31 July 2005

Oops... silence = incompetence

Been wondering about the hiatus in blog entries? Well I've been wondering why I couldn't get my post to appear... I finally resorted to sending an email to the blogger help people. Of course, I'd only just sent the email when I I had a sneaking suspicion that I knew what the problem might be. I was right—I'd been fiddling with the HTML template to get it resembling the old pohanginapete-at-xanga site and had somehow copied the content of the posts into the template instead of leaving it with the code for getting the content... It's fixed now, so I guess I owe an apology to the blogger people for wasting their time. Sorry, guys.

Anyway, I hope to be posting a bit more frequently, so keep checking in! And don't be afraid to leave a comment—you just have to click on the comments counter at the bottom of the post for all the world to read... it's really not that scary. Otherwise, email me (I'll work out a way of putting a mailing link here in a form that prevents spammers finding it. Most of you should already know my address anyway...)

(Just a random photo...)

Copyright 2005 Pete McGregor

30 July 2005

The End of Tolerance?

Yesterday evening, over a magnificent dinner and in defiance of the common exhortation, several friends and I discussed politics and religion. Well, it was more like politics, the state of the environment and the issue of poverty, but a little religion did creep in at times. Despite some disagreement, we remain great friends (I hope!), proving that the common exhortation is wrong.

Much of the political discussion centred, of course, on the NZ Parliamentary election, which is to be held on 17 September. Sadly, there's a common expectation that the campaign will be ugly, and it's my fear that it may cause much, lasting damage. We've already seen Don Brash and his National Party tapping into a very unpleasant undercurrent of prejudice regarding “Maori privilege” and “the Treaty Grievance Industry”, thereby fostering those prejudices and, I suspect, leaving many (possibly most) Maori feeling victimised. I wish I could believe the approach was well-intentioned but sadly inept; however, a far more plausible analysis is to suppose it may have been initially well-intentioned but when it delivered significant results in the opinion polls, the focus changed to exploiting it to maximise political gain. What I'd like all political parties to remember is this: just because you know better than anyone else what's good for the country and how to deliver it, that does not mean you can employ any sort of political expediency to gain the power to exercise your superior abilities. Put simply: the end does not justify the means. Besides, you might be wrong (but that seems to be unthinkable for most politicians).

However, National's political expediency (or cynicism, if you're less charitable) seems petty compared to recent statements by the NZ First leader, Winston Peters. In an astonishing outburst (ironically titled "The End of Tolerance") he likened Islamic groups to “... the mythical Hydra – a serpent underbelly with multiple heads capable of striking at any time and in any direction” and accused the NZ Muslim community of being “...quick to show us their more moderate face, but [having] a militant underbelly here as well.” Typically, he refuses to disclose any details that might support his claim, and he's been well answered (more here...), but this sort of tirade can reinforce bigotry.

While this distresses me greatly, my hope is that the nett effect will be to encourage more people to demonstrate just how much we welcome people from other cultures. One of the great joys of my life recently has been the increasing contact I've had with others from overseas—for example, last Sunday I walked the Manawatu Gorge with a group of overseas students.
My role was to record the event in photographs, but it was hardly a job: there are few things I'd rather have done.
We had people from 15 countries; from places like Bahrain and the USA, China and Malaysia, Chile and Indonesia, Nepal and Mexico and many others. As we walked through native forest and looked down at the river far below and shared lunches, I realised how much I was receiving from these wonderful people. The thought that some of them might be denied the experience and that I might also be denied it if Winston Peters had his way is simply too much to bear. Maybe, if he'd been with us and been open to sharing the experience, he'd think long and hard before delivering a speech like last Thursday's. It's a forlorn hope, though—I'm sure he'd think of me as just another of his “...Lilly [sic] livered liberal's [sic]...” Oh well, perhaps I'll just console myself by heading off to tonight's Aotearoa Environmental Film Festival, where I'll be meeting up with friends from all over the world—despite Winston's best attempts to deny me that privilege.

Photos and words copyright 2005 Pete McGregor

22 July 2005

Pervasive doubt

In the short, sheep-cropped grass beneath the Robinias at the edge of the terrace, I notice a small skull. Just a skull, nothing else; even the lower jaw has long vanished. I pick it up. It's perfectly clean, slightly stained from its long rest; there's even a faint hint of green where algae have begun to colonise it, helping it return to the land. I check the teeth—what remains of them—and recognise it as the skull of a rabbit. This small, marvellously formed collection of interlocked, fused bones sits in the palm of my hand, the cranium now containing only the space it encloses; perhaps a few tiny beetles, maybe some mites. Once, a brain lived in there and thought and felt, and looked out at the world through nervous eyes, tested the wind with a soft nose and listened through long ears.

I'm reminded of another piece of bone; one we found at one of our campsites in Mongolia. It, too, fitted in my palm but was clearly a shard of a larger skull. Smooth and rounded; very old; stained brown where it had been partly buried, bleached and pale where it had been exposed; the cranial sutures resembling a wildly erratic ECG. When we rode away from the camp, I reached up from the saddle and placed the shard high in a tree, out of reach of the local dogs. I suppose it will eventually fall, but it seemed like the right thing to do, and I hope its owner understood.

You can dismiss these things as meaningless or as a refusal to accept the reality of reason and (the) enlightenment. You can discount this view as New Age piffle. More generously, you might accept that it can be considered metaphorical and perhaps useful from a sociological, psychological or evolutionary perspective—this kind of respect might have served to strengthen communities and so increase their members' fitness, blah blah, etc... So what do I believe? To be honest, I don't know, and at times I've believed all of these interpretations, from the arch sceptical, rationalist view to the insistent intuition that when I hold a small skull or a fragment of bone in my hand, I'm in touch with a life that still exists in a sense that's at least as literal as metaphorical. Sometimes one of these views seems more plausible than the others; later, I'll wonder how I could possibly have believed that. Faced with that sort of uncertainty—a pervasive doubt that leaves me wondering whether I can know anything at all—I'm tempted to acquiesce to the kind of relativism that says you can believe whatever you like. However, that seems simply too random—I know at least enough to know that some things are wrong. Wrong in the factual sense, but wrong in the ethical sense also.

Photo and words copyright 2005 Pete McGregor

21 July 2005

Switching from Xanga

Having just had a call from a friend encouraging me to think about sharing the xanga blog more widely, and having been thinking for quite some time about switching from the juvenile-dominated xanga with its intensely frustrating idiosyncracies (like not loading all the photos), and having checked out blogger last week, I've finally decided to set up a blogger account to see if I can replace pohanginapete at xanga with pohanginapete at blogger—i.e. this. If you've arrived here from somewhere other than the xanga site, check it out to see what you might expect here in future; if you've arrived from xanga, well, I guess you already know...

Why switch? Two main reasons: 1.) anyone can add comments here (if I choose to allow them), but at xanga you need to sign up for a xanga account; and 2.) xanga is best known for blogs **~WrItn lykE diS~**>!; blogs promoting anorexia as a lifestyle choice (it's true, but don't expect me to support it by giving you a link); and blogs by people struggling with puberty (including some over 20. Or 30. Or...). There are some exceptions, but, not unreasonably, I'd feel more of a sense of collegiality among bloggers like norightturn(to whom I'll turn for validation when the upcoming NZ Parliamentary election depresses me too much) and fuelfools (to whom I'll also turn for validation when the upcoming election ..., etc). Cheers, Wordgirl, Comfy and the rest of you :^) )

Initially, I'll copy some of the latest xanga entries here (perhaps interspersing them with new blogger posts and photos), and I'll decide later whether to stick with this and abandon xanga completely (just leaving it with a link to take readers here). However, despite my irritation with xanga, it does seem to allow more flexibility with presenting photos, so I might decide to stay there for the interim. Who knows, perhaps I'll eventually learn enough to set up my own real website?

So, here we go... and here are the first photos. I stepped outside yesterday, into an elegiac evening; the darkening sky shifting with mauve clouds, the Tararua Range down south all orange-pink and violet and a big, bone-coloured moon rising... I nearly froze my tips off (that's fingertips in case you misread) enjoying it and trying to catch the light, but it was worth it. Well worth it.

Send me some thoughts about the switch, eh?

Photo and words copyright 2005 Pete McGregor