What better opportunity to do colonisation properly?

You could carry on saving for the deposit on an average Auckland house, or you could go to Mars.

Not kidding, maybe: if Silicon Valley billionaire-entrepreneur-cum-mad-scientist Elon Musk is right, within a decade or so you could be winging your way to the Red Planet, at a cost of less than NZ$300,000.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, this week, the man behind Tesla electric cars and SpaceX rocket development said he was determined to "make Mars seem possible - like something we can do in our lifetimes".

In an address that might easily have been confused with a multimedia homage to David Bowie or an elaborate metaphor for getting as far away as possible from President Trump, the mercurial Mr Musk said the human race confronted "two fundamental paths . . . One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event. The alternative is to become a space-faring civilisation, and a multi-planetary species."


Musk's vision centres on the development of a reusable spacecraft, an interplanetary super-red-eye that could hold around 100 people for a journey of a mere 80 days, which would probably appeal to Jules Verne, if not to anyone who has recently completed a long-haul flight in economy class.

Don't expect a return ticket, either. And, as Musk puts it, this is risky: it would help if you were "prepared to die".

To get the price down to such a few hundred thousand from the many billions it would cost today, Musk intends to generate revenue via SpaceX deliveries to the International Space Station, crowdfunding and "steal underpants", which may be a reference to Superman and kryptonite or an esoteric allusion to South Park or just crazy ol' Elon being crazy ol' Elon.

The universe has a way of serving up stories that talk to one another, or at least that can be tenuously knitted together by newspaper columnists. And so it was with the launch of another bold campaign by over-familiar and peculiar people, in the form of Hobson's Pledge, the anti-"Māori favouritism" lobby group led by the likes of one-nation stalwarts Don Brash and Peter Shirtcliffe, who between them have mounted more comeback tours than John Farnham.

Dr Don Brash during his speech at the Orewa Rotary Hall last year. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Dr Don Brash during his speech at the Orewa Rotary Hall last year. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Hobson's Pledge crew, still angry after all these years, are once again circling the bandwagons for a battle to "arrest a decline into irreversible separatism"; against a state that "systematically fosters politically correct ideas and attitudes on the Treaty of Waitangi, history, and the position of Māori people in society", and against the great social outrage in which "any rendition of the New Zealand national anthem requires us to mumble through the first verse in Māori before singing the widely understood English words".

The pledge is named for the Crown treaty signer, William Hobson, whose pledge to the signatory chiefs, "we are now one people", "laid the foundation of New Zealand's democracy: One citizen: one vote, regardless of race, colour, religion or gender", which may come as some surprise to, among others, New Zealand women who were still denied the vote 50 years on.

But what's so interplanetary about this latest Iwi/Kiwi redux? Look, I freely acknowledge that I may not be a Silicon Valley level tech-incubated, bleeding-edge disruptive innovator, but I know synergy when I see it.

The Hobson's Pledge crew needs to go to Mars. You know, like Uber, but for ageing, national-anthem-fixated thought leaders.


What better opportunity to start afresh, to do colonisation properly? Best of all, there is no one on Mars already - unless Matt Damon is still there, I can't remember how that documentary ended - so the Hobson settlers can build a civilisation unsullied by PC tedium, Māori electorates or people who want to sing a bloody confusing bit at the start of God Defend New Zealand.

And while some may not see an obvious affinity between the Muskite Martians and the Brashite Pledgers, consider this potent literary argument: Musk intends to name the first Mars-bound spacecraft Heart of Gold, in tribute to the "infinite improbability drive" powered vessel from The Hitchhiker's Guide.

Who better to be aboard that Dr Don Brash, a kind of real-life Slartibartfast, the five-million-year-old planet designer from Douglas Adams' science fiction series who at one point joins the Campaign for Real Time, a lobby group determined to keep events as they were before newfangled time travel came about.

Truly it is written in the stars. Brash, Shirtcliffe and the rest of the "Hobson's Pledge" team, paragons of a brave colonial future, need to hook up with Elon Musk and book their places on the Heart of Gold. May they establish a one-nation planet, a well-red utopia, a veritable paradise off Earth.

A single-issue vote

I had a bulging electronic mailbag in response to last week's single-sentence shameless-clickbait scream-into-the-abyss column outlining how a President Trump will be fine.

Some correspondents had thoughts on my anatomy; others just shouted "use paragraphs, idiot".

Many more wanted to know if I had the cojones to similarly enumerate the many flaws in the record and character of Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Clearly, Clinton is not above criticism: there are very real and legitimate questions to be asked over parts of her performance as Secretary of State - such as in the Benhghazi incident and the fiasco around using a private email server for official business. But I genuinely struggle to see how anyone watching this week's first Clinton-Trump debate could seriously - seriously - think that there is any comparison between the two.

The sight of Trump protesting his superior "temperament" towards the end of a semi-coherent bluster of evasion and fabrication was something else. I am not an American citizen, merely an outside observer with a stake in the future of the planet, but if I did have a vote, I'd be doing the same as Doug Dillman, a New Zealand based American film-maker, who puts it like this: "I'm a single issue voter. That issue: Trump should not have access to nuclear weapons. So I am voting Hillary Clinton. The rest is noise."