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Communications Line: Who follows Sir Ed?

Communications Line Number 58 of 25 January 2008

By John Bishop

Who follows Sir Ed?

The death of Sir Ed creates a vacancy in the New Zealand Order of Merit, but it also leaves open another question in the popular mind. If Sir Ed was our greatest living New Zealander, who now assumes that mantle?

There are not a lot of outstandingly obvious candidates, just as few, if any, rivaled Sir Ed’s status when he was alive.

What are the qualities that make up reputation in a New Zealand context? First, the person’s achievements have to be significant in an activity of importance to New Zealanders. That puts a lot of sports people in the frame, but probably puts All Blacks, cricketers, and Silver Ferns above the rest, if sporting achievement alone is considered.

Secondly, they have to be decent people: that is proud but modest, and certainly not boastful or arrogant. They should not be too humble because that can also be seen as false. In short, they should be “one of us”, but better. And we have to feel that we are able to talk to them, not just about them. Sir Peter Blake would have been in there, perhaps Michael King too.

Thirdly, “putting back”, or contributing in some way after they have done the mighty deeds is a big plus. That thins out the sporting achievers quite quickly.

The top four from sport would probably be Sir Peter Snell, Colin Meads. Sir Richard Hadlee and Sir Bob Charles. Sir Brian Lochore, Sir Wilson Whinerary, John Walker, Grant Dalton, Hamish Carter, Sarah Ulmer and Irene van Dyk all have claims too.

From the political area, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Dame Cath Tizard, and Jim Bolger can reasonably stake a claim to respect. But there are few in the business world who would attract much popular support – Sir Bob Jones aside. In Maoridom, there’s Sir Paul Reeves and Sir Tipene O’Regan, but the successors of the Maori Queen and Sir Hepi Te Heu Heu don’t rate highly in the public mind.

And what about the quiet achievers? Super scientist, Peter Gluckman, children’s author Margaret Mahy, and the Flight of the Conchords?

Respect is an interesting concept. If the list of people cited capture what we understand by respect, then good works aren’t that important. Great deeds are more important, and being well known is the biggest factor, but obviously isn’t enough on its own – otherwise, Suzanne Paul, John Banks and Murray Deaker would all be high up.

People who simply do good but are otherwise lacking visibility don’t count. To be good is fine: to be respected you have to be visible as well.

A Readers Digest poll in 2007 put Sir Edmund clearly at the top on trust and respect followed by Margaret Mahy and Peter Snell. Ulmer, van Dyk and Hamish Carter were next but clearly separated from the top three. Judy Bailey was ninth.
The same poll showed Trevor Mallard, Ahmed Zaoui, Don Brash and Brian Tamaki as the four public figures for whom we had least regard. In the poll, politicians in general did badly, with Helen Clark best at 58th out of 75 places.
Sir Ed’s death ironically also threw up another question in the trust and respect debate. If royalty’s failure to attend the funeral re-energises the republican debate, then the question arises of who would be our head of state.
Assume that the position has no more powers than the present Governor General, and assume also the Head of State (President or some other title) is chosen by popular vote. The question of whom we trust and respect then becomes very relevant indeed.
A fuller version of this piece was published in the Dominion Post this morning and is also available on Stuff.

Trotter bags Clark

There’s something askew when the left’s best known cheerleader, Chris Trotter, is openly bagging the Prime Minister and suggesting that Labour would do better under Phil Goff. He may well be right, but I am not taking sides here. I just observe that the behaviour is odd.

Trotter, normally on the left of the left is endorsing, Goff who is on the right of the centre left. Secondly he’s calling for Clark to go, which is clearly a disloyal act in a movement that prides itself on solidarity, and thirdly he’s blaming Clark herself in large measure for Labour’s decline. He cites the anti smacking bill and the electoral finance bill as major factors in Labour’s decline, and argues that Clark was wrong in her dogged persistence with both these pieces of legislation. Again, it’s not just a question of whether we agree with the measures in question or agree with his analysis.

The open criticism of the government and its leadership is the most important development: it tells of cracks, divisions, doubts, and harmful internal debates within the ranks. That’s not positive for any party, and is particularly unhelpful in an election year.

Holiday Experiences

On holiday I like to go where I haven’t been before, so this year we drove 1900kms around the western side of the North Island from Wanganui up to Raglan and then over to the Coromandel returning through Taumaranui and then down the Forgotten World highway to Whangamomona and out to Stratford.

It was a journey of surprises. The cafés in Owhango and Raetihi were very good indeed, but Aunties café in Hawera can’t make a flat white to save itself. I left mine only a quarter consumed.

The blackboard sign outside a restaurant in Whangamata has had the apostrophe removed from ‘pizza’s’, a small triumph for PCness – that’s punctuation correctness.

Dress code and how it’s expressed varied widely. At the Chateau Tongariro, the sign outside the main restaurant said that a “dress shirt” was required. At the Hotel Waitomo, the sign outside the restaurant told us that “a reasonably high standard of dress is required at all times.” At Kawhia, a town with no obvious virtues at all, Annie’s restaurant (the only one in town and closed the day we were there) said that dirty boots had to be left at the door. And further up the coast at the Harbour View Hotel in Raglan the policy was that footwear had to be worn. It also seemed to be policy to make diners wait for a long time for their meals, but that’s another story.

Here’s an encounter I found particularly revealing. I was wearing my Obama 08 for President T shirt. It was the day before the New Hampshire primary.

Katie in the Four Square store in Coromandel is processing my groceries, and I see her reading the T shirt. “He going to win, you know” I said with a big smile.” I was going to ask you about that,” she says.” I thought Obama was a country.”

No, I say, he’s a person and he’s running for President of the United States. Will we get the result tonight?’ she asks. No, I said, “you’ll just have to keep watching TV and reading the paper until November.”

“Do I have to?”

Service attitude

At our motel in Coromandel I inquire whether they have a paper delivered. No, says the proprietor, I don’t get time to read it. And if I want one I get it from my neighbour late in the afternoon. However he adds thoughtfully in his best customer conscious manner, “you can get one in the town from half past seven each morning.”


In Raglan one of a group of Maori youths gathered on the banks of the river yelled out to passersby that Raglan was theirs, and that we should “go back to your own country”. The lad was big, loud, angry and aggressive, but far enough away for the separation to remove any fear that I was going to be attacked. However it was a disturbing experience, and mirrors those of other travelers who have been abused at isolated beaches and on back country roads.

One hot night in Whangamomona

“I think you were expecting more gourmet cuisine than this”, Geoff the proprietor of the Whangamomona Hotel says as he put my Whanga burger and chips down in front of me.

His remark harked back to our discussion on arrival. The dinner, bed and breakfast package we’d booked wasn’t available any more. People don’t want a big hot meal with soup and so on in the summertime, so we do a bar menu and if you want to have the pate and a fried banana sundae you can and we charge you for each item accordingly, he explained on our tour of the hotel. (Understandably we passed on both items.)

Sensible I suppose as I recalled an earlier experience in the Manutahi Hotel in Ruatoria in the summer of 79, where the temperature was 42 degrees at 6.30pm and the menu offered hot tomato soup and a braised sausage entrée, with roast lamb and steamed pudding to follow. That night everyone ate the ham and salad I recall.

Any expectation of an interesting country culinary experience was further eroded by our sitting in the dining room expecting dinner. “Oh no, you order at the bar. Just tell them where you are going to be sitting”, one of the staff explained. The bar, the beer garden, out front or on the verandah upstairs were all popular, but not the dining room, although we did eat breakfast there.

The rooms are clean and the linen is fresh. There’s no en suite and the water is in short supply. There’s no cell phone coverage but there is SKY.

In the hotel, news clippings and photos are spread around the walls, and on the mantelpiece there’s a poetic lament to Billy Lee, the goat who was the first president of the republic, but died in 2001. He beat the then publican. I recall a similar triumph for the cat called Mandu who tied with its owner for the position of head of the Monster Raving Loonie Party in the UK after the death of the party’s founder Screaming Lord Sutch.

Obama: policy free

One of the criticisms being leveled against Barack Obama is that the rhetoric is strong but the specifics are few. Here’s an example: this is from a speech on Martin Luther King day earlier this week.

“The divisions, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame the plight of ourselves on others, all of that distracts us from the common challenges we face: war and poverty; inequality and injustice," Obama said. "We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing each other down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late."

Elevating and inspiring but policy free.

Clinton and McCain
A Hillary Clinton vs. John McCain contest in November looms as the most likely prospect according to respected US political commentators Evans Novak . “(This) is the match-up that offers the highest likelihood of Republican success despite the continued sniping at McCain by certain right-wing activists.” It’s also the match up that more voters want and expect that any other.
This week’s Evans Novak report notes “There are two major developments on the Democratic side within the party's multi-ethnic coalition: a) Black voters, once for Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), have lined up behind Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.); b) Latinos are massively for Clinton. This ethnic divide is shown in California's Field Poll. With non-Latino white voters there evenly split between the two candidates, the one-sided Latino vote for Clinton gives her a 12-point margin in California. However, a 12-point lead in California -- the biggest of the February 5 primaries -- with 20 percent undecided is not all that reassuring for Clinton.
If this were an old-fashioned California primary (for example, McGovern vs. Humphrey in 1972) with both candidates' filling the TV-radio airwaves and traveling the state, anything could happen. But there is no time for that, and Obama must rely on voter perceptions fueled by the news media and the Internet.
In the Democratic Party delegate count Clinton has 237 compared to Obama’s 135 with Edwards on 50. Victory is 2025 delegates.

Among the Republicans, Romney is ahead on 59 with Huckabee on 34, McCain on 17 and Guiliani has just one (from Nevada). 1191 delegates are needed for victory.

Bid Laden told to change ways

The son of the most-wanted man in the world has spoken out against his father Osama Bin Laden. The son, Omar bin Laden, works as a contractor and lives in a quiet, middle-class suburb about an hour outside Cairo, Egypt., Omar told CNN he was talking publicly because he wanted an end to the violence his father has inspired -- violence that has killed innocent civilians in a spate of attacks around the world, including those of September 11, 2001. "I try and say to my father: 'Try to find another way to help or find your goal. This bomb, this weapons, it's not good to use it for anybody,' “he said in English learned in recent months from his British wife. See the video HERE

In the Language Mangler

A colleague tells of overhearing a discussion between the (male) owner of a restaurant and a (female) staffer over the wording of a blackboard menu. Owner wrote “Todays specials” and staffer pointed out the need for an apostrophe – ie ‘today’s’. Owner insisted it was not necessary, and he was correct in leaving it out. Staffer remonstrated. Heated discussion ensued. The solution? Owner rubs out ‘todays specials’ and replaces it with ‘Weekly Specials’.

At the Thai Panom Restaurant in Wellington “your dinning experience is our No 1 concern.”

And a security company in Wellington offers – according to their on line yellow pages listing….serveillance, undercover, security…

At the Waitomo Hotel, one can have salmon, “pan fried to medium rear”.


John Bishop is a commentator, professional speaker, communications consultant, writer and trainer who publishes a free electronic newsletter on media, marketing and management matters. This can be found at Feedback to

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