Looking on the bright side: off to track the lost "m"
Colin James's NZ Herald column for 6 January 2004
The New Year resolutions have gone stale and there's a risk reality-life will set in before we're even back at work. So let's look on the bright side and imagine some good things for 2004.
Let's first wish American consumers a happy year. On them we depend.
They are running a deficit in their household accounts and piling debt on debt. So are the local, state and federal governments. So is the United States as a whole in its balance of payments current account.
But look on the bright side. Firms are investing, building up stocks, some taking on staff. Consumers might trade through without having to tighten their belts. They keep buying, we stay happy.
Much the same goes for Australia (where house sales are looking a bit wobbly -- but let's look on the bright side).
And let's wish China a happy year, too. Increasingly we depend on China and it has shonky banks, firms that have overinvested and rampant economic and social imbalances -- and is the country that has been funding United States' debt.
Look on the bright side. China's leaders are very smart and are learning capitalism very fast. So China might well trade through. If so, east Asia, which is doing well because China is, will go on doing well. And so will we.
And world trade: look on the bright side there, too. The rich countries might stop patronising, belittling and blocking the poor countries and make enough concessions to get the World Trade Organisation talks moving. The alternative, a worldwide web of bilateral and regional trade deals, would leave us in real trouble.
Right, that's got the world economy fixed. (Shhh, leave Europe and Japan out of this.) On the bright side of 2004 prices will stay up so our exporters will survive the high exchange rate, which will keep wages rising, mortgages manageable, cash registers in business, jobs flowing.
It hasn't been this good in 30 years. On the bright side.
Iraq, you said? Killings, shortages of necessities of life, occupation forces learning on a job they didn't plan for, a magnet for terrorism they went in there to stifle.
Well, on the bright side of 2004 you can conjure up an Iraq under its own regime by year-end, supported by a neighbourly Iran and with a degree of authority, which maybe will turn out not to be a mere interlude between tyrants but will in time put down roots on the basis of which democracy might bud in a generation or two. And if that is possible in Iraq, maybe it can happen in Saudi Arabia, too, instead of world threat No 1, a theocratic revolution. (OK, that still leaves Palestine.)
So on the bright side of 2004 the oil keeps flowing.
I agree that sort of news is not as welcome in our living rooms as bombs, maiming, fury and terror (or so we demonstrate by our media viewing, listening and readership numbers). Earthquakes, storms and disasters are what we like.
But this is a new year. Down at the beach kids are splashing and getting sunburnt, dads are sizzling sausages, mums are clustering. This country is the match of anywhere, the best place in the world to ... (or so you said last time you came back from the Gold Coast or Phuket or LA.)
Alright, alright, the Appeal Court. Said Maoris could have the lot. Or something like that. What's the country coming to?
On the bright side of 2004 tribes settle for less than ownership and don't rip off business. Beach-lovers stay put but agree some Maori have claims that need to, and can, be recognised meaningfully.
That is, this nation this year might just take another step down a long road to finding a meeting place between an indigenous culture and a majority culture where a fuller and richer life can be fashioned as an integral part of the international economy.
On the bright side, that is.
But all that's a bit heavy. Let's lighten up and imagine a tertiary education minister who reveres accurate English.
So on the bright side of 2004 Steve Maharey doesn't trumpet "very unique" aspects of our "kolcha" nor a "relatively unique model" (his "charter television" of reality-TV, cooking and sport) nor "young programmers" who are "literally fizzing".
Yes, that was all in one speech last October. Literally unique and fizzing is our Steve, figuratively speaking, very relatively.
Sorry, must stay on the bright side. Steve keeps up with pop culture so perhaps he was just demonstrating that newzild is a living language.
My most vivid example of such vitality was the woman who told National Radio last September 11 her staff had "unbelievable passion and belief". What conceivably can an unbelievable belief be? Possible answer: Ralph Norris's, that he could get the Qantas deal past the censors.
Stay with linguistic vitality: the routine substitution of "I" and "we" for "me" and "us". Even otherwise grammatically proper people do it, so I suppose fixing that is a lost cause.
But this is a new year. I'm looking on the bright side. So I'm resolved to track down the "m" that has absconded from "whom". It's out there somewhere and I'm going to find it.