26 July 2015

In Praise of Dwarf Planets: Pluto, Charon and Ceres

I don't often spend time in the High Court, but when I do, it's good to have some uplifting thoughts to entertain me. This week, many of those thoughts have provided by three dwarf planets: Pluto and Charon (the two of whom can be argued to form a binary dwarf planet system), and Ceres, the largest dwarf planet in the Asteroid Belt.

The New Horizons mission to the Kuiper Belt, which has just visited Pluto and Charon, and the Dawn mission to the Asteroid Belt, which visited Vesta before heading to Ceres, are sending back fascinating images and science results. There are squillions of these about, but here are a few of my favourites:

Kind of Ceres to leave the porch light on to welcome the Dawn orbiter.

Earth has a water cycle. Titan has a methane cycle. Does Pluto have a nitrogen cycle?

Is that dark patch on Charon caused by deposition from Pluto?

Clearly the next step in Pluto's campaign to be reinstated to the ranks of full planets is for Australia to be declared a planet.

15 July 2015

Don't Go There, Labour. Even Though You Already Went There.

Is foreign ownership of land and property in New Zealand a legitimate subject for political disagreement and policy debate? Personally, I believe it is - for many years, I've been concerned by how easily foreign owners can take up large tracts of New Zealand land, whether it's been Shania Twain near Queenstown or James Cameron in the Wairarapa.

But when the Labour Party chose to frame that issue by attacking house purchasers on the basis that they had Chinese-sounding names, rather than framing the issue in terms of foreign investment, regardless of country of origin or how Chinese an investor's name sounds, they crossed a line they may come to regret.

New Zealand politicians of both the Right and Left have a long and inglorious history of scapegoating people of Chinese descent living in New Zealand for political gain. If you doubt that, I encourage you to read White Ghosts, Yellow Peril - China and New Zealand 1790-1950 by Stevan Eldred-Grigg with Zeng Dazheng, which lays out many such examples and their consequences for the Chinese community of the time. The recent blog post Year of the (Scape)goat by "Kiwiese" reinforces the point.

Given the endorsement of Phil Twyford's initial anti-Chinese framing of the issue by Labour leader Andrew Little, it's clear that this is a strategy Labour has deliberately decided to employ, not one it has stumbled into by mistake. Ever since Andrew Little took over as Labour Party leader, there have been signs that Labour has concluded it needs to move to the right to recapture lost votes and lost voting blocks - and this anti-Chinese rhetoric may well be an attempt to capture back voters lost to New Zealand First.

Labour may have been goaded into this approach by its analysis of the recent UK election. There, Labour lost votes in a broad swathe of seats from the south to the North-East of England to UKIP, who sell hard-right policies dressed up in the mantle of white working-class cultural chauvinism and resentment of immigrants. While UKIP only took one seat itself, it did take enough votes off Labour to cost Labour many seats in this region. Perhaps New Zealand Labour has taken a look at this and decided to out-UKIP any other party which might try to claim this political territory.

But Labour could have drawn a very different lesson from the UK general election. In Scotland, the SNP, a party which although not especially socialist campaigned on a strong anti-austerity platform, swept a time-serving Scottish Labour Party from power and claimed 56 out of 59 Scottish seats at Westminster. Maybe, instead of trying on the clothes of Winston Peters or UKIP leader Nigel Farage, NZ Labour should take its inspiration from Westminster's youngest MP, the SNP's Mhairi Black:

Will Labour gain popular support by scapegoating people with Chinese surnames? Very possibly. It's a tactic that has led to short-term political success in New Zealand before. Should they continue doing so? Absolutely not, in my view. And that's not just because it is morally wrong: it is also driving committed activists away from Labour.

I know of a number of Labour activists, the people who knock on doors and answer phones and run meetings and deliver leaflets, who have quit Labour over this and related issues, and I suspect many of the activists who remain are far from happy about Labour's new direction. National isn't so dependent on activists to win elections, because they can call on lots of corporate donations. Labour doesn't have access to that kind of money, so it relies a lot more on activists' hard work to win elections. Lose too many of them, and Labour's joy at its march to the political centre may turn to ashes in its mouth come the next election.

In conclusion, I suggest the New Zealand Labour Party sticks to developing a narrative about how a Labour-led Government will benefit New Zealand as a whole, and leaves the overt racism to others.

13 July 2015

NZ Pacific Studio - Ema Saiko Poetry Fellowship - 31 July deadline

My friend and fellow poet Madeleine Slavick got in touch to let writers know about this excellent short-term poetry residency. Speaking as someone for whom long-term residencies haven't been feasible to apply for due to family and work commitments, I think short-term residencies are an excellent idea - and this one is located in a lovely part of the country!

The residency discussed below has a 31 July deadline, but even if that doesn't suit you, check out the www.artistresidency.org.nz website for other opportunities.

Madeleine, who is the Community Program Manager for New Zealand Pacific Studio, says:

We offer a three-week poetry fellowship, and perhaps you or people you know might like to apply? Here is the link: http://www.artistresidency.org.nz/blog/623222

We offer other funded fellowships throughout the year as well as self-funded residencies (at $300/week). Browse our website sometime and see if it may be of interest.

We are located two houses north of Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, which resident writers/artists have free access to during their stay.

Please share with colleagues -- the Studio is open to writers, visual artists and all creative practitioners.

07 July 2015

Tuesday Poem: Shostakovich in America

1959, November. The plumed De Soto
hammers on, freshman driver
burning up the plains.

Freedom! The Kappa Gamma Beta boys
can never catch him now. They're back east
in the studio, where Ormandy

shrugs and starts recording.
Dmitri has better things to do. This is
his jazz age, his lost weekend.

An upstate college, denuded branches
scrawled across the moon. He nestles
in a co-ed's bed. Dreams

drag him back to the Kremlin:
always the bottle of Georgian wine,
always the black telephone.

Dawn is coffee, hesitant smiles,
the wordless bond of night
knotting itself into language.

She is summer, America, forgetting.
"You were flailing your arms,"
she says. "Conducting."

He kisses, disentangles, turns the key.
His car roars over the siloed plains,
eastwards into the morning.

Credit note: "Shostakovich in America" was originally published in Issue 11 of Bravado magazine, and was subsequently included in my 2011 poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

Dmitri Shostakovich did visit the USA in 1959, and did record with Eugene Ormandy. The rest is imagined.

Tim says: I posted this poem once before, in 2010 - around the time the Tuesday Poem began. I'm posting it here again because I have recently finished reading Sarah Quigley's novel The Conductor, which is set during World War 2, and covers the composition and Leningrad premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh ("Leningrad") symphony. While I'm not as sure that the novel "manages to light up something of the Russian soul" as the Observer reviewer, I do think it's a fine portrayal of what it takes to create under adverse - in this case, among the most adverse - of circumstances - and if you are at all interested in music, or creative work of any kind, I encourage you to read it.

01 July 2015

Travelling The Paper Road

Paper Road Press's first Shortcuts series of novellas, "Strange Fiction of Aotearoa New Zealand", features six novellas, one being released per month. Here's the sequence:

Mika Lee Murray and Piper Mejia
The Last Grant Stone
Bree’s Dinosaur AC Buchanan
Pocket Wife IK Paterson-Harkness
Landfall Tim Jones
The Ghost of Matter Octavia Cade

My novella "Landfall" is fifth in the series, and is due to be released in August. You can find links to buy each published ebook on Kindle or Kobo in the descriptions, and they are also available on Nook, iBooks and a few other places. Don't miss out!