Reflections on grief and mortality

A recent death in my family – the latest in what seems like a bad season for us – has provoked some musings about this haphazard procession of events we call Life.

Is there any novel thing one can say in response to the death of a loved one (whether parent, spouse, child or friend)?


Grief, it seems, is a path we must each tread.

Tributes and memorials from the pyramids to the Taj Mahal, from the Book of Psalms to WH Auden and Leonard Cohen have canvassed the territory of grief and remembrance. Yet still, it seems, the experience has to be borne to be truly known.

The wisest words I ever heard about grief were from a poet who’d lost his wife:  “The only thing grief can bear is companionship.” Continue reading →

How to have a FAIR argument

For a number of years I worked as a political reporter at Parliament Buildings in Wellington (New Zealand).
During my time in that highly competitive pressure-cooker environment I learned a lot about truth, perception, political ‘reality’, and human nature. I hope I also learned to be careful with what I say.

While I was in the Press Gallery and for a while afterwards I filed a regular ‘Politics’ column for the NZ Federated Farmers magazine Straight Furrow. Once, writing a column about some issue to do with how ‘maverick’ Winston Peters was functioning in the then Bolger government I made the comment “This man has lied to me before”. By saying it, I was alerting readers that Peters — who I still regard as arguably the most naturally talented politician of his generation — was a complex operator, and a man of many shades. Someone to watch.

Shortly after publication, Peters stormed into our office in the Press Gallery (he may have been clutching Straight Furrow or not, I don’t recall) and angrily demanded of me: ‘When have I lied to you?

I quickly gave him three examples each of which involved me personally and looked him in the eye. After two or three seconds, his trademark smile appeared and he calmed down. He said something like, ‘Oh. OK then’, muttered to himself, and left the office. He was a man about it.

As Kim Hill, who I worked with at Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report’, would say:

‘Which is it? Do you say I’m wrong? Or just that you don’t like me saying it?’

I’ve learned that there are two basic approaches to argument (and these can apply to me under pressure, just as much as the next person): Continue reading →

Heart warming

Pearl & I performed street theatre sketches with our friends and squirted our guests with water pistols at our wedding… these guys have the same spirit. Heart-warming!

Done anything this ‘crazy’ lately? – P

Daring — if there was no risk it wouldn’t take guts

Valkyrie movie poster

I like this image for two reasons:

One – the graphic design speaks to me.
Two – it kind of makes my point: ‘Many saw evil. They dared to stop it.’

I can’t tell you how many people will cheer from the safety of the sidelines, or grumble uselessly about something they perceive as not right, or (even) criticise the warrior who has somehow found the courage to confront Goliath. Sadly, often, fear rules.

But not always.

Moral courage — being willing to stand in scorn

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.

— Robert F Kennedy, quoted by his brother Edward at Bobby’s funeral 1968

Bobby Kennedy’s depiction of moral courage being a ‘rare commodity’ echoes his brother John F Kennedy’s admonition (which he wrongly ascribed to Dante, as it turned out):

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those
who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

Taken in a pair, these expressions of sentiment (available at speak loudly to me about what motivates and galvanises heroic ‘outsiders’ and truth-tellers — and the whistle blowers or crusaders we’ve been thinking about recently.

It takes courage to be willing to bear the disapproval, the scorn, or the censure of others. Continue reading →

Is there a ‘whistle blower’ personality type?

AfterthePanic_cover_150It’s emerged that the latest book by economist Gareth Morgan After the Panic is being recalled because there’s “a mistake that must be corrected” (see notice from the publishers here PDF) … a new edition is being readied to replace the first edition (now a collectors’ edition?)
This self-styled “straight shooting” book was launched just last month with much fanfare along the lines of “Gareth Morgan roots out the crooks” (e.g. TV Close up Interview) and with an inspiring note in the acknowledgements:

So many books try to expose bad behaviour and even worse practice but stop short of presenting specific examples. Despite the mass destruction to New Zealanders’ wealth that the financial sector has wrought, the avenues of redress that ordinary folk have are so woefully inadequate that justice and accountability remain elusive. This reality is something our regulators should be ashamed of and it requires urgent redress if the individuals behind the offending companies are to be stopped from once again performing their tricks with impunity on another generation of Kiwi saving suckers.

These are laudable sentiments and aims, to be sure, so it’s a shame that something in the book appears to be ‘mistaken’. It seems likely the ‘victims’ of the ‘mistake’ have applied pressure to the publishers for this resolution, as this exercise is very expensive, and, in my experience, rarely triggered without good (legal) reasons.

That’s just a hazard of the tell-it-like-you-see-it approach, which, to my slight chagrin at times, I also tend to suffer from. Continue reading →

A day with the Rich Dad team

I had the luxury of spending time with the good-hearted folk heading up the Rich Dad franchise over the weekend. An old friend of mine Kelly Ritchie is the franchisor for Robert & Kim Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad company, and he was in New Zealand — briefly — to conduct a training for the local franchisees (Henry Lee and his team). I was a guest.

What a pleasure. I mean it.

Kelly is such an engaging and earnest teacher — very clear, concise with his language, totally evincing the values of the Rich Dad company and its “4 pillars”:
1) fun and entertaining, 2) entrepreneurial spirit, 3) forthright and contrarian (challenging conventional thinking) and 4) global, educational, transformational.

As a long time fan of Robert Kiyosaki (yes, fan — I’ve acknowledged him in two books for his profound effect on my own thinking) it was interesting for me to observe some of what Kelly has brought to the party. It was impressive. Continue reading →

Gulp. Surely they’re not talking about us …

from Nick Carr‘s ‘Roughtype’ blog (June 27, 2009) …

The sour Wikipedian

Forget altruism. Misanthropy and egotism are the fuel of online social production. That’s the conclusion suggested by a new study of the character traits of the contributors to Wikipedia. A team of Israeli research psychologists gave personality tests to 69 Wikipedians and 70 non-Wikipedians. They discovered that, as New Scientist puts it, Wikipedians are generally “grumpy,” “disagreeable,” and “closed to new ideas.”

In their report on the results of the study, the scholars paint a picture of Wikipedians as social maladapts who “feel more comfortable expressing themselves on the net than they do off-line” and who score poorly on measures of “agreeableness and openness.” Noting that the findings seem in conflict with public perceptions, the researchers suggest that “the prosocial behavior apparent in Wikipedia is primarily connected to egocentric motives … which are not associated with high levels of agreeableness.”

Read the rest here (if you dare!)

I have to say: some of the stuff that’s been thrown at me on discussion forums makes me think “high levels of disagreeableness” is a vast understatement! Funny how much of it is anonymous — posted by what I call cardboard cutouts and glove puppets.

That said, I have also been pretty scathing myself online about what I see as crooked or dodgy behaviour in the offline world. I’m sure I’ve offended some good decent people by highlighting some (in my view) poor, inconsistent or short-sighted decision-making, or someone ‘mishandling’ a conflict of interest. But I don’t ‘do’ anonymous. My name is right there. Continue reading →

Remembering the cyber world is not the real world

Keep in touch.

View from my study at Mellons Bay 10 July 2009

View from my study at Mellons Bay 10 July 2009

Today’s clear winter morning. Wow. It was refreshing to feel my eyes drawn from the computer screen to this view from my study.

Where’s the substance? – Cool ad.

A very clever bit of marketing with a serious message about ‘authenticity’ — one of my bugbears.

“Don’t focus on the scars, focus on the journey…”

Definitely speech of the day … Rev Al Sharpton Speech at Michael Jackson’s Funeral:

“…He out-sang his cynics. He out-danced his doubters. He out-performed the pessimists. Every time he got knocked down he got back up. Every time you counted him out he came back in. Michael never stopped…”

Wow. I was and am very moved by this powerful tribute to Michael Jackson and his impact … particularly breaking down racial/cultural barriers and inspiring possibilities, including the Obama presidency. – P

Getting a shoe-in

SOME PEOPLE (including some who’ve made a living peddling property to others) seem to be just learning, or didn’t appear to fully realise that a property slump is NOT a separate incident from a general economic slump. The reason property sales volumes and values fall isn’t because a hand on some big cosmic clock ticks over to ‘SLUMP’ — it’s all intimately related to the economic cycle… the world economic cycle. How does that affect commercial landlords? Well, bearing in mind I’m not an economist’s elbow, here goes:

As job losses and company closures occur (each redundancy and collapse heralded in the news), and investment finance firms collapse, funds get frozen and banks turn harsh and stoney-faced, people’s confidence fractures. As each hammer blow strikes, they hold back more and more on purchases, businesses retrench or delay expansion and hunker down. Less shopping translates into less business, which affects retailers, manufacturers, importers, and the various elements up and down the economic food chain — including commercial landlords.

Those landlords who have left it until now to sell their retail unit/warehouse/workshop you-name-it are, given the circumstances, probably willing to sell at a bit of discount. (In most cases, it’s a good bet that the desperate are driving the market.) OK, that’s a bit tough for them. But if things are spiraling down, and the bank is sending alarm signals and reaching for a fresh valuation to justify their loan ratios, well, you may be better to get out before it gets worse.

A friend of mine was in just that situation and sold his business and (until then) owner-occupied Continue reading →

A tale of two mental states (continued)

…some thoughts on the news media, and a lesson from Barack Obama

Following on from an earlier discussion about market cycles being driven by alternating waves of pessimism and optimism, I’d like to examine another angle of this ‘social mood’ aspect of the market, warn you about those who would exploit it… and pick up a lesson from Barack Obama.

The trouble with pessimistic doom and gloom is that it is highly contagious — and surrendering to despair never helps anyone.
Alarm, defeatism and paralysis are very rarely useful or productive.

On the other hand, the trouble with ignorant optimism is that it can lead you into danger by exposing you to risks which experienced investors have learned to avoid. Ignoring market realities and failing to learn the lessons of history are a recipe for a hammering.

It’s a fact that the great sharemarket crash of 1929 destroyed a lot of wealth — but much more was wiped out as investors bought back into ‘dead cat bounces’. It was the same in 1987 — I know people who were untouched by the 19-20 October crash but then got scalped as ‘bargain hunters’ buying back into the false rallies that followed.

Buying back too early into a falling market can be very dangerous.

As you probably already appreciate, one of property’s great advantages as an investment is that it moves relatively slowly. Sure, values can rise and drop — sometimes dramatically — but not overnight, nor over a weekend even a month. That very important PLUS is a by-product of property’s lack of liquidity.

But like a coin, this factor has two sides: that same advantage can be a real drawback when you want to (or have to) sell in a hurry. Fortunately, that’s not a position many of us find ourselves in. We can ride it out. The rapid turnover that property traders have relied on during the recent boom is (for now) a distant memory. The cycle rolls on.

So it’s been interesting in recent times to observe two messages promulgated by individuals seeking to be seen as leaders in the real estate investment ‘industry’:

1. ‘eeeeeeek! We’re doomed! This unprecedented global meltdown is a catastrophe of epic proportions’

2. ‘Buy now, no money down, hurry, hurry, before you miss out’

I’ve learned from personal experience to regard those making such statements with considerable distrust.

My view:

What’s needed is realistic, measured, impartial advice based on genuine experience.
Continue reading →

RIP Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

Another hero has died.

Michael Crichton had the grace to answer my correspondence, and share some advice for me as a writer in the mid 1990s. I was so encouraged. He was already famous, and I had read his books Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man in college. I’ve read almost everything he published, even the non-fiction. His memoir Travels was a spectacularly (sometimes awkwardly) honest book and encouraged me to tell the truth.

His imagination and his sense of the zeitgeist was astounding.

What a shock that he has died.

RIP Michael. -P

Michael’s talent outscaled even his own dinosaurs of ‘Jurassic Park.’ He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the earth. In the early days, Michael had just sold ‘The Andromeda Strain’ to Robert Wise at Universal and I had recently signed on as a contract TV director there. My first assignment was to show Michael Crichton around the Universal lot. We became friends and professionally ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘ER,’ and ‘Twister’ followed. Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place.

—Steven Spielberg on Michael Crichton’s death

TIME to be Optimistic or Pessimistic?

What we can learn from the ‘turmoil’ of world financial markets: Experience counts.

As the editor and publisher of two books on the effects of the property cycle (The Day the Bubble Bursts by Olly Newland and How to Survive and Prosper in a Falling Property Market) I take an interest in identifying the lessons drawn from experience — especially in these history-making, record-breaking times.

What I’ve noticed is there’s been plenty of uninformed negative ‘end of the world’ hysteria reported in the media — and equally, a slew of unrealistic over-optimistic sales-pitches (like: buy now or you could miss out!) peddled by others.

Who’s right? Does it matter?

Something else I’ve noticed is that the older, wiser heads I talk to are singing from a different song sheet to the spruikers and mis-timed property developers (whether here or on the Gold Coast). They’re saying keep your eyes open, and box carefully. Some even say wait, things could very well get worse. (From experience, when a salesman says ‘act now or you could miss out’ it’s time to be wary and re-examine the offer. Ask the Blue Chip investors.)

Not being a natural a pessimist, I’ve been heartened to read a couple of good articles in the latest TIME magazine – 13 October, with the Great Depression soup kitchen on the cover.
Continue reading →