Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Painful Postures and Royal Appointments

Painful Rugby Postures
Two things captured my attention this morning.  Firstly the announcement of our new Governor General to replace the incumbent later in the year.

With respect to the current GG, the announcement of his appointment at the time was greeted with "who?" by a great number of New Zealanders.  Sir Anand Satyanand was not a household name but he has fulfilled his duties admirably.

As to the role itself, it is a hangover from colonial days and Singapore has replaced this head of state role with that of President.

What ever you call it, the position is largely ceremonial as the real political power lies with the elected government of the day.

Our new Governor General is to be a recently retired Head of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Jerry Matepara, soon to be known as Sir Jerry Matepara, as a gong goes with the appointment.

Having been in the SAS at one stage of his army career the new GG will no doubt be a dab hand with the sword, which may come in handy for investitures.

The second item of interest is the news that the huge rugby stadium in Christchurch has been badly damaged in the recent earthquake.

This is a real blow to a province that is passionate about its sport and equally adamant that they should retain hosting privileges for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup 2011.

Quite apart from the stability of the stadium itself it appears that the playing pitch has been subject to liquefaction, even creating a bulge in one place.

There may a positive about this raised mound of earth.  Perhaps it could replace the plastic kicking tee that the goal kickers use? 

At least it would speed up the game if this was done as I for one get tired of watching English backs spending forever in strange postures as they line up the ball for a goal attempt.  Their first five, Johnny Wilkinson, always looks as if someone has slipped him a suppository when he crouches over the ball.

I was surprised to discover when we lived in the Republic that rugby is a popular game from a number of Singaporeans. Even though I enjoyed playing the game in my younger days I don't think I would have wanted to do so in the tropical heat

Monday, 7 March 2011

Let's Hear It For 'The Girl'

"It' Spring" said the cheerful voice of my friend from London as we connected via the marvels of Skype.

"Not here" said I, reflecting that the first of March marks the commencement of autumn, or Fall as the North Americans would describe it.

Having lived without seasons for four years in Singapore (if you discount 'wet' and 'dry' as seasonal variations), the change of seasons back in New Zealand is quite pronounced.

Rubber jandals are giving way once again to carpet slippers and the temperature at night makes for pleasant sleeping under a down duvet.

Usually we can count on a more settled time of year in March, but the effects of the La Niña weather patterns have put paid to such predictions.

According to Wikipedia, El Niño is Spanish for "the boy" and refers to the Christ child, because periodic warming in the Pacific near South America is usually noticed around Christmas. The name La Niña means "the girl" and is analogous to El Niño.

When I was young we had never heard of 'La Niña' or its counterpart 'El Nino'; the weather changed in autumn, got bitter in winter and warmed up again in Spring.

We had 'wet summers' and 'dry summers' that were commented upon by straw sucking yokels over the fence.  Spanish terms for weather were never uttered.

Weather dictated the farming cycles -  silage making, haymaking, 'drying off' the cows  - such was the rural rythmn of Taranaki.  We knew we had winter when Mt Egmont had snow and rugby was top of mind.

But being located in the Pacific as we are we are subject to the vagaries of the heating and cooling of that vast ocean - El Niño is the warming phase and La Niña the cooling.

El Niño guarantees more extremes in climate and we have seen such effects this summer as several tropical cyclones have skirted our eastern shores.  Thankfully by the time they get to our latitude they have reduced to storms and lost much of their power

This morning has dawned clear and cool after a 12 degree might temperature.  It is strange to reflect that the term 'cool' in Singapore referred to 26 degree temperature accompanied by very modest breeze.

Time to pull on the slippers.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Off with their heads!

Yesterday it was announced that the New Zealand government has taken over the management of the Christchurch earthquake disaster from the local city council.

This is not a reflection on the sterling efforts of the Mayor and his elected officials but it does show that the time has come to move on to the larger infrastructure issues that face the city.

More than 60,000 locals have decided not to wait for this decision and have voted with their feet, many vowing never to return.  I can't blame them as just last night there was yet another significant aftershock which will have further jangled already frayed nerves.

There is another battle looming; between those conservationists who are determined to see as much of Christchurch's historic architecture rebuilt as possible and the Minister now responsible for Christchurch (known with distaste by some as "Bulldozer Brownlee") who only sees the Cathedral, Catholic basilica, Provincial Chambers and Art Centre as worthy of a rebuild.

He is quoted as saying that other old buildings would be demolished tomorrow if it was up to him. "While they are part of our past history, they have no place in our future history."

This appears at first glance to a remarkably short-sighted observation given that Christchurch's appeal is its architecture.

While human lives and accommodation must be the main priority it is true that the citizens of the future city need to be protected from heritage buildings that are hazardous.  However this does not mean that all 19th and early 20th century buildings should be bowled over with the exception of the aforementioned.

The defined heritage precincts of Christchurch have taken a battering and many buildings are totally destroyed.  Unlike a medieval town such as Girona in Spain, which has survived natural disasters largely in tact, Christchurch needs to rebuild its core infrastructure and quickly.

Singapore's removed many of the old and largely derelict heritage quarters in its drove for modernisation but if you visit the city you can still see many examples of classic architecture that have been faithfully restored or retained. A makeover of Muscat Street is one of their latest projects.

This is the balance that Christchurch needs to retain.  One can't keep everything but save the best; and the best is more than four buildings.

I see a huge opportunity arising out of the ashes of Christchurch.  In a city known for its architecture why not use the spaces where buildings have had to be demolished for a new wave of New Zealand architecture. Demonstrate what is best about the country's architectural style in the 21st century.

Invite leading NZ architects to participate and turn the city once again into an architectural showcase, this time for the future.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Shocks and Aftershocks

The most recent 6.3. earthquake in Christchurch was and aftershock from the earlier and larger September 2010 'quake.

Graphic showing location of main shock, aftershocks above magnitude 3, and fault ruptures in Canterbury.
Graphic by Rob Langridge and William Ries, GNS Science
Click on graphic for larger image
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Thursday, 24 February 2011

Thank you Singapore

Assistance for the Christchurch Earthquake Disaster - source NZ Herald
At times like these it's good to have friends; thank you Singapore and all other countries who are assisting our rescue effort.

Sumner - the suburb where we once lived

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


The Press Building (1909) now completely destroyed
It is just 24 hours since a second and more devastating earthquake struck Christchurch.  The most horrific revelation in its aftermath has been the loss of life; 75 and climbing.

People are still being pulled alive from collapsed buildings and our small nation is in shock that this could happen not once, but twice, to the Garden City.

As I watch the 24 hour coverage from the safety of my lounge in Auckland I realise also that the city of my childhood and later memories will never exist again as I knew it.

My father came from the suburb of Cashmere in Christchurch, and lived just down from the Sign of the Takahe at 118 Dyers Pass Road.

He attended Christchurch Boy's High School and was passionate about the city and its environment even though he lived most of his adult life elsewhere.

Fond memories of walking hand in hand with my grandfather past the Press Building and the Cathedral in the Square are all that remain today, as both buildings have been irreparably damaged and will never be rebuilt.

The heritage heart of the city is gone - the old Provincial Chambers are partially demolished and aerial views of other sites shows a state of total collapse.

Cathedral Square in 1960 - the spire (circled) came down during the 23 February 'quake
Where trams once rattled through in the late 1950's and newspaper men called from street corners, there is now only dust and vehicles flattened by falling masonry.

Cathedral Square in 1957 - buses not trams, which I used to take to my grandparents house in Cashmere Hills
In the early 1980's when I returned from Papua New Guinea I went to live in Christchurch in the small suburb of Sumner.

This is the same suburb that now features in mobile phone video of falling boulders from the surrounding cliff faces.  Goodness only knows the state of properties on Scarborough Hill where we had a house and which overlooks Sumner Beach?

But of course property can be replaced and lives cannot.  It will be many years before the city recovers but recover it will, as Cantabrians are a stoic bunch and the rest of the country is behind them helping wherever we can.
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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What is a politician worth?

This chart from CNN makes an interesting comparisson between the leaders' salaries in the Asia Pacific region. (Click on the chart to see the larger version).

According to unsubstantiated reports Singapore politicians hold the top thirty places on the world's pay scale for politicians:

1. Elected President SR Nathan – S$3.9 million.
2. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – S$3.8 million.
3. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew – S$3.5 million.
4. Senior Minister Goh Chok Thong – S$3.5 million.
5. Senior Minister Prof Jayakumar – S$3.2 million.
6. DPM & Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng – S$2.9 million.
7. DPM & Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean – $2.9 million
8. Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo – S$2.8 million.
9. National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan – S$2.7 million.
10. PMO Miniser Lim Boon Heng – S$2.7 million.
11. Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang – S$2.7 million.
12. PMO Minister Lim Swee Say – S$2.6 million.
13. Environment Minister & Muslim Affairs Minister Dr Yaccob Ibrahim – S$2.6 million.
14. Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan – S$2.6 million.
15. Finance Minister S Tharman – S$2.6 million.
16. Education Minister & 2nd Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen – S$2.6 million.
17. Community Development Youth and Sports Minister – Dr Vivian Balakrishnan – S$2.5 million.
18. Transport Minister & 2nd Minister for Foreign Affairs Raymond Lim Siang Kiat – S$2.5 million.
19. Law Minister & 2nd Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam – S$2.4 million.
20. Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong – S$2.2 million.
21. PMO Minister Lim Hwee Hwa – S$2.2 million
22. Acting ICA Minister – Lui Tuck Yew – S$2.0 million.
23 to 30 = Senior Ministers of State and Ministers of State – each getting between S$1.8 million to S$1.5 million.

The Singapore government would argue that to get if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

Looking at some of the 'monkeys' we have had in NZ under the MMP system and the money we have paid in salaries and benefits, the Singaporeans may have a point. 

That said, the above list would seem rather excessive in remuneration in these recessionary times, if proven to be accurate?

All of this has been put into sharper focus with the release of the 2011 budget which the Singapore government hopes will bridge the wealth gap.
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Friday, 18 February 2011

My Soul Is In Fort Canning

my soul is in Fort Canning
long before the march of progress
incendiary sounds and shouted orders

there are some places you never leave
still others where memories live
amongst the quiet and verdant green

you can feel me in the dank surrounds of battlements
the stillness before the tropical rains
a rhythm of droplets on spreading fronds

in truth I have never left you
the forbidden hill of legend
where empires lost were never reclaimed
and royalty wept at your feet

my soul is in Fort Canning
a quiet meditation still
of universal peace.

Roger Smith. 2011

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Dr M

History has a sense of repeating itself as does Dr Mahathir Mohamad.  Lee Kuan Yew writes something and Dr M attacks it.

A couple of recent items in the Malaysia online journals confirmed that there has been yet another "episode of the antiquated drama in the battle of the octogenarians”.

The good doctor has apparently accused MM of being an  iron-clad ruler.  A bit rich I would have thought from someone with a man who himself has been accused of being a despot and using national security as a veil to jail dissidents, under the law which provides for detention without trial.

As I have stated in the past one can only judge both men on what they have achieved.  When Singapore and Malaysia split the value of their currency was at par.  Now it takes 2.4 Malaysian Ringgit to  purchase 1 Singapore dollar so it is easy to see which economy is stronger; despite the fact that Singapore has none of the natural resources that are so abundant in Malaysia.

The Mamak of Kerala (as Dr Mahathir Mohamad is known in some circles) nearly brought Bolehland to its knees in the late 1990's when large sums of investment failed to bring tangible results.

The term 'Bolehland' is one used by Malays to describe this period. Boleh means “able” or “can do” in Malay. The “Malaysia Boleh” campaign was launched to bolster national self-esteem.

Minister Mentor
It  has its parallels in the government run campaigns that Singapore such as the "National Courtesy Campaign", but the Malaysian versions have thus far failed to spark the same results.  This is a great pity as I am fond of Malaysia and Malaysians but I am no fan of Malaysian-style politics.

Dr. M also refutes any suggestion that Singapore has anything to fear from Malaysia: "Lee Kuan Yew’s fear of Singapore being invaded by Malaysia is completely unfounded”.

That may be the case now but the Little Red Dot's envious neighbours has harboured such thoughts in the past.

Singapore spends five to six per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) on defence each year and to my eyes this seems like a very prudent investment.

Meanwhile some in the US are questioning the close education alliances between their universities and Singapore.  The tertiary tie-up between Duke and NUS is well known and has brought tangible benefits to both.

Critics within another ivy league university, Yale, are orchestrating a campaign to keep it out of Singapore.

Citing a  lack of human rights "the best American traditions of free speech", they claim that the name of Yale will be sullied by an association with a country that does not have the same degree of press freedom and open debate.

I don't believe that Duke has suffered from its Singaporean venture and I cannot see how Yale will.  As to the article's direct assertion that Singapore has a "jailhouse torture" perhaps they should look at punishment metered out in US prisons?

There is a death penalty in Singapore and it curbs the spread of drugs most effectively.  While homosexuality is officially banned, there would appear to be more tolerance that the Yale article tries to make out.  I suspect that the writer has never lived in Singapore?

As a former Yale Alumnus and Singaporean wrote in response: "Singapore and Singaporeans emphasize different values, and that this whole Yale-NUS proposal has shown up the gulf that exists between our conceptions of the good".

This is the crux of the argument.  How can you judge a country if you have never visited it or better still, lived in it?

I have visited the States several time and lived in Singapore.  For my money Singapore has a definite edge, both in terms of affluence and a more integrated society.  It may not be perfect but what place is? 

At least in Singapore I did not come across war veterans eating out of rubbish bins as I did in the streets of San Francisco.
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