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Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Zealand and Israel -- the threats and repercussions

New Zealand might be a featherweight country, but...

From RNZ news

A UN Security Council resolution, calling for a ban on illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, has passed, with NZ taking a major role. Phil Smith outlines the background and the blowback.

Israeli security forces taking position near the settlement of Kadumim (background) during clashes following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel.
Israeli security forces taking position near the settlement of Kadumim (background) during clashes following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel. Photo: AFP
New Zealand has dared to go where even Egypt's strongman, President el-Sisi, feared to tread. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi put a forward a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, but after an incredibly inappropriate call from Donald Trump, el-Sisi withdrew it again. Exactly how Trump achieved that is anyone's guess, but America's $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt may have been threatened.

President el-Sisi said he wanted to let Trump's incoming administration have first crack at the issue. It was obviously an excuse. Trump's nomination for Ambassador to Israel is a hardliner who wants more settlement construction and who has compared Jews who advocate for a 'two-state peace' to Capos (Jews who assisted in Nazi death-camps).

Amr Abdel Latif Aboulatta, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, votes in favor of the ban on Israeli settlements.
Amr Abdel Latif Aboulatta, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, votes in favor of the ban on Israeli settlements. Photo: AFP

When el-Sisi retreated, New Zealand stepped up. Together with Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal, New Zealand called for a vote on the resolution, and for the first time since the Carter administration, the US declined to veto a rebuke over illegal Israeli settlements.

The US noted that settlement construction had accelerated since the US vetoed a similar resolution in 2001, and that the Obama administration has been warning Israel for eight years that this 'trend-line' was both making peace more difficult and isolating Israel from the international community.


The foundations of the settlements

Settling population in militarily-occupied territory is contrary to the Geneva Convention, to international law and previous United Nations rulings.

Settlement building is usually strategic. Settlements create 'facts-on-the-ground', making it more difficult to give back captured territory (in this case, territory captured during the 1967 Six Day War).

Hardliners believe the territory is theirs by God-given right, but its return, at least in part, would be necessary for a lasting peace based on a two-state solution. The tracts that are currently Palestinian controlled areas are an unworkable, disconnected patchwork of territories.

Settlements also increase local conflict by expropriating land and resources to construct and sustain the townships. Moderate Israeli administrations have tended to restrict or demolish settlements, while hawkish governments look the other way, or - like the current one - are gung-ho on expansions which push Palestinians into an ever-diminishing corner.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his country would not abide by a new UN resolution.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his country would not abide by a new UN resolution. Photo: AFP
Former US President Jimmy Carter has repeatedly stressed that peace in Israel/Palestine is only likely when the Palestinians also have a viable state, where middle class citizens have a reason to hope and work for a future. Some form of two state solution has been American policy for decades.

Seeing this may be about to change, and after significant antagonism from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama apparently believes it is time to allow a line in the sand.


Kiwi peace-broker

A few years ago, after the successful Bougainville peace talks, New Zealand imagined a role for itself as an international peace broker. It was a nice idea that turned out to be harder than it sounded, but it marked an increased New Zealand confidence to act independently, for good purpose.

This week's action is a further brave step from New Zealand. It has no obvious ulterior motives, but instead seems an attempt to simply do the right thing and bugger the consequences. A nation like New Zealand cannot throw its feather-weight around internationally in order to win friends.

Frequently, the opposite is achieved. A friend won with one action is alienated with the next, and nations often remember slights more strongly than support.


The blowback

The blowback has already begun. Israel is apoplectic and has recalled its envoys to New Zealand and Senegal, and stopped its Senegal aid programme. It called the resolution "despicable" and "an evil decree". The Israeli Ambassador to the UN said the vote was "a victory for terror, a victory for hatred and violence."

New Zealand was already in Israel's bad books. In 2014 Israel refused to accept New Zealand's ambassador because he was also to act as an envoy to the Palestinian Authority. In October 2015, Israeli officials reprimanded our Ambassador after New Zealand dared propose a Security Council resolution that dared encourage a return to peace negotiations. Palestinian supporters were equally upset, seeing the wording as supporting Israel.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council.
A meeting of the UN Security Council Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

But this time is worse. Israeli-New Zealand relations haven't been so poor since 2004, when New Zealand imprisoned 'Mossad spies' for attempting to fraudulently obtain a New Zealand passport.

After a year, Israel apologised and relationships were slowly mended.

This new rift may take longer. Much of the anger is being directed at the US, where President Obama could have chosen to veto the resolution. But Netanyahu's conservative government will not take kindly to us fronting a resolution that pointedly calls East Jerusalem "occupied Palestinian territory".
New Zealand's government will have known blowback was likely. It has decided that, if you ask to be on the Security Council you need to appear from behind the parapet and take a stand.

In an era where the world's mood seems to be trending towards resentment, aggression and extremism, a country wins few friends by calling for tolerance or asking for restraint. But that doesn't mean that working for peace and goodwill isn't the right thing to do.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Alaric Bond's Latest

Great review from Historic Naval Fiction

The Blackstrap StationFollowing the wreck of HMS Prometheus, some of the crew have managed to evade capture and a British Frigate is nearby. When their attempt to steal a vessel coincides with a cutting out attempt, action and new responsibilities follow for Tom King. Now based in Malta with a shore job he worries that  his seagoing career will be over.

Another well written narrative from Bond with sea action and some nefarious shoreside activities which as usual follows a wide cast of characters from all ranks as well as some civilians, all of whom you feel you know. The plot had plenty of unexpected twists which made it hard to put down.

Bond's historical accuracy, knowledge of sailing ships and characterisations imerse you in the period and he continues to be one of the best contemporary naval fiction authors. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Frederick Douglass, the most photographed American of his time

A long time ago, I was in Los Angeles researching the experiences of runaway slaves on New Bedford whaling ships.  It was for background to my book In the Wake of Madness, the troubling story of a homicidal whaling captain, who beat his steward, a young runaway slave, to a slow and agonizing death.  And, while consulting with Kathryn Grover, the author of The Fugitives' Gibraltar, Escaping  Salves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts, I became intrigued with one of the most famous runaway slaves of all, Frederick Douglass.

He became my hero.  In short, I needed a copy of his memoir, Narrative of the Life Of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in a hurry.

Friends dropped me at what must be the largest pre-loved books store in the world, at Long Beach.  It resembled an aircraft hangar.  Maybe it was an aircraft hangar.  In the doorway, there was a small desk, with a young man who appeared to know where all the books were.  A dim, shadowy vastness stretched behind him.

I asked for Black History.  He directed me to the farthest, darkest corner, which felt, I swear, a mile away.  And as I threaded my way through the loaded shelves, I realized I was being trailed by four young Black men.

When I stopped, having found the right section, they stopped.  I turned.  We all looked at each other.

I said, "Can I help?"

One young man said, "We just want to know why a white lady like you wants to read about Black men like us."

So I told them about Frederick Douglass.  They had never heard of him.  They were enthralled.  Then, when I had finally finished, they thanked me very politely, and went away.

I've thought about that often, wondering if learning something about this American hero had any effect on their lives.

Today, I was reminded of it.  The New York Review of Books, in its review of the best articles of the year, includes a discussion of two books about "the Mysterious, Brilliant Frederick Douglass".

It begins:  Some years ago, after giving a talk at a college in Louisiana, I was approached at the podium by a middle-aged white man who said, with a genial smile, “Since you mentioned Frederick Douglass, I thought you’d be interested that my family used to own him.” His matter-of-factness was a shock to this Yankee clueless in Dixie. I couldn’t tell if I was meant to congratulate or, perhaps, commiserate, as if his forebears had misplaced some rare collectible. So I said something lame like, “Well, that’s quite something, thanks for letting me know.”

Wow.  That's quite something.  Was the man proud of being a descendant of the man who had owned this hero?   I don't know how he felt, but I have a good idea of how the writer felt, having had much the same experience when I met the very polite and pleasant descendants of the homicidal whaling captain.

But that is another story.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

And what about the rabbits?

Author of To Sir, With Love dies at 104

To Sir, With Love author ER Braithwaite dies aged 104

Author whose autobiographical novel dramatising his time as a black teacher
in east London in the 50s had a career that took in social work and
diplomacy as well as writing

Danuta Kean

Wednesday 14 December 2016 11.55 GMT

ER Braithwaite, the Guyanese author of To Sir, With Love, has died at his
home in Maryland at the age of 104.

Born in Guyana on 27 June 1912, Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite was the
child of privileged parents, both graduates of Oxford University. His father
was a diamond miner while his mother raised the family. During the second
world war, he joined the Royal Air Force to fight as a pilot before going on
to Cambridge to read physics. He later said that he experienced no racial
prejudice within the RAF.

On graduating, he found himself barred from work as an engineer because of
racism. Unable to find an alternative, he took a job as a teacher at St
George-in-the-East school in London¹s East End, which was recovering from
the battering it had taken during the war. This experience formed the basis
of his autobiographical novel To Sir With Love, his 1959 book later adapted
into a film of the same name starring Sidney Poitier.

At the school, renamed Greenslade School in the film, the well-educated
middle class graduate was confronted with casual racism, violence and
antisocial behaviour by a group of disadvantaged pupils. Hardest to bear was
the self-hatred the racism brought out in him and the low expectations of
colleagues for their charges.

Gritty and unsentimental, the book shows Braithwaite gradually turning his
class around through a mix of affection and respect. It also revealed his
love affair with a fellow teacher ­ controversial at the time because the
other teacher was white. When the film adaptation was made in 1967,
Braithwaite criticised it, saying the love affair had been downplayed.

The book also contrasted his experience of race relations in Britain with
those in the US, where he studied before joining the RAF. He wrote: ³The
rest of the world in general and Britain in particular are prone to point an
angrily critical finger at American intolerance, forgetting that in its
short history as a nation it has granted to its Negro citizens more
opportunities for advancement and betterment, per capita, than any other
nation in the world with an indigent Negro population.²

To Sir, With Love has been hailed as a seminal work for immigrants from the
colonies to postwar Britain. In an introduction, Caryl Phillips wrote: ³The
author is keen for us to understand that the Ricky Braithwaites of this
world cannot, by themselves, uproot prejudice, but they can point to its
existence. And this, after all, is the beginning of change; one must first
identity the location of the problem before one can set about addressing

After teaching, Braithwaite moved to social work, finding foster homes for
children of colour. This formed the basis of for his 1962 book Paid Servant:
A Report About Welfare Work in London. He went on to write a further nine
books, a mix of novels, short-story collections and memoir.

A visit to apartheid South Africa in 1973, following the country lifting its
ban on To Sir, With Love, resulted in Honorary White (1975). The title was a
reference to his visa status, which granted significantly more privileges
than enjoyed by the native black population. The book had a mixed reception:
one critic described it as too soft on the apartheid regime, too hard on the
oppressed black population and too focused on the author.

After his social work, he moved to Paris to work for the World Veterans
Association, before transferring to Unesco and a diplomatic career that took
in posts as permanent representative of Guyana to the UN and Guyana¹s
ambassador to Venezuela.

From diplomacy, he moved into academia, teaching at the universities of New
York, Florida State and Howard in Washington, where he also served as

When asked in 2013 whether he had stayed in touch with students from the
London school, he admitted he had not, telling the Coffee Table blog: ³I
don¹t know if I changed any lives or not, but something did happen between
them and me, which was quite gratifying.²

Braithwaite¹s companion, Genevieve Ast, confirmed his death on Tuesday. He
died a day after being admitted to a medical centre in Rockville, Maryland.

© Guardian 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

New Zealand and its Faults

From Geonet

Kekerengu Fault has a Word to its Geologists

Written by Ursula Cochran

Last year Tim Little of Victoria University of Wellington and Russ Van Dissen of GNS Science thought it would be a good idea to find out more about the Kekerengu Fault in North Canterbury. Through previous work they had identified the Kekerengu Fault as likely to be the fastest slipping fault within 100 km of Wellington city apart from the Hikurangi subduction zone.

They knew this meant it posed a significant seismic hazard to the northeastern South Island and also to Wellington if linking faults in Cook Strait ruptured at the same time as the Kekerengu Fault.
In February of this year, with funding from the Natural Hazards Research Platform, Tim and Russ excavated three trenches across the Kekerengu Fault to look for evidence of past large earthquakes. The main aim of their project was to better constrain the seismic hazard posed by this major active fault.

In these trenches Tim and Russ found evidence that at least three past large earthquakes had occurred in the last 1250 years. These initial results confirmed that the Kekerengu Fault was capable of producing large earthquakes frequently (on average, about every 300 or 400 hundred years), and was likely to do so again in future.

Then, two weeks ago, as if to say, “Don’t underestimate me!” the fault ruptured right through those same trenches. Tim was awe-struck. As a geologist working on active faults he said, “I had often wondered what it would look like if a fault moved while we were working on a trench cut across it, but I had never expected this to happen to me.”

When the Kekerengu Fault moved as part of the M7.8 Kaikoura earthquake the impacts on the landscape were dramatic. One side of the fault has moved as much as eleven metres with respect to the other side. Tim did not expect quite this amount of slip on this fault during a single earthquake. Russ, though, was less surprised – he says it fits with the long-term slip rate calculated for the fault – but he is still amazed to see such fault movement in action.

So, we knew about this fault, we knew it posed a seismic hazard, we even thought it was possible that it would rupture jointly with other faults – New Zealand’s National Seismic Hazard Model specifically includes scenarios that involve joint rupture of the Jordon, Kekerengu, and Needles Faults. And this, now confirmed by NIWA’s offshore survey of the Needles Fault, is exactly what happened on Monday 14th November. What we had not foreseen is that even more faults would be involved in a single earthquake sequence.

Currently we have evidence for seven faults rupturing in the M7.8 Kaikoura earthquake so work on the Kekerengu Fault is just a small part of the earthquake geology response. There are teams from University of Otago, University of Canterbury, University of Auckland, Victoria University, GNS Science, and NIWA, not to mention volunteers from overseas, currently mapping and measuring the faults that moved last week. We want to understand what happened in this event but, most importantly, what it means for future events.

The Kekerengu Fault has been speaking to geologists-in-the-making for generations because Victoria University’s third year structural field geology course is held near its northern end. I still clearly remember the Kekerengu Fault back in the early 1990s as a subtle, curious line in the landscape that our professor – Tim Little – stood astride inciting us to notice. Today, the fault has spoken and it is impossible not to notice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Happy Birthday Maritime History Discussion List

All kinds of exciting maritime events happened in Canada on 29 December ....

November 29 RCN News Magazine Today in History

1943 - Frigate HMCS Montreal arrived Halifax from builder Montreal PQ
1943 - Corvette HMCS North Bay arrived Halifax from builder Collingwood ON
1943 - HMCS Mayflower, a Flower-class corvette, commenced a refit at Norfolk
VA. Many Canadian and British warships were repaired and refitted in the US,
and at Norfolk in particular. British and Canadian shipyards were overloaded
with repair work, to the detriment of many new construction programs.
Chronic shortages of new technology items in Canada also dictated that much
upgrading work had to be done in the US or in the U.K. At a time when the US
was producing modern destroyer-escorts at the rate of one every 20 days and
with manning shortages for newly constructed Canadian warships reaching
crisis proportions, putting such effort into refitting a ship of marginal
value was, to say the least, questionable
1944 - Frigate HMCS Sussexvale commissioned
1944 - Destroyer HMCS Qu'Appelle arrived Pictou NS for refit
1944 - Tug HMCS Johnville assigned to Gaspe PQ
1944 - Frigates HMCS Saint John, Stormont, Port Colborne, Nene, Loch Alvie,
Monnow departed Loch Ewe with Convoy JW-62 for Kola Inlet
1945 - Frigate HMCS Coaticook paid off Esquimalt BC
1957 - Minesweepers HMCS Kentville, Nipigon, Fort William, Medicine Hat,
Kenora sold to Turkey under the US-funded NATO MDAP program. After refits in
Sydney NS, the ships were renamed Bartin, Bafra, Bodrum, Biga, and Bandirma
1985 - Destroyer HMCS Restigouche completed life extension refit Esquimalt
1990 - United Nations Security Council approves resolution authorizing use
of military force unless Iraq vacates Kuwait by 15 January 1991
1994 -
established by the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes with the assistance of
Queens University Kingston ON

I joined the List that year, when dial-up and charges-by-the-moment were the usual thing.  There was no FaceBook, no Twitter, no easy links to maritime history -- if those links existed at all.  I still remember the excitement as the link to what we affectionally called "MarHist" worked through, and I waited to see what the wise answers to my latest question might be.

There are a lot of wise people on this list, mostly men, and invariably helpful and polite.  The membership has gone up ... and down, as other sites have competed for attention.  But there is still a core of loyal members.  Happy birthday to their participation, particular good wishes to the two  hardworking moderators, Walter Lewis, and Maurice Smith, and a bow to the generosity of the Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

Raise a glass! 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Controversial Poldark

For those who have not yet seen episode 7 of season 2, be warned that this post has spoilers

A Hot Sex Scene in the hugely popular historical drama series "Poldark" has the commentators hopping.

Most intriguing of all, perhaps, is that the American version of the Hot Sex Scene is different.  The controversial bit has been removed, though with what effect is debatable and dubious.

To provide the background, I can do nothing better than paraphrase from the racy roundup on the WETA television blog, the commentary Recapping Poldark.

The Vile George Warleggan, villain of the story, has talked Elizabeth (Ross's ex-fiancee, and the widow of his cousin, Francis) into agreeing to marry him.  And instead of manning up and informing Ross in person, Elizabeth sends him one of those Austen-style letters, announcing her decision.

Ross is in a foul mood already, much of which he has taken out on his long-suffering wife, Demelza.  He had had a nasty day at the mine, involving the collapse of a tunnel, and the death of three men, and late at night is a bad time to open a letter like this.

He announces he is off to see Elizabeth, presumably to talk her out of this disastrous marriage, even though he has no kind of alternative to offer. Demelza begs him not to go, begs him at least to wait until the next day, but he’s just angry that she didn’t tell him about her suspicions this was happening. He tells her to get out of his way.

Ross barges right into the house at Trenwith. He literally kicks a door down. (Seriously?  In the book, he jumped in a window.)  He confronts Elizabeth, refuses to leave when she asks him to and declares that she can’t marry George. I think this is supposed to be Ross being heroic – trust me, I don’t want Elizabeth to marry Vile George either – but he just comes off as bullish and jerky.  (This opinion, from the WETA blogger, is one that I agree with wholeheartedly -- but it must have been a hell of a part to play.)

As the blogger goes on to say, no one could even start to guess what Ross  expected Elizabeth to do. Despite his poor treatment of poor Demelza, he's made no plans to up sticks and leave her. Is Elizabeth just supposed to stay alone forever, and be nobly poor, and take care of her sick mother and raise her son, and eat stale crusts of bread forever, all alone? All so that Ross doesn’t have to make any decisions or do anything that might inconvenience him or actually deal with his own emotions?

Apparently so.

Ross even has the gall to accuse Elizabeth of marrying George for his money. (Seriously!)  She denies it in a huff, of course – but so what if she was? She has a small child and a sick mother and no one else to help her. People make compromises all the time, and if she can live with marrying the vilest person in the county in exchange for some comfort and safety, I’m not sure why Ross thinks he gets to judge her.

And then the scene gets really difficult.  Ross grabs Elizabeth and kisses her. She shoves him off and he says she can’t love George. She says she sure does, and it’s clearly a spiteful lie, but he grabs her and kisses her again and she cries, "No!" but next thing you know they’re in bed and having sex, despite how furious and resistant everyone seemed to be a minute ago.

Now, my commentary.  My first reaction was that this was the old, tired, distasteful story.  The girl says no, but when the man persists, she finishes up enjoying it.  In a word, when she said no, she didn't really mean it.  How many times has that feeble excuse been made?

My other reaction was that it seemed very dated.  It took me back to that deathless movie, Gone With the Wind, and the scene where Rhett Butler gets sick and tired of Scarlett (who is his wedded wife at that part of the story) constantly refusing his attentions.  So he grabs her and rapes her.  Bad enough.  What was really shocking was the next scene of her waking joyously in bed.  Yes.  Seriously.

But back to Poldark.  Was it in the book (number three in the series, titled Warleggan)?  Yes.  The scene was played as written.  Perhaps the actors could have diluted what was obviously going to be controversial by having Elizabeth sigh her "No," instead of shouting it.  Then consensual sex would have been easier to comprehend.  After all, the pair have been lusting after each other forever.  But she definitely snapped out that fatal little negative.

The British public certainly reacted.  The tweetosphere ran hot, it seems.  The Radio Times responded with a scholarly comparison of the passage in the book with the TV scene, along with interviews with Debbie Horsfield – creator of the new series – Aidan Turner, who plays Ross Poldark, and Andrew Graham, son of the author.

The Telegraph ran an analysis -- was it rape or was it not? -- along with comments from a women's campaign group saying it sent the worst possible message.

The Guardian agreed that it was certainly not OK, and compared it to the appalling rape scene in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, adding a description of a rape scene in a Royal Opera House production of William Tell that I, as an opera addict, found horrifying.  Quite frankly, I found the comparisons over the top, with an unintended result -- making the rape (if it was a rape) of Elizabeth seem relatively insignificant.

The BBC News, as is proper, merely reported the controversy, along  with a rather startling comment from the author's son, Andrew Graham, saying, "There is no 'shock rape' storyline in the novels.To say so is to misconstrue my father's text. The BBC has cut nothing and Mammoth Screen's portrayal of these scenes is entirely true to my father's writing."

The BBC had received 17 complaints about the scene at the time of writing, or so the news reports.  Seven of these were formal notifications to the media regulator, "Ofcom."  Undoubtedly, some kind of decision will be forthcoming.

But what about the American version of the episode?

In this one, the whole section after the first rough kiss is cut out.  The kiss bit segues into the next morning, where Elizabeth is lying serenely in bed watching Ross get dressed, ready to ride out and confront his understandably furious wife.  This, to put it mildly, must have left the audience puzzled.  What the hell happened?  Did Elizabeth return the kiss, so that she becomes the seductress, and Ross, somehow, remains a heroic figure?  Or did they simply talk the nighttime hours away?

As the WETA blogger says, it just doesn't feel right to take such an important part of the story away --  The decision to alter the scene for American broadcast feels odd….if the showrunners want to make it clearer that Ross and Elizabeth finally gave in to their life-long passion instead of something darker. Or if they wanted to make sure Ross stayed at least partially heroic. Or both. Maybe the folks in charge just didn’t want to end up in another media/critical firestorm about rape as a plot device.

And I agree with him (or her). Though the decision to delete might have felt wise, nonetheless it is basically dishonest, cheating not just the audience, but the writer and screenwriters, too.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The original cliffhanger

I adore my digital radio.

I can listen with perfect sound to any of thousands of radio stations throughout the world.  Apart from National Radio New Zealand, where I catch the local news and commentary, my favorite is WETA Classical, broadcast out of Washington, DC.

It is Thanksgiving Day over there, and the last day of their annual Classical Countdown, where they play listeners' choices, in order.  We have something similar here in New Zealand, at New Year, but I listen to it only out of curiosity, as they play frustratingly short extracts of each selection.  WETA Classical, bless them, play the whole of each and every wonderful piece.

Beethoven features prominently -- and I wonder if Number One will be the Choral Symphony, (symphony number nine), as it was last year.  So far I have heard two symphonies, the deathless Moonlight sonata, and the lovely chamber trio, all with places in the one hundred.  Symphony Seven was Number Five in the popularity poll.

Number Three, somewhat to my surprise was Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.  When I meditated aloud that it was a bit of an old warhorse, Ron said he likes it.  And, obviously, thousands of American listeners share his taste.

And I shouldn't deride.  The tunes are good, and the lady it commemorates was the originator of the cliffhanger.

We all know the story as The Thousand and One Nights, or, more simply, The Arabian Nights.  How a Sultan by the name of Shahryar was betrayed by an adulterous wife, so, after slaying her, he vowed to sleep with a virgin each night, and slay the poor lass next morning, to make sure it never happened again.

Then, he encountered the vizier's daughter.  Scheherazade.  And the arrangement for the fatal night was made.  But Scheherazade had a strong and unusual sense of self-preservation.  As the translator, Sir Richard Burton (not the actor), put it:

"Scheherazade had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred."

And she plotted how to put all this lore to good use.  She begged the favor of the presence of her beloved sister, Dunyazade, in the bed chamber, and Dunyazade was prompted to ask Scheherazade for a bedtime tale.  And as the sultan listened to the yarn, he became engrossed.  In modern parlance, it was a page-turner. But then, in the middle, at the most exciting part, Scheherazade stopped.  She would finish the story, she said, the next night.

And so her life was spared until dusk fell again.  Prompted by both the king and her sister, Scheherazade finished the yarn -- and then started another one, which she left incomplete in just the same way.  And thus 1001 nights passed, during which time the sultan had fallen in love.   He married her, and made her his queen.  And so ends the tale of the Arabian Nights

And the cliffhanger was introduced to literature, along with Sindbad the Sailor, flying carpets, and bottled genies.

Did Scheherazade really exist? Unfortunately, not.  Her story is a frame for a collection of tales, gathered over many centuries by storytellers over Asia and North Africa.  But the wise lady lives, in literature, lore -- and music.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

New Zealand's PM finally talks to Trump

So someone picked up the phone.

At last.

And a bizarre call it was, too.

Any mention of the earthquake? Apparently not.

This is how it went.

From the New Zealand Herald

There were a number of firsts when John Key picked up the ringing phone on his Beehive desk.

It's the first time he'd ever talked to the caller and it was the first time he'd taken a call from the palatial, sprawling, golden Penthouse on the top of Trump Tower with a commanding view of Manhattan, with the Statue of Liberty keeping guard in the distance. Donald Trump would probably rate her a four out of 10 at best, given her stern expression and a robe that does nothing for her femininity, so the further away from her the better.

But the long distance call seemed to go okay, which Key says showed Trump was very knowledgeable about what was going on which, with The Don, you can't deny. Consider the fact that in the dying hours of his campaign last week he was repeatedly saying "things are looking good" while most of the establishment thought he was barking.

He spoke fondly of his visit to God's Own 22 years ago, which is surprising, given that it was for less than a day.

But that didn't stop him from booking the presidential suite at the Hyatt to freshen up, clearly a taste of things to come, as was his foresight into what a profitable proposition a casino in Auckland would be - the reason for his stopover.

Our boffins decided this billionaire's bid didn't stack up.

It seems his admiration of one of our greatest golfers Sir Bob Charles is long held, because he waxed on about the legend when he was here and again talked a lot about the now 80 year old when he was on the blower to Key.

Then Trump came up with one of the most bizarre requests from one leader to another, give Bob a call, he suggested to Key, and give him my best regards. It's the sort of schmaltz that flows from the President-elect's puckered lips to those he likes. Of course Key, when he gets the chance, will be on the phone to Bob who lives between Canterbury and The Don's favourite state Florida.

Our PM did raise the Trans Pacific Partnership bogey with Trump, suggesting they have a fuller discussion when he gets his feet under the table.

He described Trump as very warm, and very engaging during their first ever chat, which isn't all that surprising given Key's ability to engage with cringe.

Both men have said stuff they'd prefer not to have said, although Trump has run on at the mouth so much for so long that he probably can't remember what he shouldn't have said, but whatever it was, why should he care?

It doesn't seem to have done him much harm

Navy evacuates earthquake refugees

From the Otago Daily Times

The ship was a symbol of hope for thousands.

It was HMNZS Canterbury, emerging from the northern horizon yesterday morning to take up position in South Bay, Kaikoura.

Soon, its crew were using rigid inflatable boats and larger landing craft to ferry the first lucky tourists on board, while military and civilian helicopters continued to shuttle people out and supplies in.

It was a sign of progress that brought smiles and a sense of relief to the hundreds of tourists stranded in Kaikoura with limited supplies and water running low following Monday's 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

The elevation yesterday of the quake from a magnitude-7.5 to 7.8 makes it equal in size with only three other New Zealand quakes in the past 150 years.

They were the Dusky Sound quake in 2009, the Napier earthquake in 1931 and the Murchison earthquake in 1929.

And, as tourists and residents alike bid emotional farewells, one of those glad to be escaping was former Otago man Kurt Sapwell.

Mr Sapwell, formerly of Cromwell, had returned to New Zealand from his new home in Perth to marry his fiance, Kailah, who is three months' pregnant, earlier this week.

The newlyweds were honeymooning in New Zealand, and were staying in a boutique hotel in Kaikoura, when the quake struck.

''It was full-on. All the windows breaking, suitcases flying across the room.''

The pair made it to their upstairs balcony, thinking they would jump if the building collapsed, but it was then Mr Sapwell noticed the water had sucked out from the beach.

''Thirty seconds later I looked out and the sea was back in already.

''I just thought '****, there's a big wave coming.''

The pair escaped to high ground and endured the long night of aftershocks that followed, he said.

''The night was pretty full-on. The next day was just relief, and you could see it on everyone's faces.''

They had since found a habitable room to stay in and the days since had been spent foraging for clean drinking water, like in ''the Dark Ages'', he said.

''It's all we have done for two days,'' Mr Sapwell said.

They were still among the lucky ones; hundreds more tourists have been sleeping in cars, tents, strangers' homes or the marae since Monday.

And Mr Sapwell - like most spoken to by the ODT since Monday - was full of praise for all of those involved in the relief effort.

''Kiwis are just good people.''

Yesterday started much as Tuesday had finished with a series of aftershocks and hundreds of people queuing for food at the Takahanga marae.

But the activity quickened after breakfast, as Civil Defence staff co-ordinated a ''big push'' to evacuate 700 tourists by the end of yesterday.

People in the long queue of those wanting out were given numbers at a tent registration centre outside the marae, giving them a seat on a helicopter or Canterbury, whichever came first.

Those whisked by bus down to South Bay were then given life jackets, placed on RIBs, taken out to rendezvous with the navy's larger landing craft, and from there to the imposing hull of Canterbury.

Some were too drained to speak as they left, but others beamed and gave thumbs up while promising to return one day.

''Brilliant, brilliant,'' Simon Gray, of England, said of his departure as he was ushered on board.

''Nice to be on our way home,'' added his wife, Sue.

Another Dunedin face found in the crowd was Otago University student Alice Edgcombe (19), who decided to stop for a night in Kaikoura while driving home to Whakatane after a year's study.

The earthquake was so powerful she and her boyfriend could not reach their doorway, and the aftermath had left her ''shaking and crying. 'I was really scared.''

She was due to escape on Canterbury, but said she was ''still in shock that it's happening''.

Locals watching the navy's evacuation efforts were also thankful.

Sharon Vickers, of Kaikoura, said the operation was a ''fantastic'' boost for tourists and the town's morale.

''Now, to see them going, they are really happy and saying they will be coming back.''

Paul Kramer, from the Netherlands, said he had no complaints as he prepared to escape after waiting nearly three days.

''The people here are incredibly friendly and helpful ... I have never experienced that before.

''We hang on to the local saying, 'No worries mate'. We're alive, so that's the most important thing.''
In Wellington, the ferries are now operational but for foot passengers only.  Return trips from Picton to Wellington are still to be scheduled.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hear, hear

From the Civilian

Government pushes urgent legislation to end 2016, have New Year’s right now

“At the end of the day, I think the end of the day should be the end of the year,” Key told reporters this afternoon.
PICTURED: Gerry Brownlee stares blankly into TV cameras as Prime Minister John Key urges the passage of a bill that is expected to receive unanimous support.

Following recent events, Parliament is sitting under urgency tonight, as the National Government attempts to pass legislation to end 2016 effective immediately, and have New Year’s Eve in just a few hours at midnight tonight.

The “That’s Enough Bill 2016” is currently undergoing its second reading, and would shorten the calendar in use by New Zealand by 47 days, with a year spanning from January 1st to November 14th.

Prime Minister John Key, joined by Minister Responsible for the Earthquake Commission Gerry Brownlee, announced his government would be pushing the bill earlier this afternoon, after visiting Kaikoura.

“Look, I think most New Zealanders would agree that, uh, that’s quite enough,” he said. “That’s why tonight, we’ll be moving to pass a bill that should resolve any forthcoming issues.”

Key said the bill was a “preventative measure” and would “unfortunately not reverse” anything that has happened since January 1st. But with well over a month still remaining in the year, National had finally felt compelled to act.

“It was the cows,” he explained. “Obviously, it won’t be a surprise to anyone that we’ve been thinking about this for a while, but flying over the South Island today, assessing the damage, we see these three cows, on this little island of land, trapped there, the whole earth has come away from around them, if you like.

“That’s when I leaned over and said to Gerry, ‘Right, that’s it. That’s the tipping point there. You can’t have that.’”

Providing the bill became law this evening, Key encouraged New Zealanders to “enjoy ringing in the New Year” and “perhaps get shitfaced.”

Brownlee had already begun, he said.

“I think he’d already had four vodkas by, what was it, 7am this morning, Gerry?”

Gerry Brownlee stared blankly into the TV cameras.

“Yeah, so, anyway,” Key concluded. “At the end of the day, I think the end of the day should be the end of the year.”

NZ Prime Minister fails to pick up when Trump calls


Donald Trump tried to phone New Zealand's prime minister yesterday.  For what reason?  Who knows?  Mr. Key is in the middle of an earthquake clean-up (and was in Cabinet at the time) so he's a little busy, thank you very much.  Accordingly, he missed the call, which he says he will make up for ASAP.

Let's hope Mr. Trump does not make New Zealand pay, and pay, and pay for a perceived insult ...

Also, perhaps, of American interest, is that 700 tourists who were stranded in Kaikoura, a tourist mecca (think "whale watching, swimming with dolphins, worldclass seafood") found a refuge at the local marae.  Maori hospitality is famous, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Maybe an uncomfortable interlude in their vacation, but one they will remember for ever.  Maybe some who thought otherwise in the past will think a little differently about multi-cultural societies from now on ...

The New Zealand navy is coming to the rescue, and helicopters have been ferrying people out.  Some, indeed, have had the experience of being rescued by our ex-All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw.

China has contributed helicopters to the rescue, focusing on their nationals.  New Zealand is happy to take care of the rest.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Kaiarahi finally disembarks passengers

I bravely went for a walk up the hill, and surprise, surprise, I found four of the missing ferries.

They are huddled within the arms of the outer harbor, waiting for permission to dock, and battening down for the coming storm. The freighters due to be in Wellington are out at sea, pending the storm and repair of a wharf.  One is a log-carrier, which lost its load in the quake.  The harbor slumped 1.5 metres, and the tsunami that followed was 2 metres, accounting for much of the wharf damage.

Kaiarahi, which was stalled at Picton, in the north of the South Island, has finally been able to disembark her passengers (hopefully before the bar ran out of beer :))


Passengers stuck on the Kaiarahi ferry in Picton after the massive earthquake early on Monday were finally able to get off, about 12 hours later.

The Kaiarahi had left Wellington and was coming into Picton just as the 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck, leaving passengers and crew to sleep on board. The Interisland ferry was able to dock and unload passengers about 11am.

As we can see in the picture above, there are two Interislander ferries in Wellington.

The Kaitaki and Aratere ferries were still anchored in Wellington Harbour, but the Kaitaki may sail later today, KiwiRail said. However, weather warnings could still hamper sailings.

The other two are Bluebridge ferries– the Strait Feronia and the Straitsman -- which carry freight as well as some passengers. 

Wellington's port closed after earthquake

It is so strange to look out the window and see the harbor so empty.  And who knows when it will reopen?

A massive double-earthquake hit the country just after midnight, with many after shocks.  It has affected everything, it seems -- though I still hear the occasional plane overhead, so the newly refurbished airport is presumably OK.


All Interislander ferry sailings are on hold and an Interislander ferry is unable to dock in Picton following the 7.5-magnitude earthquake, leaving passengers and crew to sleep on board.

Meanwhile the ferry passenger bridge in Wellington had been swept away after earlier sustaining damage.

"All of our ferry sailing have been put on hold. We have one ferry that moored just out of Picton with just a few passengers on board while we complete some sections of the port side infrastructure both at Picton and Wellington," KiwiRail group general manager of network services Todd Moyle told RNZ.

The Kaiarahi had left Wellington and was coming into Picton just as the earthquake struck
A passenger on board the ship, who did not want to be named, said they were due into Picton at 11.45pm on Sunday night.

But a decision was made to abort docking the ship after the massive quake hit North Canterbury early on Monday, triggering a tsunami alert for all coastal areas of New Zealand and many aftershocks throughout the country.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

NZ writers penalized for publishing overseas

New Zealand is a country that compensates local writers for royalties lost through library borrowings.

Every time a book is borrowed, and not bought, the author gets no money.  This scheme makes up for this, in a measure.  It is called the Public Lending Right.

A set sum of $2M is divided up according to a system, where a sampling of libraries is taken, and the number of each title is extrapolated from the resulting figure.  If the number is under 50, the author gets nothing. If the number is over 50, the author gets his or her share of the money.  It usually works out at about $3 per book, often leading to a nice sum, which arrives in good time for Christmas.

The scheme is overseen by an advisory group, which includes an authors' representative. 

This year, they have tinkered with the system.  Now, instead of titles being counted, versions are counted separately.  Therefore, if a writer has published in the United States and that book reprinted in New Zealand, the two versions are counted separately, even though apart from the jacket and front matter, the book is the same.   

To take an example in my own case, Deadly Shoals, which has a total of 70 books in New Zealand libraries, according to the sampling, is counted twice: the United States hardback comes up with 21 copies, and the NZ Allen & Unwin paperback comes up as 49 copies held.  So neither breaks the 50-book mark.

This is the explanation I received from an administrator:

What has changed?
We have ceased the practice of counting all versions of a title as one item. Each version is now counted separately.
1.       To make the scheme more consistent, transparent, and fair to all authors.  Prior to 2016 versions were treated inconsistently.  For example:
·         All versions of a title were treated as one title. (This was particularly hard to maintain as the title and/or authors/illustrators or royalty entitlement changed);
·         A version of a work with a different title was either treated as the same title or as a different title;
·         A version with different authors/illustrators was either treated as the same title or as a different title;
·         A version with different authors/illustrators and a different title was either treated as the same title or as a different title.
2.       Most libraries catalogue each version separately which makes surveying - whether manually or increasingly as an automated process – more accurate.
How were authors advised of this change?
Authors were advised of this practice in the confirmation of registration communication that was sent in early March 2016:
“This year we will be conducting a full survey of all editions of your titles so please carefully check all of the information below that we have recorded about your registration. Note that any missing titles or editions will not be surveyed.”
N.B. We deliberately used the word “editions” in this communication as we believed that authors would understand this term better than “versions”.
The Public Lending Right Advisory Group was advised of this change in practice at their meeting on 7th April 2016.
What’s a version?
“Version” is not strictly synonymous with “edition” as, for example, paperback and hardback editions with the same publication details (place of publication, publisher and date of publication) are treated as the same version.  Essentially a version differs from another in that the intellectual content is different or the publication details are different.
In response to the specific points raised in your email below and visit yesterday.
Neither the Public Lending Right for New Zealand Authors Act 2008, nor the Public Lending Right for New Zealand Authors Regulations 2008, provide any guidance as to how versions should be treated, nor do they state “that each title is eligible” or refer to “each edition of each title”.  As stated above, the Library has made this change to its practice to make the scheme more consistent, transparent, and fair to all authors.  Unfortunately, your titles are negatively impacted with this change.

 This is my reply:

Hardback and paperback editions of the same book will hardly ever have the same publication date, though the publisher is the same.  The practice is to print off a relatively short run of the hardback, and when this has run out (which may take a couple of years, or even longer), a paperback edition is printed.

I'd like libraries to be made aware of this change in DIA policy.  Naturally, the purchasing officer will look for the cheapest deal, and more often than not this is through the distributors Baker & Taylor, who specialise in selling to libraries, and in selling hardbacks as they are more durable.  Often these are American editions. This is because American publishers remainder the last of their hardback run before putting the paperback on the market, and so B&T get this very cheaply, often being the only customer.  It is cheaper for the publisher to offer the remaindered copies to B&T than to put them in the bookstores.

New Zealand libraries do this shopping through B&T, so many of my American hardbacks have been brought into the country (breaking the rules, as they should have only been sold in the American territory, but no one pulls them up on this).  If the purchasing officers wanted to support New Zealand authors, they should confine themselves to the locally produced paperbacks. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Captured twice by pirates


To be captured once is very bad luck.  To be captured twice looks disastrously careless.

World sailor Jurgen Kantner declared after being kidnapped and held captive by Somalian pirates in 2008 that he loved his 30-foot yacht "Rockall" and "I don't care about pirates or governments".

Late on Sunday the Philippine military found the yacht drifting off Laparan island, 1000 kilometres south of the capital Manila, in waters near island strongholds of the ruthless kidnap-for-ransom gang Abu Sayyaf.

The naked white body of a woman believed to be that of Mr Kantner's wife Sabine was sprawled on deck, shot through the head.

And for the second time in his life Mr Kantner, 70, was being held captive with kidnappers demanding a multimillion dollar ransom.

The attack on the yacht came only days after the United States warned that terrorist groups were planning kidnappings on central Philippine islands popular with Australian tourists, indicating that the Abu Sayyaf is now roaming more widely from its bases in the far southern Philippine islands of Jolo and Basilan.

Kantner, a German national, has lived at sea for more than 40 years.

"I love the life of the boat – you are free. You can stay at a port and if you don't like your neighbour you can just move on," he was quoted as saying in 2009, after a ransom was paid for his release from Somali pirates who held him and Merz captive in a mountain cave for 58 days.

But questions will be asked as to why Mr Kantner was sailing his battered yacht through the intimidating waters of the southern Philippines where for years the Abu Sayyaf group has been kidnapping Westerners, Malaysians and Indonesians, and reaping millions of dollars in ransoms.

The group is known for beheading hostages if ransoms are not paid, including two Canadians last year.

Formed with the backing of al-Qaeda in the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf has increased its kidnappings in recent weeks as the Philippine military has launched a new offensive against it on the orders of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

The holding of hostages complicates the military operations.

The Philippine military has released a photo of the Rockall and said it was flying a German flag.
A shotgun was found beside the naked woman's body.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted an Abu Sayyaf spokesman as saying "She tried to shoot us, so we shot her".

The passports of both Mr Kantner and Ms Merz were found on board.

An Abu Sayyaf commander has claimed responsibility for the murder and kidnapping.

Mr Kantner was dubbed the "mad German sailor" in the Somali port of Berbera in 2009 after he returned to the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden to retrieve his yacht.

"They think that I'm insane, they call me the crazy white guy or the mad German sailor but they don't know how important the boat is to me," he told reporters at the time.

He described his Somali kidnapping as "my worst experience", one day telling his kidnappers "I hope a plane will bomb us all to bits and then we all die together".

"Why should I go back to Germany where I have nobody to help me? This is my life and its wonderful," he said.

"I have all my things on my boat and I travel to many places in the world. Sailing is how I want to live and die."

Latest Quarterdeck

Highlights from the Nov/Dec 2016 issue-- 

David Donachie discusses his writing career and his John Pearce series. 

George Jepson's visit to Annapolis brings back memories. 

75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. George interviews Clark Faulkner.  

News from the worlds of nautical fiction as well as naval and maritime history. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Is your book in a French library?

From the Authors Guild

If your books are available in French libraries, you may now be able to receive compensation for it. SOFIA, a government-authorized French organization that distributes money collected pursuant to the public lending right and for private digital copying, has opened its doors to American authors. Proceeds from the lending right and from private copying are split equally between author and publisher. In the case of works that have been translated into French, the author’s share is split between author and translator.

In order to receive funds, you must be a member of SOFIA. There is no annual subscription fee, but members pay a one-time sum of 38 euros, which you can either pay immediately or authorize SOFIA to deduct from your payments. All book authors, regardless of the type of work published, can subscribe to SOFIA provided that they have published at least one book through a publisher and have signed a publishing contract. This membership application and brochure produced by SOFIA contain more detailed information. You can also find more information on the SOFIA website

Thursday, November 3, 2016

International sales for The Notorious Captain Hayes

Thanks to Sally Fodie, I was pleased to see this good review in the Oamaru Mail.
Other good news:  The Notorious Captain Hayes will be published by HarperCollins in the UK on 13 July 2017 and in the USA on 26 September 2017.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

from the island of Martha's Vineyard