I Voted Today

October 5th, 2020

In the Henderson Library today, I went up to the Gallery Room on the second floor and voted. The ladies there gave me four choices: party vote, electoral vote, marijuana vote and euthanasia vote. In each case my ticks went to Labour, Phil Twyford, yes and yes.

Of course, there was never any chance I would vote for anything that involved an association with Judith Collins. She is not a New Zealand I know or understand. Harsh, aggressive, uncouth and rude, she is everything I never want my country to become. She has even come far too close for my liking to expressing her admiration for the moron who rules the United States. Trump’s stunt was to walk up to a church with a bible. Collins did the same thing but went inside. The two of them cut from the same cloth. Even John Key couldn’t stand the sight of the woman. John Key and I might not see eye to eye on much. But on Judith Collins, I suspect we have much in common.

But the final insult, the hypocrisy from which there is no return came when Collins displayed herself praying before she went to vote. What was that all about? Who was she trying to impress? She certainly turned me off in huge chunks. Their Christian beliefs meant a lot to my grandparent’s generation. They lived their lives as humble servants to a God they admired and worshipped twice every Sunday and on every other day of their lives.

When I see the likes of a vicious piece of work like Collins take political advantage of the religion that meant so much to my grandparents, my disgust knows no limits. Oh, I understand she doesn’t mean the pious charade. I appreciate her intention is only to secure the right-wing Christian vote. I can see through the implication that God has told her that his divine message is to vote for herself. All that is the obvious message of her stunt in a New Zealand church.

Judith Collins will not understand the sin she committed in that church. I am not a religious person, but I have some understanding of the teachings of Christ and here is what he said about the Collins’ abomination.

Then Jesus said to the crowds, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted But woe to you hypocrites! You blind fools!You blind men! Woe to you, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. So, you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

So that’s what Jesus and God thought of Judith Collins little stunt. On this occasion not only do I agree with John Key, it looks like the Father, Son and Holy Ghost agree as well. Anyway, because of it all, Jacinda and Marijuana have my vote.

“Let’s Keep Moving”

KRISTALLNACHT IN AMERICA

September 25th, 2020

I good friend of mine, from my years living in the United States, sent me an email yesterday. This is what it said.

Will you do a special NZ edition on American politics?  Please???

Here in the land of the free and home of the brave, we used to have a magnificent document called the “Constitution.”  Sadly, like the Pirates of the Caribbean, the American Tsars-in-Charge treat this sacred text more like “guidelines” than actual laws.  Power at any cost and an agenda with no regard, with an overwhelming prevalence of racism, anti-science, misogyny, antisemitism and extreme nationalism.  Sound familiar?  What’s next, Kristallnacht?

For those in New Zealand who do not appreciate the full meaning of Kristallnacht, it is the name given to an assault against Jews carried out by the Nazis in Germany on 9–10 November 1938. The name Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed. The Times of London observed on 11 November 1938: “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”

My friend is right. In fact, I might even argue with his timing. He says, “What’s next.” I suspect Trump’s American might have surpassed already the events of Kristallnacht. Certainly the America Trump has created would merit a Times report that says, “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening the United States before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which has disgraced that country.”

The real problem in understanding the USA is that it has real gems like the lady who left the Supreme Court last week and scum like the guy who wants to replace her. If you look at one you say what a great place. Look at the other and you say what a shit hole.

The list of Trump-created atrocities is endless. Gradually, step by step, he has disgraced his once proud nation. I do not have sufficient memory to remember every abuse initiated by this vile person. But in three years truth and decency have been devalued, his country is a vile bully in the international playground. In the late 1970s Alison set the New Zealand 1000m record in West Berlin. The next day we drove to Cologne in West Germany where she was scheduled to run an 800m race. Getting to Cologne involved a several hundred-mile drive through East Germany. During the trip our western car was identified by the East German police. We were stopped and a fee of 100 Deutschmarks was demanded by two heavily armed policemen. I paid but admit I was shaken by the experience.

A few hours later we reached the East Germany/West Germany border. There to greet us were three flags, West Germany, the United Kingdom and the Stars and Strips of the United States. I have never been as relieved to see the American flag as I was that day. It genuinely represented freedom. I was no longer going to spend years in a communist jail; imprisoned without trial. I had escaped to the land of the free and the brave.

I do not have those thoughts today. It is not Colin Kaepernick or LeBron James who have undermined the American flag’s integrity, its value, and its meaning. Donald Trump has done that all on his own.    

Consider this list of abuse that I can remember.

He lied about the inauguration crowd size. That was as childish as any, “my ones bigger than yours” argument.

He questioned Secretary of State, Tillerson’s IQ, and fired him by tweet.

He withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement.

He withdrew from the Iran Agreement.

He withdrew from the WHO.

He helped Saudi Arabia cover up the murder of a journalist.

He called American Nazis fine people.

He openly mocked a disabled journalist.

He called Mexicans rapists.

He used the Presidency for personal financial gain.

He has dishonoured American troops.

The United Nations laughed at him and his country.

He called half the world shit hole countries.

He threatens to destroy millions of general election ballots.

He calls a porn-star he slept with “horseface”.

He separated children from their parents at the Mexican border.

I have no doubt the list is much longer than that. These 16 examples are only those that quickly spring to my mind. No matter how often CNN and MSNBC tell me that before Trump, America was the world’s greatest democracy, it is simply not true. When someone can lose an election by three million votes and still win, you do not have the best democracy. Before Trump, America’s democracy was well and truly flawed. The United Nations ranked America 25th most democratic. And I think that was being generous.  

The difference Trump has made is that now America does not have a democracy at all. The country has shifted from flawed democracy to dictatorship lite; something the United Nations calls “authoritarian”. My guess is the country in which I lived for many years has one chance to pull back from the edge. There is a lot at stake this November. For the love of all that is decent and right, in your own best interest, vote for Biden.   

GO HOME IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE BLOODSPORT

September 24th, 2020

I mentioned the quote that leads this post in my first political blog, published on Tuesday. It was said by Judith Collins to Jacinda Ardern during the leader’s debate. I want to dwell on what the quote means. It tells us much about character and values. It reveals the soul of its author.

On the 15 March 2019 New Zealand was attacked by a right-wing Australian terrorist called Brenton Tarrant. In the early afternoon Tarrant entered the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre and murdered 51 people and injured another 40. It was a stunning and obscene act, made even worse by the peaceful setting Tarrant chose. The contrast between his act and the peaceful nation he attacked highlighted its obscenity.    

New Zealand was hurt. Our people had been brutalised. The demands on our leaders were without limit. And Jacinda stood up. She delivered. She was compassionate when it was needed. She was strong when it was required. She saw the blood and she sought to heal the wound.

Here is what the Washington Post said about Jacinda Ardern.      

Ardern’s performance has been extraordinary — she will be lauded for it domestically and internationally,” political commentator Bryce Edwards told Reuters. Wearing hijab was “a sign of respect,” wrote Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian American journalist. Adil Ray, a British actor, said he was “really impressed” with Ardern for her “swift, strong leadership.” Cihangir Islam, a Turkish lawmaker, praised Ardern. She “says to Muslims in pain, ‘You, you’re us!’ Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science in Dubai, said she was “stoic and firm.” “Can you imagine having a leader of a country showing this kind of empathy? Thank you, Jacinda Ardern, for reminding the world what a Leader is and could be,” London literary agent Jonny Geller wrote in a post that has garnered 58,000 likes. Faiza Ali, a community organizer in New York, called Ardern a “remarkable leader.” The Crisis Magazine, the publication of the NAACP, also tweeted, saying Ardern showed “Dignity. Grace. Courage.”

And then we have Judith Collins. The woman who, in the leader’s debate on Tuesday, said to Jacinda, “Go home if you can’t handle bloodsport.”

What a disgraceful act. What a piece of vermin. To use the word bloodsport to the woman who cared for the gallons of blood spilt in Christchurch. Some subjects are beyond despicable. The fate of Jews in the Holocaust. Any comparison with Hitler. All Black coach, Ivan Vodanavitch, made the same mistake when he said the 1971 test against the Lions was going to be “another Passchendaele”. Comparing a game of rugby with the 500,000 (including 5300 New Zealanders) killed at Passchendaele was and is disgraceful.   

These are subjects to avoid. But Judith Collins chose to go far beyond all that. She chose to question Jacinda’s courage in the face of danger. She chose to tell Jacinda to go home if she could not handle a bloodsport.

Well Judith Collins let me tell you this, Jacinda did not go home when there was blood spilt in our land. She boarded an airplane and flew into the devastation. Jacinda was tested in a very real bloodsport and Jacinda came through. I doubt you would show half her courage in the face of a real bloodsport trial.

Many years ago I was staying in the home of a university friend. Her father was a hardened King Country farmer. We sat up most of one night discussing life. He was full of homespun truths. In the early hours he gave me this advice. I have never forgotten it.

“David,” he said, “If you ever want to know who to have as a friend, imagine yourself lost in the bush on a dark, wet night. Is the person you are with the sort of person you would like to be with you. If the answer is yes, have them as a friend. If the answer is no, find someone else.”

As things stand now, lost, cold and wet, in the deep bush halfway up Mt. Ruapehu, I’d be happy to sort it out with Jacinda Ardern. Judith Collins though, is not made of the same stuff. Trust Judith Collins lost at night on Mt. Ruapehu – not bloody likely. And that I guess is why I will not be voting for Collins to be Prime Minister.

I’ll leave you to figure out who I will vote for to do that job. Let me give you a clue. It is the same person who helped our country home on the 15 March 2019 when we were lost on a mountain in a very dark night.     

CHANGE OF TACK

September 23rd, 2020

I have decided to take a break from swimming matters for a few weeks. But I will return to that subject. My guess is sometime in November. In the meantime, I plan to occupy my writing time discussing the leadup to the New Zealand General Election.

I was raised in a family where politics was an almost daily dinner time discussion. We all knew each other’s political views. Debate was healthy, spirited and entirely without malice. It was inevitable that I would go on to spend three years at university earning a degree in Political Science.

In the cause of honesty, I should admit my voting history. I have a checkered past. I voted for Margaret Thatcher in the General Election that first saw her become the United Kingdom Prime Minister. You can’t get more right wing than that. In the early 1980s I voted for the Bob Jones’ New Zealand Party. I voted for Winston Peters’ New Zealand First party twice, I think, in the 1990s. And for the past ten years, and especially since Jacinda Ardern took over the reins, I have voted solidly Labour – both for the party and the candidate.

There is an amount of personality cult in my loyalty to Labour. I do admire the way Jacinda, in three years, has handled a deadly volcanic eruption, the savage slaughter of Muslims in Christchurch, a worldwide pandemic and has successfully given birth to her first child. What is there not to admire about that? How does a leader with that CV not deserve our continued support?

This first political post will discuss last night’s leader’s debate. The mainstream media has described it accurately as a contrast in styles. Judith Collins was true to type. Her attack dog, aggressive, gutter debating style was to be expected and is what she delivered. Demonstrating again the class she has shown during three years in power, Jacinda Ardern did not reply in kind. With Michelle Obama control Jacinda Ardern held firm – when others go low, she went high.

I would be greatly saddened if Judith Collins’ behavior last night was what my country wanted in a leader. If that was true Donald Trump would be America’s greatest President. Because for an hour or so Judith Collins was Donald Trump lite. She was aggressive, rude, personal, and shallow. That is not the qualities New Zealand needs in a leader. America made that mistake. We should not do the same.

Somehow Jacinda refused to get into the gutter with the National Party’s rottweiler. She answered John Campbell’s questions just as a good leader should. She stayed on subject, discussing what was best for the country, refusing the ample opportunities to score cheap political points. It would be a sad day for New Zealand if bad mannered abuse were to score a political victory over dignity, intelligence and class. We will see.

What does disappoint me is the praise many in the mainstream media find in Judith Collins’ performance. Oh, I expect no less from Mike Hosking. His three hour party political broadcast on behalf of the National Party every morning is full of the same disgusting behavior as Judith Collins showed last night. In fact on the morning before the debate he interviewed Jacinda Ardern. How she remained calm under the torrent of abuse, I have no idea.

I am certain Hosking will say it is simply him asking tough questions. But it is not. It is perfectly possible to ask tough questions without resorting to abuse. A good interview should not involve bad manners. But through it all Jacinda Ardern remained calm and dignified, demonstrating again the leadership that has served New Zealand well. Yesterday Mike Hosking and Judith Collins did our country a huge favour. The gave Jacinda Ardern the chance to show why she should stay as the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Because no matter what the provocation, no matter the pressure, she rose above. When they went low, she went high. Well done Jacinda Ardern. That is what a Prime Minister looks like to me. We can do without a Judith “Trump” thank you very much.

And as for Newshub’s Dan Satherley his reporting was even worse than Mike Hosking. His headline said, “I’m bringing my sass’: Collins tells Ardern to ‘go home’ if she can’t handle ‘bloodsport”. The admiration in his reporting demonstrates only the shallow inadequacy of his IQ. Surely Satherley can see that managing the country is not a “bloodsport”. If Jacinda Ardern has taught New Zealand anything in the past three years, it is the importance of class in leadership. Oh, Jacinda can handle “bloodsport” all right. In Christchurch she handled more “bloodsport” than any of us will ever care to imagine. For Judith Collins to link Jacinda to a word like “bloodsport” is a disgrace.

And on a final positive note Eyad Massoud, the Syrian refugee I coach, was last week added to the New Zealand voting roll. Fingers crossed he also reads Swimwatch.    

Under A Palm Tree

June 26th, 2020

In 2001 Swimming New Zealand appointed Clive Rushton as its first professional Director of Coaching. While he was in New Zealand, he earned my unqualified respect. Intelligent, knowledgeable and blessed with a uniquely British sense of humour, swimming is a better sport for Clive’s time here.

I called Clive the day before I left New Zealand to begin a coaching contract in the US Virgin Islands. Clive’s comment on my new position was to wish me well and add, “Coaching is best done under a palm tree.”

I was reminded of Clive’s thought yesterday when I heard that the Comet Swimming Club in Gisborne is looking for a new Head Coach. That must be New Zealand’s best coaching job. Just consider the benefits.

THE TOWN (Population 36,000)

Okay I’m biased. I come from down that way. But nevertheless, what a place. Beaches to die for. Just consider this list – Okitu Beach, Wainui Beach, Kaitai Beach, Waikanae Beach and Midway Beach. The surf is perfect. The sand light and golden.

The main street, Gladstone Road, has everything a small city needs – good supermarkets, a modern library and all the normal superstores. Not to mention the best fish and chips in the country. But more than that the wonderful smell of summer tar melting on Gladstone Road will stay with you forever.

On the subject of weather, just consider these numbers. During the months of January, February, March, April, November and December Gisborne has good weather with pleasant average temperatures between 20 degrees Celsius and 25 degrees Celsius. The warmest month is January with an average maximum temperature of 24°C. The coldest month is July with an average maximum temperature of 14°C.

 New to the region since my Gisborne days are stunning vineyards and cafes. Without question Gisborne is as good as anything in downtown Auckland.

THE CULTURE

What can you say about the Comet Swimming Club? Mrs Beth Meade began the club in 1958. The club has only had three long-term coaches, Beth and her son Greg and grandson Andrew. Between them they built a culture of hard work, huge fun and success. Getting that right is not easy. But the Meade family managed it in full measure. Actually, the club reflects its location – a product of semi-rural New Zealand where hard work, equality and honesty are practiced and valued. The culture was so successful that for a few years Comet’s 500 members made it the second biggest club in the country. Only Mt. Eden beat us in those days.

Now Greg has retired,Andrew is studying to be a teacher and the club needs a new head coach. Whoever it turns out to be will inherit a Gisborne institution – a vibrant and caring agency that has done nothing but good for the lovely community it serves.

THE POOL

When I joined Comet, we swam in the old McRae Baths. I’m afraid the pool was in a sorry state. There was a crack in the bottom that let water in from the river during high tides. It was better than swimming in my river at home – but not by much. The pool water still got cloudy when the river was in flood. There was no such thing as heating and so the pool was only open during the summer months. In winter Beth had us swim across the Gisborne Harbour.    

Beth decided the McRae Baths should go and began raising money to build an indoor Olympic Pool. Greg and I thought it would never happen. How many Saturday morning sausages does it take to build an Olympic Pool? Then, one evening Beth got a phone call from a local lawyer. He said a well-known farming family, the Williams family, wanted to make a contribution to Beth’s new pool fund. Could Beth come to his office right way to pick up the money.

Beth asked me to go with her. The lawyer began by saying how much they respected the work Beth was doing. Mr. Williams wanted to help and was thinking of donating 100 to the cause. Beth thanked Mr. Williams for his donation but I could tell she was bitterly disappointed. The lawyer obviously picked up Beth’s disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I meant $100,000.” With other fundraising, Beth had hit the mark. That is how Comet covered the 50m Pool which looks out over Midway Beach.

In one meeting Comet went from having the worst pool in New Zealand to having the best.

SUCCESS  

Comet has a culture of success. I remember one Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay Championships where Comet accumulated more points than all the other clubs combined.

Comet has also had its share of superstars. Greg was a New Zealand junior medley champion. Emily Thomas still holds a couple of Open New Zealand backstroke records and swam in the Commonwealth Games. Laura Quilter also represented New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games. Success in a club like Comet, with its pool, its tradition, and its history, I’m certain will continue.

And so, if you are a good coach, looking for a new challenge and want to work for the best club in New Zealand, send Comet your details. The lady to contact is Rochelle Somerton and her email is comet.rochelle@gmail.com . But if all I have said does not convince you – remember this – Gisborne also has its fair share of palm trees.