningful climate change agreement ("Kyoto II") to be negotiated in Copenhagen in December 2009 – an agreement that would commit both developed and developing countries to meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

But the bigger question is whether this is too little, too late. Gaia proponent James Lovelock thinks that a major shift in the climate is already irreversible, and that human existence will only be possible at the poles and in the circumpolar regions before too many more decades have passed. Lovelock's view is still very much on the fringe, but even such a mainstream figure as NASA climate scientist James Hansen has sent an open letter to President-elect Obama urging him to grasp the seriousness of the climate situation and the need for radical action.

It's a sad irony that the recent economic recession may have done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the whole raft of recent international negotiations. Given that most of the world's energy consumption is still derived from fossil sources, growth in greenhouse gas emissions is strongly linked with economic growth; so although the downturn has led to the suspension of some non-fossil energy programmes and a push to "get back to basics" on energy policy (i.e. "let's forget about all these silly renewables and burn lots of coal"), I expect that it, and the preceding period of high fuel prices, will have caused greenhouse gas emissions to level off and perhaps decline a little. But the basic impetus of the world economic system is to grow as far and as fast as it can, and then collapse when it runs up against its limits. One outcome is unsustainable, and the other lethal. To make true progress on the world's problems, we have to get off that treadmill.

The Absurdity of Hide

After such gloomy musings, it's almost a relief to turn to the low comedy of the New Zealand political scene, where the incoming National-led Government has let a jester in a canary yellow jacket – ACT leader Rodney Hide – lead the way in rolling back the modest climate policy gains made under the previous Labour-led Government, which lost power in November 2008. National's core supporters in the farming and business communities want the Government to do nothing on climate change, except to compensate them for any losses they might suffer due to its effects.

National's strategy has been to let the climate change deniers of ACT make the running on climate policy while painting themselves as the moderates. However, this cunning plan hasn't escaped the notice of New Zealand's trading and diplomatic partners, and new National Prime Minister John Key is rumoured to have got at least one broadside on the subject during his recent overseas travels.

Over the next couple of months, a "special" Select Committee will be meeting to review New Zealand's stance on climate change policy. The likely outcome will be a great deal of hot air, more opportunities for Rodney Hide to grandstand, and the previous Government's Emissions Trading Scheme to be trimmed of some of its potentially effective provisions but allowed to proceed.

New Zealand is only responsible for about 0.2-0.3% of world greenhouse gas emissions. That's no excuse for inaction: the situation is too urgent for countries like New Zealand to be free riders on the efforts of others. But it is a relief in one sense: if New Zealand's politicians (with a few very honourable exceptions) were in charge of climate policy for the whole world, I'd know we were stuffed. As it is, there's still a chance we might pull through.

If you're interested in following up the issues raised in this post, and groups working on various ways of addressing them, see the Energy and Climate section on the left of this blog.