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The blind­ness of Peters and Trump to Rus­sia’s crimes is a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery.

New Zealand Listener - - CON­TENTS - JOANNE BLACK

Joanne Black

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.”

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