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What Norman Kirk Means Now

The Mighty Totara: The Life and Times of Norman Kirk
by David Grant (Random House, $44.99)
Reviewed by Max Rashbrooke

Norman_Kirk_WebFor Labour politicians seeking an intellectual touchstone, there is no safer place to go to than Norman Kirk, whose legacy and legend have lasted far longer than the 21 months he spent in power between 1972 and his death in 1974. Two recent Labour leadership contenders, Shane Jones and Grant Robertson, named him as their political hero, while David Cunliffe carried a portrait of him at Waitangi. Current leader Andrew Little spoke at a seminar on Kirk in 2012.

There is much in David Grant’s biography of Kirk, The Mighty Totara, published in 2014, that explains their admiration. In particular, if there is one thing that sets Kirk apart, it was his ability to dream big, especially in foreign policy. Grant’s book makes clear just how much New Zealand’s foreign policy pre-Kirk had been bound up with appeasing Britain and America, and how radically he reoriented us towards trading with Asia and being a more generous neighbour in the Pacific. Both moves have had their proof from time. On top of that, his exceptional courage in sending a frigate to try to disrupt French nuclear testing at Mururoa has, rightly, gone down in legend. Kirk also delivered domestic policies that have changed New Zealand forever, and for the better, most people would argue: ACC, the DPB, the Waitangi Tribunal, and plenty more.

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Our Deadly Legacy

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (Bloomsbury, $37)
Reviewed by John Lang

Sixth_Extinction_CoverVery few of us ever feel compelled to really comprehend geological deep time. Why should we? In a few thousand years, a blink in the cosmos, we will be long decomposed and molecularly scattered. Earth will be here, but we won’t.

With The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Bloomsbury), Elizabeth Kolbert joins the ranks of authors Bill Bryson, Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson (who also presents the TV documentary series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”) who understand the merits of appreciating deep time. And as authors, they can expertly communicate that to us, or at least try. Their main weapon of choice: analogy, one of the few techniques that can reveal to us what is otherwise invisible.

In The Sixth Extinction, Kolbert uses a different but equally powerful technique. She begins by asking us to imagine a new species that emerged around 200,000 years ago faced with what you’d expect one to encounter: hostility, competition and above all, a necessity to adapt. Soon this species – thanks to a few unique traits such as intelligence, curiosity, language and co-operative behavior – manages to reproduce and spread itself expediently across the earth’s surface. Its members even find ways to cross oceans without having to evolve back into amphibians. Eventually, this resourceful biped manages to transform 70 per cent of the planet’s surface, extract its subterranean energy reserves, and enslave or extinguish many of Earth’s other occupants for its own benefit.
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The Myth of Fairness

Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, edited by Max Rashbrooke (Bridget Williams Books, $39.99)
Review by Alison McCulloch

inequalitybookcoverThe idea that New Zealand is an egalitarian society has always been vulnerable to reality – and going by the current debate over the widening wealth gap, never more so than today. But while inequality might have worsened in recent years, the past was hardly an egalitarian nirvana.

In the late 1940s, the political scientist Leslie Lipson wrote what has been described as “the preeminent scholarly analysis of New Zealand’s political development”. Titled The Politics of Equality: New Zealand’s Adventures in Democracy, Lipson’s book (which was re-issued in 2011 by Victoria University Press) depicts a New Zealand where egalitarianism is a value prized above all others. “It is an ingrained equalitarian temper which dominates and regulates everything that happens in the community,” Lipson wrote. “Poverty is well nigh eradicated from the Dominion and in its worst forms does not exist at all. There is no underdog, nor is anybody exploited.” Read more »

A Mighty Twist of Thought

The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, edited by Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman ( Melbourne, 2011)
Review By Vaughan Rapatahana



This is not a book for the ‘average’ reader. It’s difficult enough for the mythical ‘trained academic’ to digest some of the somersaulting phrases and dense terminology sprinkled throughout its over 400 e-book only pages (downloadable for free, by the way) – more so in some chapters than in others, for this is a collection of policy statements and concomitant rebuttals by over 20 very distinctive and quite idiosyncratic writers. Take – purely as random – this sentence from Reza Negarestani:

The exclusive stance of the organism in regard to its path to death is the very expression of the insurmountable truth of death within the organic horizon as a dissipative tendency which is supposed to mobilize the conservative condition of the organism toward death

My overall feelings – at times – after reading some such sections was best summarized by: ‘how can these guys write like this and stand there straight-faced’?

Now to be fair to the contributors also, there is a tremendous amount of clever and radical and worthwhile thought throughout this tome too and it is because of this I will attempt to summarize the overall tenor of this book, for there is no way whatsoever in which one can delineate the details of each and every piece involved, in a book review such as this. Rather it is a dip-into book, methinks: one delves here and there as much guided by the author involved as by the topic pertaining. Read more »

Waihi in Words and Pictures

Waiheathens: Voices From a Mining Town by Mark Derby, with Paintings by Bob Kerr (Atuanui Press, $30)
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch

As the year of the Waihi gold miners strike centenary drew to a close, Waihi was still a town divided over mining. And while the times and issues have certainly changed, the wounds often run just as deep.

Waihi’s 21st century struggle bears little resemblance to the labour versus capital clashes of 1912. For one thing, this time the union is firmly on the company’s side. “We have a well-established respectful Union/Employer relationship with the Waihi Gold Company Ltd,” the EPMU said in a submission on Newmont Waihi Gold’s latest expansion plan, “and have considerable confidence that they will deliver what they say they will.” Read more »

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