Flag, Helen Clark

Clark government advised to ensure flag change if public supports it

There was a fascinating revelation in the fine print of Saturday’s Herald article about Helen Clark’s flag preference.

It seems her government was advised in 2004 not to lead any flag debate, but that if there was a mood for change, the government should take steps to drive the change through:

The advice given to Helen Clark was from former Cabinet Secretary Diane Morcom, and the chief executive of the Culture and Heritage Ministry.

Released this week by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, it advised Helen Clark that the Government should not lead the initial stage of the process – public debate about whether to change the flag.

But if it was established that there was wide support to change the flag, the Government should get involved to ensure that the process for change succeeded. If it didn’t succeed it could damage the flag as a unifying symbol.

Well, well, well. This begs the question: is the Key government being given similar advice?


Ansell/Wang silver fern, Flag

Farrar’s impeccable taste in flags

Can’t argue with Kiwiblogger David Farrar’s choice of alternative flag on last night’s Backbenchers. (Click on part 2 of the video – it’s near the start.)

David had told me he was going to be doing the Soapbox spot about flags, and asked me if I could chase down the old and new Canadian flags – to show the improvement.

But he gave me no clue that he was planning to use the above design of Kenneth’s and mine as his preferred NZ flag.

His point was how it would make a better choice than the tino rangatiratanga flag because of the non-racial fern.

It got a pretty good reaction from the audience too, even if one guy did say it looked like the Nike logo :-).

However, my own poll of six Ansell-Wang fern flags currently has this one coming fourth.

If you’re in the voting mood, do take part in my other poll comparing four different styles of fern.

Good also to see Monday’s Herald proclaiming Silver Fern design preferred choice for new NZ flag.

The momentum is running my way on two issues at the moment: for flag change and away from climate change!

Humour, Language, NZ Poetry Society, Poetry, Tom Lehrer

Planning a new career

After a fun night performing silly poems, monologues and novelty songs at the Thistle, I’ve decided to try and do this full-time. 

By what I seriously hope was popular consent (!), my 30 minute slot finally ended after 75 minutes.

To fill out the time, I strayed from my poetry brief to include the monologue about rugby as a series of mathematical formulae that I wrote for Jim Hopkins as part of a Shell ad campaign in the 90s.

That went down well, so I thought I’d attempt to do justice to several songs by my all-time favourite lyricist Tom Lehrer.

One of these was The Elements Song – the one where Lehrer rattles off 102  elements from the periodic table in about 150 seconds to the tune of I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.

Check out this Flash-illustrated version of the original – oh, and see if you can spot the handful of uncharacteristic pronunciation errors 🙂

And don’t tell Mr Lehrer, but I took the liberty of adding another verse to include the elements discovered since his 1960 recording:

And then there was lawrencium
And hassium and dubnium,
Meitnerium and bohrium
And finally ununbium;
It’s next to unununium
And don’t forget seaborgium,
And also ununilium
And (Ernest) rutherfordium.

We’ll tell you any other ones
The minute they discover them,
And just in case you wondered
There are one hundred and twuv o’ them.

I’ve long thought it would be fun to spend my time touring schools and enthusing and amusing kids about our crazy language. But somehow, the grownup world and its baubles has always got in the way.

Well, no I’m going to give it a shot, and see what happens.

(I always make my life-changing decisions on the spur of the moment like this. If I think about it too much, sanity will prevail. Far better to back myself into a corner with a public announcement :-))

With a mix of conference speeches and school ‘word concerts’, I hope to keep my head above water doing what I love most.

If it works, it will be a vindication for Mum, who always said I should ditch the serious stuff and concentrate on the silly.

My speaking agent will hopefully be able to get me enough conference work to compensate for the lower fees paid by schools.

If anyone can point me to any schools that would welcome such an addition to their literacy programme, please email john@johnansell.co.nz.

Same if you know of any conference speaker-seekers needing a keynote or after-dinner speech about words.

Tell them I’d be happy to give them a demo down the phone. As soon as I can, I’ll put something on YouTube.

Thanks to Laurice Gilbert of the NZ Poetry Society for inviting me on Monday night.

NZ Poetry Society, Poetry, Thistle Inn

Guest poet at Thistle Inn tonight

The Thistle InnTonight (Monday) I have the honour of giving Wellington’s most recent poetry performance at the city’s oldest pub, The Thistle Inn in Mulgrave Street.

The Thistle dates all the way back to Wellington’s founding year, 1840.

There it is below in 1865 (the two-storeyed building) shortly before being fire-damaged in 1866.

These days the pub is separated from the sea by the railway yards and the Cake Tin. But before the 1876 reclamation, sailors could make a quick dash from the bar to their boats if need be.

One of my fellow poets is a descendant of Te Rauparaha, who by all accounts used to pull up his waka and enjoy a drink there.

The NZ Poetry Society hold their meetings upstairs from 7.30 – 9.30pm on the second Monday of every month, and they’ve asked me to be February’s  guest poet.

That’s good of them, given that I don’t exactly fit the poet stereotype.  My style is more silly verse a la Milligan and Ogden Nash.

I love the challenge of trying to create perfect rhymes without using my poetic licence and disrupting the flow of the story. Not easy, but good when it works.

Why not come down for a pint and a laugh? Better still, bring a poem and read in the open mic session that kicks off the evening.

Not sure how many will come given that the meeting is being promoted as the NZ Poetry Society’s January meeting 🙂

Flag, NZ Herald, Silver fern

Scientific poll backs fern flag

The Herald DigiPoll results. Photo / Herald Graphic
A Herald-Digipoll of 600 today echoes last Friday’s less scientific Close Up poll of 12,000 New Zealanders who want to see us adopt a new flag with a silver fern.

Oddly, the greatest mood for change comes from 40-70 year olds and those outside Auckland, with Aucklanders and 18-29 year olds favouring the Union Jack.

That’s the exact opposite of what I would have expected – a campaign for change driven by middle-aged provincials.

(Seems we baby-boomers are an island of radicalism in a sea of conservatism.)

It would now be good to see another poll, independent of the newspaper that’s leading the campaign for change.

It will be too easy for conservatives to view this Herald poll as akin to a Greenpeace poll on global warming.

But this is a great day for those wanting change, as it means the issue will start to move on to the government’s radar.

All the moreso as it reinforces the prime minister’s own instincts about the silver fern being the right symbol.

Ansell/Wang silver fern, Flag

More blue fern flags

In my poll of six Ansell-Wang fern flags, the white fern on blue surrounded by red stars continues to outpoint the fern on black by 28% to 24%.

Here’s a version with the stars separate from the fern, based on a recent design by Kenneth Wang, but wider.

Are we getting closer?

I clearly made a mistake in pushing my black and silver design, which has failed to catch on. As a result, we didn’t raise enough money for an Auckland Harbour Bridge flyover on Waitangi Day.

This was always a possibility, as it scored only 6% in the same poll, but I thought people might agree that it looked better when animated.

Not many did. Lesson learned!

Here’s a more single-minded design without the stars, but relieved by a white panel.

In an email to the NZ Herald, I  justify it as follows:

Royal blue for the sea and our British heritage, white for the mountains and the long white cloud.

Plus the uniquely New Zealand silver fern, the ponga, chosen by the captain of the Natives rugby team  of 1888 because it brought to his mind the Maori proverb “Mate atu he toa ara mai he toa.  Mate atu he tetakura ara mai he tetakura.”

(“When one warrior dies, another arises. When one fern dies, another arises.”)

A blend of land, sea and air, native and colonial, Maori and Pakeha.

Blogger and artist Lindsay Mitchell says one white panel works better than the Canadian-style panel either side of the leaf, and I agree.

I wasn’t sure why, but she says it’s because the Canadian maple leaf is symmetrical, so suits a central position, while the fern is leaning and doesn’t.

If we want to be totally single-minded, here’s the equivalent of the classic black in royal blue.

Meanwhile, Kenneth’s and my fern is getting royally beaten up by Kyle Lockwood in my latest poll. But we’re outscoring the All Blacks’ steak knives logo, which is just as well.

(Don’t tell my old schoolmate Steve Tew or there could be some serious block-voting from a certain office building on the wharf – not to mention five franchises, twentysomething unions and countless clubs. Mum’s the word.)

For some reason, the nzflag.com fern has completely failed to fire in the poll, which I find strange as I like its dynamism.

Perhaps people are saying that it works as a flag campaign logo, but not as a flag.

Anyway, I’m pleased to see the softer, classical ferns prevailing over the sharp, angular versions.

Feedback welcome as always. Are we getting closer with the blue?

All Blacks, Flag, Rugby, Silver fern, Sport, Wales

Welsh fern designer ruffles NZ feathers

Now, by way of balance, some ammo for those who say ignorant foreigners wouldn’t know a silver fern from a white feather.

Seems the Welsh artist who designed the programme for the All Blacks v Neath and Aberavon match in 1954 was not steeped in the icons of his country’s national game.

Perhaps things were busy in the studio that day. Perhaps his boss had given him a quick peek at an All Black jersey, and he’d  concluded, with somewhat curious logic, that the mighty All Blacks played under the  international symbol of cowardice.

Had he been a rugby fan, he’d have known that the only team that wears white feathers is Wales – as shown on this souvenir jersey from their last win over New Zealand earlier in the same tour.

The three white Prince of Wales feathers and the silver fern, memento of the Wales/NZ rugby test, Cardiff, 1953.

(Our feathered enemy won 13-8.)

2025 Taskforce, Don Brash, John Key, Politics

National Wallaby breeding programme

You may have seen this slide in an article by Don Brash in the DomPost recently. [Photo: SueAllmanPeople. Parents: Rebecca and Ken Hope.]

I made it for Don to lend weight to his 2025 Taskforce report – which his Reserve Bank and National Party successors clearly find too ambitious for New Zealand.

But in contrast to Helen Clark, who set a bold goal of scaling the heights of the OECD then charted a course in the opposite direction, John Key does have a cunning plan for achieving his 2025 goal…

Pray there’s gold in them thar national parks!

Allan Bollard, Don Brash, John Key, Politics, Roger Douglas

The Reserve Bank Governor’s flag

The open letter below illustrates why I left National to work for Sir Roger Douglas (for a lot less money, I might add).

Alone among New Zealand politicians in my lifetime, Roger believes in setting SMART goals for the country. And setting out plans to achieve them.

I suggested the idea of setting a bold national goal to the National Party.

They thought I was nuts.

“But we might be held accountable!” they scoffed.

So I took the same idea to ACT.

In the blink of an eye, Roger had grabbed it with both hands.

But what should the goal be? “What’s our biggest problem?” he asked himself.

Easy: we’re haemorrhaging people to our bigger and better-run neighbour.

Pretty soon, he’d defined the goal in two words: catch Australia. And set a deadline: by 2025. 

Then he devised the ACT 20 Point Plan to get the job done.

You can imagine my amusement at seeing the 2025 goal come full circle after the election as the goal of the so-called ambitious Key government. 

It’s been interesting to watch the PM profess to be committed to catching Australia, while putting the kibosh on most of the steps necessary to get there.

“You can fool most of the people most of the time” would appear to be the Nats’ belief.

And the fools who give the government their record high ratings confirm that it’s correct.

But for the Governor of the Reserve Bank to play chief surrender monkey is a new low.

Allan Bollard said yesterday that we’ve got no hope of catching Australia, so should resign ourselves to catching crumbs from Australia’s table. 

This is the man who succeeded Don Brash, who left the Reserve Bank for Parliament with the goal of staunching the flow of emigrants across the Tasman.

John Key’s National Party predecessor, the same Don Brash, was hired by Key to devise a plan to do that, and when he did so, John ‘ambitious for NZ’ Key rejected it as too ambitious.

Anyway, this is how our greatest-ever finance minister views the Governor’s capitulation:

 An Open Letter to Dr Allan Bollard by Hon Sir Roger Douglas
Dear Dr Bollard,
I write to you regarding the comments you made about the possibilities of New Zealand matching the level of economic output of Australia on a per capita basis, which you made on ‘Q & A’, Sunday 7 February.
In particular, I was shocked at the following comment:
“I don’t think we can catch up with Australia, Australia’s a most unusual country, Australia has been blessed by God sprinkling minerals across the top of the surface in very easily accessible areas in places where it doesn’t annoy people to mine them.
“China’s there buying all that, it’s not rocket science, they’ve run the economy well, but we just don’t have those advantages, but that’s all good news for New Zealand because there’s a lot of crumbs come off the Australian table that we can take advantage of.”
The idea that the lack of mineral wealth will stymie economic growth is simply wrong. 
Consider the success of Hong Kong during the fifty years it was a British crown colony. 
In 1960, Hong Kong’s per capita income was 28 percent that of Great Britain’s. 
By 1996, it had risen to 137 percent of Great Britain’s. 
Within four decades, Hong Kong – a tiny portion of overcrowded land, with no real resources to speak of except human ingenuity and a port – was able to increase its level of economic output so that it topped the level achieved in the birthplace of the industrial revolution.
In fact, if large resource wealth was a prerequisite for economic success, then many countries that have had much faster growth rates than us should be doing quite poorly – Singapore, Ireland – and countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be doing well. 
Mineral wealth is clearly neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for economic wealth.
A far more potent factor in driving economic growth are the institutions we develop – the nature of our constitution, the policies the Government adopts, and the social norms that develop. 
Economic wealth in Hong Kong has been created by, amongst others: freedom of exchange, both national and international; low taxes that reward productivity and reduce deadweight loss; and a Government that fulfils its core roles – to protect our freedoms, enforce contracts, and help create a framework for competitive markets.
There is no doubt that if we continue to maintain the status quo, then we have no hope of catching Australia. 
To blithely suggest that we can never catch Australia because of the minerals they have is to ignore the lesson of economic history – that policy matters.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas 
Douglas is like Lord Monckton. Everyone calls him names, but no one can match his arguments.
Flag, John Key, Lester Pearson

PM signs up to fern flag

It may not be his top priority, but Prime Minister John Key has confirmed  he’d like to see New Zealand adopt a silver fern flag.

Would it make a good second term issue, as he once suggested in Opposition?

With the media now stoking the debate, will we see our PM take a leaf out of Canadian PM Lester Pearson’s book by putting a leaf on his country’s flag?

Will John be prepared to face down audiences of angry old soldiers as Pearson did?

At least Key’s hecklers would be nodding nonagenarians rather than the fiery fortysomethings Pearson had to placate only 20 years after WWII.

(Mind you, Pearson was a Liberal, and didn’t have to defend his heretical leanings to a National Party conference.)

Good to have the top man onside as a fern fan. His design instincts are spot-on.

Ansell/Wang silver fern, Cameron Sanders' fern (nzflag.com), Dave Clark's All Blacks fern, Flag, Kyle Lockwood's fern, Silver fern

Fern favourite – but which fern?

Friday night’s Close Up poll of 12341 viewers was a clear sign that when New Zealand changes its flag, it’ll be to a design featuring the silver fern.

Naturally, I’m keen to find out whether Kenneth’s and my design is in with a chance of being that fern.

So I’m testing it here against what I believe are the three most popular contenders: Cameron Sanders’ nzflag.com fern, Dave Clark’s All Blacks logo, and the fern from the well-supported Kyle Lockwood flag.

For ease of comparison only, I’ve put them all on a black background. (I’ve already canvassed people’s colour preferences in this poll.)

To avoid accusations of vote-rigging and bias by adoring readers (I wish), I invite other bloggers, Facebookers etc. to click Share This below and paste this poll into your site.

It’ll be interesting to see whether voting patterns are the same on all sites.

Oh, and if you don’t want a silver fern flag, it would be great if you could  respect the democratic rights of those who do – and by all means vote if you’d like to.

British ensign flags, Flags

12 states discarded Jack, kept Queen

Many people confuse changing our flag with becoming a republic.

But they’re clearly separate issues, as you can see in the chart I’ve compiled below.

New Zealand’s blue ensign is one of 64 former British colonial ensign flags.

Most of which, like ours, are blue.

(Actually, there are many more blue ensigns, if you include states and provinces that were once colonies, and the ensigns flown by dozens of state institutions.)

Of those 64 former colonies, all but 12 now feel independent enough to fly a national flag of their own design.

Some of these countries (Burma, Fiji, Ireland, Somalia, Yemen, Zimbabwe) did not join, have left, or have been suspended by the Commonwealth since  independence.

Others have become republics with their own heads of state.

But 15 remain constitutional monarchies within the Commonwealth, with the Queen as head of state.

Of these monarchies, 12 display no trace of the monarch’s home country on their flags. 

You’ll see on this chart not only how stultifyingly unoriginal our flag is, but also how out of step we are in clinging to mother’s apron strings when mother abandoned us in the 70s to shack up with her neighbours.

 Omission: between Canada and Ceylon above should be this flag of the Cayman Islands. As Jim from the Caymans kindly pointed out in Comments  below, the Caymans still use an ensign flag – one of 14 countries to do so.

Oddly, despite their loyalty to the Union flag, only two of these countries – Australia and New Zealand – remain Commonwealth realms (in other words, have the Queen as head of state). 

The full list of ensign fliers is: Anguilla, Australia, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Montserrat, Niue, New Zealand, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena and Dependencies, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Tuvalu.  

Of the 15 Commonwealth realms outside the UK that retain the Queen as head of state, only Australia, New Zealand and Tuvalu still fly an ensign flag.

The other 12, and the dates they adopted their new flags, are: 

Antigua and Barbuda (1997),  The Bahamas (1973), Barbados (1996), Belize (1950), Canada (1965), Grenada (1974), Jamaica (1962), Papua New Guinea (1971), Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983), Saint Lucia (1979), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1985), Solomon Islands (1977) and Tuvalu (1978).

When you slice it up a different way, you see that for 22 of our Commonwealth cousins, a quirky inconsistency is the norm:

10 countries have the British flag on their flag, but do not have the British monarch as their head of state. 

12 countries have the British monarch as their head of state, but do not have the British flag on their flag.

Only 3 countries (Australia, New Zealand and Tuvalu) have both.

I say if 12 countries can discard the Jack and keep the Queen, so can we.

Dick Frizzell flags, Flag, Maori flag, NZ blue ensign, Silver fern, United Tribes flag

62% favour flag change in Close Up poll – blue ensign and silver fern neck and neck

The flag debate which began on this blog has now exploded on to the front page of the Herald and exposed a real mood for change on Close Up.

In tonight’s phone-in poll of 12,000 viewers, only 38% supported the present flag, with 62% wanting a change.

That’s an astonishing result, as the last time I saw a survey more than 60% favoured the status quo.

I found it especially pleasing to see the silver fern almost tied with the incumbent on 37%, even though I’d vote for the present flag over the All Blacks ‘set of steak knives’ logo that was used to represent the fern.

The silver fern was far and away the preferred alternative symbol, with a Dick Frizzell Southern Cross flag (representing ‘others’) scoring 10%, the United Tribes flag 9%, and the Maori flag 6%.

Hone Harawira surprised me by favouring a silver fern on black design as the national flag, though ironically many white liberal make-believe Maori would happily adopt his tino rangatiratanga flag as their own.

Of course, the TVNZ survey was not scientific, being a self-selecting sample, but I was pleased to confirm my long-held view that the fern is the only realistic alternative emblem.

I’d now like to test Kenneth Wang’s and my fern against the All Blacks design, so stay tuned for another flag poll on this site.

climate change, GNS Science, Ministry of the Environment, NIWA, Victoria University

Disturbing climate bias at Vic


These should be standard issue for VUW climate scientists. 

On Friday I lobbed a grenade into a public Climate Change panel discussion at Vic.

The panel consisted of 11 academics and policy people from the university, the Ministry of the Environment, NIWA and GNS Science.

And what a tight and self-satisfied little group they were. All warmmongers to the core, with not a single inconvenient sceptic to spoil the illusion of settled science. 

What a remarkable brainwashing operation our university is running in the name of education.

When I looked at the young students arrayed adoringly in front of the panel, I couldn’t help but feel rather sick at the state-sponsored indoctrination programme I’m helping to fund.

There were one or two attempts from the floor to break the self-affirming circle, but I thought I’d cut to the chase. After introducing myself as a Climate Scientology heretic, I asked the panel:

“What would happen to any enquiring student on your [Climate Change] course who dared to voice inconvenient questions about reports of fraud in the Nobel-winning 2007 IPCC report?

“Or about the 100 million Africans who are dying because of the doubling of food prices caused by the conversion of crops from food to biofuel?

“Or about how the previous speaker [I think Jonathan Boston] poured scorn on oil companies profiting from fossil fuels, but did not provide balance by referring to all the academics who profit by promoting global warming?”

Needless to say, there followed much fumbling and grumbling and scoffing and diverting. 

And equally needless to say, I’m still waiting for my answer.

Outside the lecture theatre were the students’ glossy posters of their climate projects. All dutifully parroting the IPCC worldview.

Not one of them suggested these undergrads had been exposed to any sceptical viewpoint whatsoever.

Talking to these students about the presence of alternative scientific opinions was like debating democracy with a tour guide from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

I suggested to two students that the only fair thing to do, in view of the accusations of fraud being levelled at the holy UN body, was to urgently convene an international court hearing presided over by a panel of judges acceptable to both sides.

Boy, were these guys hostile to any hint of an impartial assessment of the evidence!

“But judges are biased!” said one. (What, and the IPCC isn’t??)

Maybe he’d heard about the British judge who found nine errors is Gore’s movie and refused to allow it to be screened in schools until those errors were fixed.

But I suspect he just didn’t want some annoyingly rational beak pouring cold water on his beloved religion.

Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed how one-sided this seat of so-called learning is.

I can now quite understand how similar institutions like the University of East Anglia can become corrupted by their own unbalanced vision of the truth.