New Zealand Reading list


Friends coming to NZ often ask me for a reading list. Here’s what I emailed one friend:

Best convenient maori-english-maori dictionary is Reed Pocket Dictionary of Modern Maori

Be aware that in the last few years there is a huge shift in proper pronunciation of Maori. A lot of even well disposed pakeha don’t pronounce stuff correctly and a lot of racists enjoy mispronouncing. One of the keys is to pronounce all “au” sounds as the vowel in toe or hoe. Thus Hauraki Gulf is Hoe-ra-ki, Taupo is Toe-paw. Best guide is usually younger announcers on Radio NZ National. Older announcers try but sometimes get it wrong. Maori Channel 5 on TV is unique – the closest thing in OZ is SBS TV.


Absolutely brilliant are Waitangi Tribunal Reports on various cases. They set out the history and are available in the city library on open access and probably on their website.

Penguin History of New Zealand, 2003, Michael King is THE classic. Unfortunately some of the paperbacks were released to market with some pages repeated and some missing. So flick through to see if your copy is a good one.

James Belich  two volume work A History of the New Zealanders, consisting of Making Peoples (1996) and Paradise Reforged (2001). (I haven’t read this one, but Joanna recommends)

A wonderful piece of writing for kids and adults alike is ‘The kauri and the willow : how we lived and grew from 1801-1942’ / Elsie Locke. Wellington Government Printer, 1984. Each little story in the book is only one or two pages and it’s easy to dip in and out of.

Dick Scott has written heaps of pretty accessible and good stuff, but he’s no great academic so you won’t get earth shattering new syntheses.

Joan Druett wrote ‘Tupaia, Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger; (2011) Auckland, New Zealand: Random House
her history is of the mold of Anna Clendening and Anne Salmond using available sources to tell the story from an aboriginal viewpoint

Jack Lee’s brilliant little book, Bay of Islands, sets out early white history of north island quite well. Colonial irony that greedy gun trading which armed indigenous people allowed them to fight off white aggression and land grabs.

For south island early white history (sealing and whaling insights) see The World of John Boultbee, 1977 by A.Charles Begg, Neil C. Begg. The Begg brothers also wrote a good book about Captain Cook in the Pacific

Social history:

Speaking for Ourselves Alwyn Owen, Jack Perkins 10 oral history interviews FROM 1986 AWARD-WINNING ‘SPECTRUM’ RADIO SERIES

Gavin McLean is worth a read – he’s a nice chap and works for the History Group of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage (I wish Oz had full time historians. He started as a maritime historian, which is how I know him. I haven’t read his recent publications which from the Ministry website include “Frontier of Dreams (2005, co-edited with Bronwyn Dalley), Heartlands: New Zealanders Write About Where History Happened (2006, co-edited with Kynan Gentry) and two widely acclaimed 2007 centennial publications for publisher Reed Books.”

For Chinese in NZ try Stephen Young’s website

Patricia Grace – Maori writer I love!

The Bone People – Keri Hulme. Wonderful humanity but don’t let anyone do a plot spoiler for you.

Elizabeth Catton – The Luminaries – not to my taste. I couldn’t accept the improbables or wade through it all.

Of course the old classics, Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame

And don’t forget the islander culture in NZ.  I quite enjoyed Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home

All NZers know Edmonds Sure to Rise Cookbook

Another wonderful insight from an early Polish visitor is:
Tikera: Or the Children of the Queen of Oceania Hardcover – March 15, 1973. published 1877. by Sygurd Wisniowski (Author), Jerzy Podstolski (Translator from Polish) Dennis McEldowney (Editor)  Wisniowski was in NZ in 1860s but did not visit war districts

NZ On Screen film archive
great collection of NZ historical film and TV
Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, includes nz dictionary of biography

Science or Pseudoscience – 10 point guide


Based on an email I wrote to my little sister a long time ago:

Hi Sis

(I’ve reworked some internet sources for this email, but para one and the idea at the end are mine)  This is so important you may want to print it out and take it home!!

One of the wonders of the cosmic universe are these tiny intricate beautiful invisible force fields which grow inside the head. The forces that can come into play through these invisible structures after years of meditation and reading and studying and listening to the wise voices of history are beyond belief. But before I explain these forces you need to read a few warnings because to unleash the power will change your life. These warnings are about pseudo-scientists and do not apply to real meditation or brainwave patterns.

Ten points for detecting a pseudoscientist, bullshit artist, conman/woman, charlatan – finding even one of the ten points should arouse great suspicion.

Point 1
Pseudoscience “research” is sloppy.
Pseudoscientists clip newspaper reports, cite other pseudoscience books, and pour over ancient religious or mythological texts. They don’t check the reliability of their sources. They go for unverifiable eyewitness testimony, tall tales, hearsay, rumor, and anecdotes.

Point 2
Pseudoscience only looks for evidence to support it.
Pseudoscientists ignore evidence that doesn’t fit their beliefs. They cherry-pick data and cherry-pick studies. They refuse to look at the big picture and make a sensible assessment based on all the data. For example, Jo says putting X on her head cures headaches. Hundreds of people try X for headaches but it doesn’t work. Jo doesn’t want to hear. Any scientist who runs the test must be biased she says. Jo doesn’t understand the power of the placebo.

Point 3
Pseudoscience won’t test its claims
Pseudoscientists never carry out proper experiments. If one pseudoscientist claims to have done an experiment, no other pseudoscientist ever tries to duplicate it or to check him, instead they believe him.

Point 4
Pseudoscience contradicts itself
Chapter 1 says that dowsers use newly cut twigs, because only “live” wood can channel and focus the “earth-radiation”. But Chapter 5 says dowsers use metal or plastic rods.

Point 5
Pseudoscience deliberately creates mystery
Anything can be made “mysterious”. Simply ignore what we already know. Then present imaginary details instead. “Bermuda Triangle” books are classic examples.

Point 6
Pseudoscience loves technical jargon
Pseudoscientists imitate science jargon by spouting gibberish that sounds scientific and technical.  Baffle them with bullshit.

Point 7
Pseudoscientists use rhetoric, not logic – the Galileo ploy
The pseudoscientist compares himself to Galileo and says Galileo was condemned by his contemporaries therefore the pseudoscientist must be right too, just as Galileo was.

Point 8
Pseudoscience appeals to real science when it suits
The fact that someone got away with simple magic tricks in one scientific lab is “proof” that he is a psychic superman, while the fact that he was caught cheating in several other labs is ignored.

Point 9
Pseudoscience knocks science and goes for emotion
The statement “Science cannot explain” is a favourite. Often the real science is clear, but this is ignored. Instead, emotional appeals are used – if you feel good, it must be true, if it works for you it must be true.

Point 10
Pseudoscience says “skeptics” wreck the “energy”
Radios work. There is no radio which won’t work when skeptics are present. But a man who claims to be a concert-class violinist, but refuses to play when anyone is around might not be a very good violinist.


Now that you’ve read the warnings I feel I can tell you about the cosmic structures in the first paragraph. They are bullshit antennae, but be careful how you use them. As you get used to them you’ll find they focus on interesting things about the real world that can made a difference: it will change your life. Cosmic.

Dog controls angry human

Close-up of angry Chihuahua growling, 2 years old

If you let a yappy little dog upset you then you’ve given that yappy little dog power over you. You’ve given a little dog power over your emotions. Just think about that for a moment. Horrifying and stupid, isn’t it?

Likewise, if you let people upset you, the you give them power over you. You give them power over your emotions. Do you really want to give them power over you?? Really?

If you say it’s their fault for making you angry, you’re wrong. It’s your fault.

Take a deep breath or two, relax, smile and remind yourself who’s in control.

Sign Language Interpreters and Broken Microphones


Too often we can’t see the Sign Language interpreter on a live TV shot.

Imagine if a speaking interpreter suddenly found the microphone was broken. I think the interpreter would stop interpreting until the mike was fixed.

So when a Sign Language interpreter realizes they are not in the camera shot maybe they should stop until it’s fixed. And maybe they should make a fuss about it.

It’s a big ask for a Sign Language interpreter to be the Director like a movie Director, but I don’t see an alternative.

Maybe before the cameras roll the Sign Language interpreter should get the speakers’ agreement and the agreement of the media on site that they will be included in the shot.

Maybe a little more assertiveness should be encouraged to make this happen. Maybe they could turn up with a water pistol like BSL comedian John Smith and squirt them? That would be funny and would defuse the situation. It would get the message across. They should announce before the cameras roll that they are armed and dangerous. Squirt! Squirt! Squirt!

This is in addition to getting authorities to agree on a code of practice for using Sign Language interpreters.

Cochlear implants – 5 big lies


This blog post is for parents deciding whether to teach Sign Language to their deaf children. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying cochlear implants (CI) are bad. I am saying that you don’t need to rush in. Don’t be pressured by lies. This is the most important decision you will ever make for your child. Please don’t gamble with the decision. Don’t let the “experts” make the decision for you.

When I spent 56 minutes watching a youtube lecture by psychologist Ann Geers many things fell into place for me. She’s at the Dallas Cochlear Implant Program in Texas USA. If you’re not a statistician it will be hard. But sit down with a pen and paper and take some notes. The other inspirational video is, of course, Rachel Coleman’s video about Leah.

In Ann’s video, count the number of times she says the word “deaf”. Count the number of times Ann says “We’re not sure what’s going on.” Especially listen to the questions at the end. The one from Debbie Moncrief, University of Pittsberg might point the way to new research. The other question from the Speech Therapist made my blood boil. Basically they are not really evaluating what they are doing.

In the meantime I think there are five big lies you may come across.

1. Big Lie Number One – kids with early implants do better

Ann’s own data shows that ONE THIRD of kids with cochlear implants are still behind their hearing peers by the age of 10. It makes no difference if this third has had early implants.

2. Big Lie Number Two – kids need early implant to learn spoken language

Rachel Coleman’s daughter Leah proves this is wrong. Leah is deaf and she learned to read and write English BEFORE she got her implants. Ruth Campbell’s research says “we suggest that the best guarantee of good language outcome after CI is the establishment of a secure first language PRE-IMPLANT [my emphasis].”

3. Big Lie Number Three – Sign Language interferes with learning spoken language

Often people will say there’s not enough research about this. I think there is. Kathryn Davidson showed this lie was wrong. She studied bilingual bimodal deaf kids with cochlear implants (ie they grew up with native Sign Language with their Deaf parents and learnt English at the same time). She said the kids “exhibited strong and widespread success in spoken English language skills. .. bilingual CI participants performed at monolingual English age target, and not significantly different from their hearing bilingual KODA peers.” KODA means kids of deaf adults.

4. Big Lie Number Four – we can’t predict if cochlear implants won’t work

Ann’s own work, strangely, shows this is wrong. Check out the Lexical Neighborhood Test (LNT) values for the Persistently Language Delayed (PLD) kids. LNTs are lists of words read out in spoken English. Compare the PLD kids’ LNT scores to the other kids – the NLE kids (normal language emergence) and LLE kids (late language emergence). What do you notice??? It hits me like a brick in the face. At 50 dB they fail more than 50% of the words. Their scores at 70 dB are also much worse than the other kids. So even with a CI, these kids are DEAF. They cannot hear the softer sounds in spoken language. They miss out on more than 50% and have to guess what they are hearing.


Source: Ann E Geers,  Johanna G Nicholas, Emily A Tobey, Lisa Davidson, Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research 59(1) October 2015
DOI: 10.1044/2015_JSLHR-H-14-0173
Persistent Language Delay Versus Late Language Emergence in Children With Early Cochlear Implantation

5. Big Lie Number Five – only a small number of cochlear implants fail

Lie Five is the biggest lie – only a few CIs fail. What do we mean by “fail”? Even some Deaf people  misunderstand this. There are two meanings of fail.

1. The CI industry says only 1-3% of CIs fail. They mean technical failure of the CI or an infection. They don’t mean when the CI operation fails. My Deaf friends know of deaf babies dying on the operating table or having their beautiful faces destroyed if nerves are accidentally cut. Other people, including me a couple of months ago, believe only 5-10% of kids just never learn to speak adequately with CIs.

2. The second definition of fail is even more important. It should be the major thing that parents think about. The failure is when a child can’t properly communicate with a spoken language even with a CI. As we’ve seen above from Ann’s work, this is about 33% – one third!

The other vital conclusion from Ann’s video is that if a kid is not speaking reasonably well by age 3, they are very likely to be in the group that doesn’t catch up. Ann calls them Persistently Language Delayed (PLD). I call them Deaf. If their audiogram is bad and they are far behind their peers, they are unlikely to catch up.

In answer to Ann’s constant statements of “We don’t know what’s going on”, my wife Joanna said: “These kids are DEAF. They need Sign Language.” Yep!!!

The  good academic overview in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Medical Ethics is worth a read. The overview certainly belongs in an Ethics journal because it also exposes the lies. In particular the rubbishy “science” mixed with opinion in footnotes 2 and 3 stunned me.

Finally, don’t just take my word for it. Do your own research and listen to words of Ms Mairead MacSweeney of the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre in the UK. She says kids need strong sign language before they consider a CI. This is exactly what Leah’s parents did. This is exactly what more and more parents in the Deaf community are doing.

Good luck with your decision.

BTW, the best place to get science research is Sci-hub. You can’t just enter words into sci-hub. Usually you have to know the exact title of the paper. Even better is to know the DOI number. People who don’t want you to use Sci-hub have forced them to change web addresses. So if the link doesn’t work, hunt around and check their twitter for the latest link @Sci_Hub

Last unreformed bastion

Prise_de_la_Bastille.jpgThe phrase ‘last unreformed bastion‘ is one of my favourites. The phrase has a negative meaning. A bastion sticks out from the castle wall. From inside the bastion you can defend better. You can see more than from the straight wall. The picture above is the Storminis g of the Bastille.


These days the phrase is used for organisations, not castles (like the Siklós Castle above). If someone says “That organisation is an unreformed bastion”, what do they mean? They mean the organisation doesn’t want to change. They resist change. They oppose change. They lock themselves in a bastion. They fight anyone who wants to change them.

The phrase can also mean the people in the organisation are lazy. They are comfortable in their bastion because they do no work. Other people do work, but not them.

So why do people say ‘the last bastion’? They mean everyone else has changed. They mean everyone else has reformed. They mean that only the last bastion is resisting.

I have a lot of experience with ‘unreformed bastions’.

  1. I learned the Latin Mass as an altar-boy in the catholic church. This was before the ‘reforms’ of Vatican II. I’m not religious now.
  2. In the school holidays I worked in a timber yard. I stacked timber as it came off the cutting machines. Then I had to sweep up the sawdust. When I had nothing to do I sat down. One day a big boss shouted at me “Never sit down. Even if you have nothing to do, stand up with a broom in your hand.” Crazy, I thought.
  3. My first job after school was in the New South Wales Water Resources Commission. I calculated costs when a worker worked for different departments. Each department would then get paid their share. I worked out, with algebra, a much quicker way of doing the task. I suggested it to my boss. He said ‘No, do it the way we’ve always done it.” He didn’t understand algebra.
  4. My next job was in the Sydney Water Board. I updated computer records when people sold houses. We were so bored that we used to flick rubber bands at each other. We used to play table-top football. We flicked little folded paper footballs across a desk. Your football had to get near the edge. If it fell off the edge, you lost. We used to put a file under our arm and just go for a walk. We pretended we were busy. We pretended we had to go to another department. One of my colleagues had a gambling addiction. He used to sneak out to place bets. He was very nervous before the race. He used to sweat and shake.
  5. The worst ‘unreformed bastion’ I worked in was the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). I was in the Vice-Chancellors office. This is the administration, not the academic side where the teachers are. I had to help Faculties write their Strategic Plans. There were too many people in the Vice-Chancellors office. There was not enough work to do. I only worked about two days in five! My boss worked even less. He played computer games all day.

At university I studied Indian history. My undergraduate honours thesis was about reform of the Congress Party in India – the Kamaraj Plan. At that time the New South Wales public service was being reformed by Peter Wilenski. I taught literacy in Sydney’s Long Bay Jail. It was busy because we didn’t have enough teachers. Then I moved to Canberra for a new career. The Australian public service had been reformed. It wasn’t a bastion at that time and work was busy. I’m very interested in how organisations can reform. I did a course with the Australian Institute of Management to study this.

There is a last unreformed bastion in New Zealand. What do you think it is?