Monday, October 17, 2011

The real meaning of Rena

The wreck of the cargo ship Rena on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga has managed the difficult feat of pushing the Rugby World Cup off the front pages of New Zealand newspapers, as journalists and opposition MPs talk about an 'environmental catastrophe' in the Bay of Plenty. The breakup of Rena and the appearance of oil and dead birds on the Bay's beaches is even set to erode poll support for the National government, if the latest report from ipredict can be trusted.

The accident off Tauranga is certainly lamentable. Nobody likes the sight of oil-flecked beaches and dead birds. In context, though, the wreck hardly rates as an environmental disaster. It has closed a handful of beaches, and killed about a thousand birds. But as many as twenty-five million birds are killed by predators - stoats, ferrets, rats, cats, dogs - every year in New Zealand, and whole lakes and streams in regions like the Waikato have been rendered off-limits by pollution from dairy farms. I'd rather try to swim off Tauranga than at Ngaroto, the historic lake southwest of Hamilton which has for years now been infested by noxious weeds fed by the poisons that flow and seep from surrounding farms.

National's handling of the Rena wreck certainly seems to have lacked competence and compassion - Steve Joyce, the overburdened Minister charged with responding to the wreck, didn't even turn up in Tauranga until four days after the event - but that is hardly surprising. National has failed to offer any practical response to the impact of the global economic crisis on this country, and its reactions to the Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River Mine explosion have not been particularly empathetic.

Why, then, has there been such an outcry over the wreck off Tauranga? Why is this and not some other issue eroding support for the government? To answer these questions we have to consider the peculiar way many New Zealanders see their country, and the peculiar but not quite unprecedented relationship they have developed with John Key over the past three years.

In one of the many caustic asides in his relentlessly amusing autobiography The Gatekeeper, Terry Eagleton mocked the obsession that middle class Westerners have with their health. Eagleton pointed out that the advocates of 'detoxification' and special diets and other fads always present sickness as some alien presence inside the body. 'Health' is, for neurotic Westerners, all about guarding the body against alien intrusion. The notions that sickness might be the flipside of health, and that certain illnesses might be inevitable, are anathema to many contemporary Westerners.

It seems to me that New Zealanders - Pakeha New Zealanders, in particular - have long had a tendency to think about their island nation as something apart from, and in many respects better than, the rest of the world. This tendency has been encouraged by the relative isolation of New Zealand, and by the way it avoided the foreign occupations and revolutions which were visited on so many other countries at one or another time in the twentieth century. New Zealand is a healthy body, we think, and if it becomes sick, the sickness will have come from outside.

During times of crisis the need of Kiwis to think themselves apart from and safe from the rest of the world becomes particularly intense. During the Great Depression of the 1930s New Zealanders developed a deep affection for Michael Joseph Savage, the outwardly amiable leader of the country's first Labour government. Savage's government is remembered nowadays for its progressive reforms, but these measures were largely the work of left-wing Cabinet Ministers like John A Lee rather than the Prime Minister. Savage's popularity came from the kindly, almost avuncular image he projected to voters, and from his ability to assure them that New Zealand would be spared the wholesale destitution and the civil wars which the Depression was inspiring elsewhere.

Over the past three years the determinedly affable John Key has managed to be, like Savage, a reassuring figure in a time of crisis. Again and again he has told Kiwis that their country is different from and apart from the rest of the world, and won't suffer the economic meltdowns and social turmoil seen in places like Iceland, Greece and Spain. The idea that economic and political crises might arise in New Zealand because of contradictions already present inside our country - the contradiction between capital and labour, and between the dictates of the market and the needs of communities - seems as alien to Key as it still is to most Kiwis. The wreck of Rena has cast doubt on Key's reassurances of safety. On a practical level, the wreck has shown that twenty-first century New Zealand, with its globalised, deindustrialised and deregulated economy, struggles to deal even with a minor environmental emergency. On a symbolic level, the wreck of the Rena represents the invasion of the healthy body of New Zealand by a dangerous alien. With its dodgy captain, Liberian flag of convenience, low wage Third World crew, and leaking oil, the Rena is the emissary of a chaotic and deeply undesirable outside world.

Is it a surprise that the crew of Rena, who were blameless for the mistakes of their captain, were subjected to so much public vitriol and so many threats of violence that they quickly had to be spirited out of New Zealand? The reception given to these men shows us the paranoia and xenophobia which go hand in hand with New Zealanders' sense of themselves as apart from and safe from the rest of the world.

The response to the wreck on Astrolabe Reef also shows the fragility of the government's popularity. If the public begins to suspect that John Key is incapable of keeping New Zealand safe from alien forces, or if it begins to suspect that New Zealand has its own, homegrown crises brewing, then it will turn on National.

[Posted by Maps]

19 Comments:

Blogger Ross Wolfe said...

I suspect that we have many disagreements over Marxist theory, but this blog seems interesting nonetheless. I am adding it to my blogroll.

4:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah. Let the oil pour out.

What are you an idiot?

Obviously.

10:46 am  
Anonymous Jason Goroncy said...

Thanks for a(nother) thought-provoking analysis. Nice post.

5:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So who should I vote for, smart arses?

A bunch of extremist-wankers like Liarbore????

5:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give Mana your party vote and vote Labour in your electorate!

6:22 pm  
Anonymous trancule said...

Why vote for the party which sent Kiwi troops to Afghanistan and introduced the anti-Maori Seabed and Foreshore legislation, when there's the possibility of a viable alternative in Mana?

6:28 pm  
Anonymous Rick Rowling said...

Having a dump each morning unites more of us than rugby. Lets have a bog roll on our flag instead.

10:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

an economic system based on unreal electronic money whizzing around the world Derivitives betting on loss as well as profits and artificial ‘growth’ based on encouraging cheap (in the short term) universal DEBT, ‘quantative easing’ IE printing more and more money that has less and less value.

The whole present economic system is based on fantasy. Never mind Lewis Carrol. I doubt if De Quincy could have dreamed it up after a bad week on an opium binge.

1:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Anonymous!

9:13 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Cheers Ross and Jason. Anon: I've giving two ticks to Mana, despite the dodgy candidate they selected for Tamaki Makaurau!

1:30 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott - good stuff. I just sold a book of a sea disaster (huge oil spill disaster (a real one this was) in 1978 off the coast of France.

Here is a link

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amoco_Cadiz_oil_spill

2:31 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Spiel about it....

Amoco Cadiz contained 1,604,500 barrels (219,797 tons) of light crude oil from Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia and Kharg Island, Iran.[4] Severe weather resulted in the complete breakup of the ship before any oil could be pumped out of the wreck, resulting in its entire cargo of crude oil (belonging to Shell) and 4,000 tons of fuel oil being spilled into the sea.[5]
A 12 mi (19 km) long slick and heavy pools of oil spread onto 45 mi (72 km) of the French shoreline by northwesterly winds. Prevailing westerly winds during the following month spread the oil approximately 100 mi (160 km) east along the coast. One week after the accident, oil had reached Côtes d'Armor.
Oil penetrated the sand on several beaches to a depth of 20 inches (500 mm). Sub-surface oil separated into two or three layers due to the extensive sand transfer that occurred on the beaches during rough weather. Piers and slips in the small harbors from Porspoder to Brehat Island were covered with oil. Other affected areas included the pink granite rock beaches of Trégastel and Perros-Guirec, as well as the tourist beaches at Plougasnou. The total extent of oiling one month after the spill included approximately 200 miles (320 km) of coastline. Beaches of 76 different Breton communities were oiled.
Oil persisted for only a few weeks along the exposed rocky shores that experienced moderate to high wave action. In the areas sheltered from wave action, however, the oil persisted in the form of an asphalt crust for several years.

Environ.Impact:

Oiled beach in Brittany.
The isolated location of the grounding and rough seas hampered cleanup efforts for the two weeks following the incident.
As mandated in the "Polmar Plan", the French Navy was responsible for all offshore operations while the Civil Safety Service was responsible for shore cleanup activities. Although the total quantity of collected oil and water reached 100,000 tons, less than 20,000 tons of oil were recovered from this liquid after treatment in refining plants.
The nature of the oil and rough seas contributed to the rapid formation of a "chocolate mousse" emulsification of oil and water. This viscous emulsification greatly complicated the cleanup efforts. French authorities decided not to use dispersants in sensitive areas or the coastal fringe where water depth was less than 50 metres. Had dispersant been applied from the air in the vicinity of the spill source, the formation of mousse might have been prevented.
At the time, Amoco Cadiz incident resulted in the largest loss of marine life ever recorded from an oil spill. Mortalities of most animals occurred over the two months following the spill. Two weeks following the accident, millions of dead molluscs, sea urchins, and other bottom dwelling organisms washed ashore.
Diving birds constituted the majority of the nearly 20,000 dead birds that were recovered. The oyster mortality from the spill was estimated at 9,000 tons. Fishermen in the area caught fish with skin ulcerations and tumors.
Some of the fish caught in the area reportedly had a strong taste of petroleum. Although echinoderm and small crustacean populations almost completely disappeared, the populations of many species recovered within a year. Cleanup activities on rocky shores, such as pressure-washing, also caused habitat impacts.
Amoco Cadiz spill was one of the most studied oil spills in history. Many studies remain in progress. This was the largest recorded spill in history and was the first spill in which estuarine tidal rivers were oiled. No follow-up mitigation existed to deal with asphalt formation and problems that resulted after the initial aggressive cleanup.

........

2:33 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It's nothing to do with the Government there is not a lot you can do about what might happen. These sea accidents wil keep on happening whovever is in "power".

And if Global warming is "real" then we are all kackered as nothgn will ever be done about it.

In some ways NZ is "protected" from (or buffered against) economic crises because of its relatively small size (we trade with Australia and we can easily increase trade with Asia we don't need the US market so much.

But even under capitalism the economic system will improve, we are just in another "down cycle".

The New Deal in the US was followed by NZ's deal. Germany had no such resilience (for various reasons)...

But it is a minor spill in relative terms and the Captain etc were treated really badly. This shows that the clean green, nothing bad happens in NZ where there are Hopbiost ad chocolate box mountains and clean rivers,a and lots of really nice friendly people is all nonsense.

NZrs, because much like the US, not much has happened here, (and many are living in "paradise" (or is that a fool's paradise?) are quite selfish.

The Philipines in contrast has suffered a lot so we should be compassionate to those who sail the savage seas. That NZrs make death threats and panic over these minor blemishes shows that NZrs are just as much bastards as anyone else in he world. We may be worse. All Blacks or no All Blacks.

We send SAS murderers to Afghanistan and other countries who have never attacked su or even threatened us. We are bunch of spoilt and weak winging bastards...
...except for me and few others!

2:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taylor and his conspiracy theories!

5:24 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

What conspiracy theory? I have none. I just want proof for me of truth.

(I don't mean absolute truth I dont think there is such a thing.)

The problem are truth criteria and how to establish and verify them.
There is no problem for me in NOT NECESSARILY BELIEVING in global warming. [I have a large book here by Ian Plimer who is scientist ..he dies that global warming is even problem at all..) But Plimer aside, and o.k., his points are disputed, the problem remains of verification.

How do we know something and how do we know we know. This is far from being an academic problem in philosophy, it is also a problem in mathematics and science. It goes as deep as or deeper than language.

6:53 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The same applies to 9/11

Briefly in establishing knowledge of a thing or event etc you can (keyword you don't have to use these) take these criteria
Let say:

"9/11 was done by 20 evil Muslim men flying aeroplanes into the World Towers. There is no other explanation (not done by any other conspiracy.)" = X

1. X is true.

2. The person (P) who is to have knowledge (of the truth of X) must believe X is true.

3. P must be justified in believing X

There are some other criteria, e.g.

2a. P must have access to very reliable and trusted "test" of X

If all the above knowledge criteria are fulfilled you could say you have knowledge of say: "Evil Arabs did the towers, so let's nuke em all to get even."

But there are problems. Try thsi model. (It is of course not the only possible model for truth or knowledge of truth.) What say a person, M, has an appointment just after 6 pm. M sees by a very reliable and very trusted (as it has always given good accurate time and never stopped working in all the time he or she has used it) clock. It is true of 1. It is 6 pm. 2. M believes it is 6 pm. 3. M is justified in believing it is 6 pm
M goes to the appointment and he is on time.

It would seem nothing is wrong. The problem is that the clock stopped 24 hours prior toM looking at the clock before rushing off to the appointment.

What is our clock in the case of 9/11 etc? It is the US Govt, the military, a lot of flawed and emotional witnesses, the FBI etc and the News Media ...all of whom we are very justified in NOT beleiving are reliable. (especily knowing how these can be distorted and how well cameras and videos in the digital age can lie.) The Clock that they are could be operating backwards in some kind of Riemannian-Alice-in-Wonderland backwards adn loopy Universe. The record of those feedig us the reality of what happened to cause 9/11, or the theory X, is dubious in the least. We are at a considerable distance (geographically and in other ways) from the evidence (evidence?) and will never see it. We have seen het US (and most other) Governments lie and amkeerros over and over again.) (the Vietnam Holocaust (let's get passionate) propaganda springs to mind with its great use of Orwell) but So we are completely justified in NOT believing them...or in doubting.

So we have no knowledge that X is true. It may be true or not but we cant know. Or say we know according to the criteria above. "intuition" might tell us X is true or not but it doesn't really help here...

There are many many areas in science and philosophy where acnt andindeedprablycan never know.

There is even in fact certain mathematical problems that have been proven to be unprovable (the mathematician cosmologist John Barrow writes about this) - they are known to be logically undecidable or so difficult to prove or copute they are virtually undecidable.

There is the problem of language in interpreting knowledge also.

But I am not saying that absolute skepticism is good. Nor that we can not know anything. But we cannot remove a subjective aspect out of all knowledge justification or verification.

Global warming is almost a religion or at least it is philosophy so to speak than scientific fact.

Evolution on the contrary I feel (my knowledge belief) I know is very true and very much a scientific fact (experiments have proved it) see the latest book or books by Richard Dawkins. He is brilliant on the subject but errs ("The lady protesteth too much") in assuming there is thus therefore no God...so I side with Chris Hedges here.)

But for me 9/11 and who killed the Bains are areas we can probably never verify.

But unless 9/11 was 4 pilots going mad coincidentally on the same day and flying into the towers and so on...there was almost certainly always a conspiracy(s) of some sort. So in reality "having a conspiracy theory" is SANER than NOT having one. We also have to acknowledge that we are dealing with probabilities, not absolutes.

7:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard what about the moon landings? Hoaxes?

By your standards yes.

Surprised you believe the sun comes up in the morning.

7:50 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Why do you think I think the moon landings are hoaxes? What are these "standards" you refer to?

You have misunderstood. This is another issue. Even if a knowledge of something can be established its "realness" is ...hmm...socially limited. It has no sue or "reality" if most people for example don't believe it. If they don't believe it they don't know it.

Now that is not "my standards" this is a a part of epistemological theory as tough in philosophy courses all over the world.

In some cases you have to take a "leap of faith." and in a sense we really believe a lot of things that we want to believe. In particular religion or politics.

There is no way for most people to verify (much) scientific knowledge but if say the knowledge is say "Iodine (in the right amounts) is necessary for human health." A person who has suffered goitre problems etc and has had iodine treatment and it got better will have closer knowledge. Also a lot of related knowledge can be "known" according to "my model"...but if a person sees the bearer of knowledge as say hostile and has been devious (has talked with "forked tongue") in the past then there is now no justified belief. Hence no knowledge as defined.

Re the sun coming up. Why should it? The empiricist philosopher Hume basically asked just that question. There is nothing that says the sun will not have exploded in the night (or by some process as yet unknown simply disappear.) This problem of probability was one spur that led Kant into writing his large philosophic books, but also as an answer to Locke.

But if you want crazy read up the theories of Bishop Berkley who is quite hard to refute!

To decide the "moon landings are a hoax" means I think I know (for me to know) they are a hoax, but the same reasoning above means I cant. I have to assume it is true that the US landed on the moon and Gagarin was the first man in space and so on. I remember when that happened and recall the pictures of the 'dark side' of the moon (taken by the Soviets) and so on.

I also recall when the Kennedys were assassinated. Wed didn't have TV but I was invited into a house when Robert Kennedy was shot. I recall that very vividly and where I was.

As to the Kennedy assassination I studied it and watched docu and looked at the Warren Commission (THEY, the US investigators, said it was a conspiracy) but I decided that Oswald did it by himself. he was crack marksman, a sniper.

But 9/11 happened after we found the US out a lot more. Long after a lot of butchery and after the Mai Lai Massacre.

David Mitchell, the NZ poet, could never forget or forgive the massacres in Vietnam (in particular the unpunished My Lai massacre) and others around the world and nor can I. That is where my knowledge breaks into the very subjective.

All knowledge is subjective.

Please pay attention anony mouse.

11:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i ama dog named vince. anyways...
last night a human called richard taylor dipped into my tuckerbox..!

taylor!

8:54 pm  

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