Monday, August 17, 2009


I have decided to enter politics. The chief requirement appears to be an inverse relationship between a need to sound important and an ability to do anything useful. Accordingly breakfast is now dedicated to studying the morning radio where just before the last election a comparatively new MP told the nation that over some policy or other

'I think it is almost certain that we probably will.'

Hurrah! Three caveats in just ten words. I thought he'd go far. And in the event he became Prime Minister.

I can't tell you what he thought he was almost certain probably to do because I was rushing to the fridge to write it down on an old envelope before the words slipped from my memory. We have a large pile of old envelopes on the fridge. They are my lecture notes. The common theme appears to be pointless repetition:

'I recognise that there are a lot of unsung heroes that don't get recognition' (Chris Hipkins MP)
'to apply punitive punishment' (Clayton Cosgrove MP)
'there's always constant pressure' (John Key MP)

and if you need to cover yourself, you repeat words you've just made up for the purpose:
'either expressedly or impliedly' (David Cunliffe MP)

Sometimes we only get to the fridge in time to jot down an important-sounding word -
'Commoditized' perhaps in context - 'keep the optionality' or in its original sentence - 'I wouldn't use the word incompetent - there was a management-skill gap' -
without managing to note who said it or why.

But with everyone becoming interested in economics and what politicians can't do about it, the most self-important phrases, used by bank economists as well as portentous politicians - 'Uncertainty is certain to grip the market' - concern finances. And I do assure you I'm trying to learn how to use 'leverage' though unfortunately whenever I hear it my mind blanks over and I don't take in anything else in the sentence.

Which, of course, is the whole point of it. Economists who say 'leverage' wear dark suits and a blue tie, and they say 'leverage' because they know it will make me feel insignificant and ignorant and I won't hear what the suit is about to do with my money. He himself doesn't know what he means by 'leverage', and this is how he knows that he'll humiliate my understanding. Sometimes he says 'leverage' to mean that his bank owes another bank two hundred billion dollars, and sometimes he says 'leverage' when he would like to sell a lot of dried milk product (sic.) to China.

Prior to my usefully entering politics I only ever thought of saying 'leverage' when trying to lift the corner of the wardrobe up with a garden spade so my wife can peer underneath with a torch to see if a dead mouse has crept there and is stinking the room out. There is a dead mouse - it might be a rat or a fish or a possum - we haven't found it yet - and it started off over by the door but is now somewhere near my computer. It's unusually mobile among dead mice. If it turns out to be a dead bank economist I expect it will tell the radio that it was leveraging its position geographically-wise.

I can't actually lever the wardrobe up with just a spade: I need a block of wood as a fulcrum. But I'm wary of saying 'fulcrum' lest the minds of people in sharp business suits blank off at the untoward appearance of a word from a junior school physics book. Politicians and businessmen and economists and important bank officials don't like to hear basic physics. Try them on the rather worrying fact that even the conservative International Energy Agency is now saying that world oil production will start to decline within the next ten years. They prefer to dismiss physicists or geologists as fanciful fools who don't have an MBA and are thereby out of touch with reality.

I myself am a fanciful fool, fondly believing that recumbents are the silver bullet to the world's - well, everything, actually. I am just about to go for a ride up the valley; and:
Fact: it will take me 55 minutes because I am going on my recumbent.
Fact: if I were on my Würthrich racing bike, on which Walter Hänni won the Austrian championships a few years ago (forgive the name-dropping. I'm appealing to the sportive fraternity) it would take me an hour.
Fact: if I were on a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle it would take me an hour and twenty minutes. ("A perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle" is how the policeman described it when, abandoned for several days at the side of the road, I took one into Quorn police station. As a matter of fact it wasn't perfectly good, it was crap, and I later cut it up with a hacksaw and used the BB on recumbent number 17.)
Fanciful conclusion: Recumbents are faultless.

Mr Knight is a fanciful fool too, fondly imagining that council staff down in Canterbury might responsibly view their employment. This email just in:

Rode in on Wednesday with a Nor'Wester on my back in record time. The ride home was also in record time but the not the good kind of record. The bridge was shut again. The council runs a [not very good (Ed.)] cycle shuttle that carries you and your bicycle around the 300m bridge by way of a 5km detour. It is only suitable for [not very good (Ed.)] bicycles and is manned by council [not very kindly or intelligent employees (Ed.)] who earn $12.50 an hour (he told me) and take delight in deliberately damaging $20K bicycles carried in his rack (he told me). My Coppi now has a small dent in the 0.4mm top tube. I repeatedly beat the council employee with his own [not very good (Ed.)] rack and then dumped his body under the dangling pile of the closed bridge so that his life would serve at least a minor purpose. [In my view he is a not highly respected person (Ed.).] I intend to cycle in tomorrow and if the bridge is shut, I'll [expressed with some emphasis (Ed.)] well ride down the motorway again.

Truth is that speed depends on infrastructure, not on my skills as a recumbent builder, and infrastructure depends on the oil not running out. Infrastructure of course is the politician's word for tarmac, but inflation has extended its use to anything else we fancy. - Before there was infrastructure there were roadmen who lived in little huts and, on foot and equipped with a shovel, looked after a stretch of about eight miles of unsealed dirt road, filling potholes with stones and swearing at the early motorists if they went above 20 miles an hour and shot the stones out of the repaired potholes with their tyres. (Been reading. This was from page 150 'High Noon for Coaches', a much better book than its title implies. It describes the early days of colonial transport in New Zealand.) If Rangiora is no better served with infrastructure over the rivers to Christchurch, Mr Knight would be wiser riding a crap perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle which would handle council employees' malevolence with more aplomb than his hitherto pristine hand-built Italian light-weight does.

If there wasn't tarmac from here to Rocky River and back on the other side I too would be quicker on a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle which manages unsealed roads rather better than my recumbent does. A road is defined by a piece of paper held in the Tasman District Council Offices, the road having been drawn in by an early surveyor often with nothing more than optimism, and I have actually walked quite legally through someone's garden on a 'paper road' as they are called. Owing to rising sea levels, there is one paper road here that goes a mile out to sea and then turns right. Accustomed to their wild, dense and deceptively dangerous native bush New Zealanders will quite commonly expect me to use the word 'road' to mean a place where trees aren't, except if I were on the radio when they'd expect me to say it's a commoditized optionality expressedly or impliedly utilized on an invitational basis as a transportation facility.

(However when I become the Prime Minister I shall cover my tracks by adding that this is what I think it is almost certain it probably constantly always is.)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home