Miscellany – October

Doesn’t seem to matter where you are in the world, there’s often another Kiwi close at hand. Even in the ‘60s long before mass travel a friend arrived in London and, walking down Earl’s Court Road one day, bumped into the last person he expected to see – a high school classmate.

Fast forward a half a century to the Middle East and Doha Airport.  Aucklander Kathleen Faughey had just landed there earlier this month and found the place indescribable, as in huge!  The business lounge alone looks like it’s bigger than Auckland Airport.

‘Because the ceilings are so high on all the floors of the terminal, the escalators between the floors are high – and steep. When we (mainly Kiwis) first arrived off our airport bus at the terminal and we were rising up the first escalator, a Kiwi voice called out: “Hey! Did someone drop an iPad or a Kindle?” We relayed the message up the mountainous escalator till someone near the top answered “Yes, I did,” and stepped off the top to await the finder.  It was such a Kiwi moment’.

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Last month we commemorated the day New Zealand women won the right to vote in 1893. One hundred and twenty-five years on, Suffrage 125 celebration provides an opportunity to remember the suffragists and what they fought for, and to reflect on women’s rights in the 21st century.  It was a proud remembrance, one which signalled we were leading the world in the quest for social justice.

By comparison last month, the Texas Board of Education, an elected body, has removed the names of two famous American women: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller, in an updated high school text. At the same time it inserted the name of Moses…

Deaf and blind, Keller graduated from Harvard and became a campaigner for social justice in America. In her 1913 book, Rebel Lives she wrote perceptively:

The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all… The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands—the ownership and control of their livelihoods—are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.

As for Hillary – most of us know she should have become America’s first female President.

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“Watching the news every night is like taking a major nature hike through the Book of Revelations” – former Democratic Vice President, Al Gore on MSNBC talking about storms, hurricanes and unprecedented fires in California. As for political storms, he said that on a daily basis he had to make room in his head for some new outrage from the White House. And that was before Brett  Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court made his breathtakingly awful appearance at his confirmation hearing. And still with Trump, for that’s where the focus in the news cycle seems to linger, his real life Trumpland  demands attention even if only because its star shows at his carefully orchestrated rallies, how profoundly unfit he is for Presidential office.

More worrying though are his audiences. When he repeated that the press were ‘enemies of the people’, they cheered and jeered. When he mocked Doctor Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault testimony against his supreme court nominee, they went wild. Were we hearing scary echoes of 20th century dictatorships?

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.