Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Kia Ora! Problems in Paradise…

New Zealand Now

New Zealand is a beautiful place, where nature takes few breathers.  You want to take see biomes and micro-climates in close proximity or take nature photographs that never quit?  The South and North Islands are one big yawning monster of fjords, mountains, glaciers and glacial lakes and rivers, waterfalls, seashore and ocean, beaches, caves, vineyards, sheep ranches, rain forests and small roads, all crammed together within short distances.

Cathedral Cove - North Island NZ
But that is not exactly what I want to talk about, not yet.  The indigenous people of New Zealand, which is an island colonized by the English, are the Maori, a Polynesian people.  New Zealand can be considered part of Polynesia to my mind.  They make up 15% of the population.  There is a Maori language TV station.  Maori greetings are even given out by white people at gatherings.  Tattoos are big.  Every single museum has a Maori section.  It is treated as a second language in many government projects. 

Maori’s fought at the battle of Gallipoli and were heavily bloodied, and also in WW II in the southern theaters, though Maori radicals led by a female, Te Puea, organized resistance to conscription in WW I.  This is a story omitted from the current Gallipoli exhibit in Wellington’s Te Papa museum, as was the fact that Gallipoli was a monumental Churchill / British failure that acted as a prod to New Zealand’s own independence.  On the surface at least, the identity politics side, Maori’s are treated with dignity… certainly more than indigenous people in the U.S.  Only perhaps in Hawaii do indigenous people have a real presence in the U.S. 

However, as with all questions like this, there is the real side.  Poverty among Maoris is high.  Bouncers and panhandlers seem to be mostly Maori.  Maori’s live in remote rural areas, some that are neglected by the government.  Lower life expectancy, graduation rates, higher unemployment, crime and health issues are the familiar flip side to political correctness.  Land is a particular sore point, having been taken from Maoris consistently since the beginning.  In fact it is almost as if ‘respect’ replaces actual social progress as the goal of the white ‘liberal’ New Zealand power structure.  This is a familiar pattern under the neo-liberalism of the market economy, there as it is here. 

New Zealand was the first country in the world to guarantee the vote to women, which measures its progressiveness.  Maori men were allowed to vote in 1867 for four designated seats, which was probably also a first.  But it also had its broken 1840 “Treaty of Waitangi’ which the guerilla leader Te Wherowhero refused to sign. Guerilla war followed, led by Te Wherowhero and Maori radicals on the North Island in the 1860s, fighting from ‘pa’ headland fortresses and rain forest and mountain redoubts.  Land issues continue to this day, but were especially sharp in the 1930s. 

Maoris recently sent a message of support to Standing Rock, as indigenous people world-wide are watching that development in the U.S.  They, like their brothers and sisters in the U.S., are a real line of defense against the degradation of the imposing environment in New Zealand that I first mentioned.  But they alone ultimately can’t prevail. 
Maori Carving - Te Papa Museum, Wellington
As my traveling companion put it, New Zealand is a bit ‘too’ British still.  The minute the English arrived on the islands, they started clearing the hilly land to graze sheep and cattle, trying to make New Zealand into a replica of old England or Scotland.   This clear-cutting was for meat, wool and later milk and cheese production, which they still brag about.  This in spite of its ecological footprint, as grazing land takes up much more room than merely growing vegetables, wheat or fruit.  In the process they destroyed the native old-growth Kaui trees in the millions, deforested large swaths of rain forest (called ‘bush’ in NZ), denuded hillsides, eliminated bird habitats, imported the possum which ate birds eggs by the millions.  At present, chunks of New Zealand forest are monocultures of Douglas firs or balsams or other trees, planted for loggers after clear-cutting the hillsides for wood exports to China and suchlike.  Each tree identical, spaced, the same height, the same variety.  Basically turning some NZ hillsides into tree farms. 

This the Maori cannot stop, much as they might wish too.  Nor do the people running New Zealand want that. 

New Zealand is influenced by their ‘big brother’ across the Tasman Sea, Australia, and political developments in England and the U.S. – all of which have had conservative governments recently, slaves to the market system.  Their conservative prime minister just surprised the whole country by resigning on December 5th, so people are wondering what hidden issue or scandal prompted this.  The Labour Party in NZ is as hobbled as the social-democrats and Labor Parties across the globe by their own accommodations with capitalism, but they still remain the largest opposition.

New Zealand is also home to “Sir” Peter Jackson and the crew at Weta Studies in Wellywood, on the Miramar peninsula west of Wellington. He is the director of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” The former is possibly the premier formative myth of the 20th Century for English-speaking people.   Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s focus on Greek, Roman or Biblical myth can’t compare, just as academics want to ignore more modern myths being created  by recent books or film.  James Cameron has also moved to Wellington to work on 'Avatar' 2-5.  (!)  'Avatar' itself was a film about the destruction of nature by capitalist mining.  New Zealand is littered with sites from the ‘Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, close to Wellington and north to Hobbiton, and south to the South Island and Milford Sound.  The place really is middle earth, with a little CGI, spliced images and miniatures, yet still based on shooting the film in actual regional parks using actual steel pikes and silicon masks.

In “Lord of the Rings” the tree Ents rage against Saruman’s minions for destroying the forests to wage war.  The Ents might have to break out of fiction to deal with the deforestation that has taken place and is still taking place right in the middle of the real ‘middle-earth’ if the humans cannot do it themselves. 

Red Frog
December 28, 2016

Sunday, December 25, 2016

True or Imaging or Both?

"Red Gas,” by Edward Topol (Eduard Vladimirovich Topolberg), 1985

This is a story of the last days of the USSR.  It is 1983.  The gerontological leadership of the Soviet CP is still in power.  However, Andropov is dying, Chernenko is waiting in the wings for his 6 month tour, while Gorbachev is up and coming.  A large gas project centered on the Yamal Pennisula just east of the Ural Mountains in Siberia is to be completed, sending gas to Europe and earning the USSR billions in ‘hard’ currency.

Nenets family in a 'choom' - similar to a teepee
The towns of Urengoi and Salekhard on the Ob River are central locations – the latter a place where Trotsky was exiled during Czarist times.  The story is based on perhaps actual news reports of a serious fire in the gas compressor station at Urengoi in January 1984 which delayed the opening of the pipeline.  Due to censorship, the exact cause of the fire is not known, so Topol has constructed a perhaps fictional story of indigenous resistance and sabotage around this news event. 

It is the story of the Nenets people who live on the Yamal, also insulting called ‘Samoyeds’ by ethnographers.  They live similarly to the Inuit people of Alaska and Canada – living as reindeer herders, hunters and trappers of valuable furs and fisherman in the rivers and ocean, in spite of efforts by the Soviets to make them agricultural workers.  It is a familiar story of the destruction of the natural environment – the animals, forests and rivers; the importation of alcoholism and money; the rape of women and girls - the contradiction between a Russified industrial or agricultural economy in ‘socialist’ clothing and a hunter/gatherer society that refuses to be assimilated. 

The lead character is a female Soviet police investigator who is part of a task-force trying to solve the mutilations and deaths of 3 prominent Russian scientists & engineers in the Yamal by 3 escaping prisoners from a labor camp.  According to Nenets legend, an 18th century liberator of the Nenets, Vauli Piettomin,  killed Russians and cut off their ears and penises, and this is what happened to these scientists too.  The story ultimately centers around the rape of two 12 year old Nenets girls.  A reader will figure out far quicker than the characters in the story who did what, though it is constructed as a ‘mystery.’ 

The best parts are the description of life in the bitter Arctic cold and that of the Nenets people themselves.   There are now around 40,000 Nenets still living on the Yamal.

Topol, born in Azerbaijan and the author of ‘Red Square,’ emigrated to the US in 1978.  Prior to that, he was a Soviet journalist who went frequently above the Arctic Circle, which gives the stories their reality.  The writer is anti-Soviet and anti-Russian, but he does paint a realistic picture of the sufferings of the Nenetsi.  Of note, in 2016 the warm weather in the Yamal exposed anthrax infected bodies from old prison camp burial grounds, which then infected locals and reindeer.  The past lives on.

And I bought it in Napier, New Zealand
Red Frog
December 25, 2016    

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Blast From the Past That Is Not So Past

TC LP Commentary: 1  Published on the Twin Cities Labor Party website in the late 1990s during Clinton time, re-published here with slight modifications.

In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, who suggested that the rich eat poor children so as to reduce the population in sad old industrial England, I make this suggestion -- perhaps with the tongue not quite so far in the cheek.

A Less Modest Proposal:

If you remember about a year ago, the lodge owners of the Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota side of the border were upset that fishing restrictions in Canada had decreed fisherman catching Canadian fish had to stay in Canada one night.  To protest this, and perhaps to circumvent this rule, a small group of inhabitants of the northern triangle poking into Canada decided they wanted to leave the United States and join Canada.

The Secret Country Just North - yeah, its up there...
The press swarmed around to cover this tiny can of worms, so to speak.  Reporters interviewed each disgruntled lodge owner and threw barbed comments at the Canadians for their protectionist fish.  Let us eat fish, as it were, no matter their nationality ... I suggest the Twin Cities Labor Party take a similar tack, though not with quite so short a line or tiny a boat. 

Minnesota -- from the north-flowing Red River to the St. Croix, from the Mississippi to the Minnesota River, from Lake Superior to the cold Boundary Waters, from the invisible line across the southern farms of the state to the invisible line along much of the northern part of the state -- should secede from the United States and join Canada. 

My father was a Canadian and my parents were married there.  Like others in Minnesota, the country up there is no stranger to us here.  We spend their money, pretending it is US money, and sneakily getting the same value for it.  We visit their folk festivals and lakes and shiver from their crumby weather.  Their lumber flows across our borders and builds our homes.  They even sound like us -- most can’t tell the difference between a Winnipeg accent and a Minneapolis one.  Let’s face it, Minnesota is just proto-Canada, lower Canada.

Let’s make it official.  Indeed, they have a better Social Security system than we do -- it is not yet in danger of being privatized.  Their health care system, poorly aped by Minnesota Care, is the best in North America and perhaps all of America.  Their public sector is not quite so starved for funds as ours.  Their public TV and radio has been around far longer than ours and is of higher quality.  Their labor movement is not quite so passive and demoralized.  We in the TC Labor Party want single-payer health insurance and this is the way to get it!  We would be blessed with a smaller military budget, with a life and car insurance system supported by the government and with a ready-made Labor Party, (yes, with all it’s problems) the New Democratic Party (NDP). 

The slaves in the 1860s escaped from the United States to go to Canada, as it was the real terminus of the Underground Railroad.  The draft opponents who moved to Canada in the 60s-70s made it a more civil society.  We should look in the same direction as they did.  Although the progressive impulses of the Civil War and Depression have been long quiet until the ‘60s and early ‘70s, the new wage slaves should escape and go north to the “drinking gourd” as it were, and join the Canadian federation as a new province, the Province of Minnesota.  Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire should be next, then Washington and Oregon and even California, and perhaps North Dakota and Michigan.  We could lead a movement to have most of America secede from the new Confederacy centered in Washington D.C., Arlington & McClean, Virginia; and Texas and the former slave states.  Among other things, send the undemocratic electoral college, the Supreme Court and the Senate packing. 

Our State should vote with its feet -- succession is really a good way to end the tight embrace of corporatism.  Let’s let the U.S. government know we’ve about had it.

December 20, 2016
Red Frog