Tuesday, 15 March 2016


New Zealanders are currently voting in a referendum on the national flag. A lot of us are not happy about it. Last year some of us voted (I didn’t) to pick one of five replacement flags, and now we’re voting on whether we want to go with the replacement flag or stick with the old one. After much thought, I have decided not to vote. I hate them both. I think there is one clear best choice, with more apt symbolism and a greater weight of tradition behind it than either, but it was never on the ballot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about at the end of this post.

The story of the flag begins with St Andrew, one of the Twelve Apostles, who tradition has it was crucified on an X-shaped cross at his own request because he didn’t want to upstage Jesus. A similar story is told of St Peter, who to this day enjoys heart-warming loyalty in the Goth crowd – he was crucified upside down. Given what we know of the mechanics of crucifixion, both stories were probably made up in the Middle Ages to sell hagiographic icons. But anyway, that’s the tradition.

Fast forward to 9th-century Scotland, when the Picts and Scots were trying out the idea of merging their kingdoms for mutual defence against nasties like the Vikings and the English. The Pictish King Óengus II prayed to St Andrew for victory on the battlefield. Why St Andrew in particular instead of any other saint I’m not sure. A cloud in the shape of a diagonal cross appeared in the sky and Óengus’s forces were duly victorious. From then on the Cross of St Andrew became the national symbol of Scotland. It looks like this:

The “blazon” or heraldic description for this is Azure a saltire argent – that is to say “Blue, with a white diagonal cross.” Heraldry is a much-overlooked chapter in the history of Western art and graphic design. If you’re unfamiliar with it, think of the House sigils on Game of Thrones and you’ve got the general idea. I remember finding a comprehensive book on heraldry in the library at my high school and being captivated by all the archaic words and images. Here was a system, centuries old, for capturing complex images in a verbal formula which could be repeated exactly and used to reproduce them.

England also has a cross emblem belonging to a saint from the opposite end of the Roman Empire. St George is of course best known for saving a maiden from a dragon, a story likely derived from the Greek legend of Perseus and Andromeda. The detail of the dragon’s demand for sacrifices in return for access to the town’s only well was almost certainly added to the story during the Crusades to stand for the Saracen tax on Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The red cross on white was the prime symbol of the Crusades, and it’s not surprising it became associated with St George, though exactly when and how or what either one has to do with England isn’t clear. The Cross of St George’s blazon is Argent a cross gules.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

My submission on the TPPA

New Zealanders have one day left, as I write, to enter submissions on the TPPA to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This is mine. As you’ll see, I have been very, very polite about some of the crazy ideas the TPPA contains. And I certainly haven’t covered everything. Go on, make a submission. Speak now or forever hold your peace.

I submit that the Government of New Zealand should reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, hereinafter referred to as the TPPA.

I believe in international cooperation. I believe that all people have the same fundamental rights. I firmly oppose any suggestion that the rights or freedoms a person enjoys, including economic freedoms, should depend on that person’s nationality. I acknowledge that trade and international agreements have been major contributors to the historic decline of interstate war since 1945. The TPPA’s own Preamble affirms several laudable goals of just governance which I gladly endorse, as when the Parties resolve to

strengthen the bonds of friendship and cooperation between them and their peoples;
recognise their inherent right to regulate and resolve to preserve the flexibility of the Parties to set legislative and regulatory priorities, safeguard public welfare, and protect legitimate public welfare objectives, such as public health, safety, the environment, the conservation of... natural resources, [and] the integrity and stability of the financial system...;
recognise further their inherent right to adopt, maintain or modify health care systems;
affirm that state-owned enterprises can play a legitimate role in the diverse economies of the Parties;
promote high levels of environmental protection, including through effective enforcement of environmental laws, and further the aims of sustainable development, including through mutually supportive trade and environmental policies and practices;
protect and enforce labour rights, improve working conditions and living standards, strengthen cooperation and the Parties’ capacity on labour issues;
promote transparency, good governance and the rule of law, and eliminate bribery and corruption in trade and investment;


recognise the importance of cultural identity and diversity among and within the Parties.

I reject the TPPA as a whole because I believe its provisions undermine these goals.