Category Archives: Culture

Mera, Mera, Off the Wall

mokoAmong people who say silly things, there is a full range from the mildly eccentric to the full-blown potty. New Zealand academic Mera Lee-Penehira looks as though she might be well up the latter end of the spectrum. For example, in 2015 she launched a criminal complaint against the United States under the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act 2000. Why? Because she does not think the United States ought to be in Hawaii. She said:

“We need to challenge everything the U.S. government does in Hawai‘i, because on the basis of law, it is quite simply wrong. The historical documentation is clear, that the Hawaiian Kingdom continues to exist under an illegal occupation by the U.S. and that the laws of occupation must be complied with. As a victim of war crimes committed in Hawai‘i, this cannot be allowed to continue to take place with impunity.”

telescopesIt seems that she thinks it is a war crime for the United States to impose taxes in Hawaii. She further thinks that the United States is guilty of a war crime in allowing the construction of telescopes on the summit of Mauna a Wakea.

So far, it seems, the United States is unmoved, and has not sought to remove Hawaii’s status as a state of the United States. The government of the United States might well think that her complaint is not something that they take very seriously. For someone in Australia, for example, it is a bit like a Peruvian fishmonger alleging that New South Wales committed a war crime for accepting New Zealand as a colony in 1839 (yes, that did happen, but it was all really quite a long time ago. We have all moved on).

sally andersonMore recently, Dr Lee-Penehira has been in the news for slagging off another rather silly New Zealand woman, Sally Anderson. Mrs Anderson is blonde, who is married to a Maori gentleman with a full face tattoo, and she recently had a sort of goatee beard known as a Moko tattooed onto her chin.

Now, you might well think that it is a really, really bad idea for women to disfigure themselves in this way, and Dr Lee-Penehira has joined the chorus of those exciting ill-will against Sally Anderson for doing it. But not because the tattoo is desperately ugly. Instead, on racial grounds. In a recent interview, Dr Lee-Penehira (who also sports one of these ghastly tattoos) attacked Sally Anderson because, as a pakeha (this is a Maori term of abuse for Caucasians, meaning something like “white slug”) she was not entitled to use a tribal design. She said that tribal designs are, “About who we were born to be”.

Imagine it the other way around. Imagine, in England or Australia or the United States, women of black ethnicity being forbidden to wear  ballgowns, because a ballgown is associated with Western society, and that is not who a black woman “was born to be”. Outrageous.

Dr Lee-Penehira was quite explicit about this: the objection is that Sally Anderson did not have “any genealogical ties”.  It was worse than this because she went on to say that it made no difference that Sally Anderson was married to a Maori. She said, “Representing that of your husband or wife is not appropriate”.

So again, consider the analogy. Should a black woman married to an indigenous Scotsman be forbidden from wearing a sash in her husband’s tartan? Perhaps Dr Lee-Penehira thinks so – in any event she sees the tattoo thing as “an identity marker’.

Then again, in further evidence of pottiness, she says that having a tattoo like this on your chin is a “healing intervention”. Dr LeePenehira has apparently been researching in Maori health for the past six years, but nevertheless, it is extremely hard to see how on earth a tattoo on your face is likely to be an effective cure for any ailment. One is bound to wonder if the New Zealand taxpayer is really getting good value for money from this research?

It is worth noting the terms of section 131 of the New Zealand Human Rights Act 1993:

131 Inciting racial disharmony

(1) Every person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to a fine not exceeding $7,000 who, with intent to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons,—

(a) publishes or distributes written matter which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or broadcasts by means of radio or television words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting; or

(b) uses in any public place (as defined in section 2(1) of the Summary Offences Act 1981), or within the hearing of persons in any such public place, or at any meeting to which the public are invited or have access, words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting,—

being matter or words likely to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any such group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons.

The group of persons in New Zealand who are blonde and dumb enough to have tattoos on their chin might be a small one. They are widely ridiculed quite enough without further ill-will being excited against them on racial grounds.


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Angling for Pain


Photo by Kara Murphy

Am I alone in think that there is really something rather cruel about fishing?

Think of it from the fish’s point of view, There you are, quieting going about your business, enjoying a spot of lunch. Then suddenly – BAM! – something the size of a ship’s anchor and as sharp as a kitchen knife is embedded in your upper jaw. It is excruciatingly painful, of course, and it is barbed, so there is no escape.

This thing – the worst thing that has ever happened to you – is attached to a line, and the line gets pulled. It drives the barbed hook yet further into your jaw. You might fight, perhaps for as much as half-an-hour, but there is no escape. Relentlessly, you are pulled up and up until you hit a toxic environment where you cannot breathe.

Here is where luck cuts in. A few things might happen Continue reading


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Another Her

aphDid Romeo love his Juliet? I have come to doubt it: he hardly knew her. Much more likely is that he loved Aphrodite.

I am not a religious sort of person. And so I do not actually believe that Aphrodite was a real God, any more than the hundreds of other Gods that have been invented by people all around the world for a very long time. But Aphrodite is quite a good proxy for something. And that something is the elusive Aphrodite (or if you prefer, alter tu) that so many of us crave, indeed live for: it is the imaginary being that we love. Most of us, I suspect, fall in love with our own alter tu quite young. I was about 10, I think.  She arrived, in my imagination, by seaplane on a beach near Littlestone, in Kent, where my family sometimes holidayed with my grandmother. She stepped out of the small plane on the beach, wearing nothing but her swimming costume. She was beautiful, clever and funny, and we were friends for ever. At the time, I could have described her every feature. I adored her.

If we are really, really lucky, a passing flesh-and-blood approximation Continue reading

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A Wedding and 72 Funerals

Moore-BickNow bored by Brexit, the UK is apparently instead turning itself into a sort of nationalised Britain’s Got Talent.

We have had the Royal wedding. Rules for the guests – and the groom – were no swords and no mobile phones. But there were celebs galore – actors, footballers and ageing pop singers. And a star turn from an American bible-basher who evoked the image of Robert Mugabe being given a special guest slot on the Muppet Show. The people, it seems, loved it.

And now Grenfell Tower – The Story. Abandoning everything he knows about the admissibility or relevance of evidence as a judge, enquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick is playing the part of a beneficent Simon Cowell as relatives of the dead from Grenfell Tower get their moment in the spotlight of momentary fame on the public stage. Moore-Bick says their evidence is integral to his enquiry. He does not mean it, of course, in the traditional sense. Rather, he has understood that the public has a healthy appetite for amateurs doing turns at funereal addresses.  The result of the whole thing will probably tell us nothing very useful about the rather dull topic of building regulation. It is all about how people feel. Will you cast your vote for the aspiring immigrant who had given up all for a new start? Or the young person who had a glittering career cruelly snatched away?

Both events are, in their different ways, distraction strategies. And both have their dangers. The Royal family, in particular, is supping with Continue reading

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A Second Wife

Niel GowNiel Gow, the Scottish musician, was in his late seventies when his second wife Margaret died, in 1805.

He composed a lament for her, which people still play, not only on the fiddle (Gow’s instrument) but also on other instruments including the guitar, which seems to suit it.

I wonder if his sadness was eased by writing such a piece?

Here is Rory Russell playing it, in an arrangement by David Russell. The arrangement calls for a special Continue reading

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A traveller from an antique land

OzyPlainly, all empires collapse. The much more interesting and difficult questions are “Why?” and “When?”

As to the why, there is a fair bit be said for the explanation of Joseph Tainter, who in 1988 published The Collapse of Complex Societies. In short, he tested various popular explanations about why civilisations collapse against numerous case studies. The usual explanations of moral decay, disease, innovation et cetera do not stack up very well. Instead, it is when the ER0EI[1] – as applied to social complexity – falls off that an empire is ruined. In large measure, this social complexity manifests itself in the expansion of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Bureaucrats, in other words.[2]

There is a thing called the Vanguard Myth. At the early stages of the development of an empire, there are benefits to be derived from increased levels of complex bureaucracy. But after a while, those benefits tail off, and then become negative. The bureaucrats, of course, do not see that; they see themselves as in the vanguard of development, and forge ahead doing more of what they have previously been doing. Eventually, a tipping point is reached. It is in this zone that the risk – which eventually becomes a certainty – arises of collapse.

What is the topicality of all of this? Well, it is to do with the “When” part of the question. Adapting an old syllogism:

  • All empires collapse,
  • The EU is an empire,[3]
  • The EU will collapse.[4]

But when? There is a detailed and interesting analysis of this by Gwythian Prins, which is to be found on the Briefings for Brexit website. Gwythian Prins is a bright chap. He taught history and politics at Cambridge for over 20 years, is Emeritus Research Professor at the LSE and since 2016 has been senior academic visiting fellow at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. For various detailed reasons, which he spells out, he thinks that the collapse of the EU might be coming sooner rather than later. He starts with the Tainter Continue reading

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Cold Serendipity

doc023450I have been suffering from a cold this week, almost certainly gathered from one of those intensive infection tubes known as an aeroplane at the end of last week. Happily, none of my instructing solicitors have asked me to do anything very difficult this week: my head has been spinning. Instead, I have been drinking hot toddies, taking the medicine which doesn’t get rid of the cold, but does at least somewhat stem the dripping nose, and passing the time doing The Times crossword.

Somewhat to my surprise, I was able to finish the puzzles both on Monday and yesterday. There were solution words which I found challenging. On Monday, I had to look up polysaccharide. Perhaps I should have recalled it from my education when I did chemistry, but if I ever knew it, it had gone.

doc023451Yesterday was even worse. I had to look in the dictionary to check that celesta is an acceptable variation of celeste. Pietistic is not a word which has ever fallen from my lips. I have no idea what a stot is, but I presume that it is some sort of bovine.[1]

Nor had I ever heard of a Sanbenito, which is apparently a garment which the Catholics required their victims to wear during the Spanish Inquisition. I looked it up. It is apparently named for St Benedict, a Negro born to slave parents in Sicily in 1526. It had never occurred to me that the Italians kept slaves in this way in the 16th century. It seems that young Benedict would also have been kept as a slave, but his freedom was granted Continue reading

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What is it with Puritans and Witchhunts?

salemI never been a great fan of religion, let alone missionaries. Among Christians, the Catholics are particularly unwelcome; by large, the Protestant puritans have generally caused less trouble. But bizarrely, puritans do go in for witchhunts. Famously, of course, it was Salem, but it certainly hasn’t stopped there.

Take Oxfam for example, which has recently been in the press. The offence? It turns out that some of their people have been using prostitutes in Haiti, and other disaster struck places.

Now, I am not an expert in prostitutes, by any means, but I imagine that if you have chosen that particular profession, a major natural disaster – the sort of thing that will get Oxfam turning up – is likely to be very bad for business. I’m not saying it’s a good business, or something that we should encourage. I am simply saying that if a particular young woman – or even a somewhat older woman – chooses to earn her income by offering sex for money, then she will be among the many people adversely affected by a national disaster. So, a natural disaster happens. Business dries up for this young woman. That’s bad. After a little while, the aid agencies turn up, with their cardboard boxes full of food and their white SUVs full of earnest do-gooders.

And here’s the thing. If you happen to be a prostitute, and if one of these do-gooders in a white SUV is willing and able to be a good customer, that is not bad news. On the contrary, it is Continue reading

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Flopsie Black

UCL and the Natural History Museum has done some work on the DNA of “Cheddar Man”, a UK resident of around 10,000 years ago who has been remarkably well-preserved in a cave, rotting only slowly. They have concluded that he was probably quite dark-skinned with blue eyes. They might or might not be right about that. They got the talented Dutch identical twin modellers – the Kennis brothers – to a 3-D representation of what he might have looked like according to that view before he started rotting. Here is the result, as it appears on the Kennis and Kennis Reconstructions website:

Kennis blackNow the flopsies, of course, just love this story. Here is the picture as it appears in the Guardian Continue reading

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Grid Kids are Creepy

seb gridOne of the sillier things about F1 motor racing is the grid girls. They have been a feature of the sport for many years, standing around smiling, but doing not a lot.

Their excuse is to hold lollipops to show who is who on the starting grid. Continue reading

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