10 | Back to Black
The blindness of Peters and Trump to Russia’s crimes is a riddle wrapped in a mystery.
It was in an email from a friend who happens to be a member of the White House press corps that I first heard that New Zealand did not have the right sort of Russian spies to expel. “Had a chuckle when I read this,” my friend wrote, attaching a story quoting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as saying that although other countries were expelling undeclared Russian intelligence officers, New Zealand had checked and it did not have any to throw out.
My friend’s mirth was shared by the rest of the world, it seems. I imagine expatriate Americans are quite used to being embarrassed by their country – goodness knows it gives them so many reasons that it must feel like a daily emetic.
However, it is unusual as a New Zealander to hope that not too many people will pick up on the news from home. It feels especially so here in the US, where President Donald Trump’s strange reluctance to criticise Russia, unless he is so backed into a corner that he simply has to do it, seems very like New Zealand First leader Winston Peters’ position.
Why it is so difficult for Trump or Peters to acknowledge that Russia is undemocratic, has a history of brazen abuse of human rights and is a threat to other countries – not to mention that it is mixed up with money laundering – is a modern mystery. But it is also an affront. Just as the wellbehaved kids in the classroom resent their teacher turning a blind eye to bad behaviour, so, too, do law-abiding citizens resent their leaders not acting unequivocally on international aggression in its many forms. Someone needs to slip some John le Carré in among next week’s Cabinet papers.
It is a rare event that unites everyone on Earth but I shall take the liberty of presuming that each of us, even the shamed Australian cricketers, were pleased not to have been wiped out by falling debris from the doomed Chinese space station Tiangong-1. Since Tiangong-1 was out of control, it was sheer good luck that its remains hit water rather than land.
Reports of its demise in the remote Southern Ocean introduced me to the “oceanic pole of inaccessibility”. It is a wonderful name for a place considered the most inaccessible on Earth. It is the spot to which space material that is past its use-by date, but can still be directed, is sent to a sort of underwater rubbish dump.
By sheer good fortune, Tiangong-1’s remains reportedly ended up near there. But it is not a “watery grave”, as some would have it. Directing space junk into the ocean is simply dropping trash that is probably full of dangerous chemicals out of sight.
The scuttling of ships is in the same category, even if they are much less toxic. Now you see them, now you don’t, so apparently that is okay.
I sometimes ask myself why I bother being one of those oddballs who pick plastic bottle tops out of gutters so they are not swept down drains and eventually out to sea.
Perversely, the dumping of space junk, old ships and millions of tonnes of other waste in the oceans every year makes my tiny actions seem to me not futile but essential. If we cannot rely on governments and businesses for environmental leadership, it is up to all of us to do what we can. A starting point is not mistaking the sea for a rubbish tip.
Directing space junk into the ocean is simply dropping trash out of sight.
“I can’t eat these nutrition bars. They’re for women.”