Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Johnny Comes lately

He’s done it again! As we watched the unseemly ministerial squabble in the Beehive over who would get to bid for the New Zealand rights to televise Rugby World Cup – in rode sheriff John Key. In no time at all, they were back into the Heavenly Choir of Coalition Compromise singing something like the same song.

No wonder his poll ratings are soaring to record highs. TV3’s Reid Research Poll has John Key at 55.8% in the Preferred Prime Minister stakes and opposition leader Phil Goff at 4.7%. However, Key’s decisive interventions in this affair and the Super City wrangle, raises questions in my mind why he allows cabinet ministers to make independent stands on issues without consulting one another. This is so very different from Helen Clark’s style. She had staff (like Heather Simpson) skilfully sorting out coalition compromises well before Government decisions were made. After nine years, she became so adept at it, that she gave me the impression of being almost a power freak who was in total control.

The last election proved we wanted something different and we certainly have got it. MMP means we can watch Parliament as a new kind of reality TV. For me at least, it is just as entertaining as a footy match. I watched Pita Sharples pull off a masterful interception and was heading for a certain World Cup try between the posts, when Murray McCully and Jonathon Coleman came in on the blind side and caught him right on the score line.

Alas, a video replay was called for and the try was disallowed. A disgruntled Pita Sharples cried foul and said the game was rigged. The ref threatened him with suspension for the rest of the season and Pita cooled off and said something like, “Hei aha, that’s MMP politics, you win some and you lose some. The seabed and foreshore game is the biggy, so let’s not let this get in our way.”

It appears the Government is going to ask voters at the next election whether we want MMP to continue or opt for another voting system. This is probably driven by hardcore conservatives and an influential elite who want to ditch MMP in favour of First Past the Post (FPP) or something similar.

I suspect that the public spats between coalition parties will provide more fuel to their argument that MMP is destabilising. I disagree with this point of view because I have been on too many committees to believe that going back to the old system will change MP’s behaviour. Any group of Kiwis from diverse backgrounds are bound to indulge in some ‘argy bargy’ from time to time – it is how we are.

What MMP does for us is to bring out into the open the various factions seeking power and we all have seats in the font row to watch the action. We now have a more diverse bunch of MPs ruling over us and I would hate to see us return to FPP. In that system, a lot of power broking was being done behind closed doors by a small number of people imposing unpopular decisions. It also had more potential to allow an autocratic leader to get control.

John Key has proved himself to be a masterful reader of public mood so far and he comes across as a good humoured listener and decisive when the situation demands it. I think he epitomisers some of the best sides of our national character, but just how long he can maintain this halo of popularity remains to be seen.

If he steers us safely thru’ the repealing of the Sea Bed and Foreshore Act he will deserve a knighthood. We might even see attempts to phase out the commonly used Kiwi greeting of “Gidday Mate” and replace it with a glowing endorsement like “Key Aura Bro” instead.

Getting Up Your Nose

I like dogs, but I prefer not to have one. Unlike a cat, they are closer to us in their natural behaviour and deserve almost as much attention as a child. If you cannot provide that care twenty-four seven and have some space to let them run around free, then (in my opinion) you are likely to impose an unhappy life on a beautiful animal. Cats are easier because they are more self-sufficient.

I explained this to my family many times while we lived in a small town. However, when my girls grew older we bought some land in the country and my argument began to wear a bit thin. I eventually found myself out voted and Cheka came into our lives.

She arrived from the animal shelter as a small pup with the assurance “An ideal family pet and she is not a big dog.” I took one look at her large paws and said I had my doubts about the “not a big dog” bit. I was silenced with, “What do you know about dogs Dad!”

With her inherited Alsatian/Rhodesian Ridgeback genes, Cheka did indeed grow to be a large and powerful dog. But I did not expect to be educated by such a responsive, loving and intelligent friend. When we went on our walks across the countryside, she revealed to me so many things I would normally have ignored – the most important was smell.

I would watch her sniff the air, think about it and then look at me as if to say, “Hey Dave smell that, could be worth investigating eh!” When I had the usual blank expression of the ‘smellologically handicapped’, she would flick her head forward, wag her tail and signal that she was going to show me anyway. I found myself trying hard to detect any odour I could find, but I never caught the faintest whiff of the possum or rabbit, which Cheka was determined to hunt.

Recent advances in technology have enabled us to gain a deeper appreciation of what a complex world of smells we live in. Businesses like Mind Lab in Britain have created a demand for their services from real estate and air freshener companies who are very interested in BO – Building Odour.

Mind Lab employ neuro-psychologists to investigate why people react instinctively to the unattractive smells other people give to buildings when they live in them. We now know why coffee, freshly cut flowers and baking smells are positive and sweaty, damp and musty smells are a turn off.

One day, door-to-door sales people might be able to carry a device that will give them a psychological profile of the occupants of a house even before they knock on the door. For example, I can imagine Apple (computers) bringing out a very handy ‘Odourama’ application, for their iPhone that could determine a prospective clients potential from their lingering smells around the entrance way.

Mind you, if I had any say in the matter, I would prefer to see research money being spent on inventing a device to enable us to communicate with dogs. Their sense of smell is thousands of times more developed than ours and can detect a change of character of other dogs or humans that surround them, just by smelling the slightest increase or decrease of their hormonal levels and their sweat.

As a spin off, we might also find out what ‘a man’s best fiend’ really thinks about us – which I suspect many dog owners would not find very flattering. When I think of Cheka tho’, an adaptation of a verse from a Cat Stevens song comes to mind, “Morning has broken like the first day…my dog has spoken like the first dog.” I would like to think she would have said she was really pleased to be with me.