Monday, June 25, 2007

I am reading 'The Unconquerable World' ('why peaceful protest is stronger than war') by Jonathan Schell. I say reading because I am only half way through and already he has struck a chord and I need to put the ideas down to get them straight in my mind.
The biggest revelation is the simple statement that after violent action the conqueror must have the vanquished do his bidding and unless that happens he has lost the war. In earlier history 'military victory made rule possible by turning bold, angry enemies into frightened obedient subjects' but in recent history with the advent of 'peoples war' usually linked with independence or self determination this has changed as the British found in India, the French in Algiers, the Japanese in China, the Americans in Vietnam etc. This is also being played out in Iraq where the invading forces thought the people would welcome them with open arms to be freed from their dictator but the opposite happened and the country with the biggest military arsenal in the world is again heading for an inevitable defeat, not only because of the will of the Iraq people but also through the (non violent) will of the American people who have gone against the war.
But the premise that we can live without war is even more surprising. The super powers do it between themselves now because of their nuclear arms deterrent, if you get me I'll get you! Schell shows that even revolutions are relatively bloodless, it is their foundation that becomes bloody. The will of the people can endure without violent action and of course Gandhi was the foremost practitioner of this with his withdrawing of cooperation with the invaders. But strangely even he preferred violence to impotence. He said that non violence requires more action than violence and I think pacifism is linked to passivity and is doomed if it is.
Growing up in the sixties where as hippies we honestly believed love could change the world was mostly passive and therefore doomed but maybe there is another way!
The book is highly recommended by this old but not disallusioned hippy!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The big C word

The big C word has been cropping up everywhere around the world and now little old N.Z. is leading the race to become the first country to sign a free trade agreement with them. Of course I'm referring to China, what did you think I meant? This gives us the opportunity to trade our wonderful home grown produce for the worst made goods in the history of mankind (which quickly find their way into our landfills) and with a country with a terrible human rights history as millions of dead Tibetians could testify if they were alive. The Dalai Lama is visiting our country at the moment and China has threatened our trade agreement if our Prime Minister meets him formally. What price do we put on our independence! Initially our free trade is only going to bring in $37 million which is a drop in the bucket.
It's difficult when our country is so dependent on trade and a lot of other countries have human rights abuses. We can't be black and white ( we aren't lily white ourselves) but we must make a stand as far as our economy can take it against anyone who is not even trying or is denying that abuses are taking place.
Remember our borders are open. We have no protectionism. Our farmers get no subsidies, they must stand on their own two feet in the world markets, so when we ask for a free trade agreement we are only asking for equality. The US won't give us one because of our no nuclear policy so I don't have to take a stand about the killing of innocent people in Iraq but Britain is a traditional and one of our largest trading partners and is just as culpable.
We are only a small country and don't make much difference in world affairs but it is important that we can live with ourselves. That if we treat people fairly in our own lives then it should spill over into our foreign affairs.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What makes an artist

What makes an artist? Is it a need to express inner feelings? But anger is an inner feeling that can be expressed in a destructive way. So is it creativity or the pursuit of beauty that is the definition? But an angry artist can express himself beautifully (although more likely with ugliness). So is it what a person produces that make them an artist or who they are? What comes first the chicken or the egg? In my experience, of the artists I know, they tend to be nice people ( although as Milan Kundera says 'Franz's weakness is called goodness') who care about the environment and people, who wouldn't go to war and are concerned about a better society. So do people with those tendencies become artists or does becoming an artist make them like that.
Talent obviously helps. If you can draw at an early age you will be interested in the arts. I was behind the door when 'he upstairs' gave out talent. He gave me a head full of ideas and no means to put them down so it took me 50 years of hard work to get a somewhat passable artwork!
I started with collage, the putting on and sanding off of paper (construction and deconstruction), taught to me by my good friend Felix, then painting (again on and off), followed by stone sculpture (deconstruction) and now I am working with wood sculpture (construction again). Each piece takes a long time but I find it very satisfying, as if it is fulfilling a basic need most of us have of building something.
Spent last night designing a chair. Looks OK on paper but haven't a clue whether it will work in practice.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Books and Memory

Books have been part of my life for as long as I can remember and of course age changes the remembering. When I was 30 I could remember what I had for lunch at my Grandmothers when I was 7, at 40 pre teen years were gone and of the teenage years only the catastrophic remained, Elizabeth Mason, pimples, The Graduate, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Mason (and it wasn't the girl anymore only the memory that it mattered!).. Now yesterdays lunch is a problem! My father wasn't a great talker but he was a great reader and I tried hard to read his Great Books but Plato and Euclid and Kant were couched in this old fashioned difficult language and it wasn't until I met the philosophers through Bertrand Russels' History of Western Philosophy that I realised I needed an interpreter who understood the big ideas and could couch them in laymans terms. Like Henry Miller, a bit of philosophy, a lot of sex, a bit of philosophy etc. much more palatable.
At first I could remember everything, title, author, publisher, colour of the jacket and even cheap thrillers I only had to read the first page to know I had read it before. Now I'm almost finished before I realise it is familiar!
However there are advantages. I am visiting my old books and I know I have read them and remember how they affected me but not why. So the words are new but the ideas aren't and in 40 years I've changed so I view the ideas differently. I'm excited. My dear mother in her late Altzeimer years would visit with a book and every hour or so would pick it up and read the same page. Imagine that. What you could do is find the most provoking, life changing page in your reading history and put it aside to enjoy again and again.
What am I reading? 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter', Bruce Chatwins 'In Patagonia', E.E. Schumachers 'Small is Beautiful', 'Catch 22' and poetry by Gerald Manley Hopkins and our own James K Baxter.
Five shelves to go, by the time I'm finished the memory will be diminished further and I'll be able to start again. What a saving!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Nuclear free NZ

Wow, twenty years have gone by since we became a nuclear free country by legislation. The Labour Party in opposition during the early 80's promised it to the NZ people if they were elected to govern which happened in 1986 and it became law in 1987, the first country in the world to do so. By refusing the American Navy entry to our ports because of their policy not to divulge whether the ships were nuclear armed or not we earned their wrath and they pulled out of Anzus (a treaty between NZ, Australia and the US) and threatened trade sanctions which is still in force with Australia getting a free trade agreement recently and not us.
How relavent is it today? Probably not very with the Berlin Wall down, tactical nuclear weapons off American ships and the vessels wouldn't fit in our ports anyway. However when the National Party made noises about watering the policy down, opinion polls showed a large proportion of people want it to stay in place
It's not about nuclear anymore it's about the fact that a little country at the end of the world had the guts to stand on it's own two feet and give a big fat finger to a superpower and we may have been snubbed but we haven't nuked or sunk and we hopefully continue on our way with respect.
Winter has a few problems, the worst being the layering on of chubbiness at my age! So I have started my usual mandarin diet which means nothing but coffee and mandarins (homegrown of course) until dinner when I eat whatever I want. Probably not recommended but it works for me and the hunger pains are a gentle reminder of all those hungry mouths out there.
Hi to Petra and Rainer from Berlin, we are looking after Flaxmill Bay until your return and the stocks of lamb and mussels are finally starting to recover!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Snapper recipe

Ex chef Ronny with a fine snapper
Grilled snapper on spinach and potato rosti with a red wine reduction sauce

I love to fish. It's doing something when not doing something. Sitting quietly with anticipation, watching my line and dreaming. I have this Western problem of the need of filling up spaces in time and fishing does this without the feeling of being busy. And of course I walk in the door with food for the family and it feeds the primeval hunter/gatherer in me.
We have a good quota sytem in NZ to retain fish stocks, where only so much fish is allocated to fishermen and once they have caught that they can't catch any more. We also have many marine reserves where no fishing is allowed so fish stocks can build up unhindered. One of the largest is just two kilometres from our home so it is rare to come back with no fish. Our boat, called 'The Beast', is small and rough, is fast and we can go far but we catch most 200 metres from the beach so we just get up speed then it's time to stop and anchor. Snapper is our predominant fish with a sweet, white flesh and because of the export price costs close to $30 a kilo in the shops.
Son Sam and I caught some nice fat fish yesterday and this is how I cooked them.

Grilled Snapper on Spinach and Potato Rosti with a Red Wine Reduction Sauce
For the sauce - put 1 1/4 cups of red wine and 1/4 cup good red wine vinegar in a saucepan and add 1 peeled carrot, 1 clove peeled garlic, 1/2 onion thinly sliced, 1/2 teaspoon pepercorns, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds and over a medium heat reduce by half, about 25 minutes. Meanwhle put a cup of port wine in another saucepan and reduce by half about 15 minutes. Strain first reduction into the second and set aside.
For the potato rosti - grate 4 medium potatoes, 1 carrot and 1/2 an onion in a bowl add 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, salt and freshly ground pepper and deep fry big spoonfulls in a pan until golden brown.
The snapper - generously season both sides with salt and pepper and cook in a little light oil over a high heat approx. 4 minutes each side until just cooked (depends a lot on thickness of fillet)
To assemble - put 2 rosti in the centre of the plate, add some lightly steamed spinach and the fish. Finish the sauce - bring to the boil then off the heat add 4 tablespoons butter and swirl until the butter is dissolved and the sauce becomes shiny. Pour around the food and garnish with chopped parsley.