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Monday, January 23, 2017

Trumpism predicted in classic novel





Review in the New York Times

BY BEVERLY GAGE


The anxiety began well before the Cleveland convention, where the candidate of the “Forgotten Men,” the one who declared Americans “the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth,” seemed likely to clinch his party’s presidential nomination. Doremus Jessup, the protagonist of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” sees something dark and terrible brewing in American politics — the potential for “a real fascist dictatorship” led by the up-and-coming populist candidate Berzelius Windrip. Friends scoff at this extravagant concern. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly!” they assure him. But Jessup, a small-town Vermont newspaper editor and a “mild, rather indolent and somewhat sentimental liberal,” worries about the devastation ahead. “What can I do?” he agonizes night after night. “Oh — write another editorial viewing-with-alarm, I suppose!”

When Election Day comes to pass, Jessup learns that his editorials have not done the trick. The reality of the new situation feels unspeakably awful, “like the long-dreaded passing of a friend.” Jessup faces the presidential inauguration in a state of high distress, convinced that the nation is careering toward its doom, but that nobody — least of all his fellow liberals — can do much to stop it.

“It Can’t Happen Here” is a work of dystopian fantasy, one man’s effort in the 1930s to imagine what it might look like if fascism came to America. At the time, the obvious specter was Adolf Hitler, whose rise to power in Germany provoked fears that men like the Louisiana senator Huey Long or the radio priest Charles Coughlin might accomplish a similar feat in the United States. Today, Lewis’s novel is making a comeback as an analogy for the Age of Trump. Within a week of the 2016 election, the book was reportedly sold out on Amazon.com.

At a moment when instability seems to be the only constant in American politics, “It Can’t Happen Here” offers an alluring (if terrifying) certainty: It can happen here, and what comes next will be even ghastlier than you expect. Yet the graphic horrors of Lewis’s vision also limit the book’s usefulness as a guide to our own political moment. In 1935, Lewis was trying to prevent the unthinkable: the election of a pseudo-fascist candidate to the presidency of the United States. Today’s readers, by contrast, are playing catch-up, scrambling to think through the implications of an electoral fait accompli. If Lewis’s postelection vision is what awaits us, there will be little cause for hope, or even civic engagement, in the months ahead. The only viable options will be to get out of the country — or to join an armed underground resistance.

Lewis’s second wife, the journalist Dorothy Thompson, provided much of the inspiration for “It Can’t Happen Here.” In 1931, she interviewed Hitler, scoffing at his “startling insignificance” when encountered face-to-face. Back in the United States, Thompson interviewed Huey Long, who had vowed to challenge Franklin Roosevelt for the presidency in 1936. She noted that Long’s populist message and swaggering style reminded her of Hitler, and according to Lewis’s biographer, Richard Lingeman, Lewis took the message to heart. A recent Nobel Prize winner, known for his superhuman productivity, Lewis churned out the entire manuscript of “It Can’t Happen Here” between May and August of 1935. The novel arrived in bookstores that October.

By that point, some of the immediate threat had passed. (On Sept. 8, 1935, Long was assassinated at the Louisiana State Capitol, one of the great political traumas of the 1930s.) Lewis’s book nonetheless sold 320,000 copies, becoming his most popular work to date. Reviewers agreed that the book’s success had little to do with its literary merits; though “a vigorous anti-fascist tract,” one critic noted, it was “not much of a novel.” What propelled its popularity was a sense of urgency, the worry that the United States — like the nations of Western Europe — might contain dark forces yet to be unleashed.

A slightly different sense of urgency seems to be fueling the book’s latest surge in popularity. We have already experienced some of what Lewis describes in the first third of the book: a blustery populist candidate rising, against all odds, to the presidency of the United States. Now the great question is whether or not we are moving into Lewis’s terrifying future.

The novel’s Everyman candidate, Berzelius (Buzz) Windrip, is hardly a perfect stand-in for Trump. A creature of the Great Depression and a Democrat, Windrip sweeps into office as a quasi-socialist, promising $3,000 to $5,000 for every “real American family.” His movement style evokes the hyper-militarization of Nazi Germany rather than the anonymous jabs of the Twitter mob.

Still, there are enough points of resonance to cause palpitations in the heart of any anxious 21st-century liberal. Like Trump, Windrip sells himself as the champion of “Forgotten Men,” determined to bring dignity and prosperity back to America’s white working class. Windrip loves big, passionate rallies and rails against the “lies” of the mainstream press. His supporters embrace this message, lashing out against the “highbrow intellectuality” of editors and professors and policy elites. With Windrip’s encouragement, they also take out their frustrations on blacks and Jews.

The architect of Windrip’s campaign is a savvy newsman named Lee Sarason, the novel’s closest approximation of Steve Bannon. It is Sarason, not Windrip, who actually writes “Zero Hour,” the candidate’s popular jeremiad on national decline. Sarason believes in propaganda, not information, openly arguing that “it is not fair to ordinary folks — it just confuses them — to try to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people.”

This is where the novel comes to rest by Inauguration Day: Through a combination of deception and charisma, the feared Windrip ascends to the presidency while the nation’s liberals tremble. It is only after the inauguration, though, that “It Can’t Happen Here” takes a truly dark turn. Upon moving into the White House, Windrip immediately declares Congress an “advisory” body, stripped of all real power. When members of Congress resist, he locks them up without the slightest semblance of due process, the beginning of the end for American democracy.

The rest of the book describes one long, disorienting nightmare, a national descent into labor camps and torture chambers and martial law. The novel gains its energy from Jessup’s internal struggle, his regret at having done so little to stop it all while he still could. “The tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work,” he realizes. “It’s the fault of Doremus Jessup! Of all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded Doremus Jessups, who have let the demagogues wriggle in, without fierce enough protest.” With this heavy hand, Lewis seeks not only to satirize American liberals, but to induce them to pay attention before it’s too late.

While the book skewers Jessup’s passivity, however, it does little to suggest viable modes of engagement under the Windrip regime, short of abandoning home and family and fleeing to Canada. Every time Jessup attempts some modest act of resistance, he is met with the ruthless repression of the state. When Jessup prints a righteous editorial, Windrip’s goons arrest him and murder his son-in-law. Jessup ends up as a toilet-scrubber in a concentration camp, beaten down but determined to carry on. Six months into his sentence, he escapes and joins the underground movement percolating in Canada — where, the book implies, he should have gone in the first place.

The one bright spot for the anti-Windrip forces is that things don’t work out particularly well for anyone else. Windrip never follows through on his pledge to restore prosperity and redistribute wealth, fueling conflict with his early supporters, who mostly end up dead or in jail. Even Windrip himself gets little of what he wants. As president, he insists on absolute obedience, “louder, more convincing Yeses from everybody about him.” After two years of this treatment, his crafty aide Sarason maneuvers the president into exile, only to be deposed himself a month later in a military coup.

By the book’s closing pages, Jessup has returned to the United States as a disciplined resistance fighter, organizing armed rebellions throughout the Midwest. His transformation illustrates Lewis’s most powerful message: When it happens here, everyone should be prepared to resist. But Jessup’s story also underscores how difficult it can be to sort out what to do at moments of swift political change and social confusion. In our brave imaginations, we undoubtedly do the right thing when fascism comes to America. In reality, we might not recognize it while it’s happening.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Most borrowed books, January 2017

From the Library Journal

Best Sellers: Books Most Borrowed, January 2017

Library Journal’s Best Sellers is compiled from data on books borrowed and requested (placed on hold) at public libraries throughout the United States. It includes statistics from urban, suburban, and rural libraries. We thank the many contributing libraries as well as The Library Corporation (TLC), Polaris Library Systems, and SirsiDynix. (c) Copyright 2017 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
FICTION
RANK LAST RANKING / TIMES ON LIST
1 The Whistler. John Grisham. Doubleday. 
ISBN 9780385541190. $28.95. – / 1
2 The Wrong Side of Goodbye. Michael Connelly. 
Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316225946. $29. – / 1
3 Small Great Things. Jodi Picoult. Ballantine. 
ISBN 9780345544957. $28.99. – / 1
4 Night School. Lee Child. Delacorte. ISBN 9780804178808. $28.99. 15 / 2
5 The Underground Railroad. Colson Whitehead. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385542364. $26.95. 2 / 3
6 Commonwealth. Ann Patchett. Harper. 
ISBN 9780062491794. $27.99. 3 / 2
7 The Girl on the Train. Paula Hawkins. Riverhead. 
ISBN 9781594633669. $26.95. 1 / 20
8 Escape Clause. John Sandford. Putnam. 
ISBN 9780399168918. $29. – / 1
9 Woman of God. James Patterson & Maxine Paetro. 
Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316274029. $28. – / 1
10 Missing. James Patterson & Kathryn Fox. Grand Central. ISBN 9781455596683. $35; pap. ISBN 9781455568147. $15.99. – / 1
11 Two by Two. Nicholas Sparks. Grand Central. 
ISBN 9781455520695. $27. – / 1
12 A Man Called Ove. Fredrik Backman. Washington Square: Atria. ISBN 9781476738024. $16. 6 / 4
13 No Man’s Land. David Baldacci. Grand Central. 
ISBN 9781455586516. $29. – / 1
14 Home. Harlan Coben. Dutton. 
ISBN 9780525955108. $28. 9 / 2
15 Turbo Twenty-Three. Janet Evanovich. Bantam. 
ISBN 9780345543004. $28. – / 1

NONFICTION
RANK LAST RANKING / TIMES ON LIST
1 Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. J.D. Vance. Harper. ISBN 9780062300546. $27.99. 2 / 4
2 The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. Amy Schumer. Gallery: S. & S. ISBN 9781501139888. $28. 1 / 4
3 Born To Run. Bruce Springsteen. S. & S. 
ISBN 9781501141515. $32.50. 3 / 2
4 Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished 
World War II Japan. Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard. Holt. ISBN 9781627790628. $30. 6 / 2
5 Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal That Undid Him, and All the Justice That Money Can Buy—The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein. James Patterson 
& others. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316274050. $28. – / 1
6 Love Warrior. Glennon Doyle Melton. Flatiron: Macmillan. ISBN 9781250128546. $25.99. 5 / 3
7 Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 9780399588174. $28. – / 1
8 Alexander Hamilton. Ron Chernow. Penguin Pr. 
ISBN 9781594200090.$35; pap. Penguin. 
ISBN 9780143034759. $20. 9 / 6
9 When Breath Becomes Air. Paul Kalanithi. Random. 
ISBN 9780812988406. $25. 4 / 9
10 Between the World and Me. Ta-Nehisi Coates. 
Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 9780812993547. $24. 7 / 14
11 Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning 
on the American Right. Arlie Russell Hochschild. New Pr. ISBN 9781620972250. $27.95. – / 1
12 The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese 
Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Marie Kondo. 
Ten Speed. ISBN 9781607747307. $16.99. 10 / 20
13 Scrappy Little Nobody. Anna Kendrick. Touchstone. 
ISBN 9781501117206. $26.99. – / 1
14 The Magnolia Story. Chip & Joanna Gaines & Mark Dagostino. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 9780718079185. $26.99. – / 1
15 Settle for More. Megyn Kelly. Harper. 
ISBN 9780062494603. $29.99. – / 1

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Refugee in bid for a seat in the New Zealand Parliament


She was an Iranian refugee who found a haven in New Zealand.  She became a world class barrister.  And now she hopes to be elected to a seat in parliament.

It's a heartwarming success story.

From the New Zealand Herald

A Green Party candidate is aiming to be the first refugee to become an MP in New Zealand.

Auckland barrister Golriz Ghahraman, originally from Iran, has been confirmed as a candidate for the general election.

She says electing a refugee to Parliament would send a strong message during a global refugee crisis and at a time of rising anti-refugee and immigrant sentiment.

"It would be historic for New Zealand and I think it will mean something at this particular moment in a time when we are seeing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in a lifetime in the Middle East," Ghahraman said.

"To say that someone fleeing that part of the world could actually be so accepted, that she could take part in a democratic society, would be really meaningful.

"Especially with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Brexit, I got to the point where I thought some of us who are witnessing this actually need to put our hands up and be at the table in the higher levels of governance."

The Dominion Post gives more details.

Originally from the Shia holy city of Mashhad in north-eastern Iran, near the Afghanistan border, Golriz's family fled in 1990, when she was aged nine.  They headed for Malaysia, and from there bought tickets to Fiji, a country that did not demand a visa.  The flight included a stopover in Auckland, where the family had relatives who had won asylum in New Zealand.  Gambling that they might find the same charity, they reported that they were political refugees, and waited to see what would happen.

"It was amazing," said Ghahraman. "They were much more concerned if we had fruit products on us.  The next question was 'are you hungry and do you have somewhere to go?'"

And so they settled.  Her father was Shia and an agricultural engineer, and her mother was a Kurdish Sunni child psychologist who had never practised, because she refused to take the Islamic exams or wear Islamic dress, so religion played little part in Golriz' upbringing..  Like many migrants, the couple set up a restaurant, and concentrated on a good education for their offspring.  Golriz went to Auckland Girls' Grammar and Auckland University, where she studied history and law.  She said she never suffered from racial discrimination, and only felt vulnerable because the family was poor.

After graduating she worked for the United Nations in Rwanda and what used to be Yugoslavia.  After getting her masters degree in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University she also worked on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia.

After returning to New Zealand in 2012, she became an advocate for family caring for profoundly disabled relatives.  And now she has entered the world of politics.

"I am a political animal," she said. "I think you have to try all the different routes to try and bring about change."

Convinced to join the Greens by a former flatmate, she has worked as the party's Auckland convenor and sat on its national executive. She now wants to run in an Auckland seat, possibly Kelston, New Lynn or Te Atatu.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Trump prediction from 1987


EIR is the Executive Intelligence Review.

It's story reads like something from John Le Carre -- a web of twists and turns.  What you might glimpse is not actually what is there.

Founded in 1974 by activist and economist Lyndon LaRouche, EIR and its sister magazines have gone through a number of editors who seem to have met unfortunate fates.

EIR is one of a number of publications owned by the LaRouche movement.

Others include The New Federalist; 21st Century Science and Technology; Nouvelle Solidarité in France; Neue Solidarität, published by LaRouche's Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität in Germany; and Fidelio, a quarterly magazine published by the Schiller Institute, also in Germany.

The New Solidarity International Press Service, or NSIPS, was a news service credited as the publisher of EIR and other LaRouche publications.

The New Federalist suspended publication in 2006 as a result of money troubles; Fidelio magazine published its last number in 2006 because editor Kenneth Kronberg decided to stop working on it; in April 2007 he committed suicide. New Solidarity International Press Service was supplanted by EIR News Service because New Solidarity newspaper was shut down in 1987, after the massive 1986 Federal raid on LaRouche's headquarters in Leesburg, VA.

It is known as an extreme rightwing publishing enterprise, on the level of  Breitbart news, a huge distributor of anti-Liberal propaganda -- 

So why publish this story on a man who was relatively unknown then, but was "outed" (THIRTY YEARS AGO) as a presidential prospect worth cultivating by the Russians?

Very strange.  But certainly relevant today.





Friday, January 13, 2017

Write a bestseller and still be broke



They say that the only way an ordinary person can make a fortune, these days, is by writing a bestseller.

But, as Slate reports, that ain't necessarily so.

In 2012, a month after the publication of her memoir, Wild, Cheryl Strayed was on a book tour, soaking up the wonder of her first big success as an author, when her husband texted her to say that their rent check had bounced. “We couldn’t complain to anyone,” Strayed told Manjula Martin, editor of the new anthology Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living: “My book is on the New York Times best-seller list right now and we do not have any money in our checking account.


Few connections are more mysterious than the one between writing books and making money. Strayed most definitely did make money on Wild, which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film with Reese Witherspoon, but she didn’t get her first royalty check for it until 2013, “so it was almost a year before my life actually changed.” Yes, there was that $400,000 advance—an amount to make any aspiring memoirist’s eyes go dreamily unfocused—but Strayed and her husband had run up so much credit card debt that almost all of the money went to paying it off and supporting her family while she finished writing the book.

Book advances, which are advances against the royalties that will be earned after the book is published, aren’t forked out in one lump sum, either. The payments come parceled out in (typically) three or four checks paid on signing the contract, on delivery of the manuscript, and on publication. The writer’s literary agent then takes a percentage of that. When Strayed sold her first novel a few years earlier for the seemingly handsome sum of $100,000, the advance amounted to, as she puts it, “about $21,000 a year over the course of four years, and I paid a third of that to the IRS … it was like getting a grant every year for four years. But it wasn’t enough to live off.” 

So how do writers avoid death from starvation?

By teaching people how to write, more often than not! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Style tips for 2017 from my favorite designer

From the Dominion Post






It's nice if you look like that naturally, but this beauty designs clothes, too.

By MELISSA WILLIAMS-KING

Fashion rules are meant to be broken, says style guru Paula Ryan. "There are no rules anymore – it's not like the 1940s."


We quizzed her, along with Fairfax fashion editor Karlya Smith and Witchery women's apparel business manager Gavin Gage, about fashion's supposed rules – and found many of them no longer apply.

THE REASONABLE RULES

* Show Off Legs Or Cleavage - But Not Both


"They say 'less is more' for a reason. Accentuate your best features, not all your features," says Gage.

* Wear Tight On Top With Loose On Bottom, And Vice Versa
"As a rule of thumb this usually works, if you're trying to dress in a flattering manner," says Smith.

Ryan adds "if you have wide hips or strong thighs go for floaty pants with width. If you have a fuller bust, V-necks or a scoop necks look better than crew necks."

THE 'MAYBE' RULES

* Better To Be Overdressed Than Underdressed
Ryan agreed with this, as did Gage. "Why not always look fabulous? Fashion can empower you and dressing up will give you confidence," he says.

But Smith believes it's a personal thing. "I have no problem being over-dressed, but it would make many people feel self-conscious. Dress to make yourself feel good. That might include dressing to fit in."

* Don't Wear Pantyhose With Open-toe Shoes
Both Ryan and Smith think pantyhose are fine with peep-toes shoes, but not so attractive (and quite slippery) with strappy sandals. Smith says toeless hose can be a good option, though.

* Invest More In Shoes And Bags Less On Trendy Items
Smith advises buying "the best quality you can afford. Buy better, but buy less."

Ryan agrees with the principle of spending cautiously on one-season wonders.

But Gage says that "mixing 'high/low' fashion is far more creative and lends to individual style," who thinks it's fine to have fun with trendier, inexpensive footwear.

THE OUT-OF-DATE RULES

* Shoes Should Match The Bag
Not necessarily, says Ryan. "Black dress, black bag, orange shoes. Yay!"
 
"Opposites attract," says Gage, a fan of mixing it up.

* Sequins Are Only For Evening
"Wear them when and where it feels appropriate to you," says Smith.
Unless they are "rhinestones on mass," Ryan also gives them the thumbs up.


* Don't Wear Minis Past Age 30

"I'm against any rule that puts an age limit on clothes. The mutton/lamb line is so insulting. What's the men's equivalent?" says Smith. "If your legs are your favourite body part, you should show them however and whenever it suits you."

Ryan's mantra is to dress the body, not the age. "Just look at Jane Fonda in Grace & Frankie on Netflix. She's 78 and looks amazing when she wears above-the-knee skirts with black hose."

* Always Take Off One Item Before Leaving The House

"Wear it all and just own it," says Smith.

Ryan doesn't bother with this either. "It only applies if you overdress, over style or overdo!" she says.

THE NEW RULES

"Trends come and go, but a well-edited outfit with clean lines is forever chic," says Gage.

Ryan's mantra is "if in doubt – don't."

"Good taste and a quality mirror always provide you with the answer," she says.

Buying Paula Ryan in Wellington


Friday, January 6, 2017

Sail of the century

From the DominionPost

A 1944 Staysail Schooner boat, currently moored at Wellington's Chaffers Marina, is up for auction with a starting price and reserve of just NZ$1.      
A yacht with more than 70 years of history and an insured value of $800,000 is up for grabs on TradeMe – with a starting price and reserve of just $1.

Following her divorce in 2015, Wanaka-based woman Fiona Campbell decided it was time to sell a 1944 Staysail Schooner she had bought for her former husband and start 2017 with one less thing to worry about.

Campbell said the vessel – known as Ruah – had been moored at Chaffers Marina in Wellington for too long and she hoped someone with a passion for boats would win the auction.

Cambell and her former husband spent many years renovating the 73-year old boat.
SUPPLIED

Campbell and her former husband spent many years renovating the 73-year old boat.
"It needs somebody who loves it, knows about it and is there to keep her in tip-top shape," she said.

"It should be out there in some magic bay with a family on it having a great time."

Ruah, a long-distance cruising vessel originally designed and built for the Australian Navy in 1944 , is being sold on ...
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ.

While Campbell had gifted the boat to her "seafaring" former husband in 2012, she took ownership following the divorce.

The listing has only been up a few days and has already attracted more than 5000 views and bids in the low six-figures.

While Campbell said the schooner has a lot of sentimental value and memories attached to it, she was ready to let it go for whatever price the auction ended at, hence the $1 reserve.

The 20-metre long vessel has six private cabins in total.
SUPPLIED
The 20-metre long vessel has six private cabins in total.

"I would love to get what she's worth but trying to assess the worth of the boat is hard. I just want to find her a good home for a good price."

Campbell, who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2010, is based in Wanaka but has been holidaying on the Kapiti Coast, allowing her to meet with interested buyers keen to tour the boat.

Ruah is a long-distance cruising vessel that was designed and built for the Australian Navy in 1944 as a survey ship.

The 1944 Staysail Schooner boat has made several long-distance journeys including successfully making it across the ...
SUPPLIED
The 1944 Staysail Schooner boat has made several long-distance journeys including successfully making it across the Tasman in trying conditions.

 
Over the past 15 years, Campbell said the boat had undergone an extensive "high-quality conversion to become a supremely capable and comfortable private yacht".

She hoped someone would get as much joy from the "approachable beauty" as she had during her four years of ownership.

"We used to anchor up at some beautiful spot and kayakers would come up to us and start a conversation, hop aboard and we'd give them a tour. It was pretty magic," Campbell said.

Seller Fiona Campbell hoped the auction winner would love the boat as much as she had over the past four years.
SUPPLIED

Seller Fiona Campbell hoped the auction winner would love the boat as much as she had over the past four years.

She was looking forward to not having to worry about the boat and hoped the auction winner would love it and keep it in good condition.

"She's like a fine wine, she gets better and better with age. If she's maintained she just gets more and more awesome, historic and lovely."

The auction closes January 16.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Whales that have lost their prey

What does a predator do when the food source moves to a different locality?

Follows it, of course.  And this, it seems, is what has happened to the sperm whales of Kaikoura, New Zealand.

As the world knows, perhaps, Kaikoura has recently been the hub of a 7.8 earthquake, which involved a series of faults.  And one of the affected places was the trench off Kaikoura, where giant squid live, and young sperm whale bulls congregate to learn to socialize, and incidentally to feed off them.

GIANT UNDERWATER LANDSLIDE IN THE KAIKOURA CANYON

As well as triggering tens of thousands of landslides on land, the magnitude 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake also caused a massive underwater landslide.

It moved down the deep canyon system that lies just offshore, generating a turbulent turbidity current of mud, sand and water that was detected more than 300km away, off the coast of Hawke’s Bay.

The continental shelf around the headwall of the Kaikōura Canyon is just 30m deep, but the steep-sided 50km-long Kaikōura Canyon quickly drops to 600m. It continues to deepen until it is about 2000m deep where it joins the Hikurangi Channel.

This channel, which is also fed by the Cook Strait Canyon, is a long meandering abyssal river. It flows for several thousand kilometres, up the east coast of the North Island, eventually emptying all the sediment into a large fan in the South Pacific Basin.

This massive underwater canyon and river system is like several Grand Canyons flowing into a river like the Mississippi.





When the Kaikōura earthquake occurred, the NIWA research vessel Tangaroa was already at sea, studying the Hikurangi subduction margin off East Cape. This is where the Pacific tectonic plate dives beneath the North Island, which lies on the Australian Plate. It’s considered to be New Zealand’s largest earthquake and tsunami hazard.

Scientists on board were stunned by what they found.

“Lo and behold there was a sea of mud down there. There is still mud and clay falling out of the water column and it’ll probably go on for days or weeks or even months. We’ve got about 10 centimetres of sand and silty sediment already on the seafloor now. That is about 300 kilometres away from where it must have been sourced from.”

The sediments on the floor of the Kaikōura canyon are remarkably rich in life. Earlier research by NIWA identified it as a hotspot of benthic biomass, and “one of the most productive habitats described so far in the deep sea".

And, while the report doesn't mention it, this biomass includes giant squid and sperm whales.

What is interesting is how the event may have affected these two creatures.

Most unusually, sperm whales have been seen congregating to the north, near Nelson.

A dead one has been washed on shore ... dead of some unknown cause.




Residents in north Nelson reported seeing large whales in the bay yesterday, which were initially thought to be either humpback or right whales.

Otago University zoologist and researcher Liz Slooten said it looked very much like a sperm whale, judging by footage posted on social media.

The carcass of a sperm whale washed up on the beach this morning.

People on the beach said early this morning it appeared that several whales were offshore trying to reach it.

Did seismic research cause the disorientation of the pod, and the subsequent death of this one?

That's one theory.

The scattering of the giant squid population caused by the underwater landslide is another.

With thanks to Dr Brian Easton, who alerted me to this interesting development




Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Zealand and Israel -- the threats and repercussions

New Zealand might be a featherweight country, but...

From RNZ news

A UN Security Council resolution, calling for a ban on illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, has passed, with NZ taking a major role. Phil Smith outlines the background and the blowback.

Israeli security forces taking position near the settlement of Kadumim (background) during clashes following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel.
Israeli security forces taking position near the settlement of Kadumim (background) during clashes following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel. Photo: AFP
 
New Zealand has dared to go where even Egypt's strongman, President el-Sisi, feared to tread. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi put a forward a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, but after an incredibly inappropriate call from Donald Trump, el-Sisi withdrew it again. Exactly how Trump achieved that is anyone's guess, but America's $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt may have been threatened.

President el-Sisi said he wanted to let Trump's incoming administration have first crack at the issue. It was obviously an excuse. Trump's nomination for Ambassador to Israel is a hardliner who wants more settlement construction and who has compared Jews who advocate for a 'two-state peace' to Capos (Jews who assisted in Nazi death-camps).

Amr Abdel Latif Aboulatta, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, votes in favor of the ban on Israeli settlements.
Amr Abdel Latif Aboulatta, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, votes in favor of the ban on Israeli settlements. Photo: AFP

When el-Sisi retreated, New Zealand stepped up. Together with Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal, New Zealand called for a vote on the resolution, and for the first time since the Carter administration, the US declined to veto a rebuke over illegal Israeli settlements.

The US noted that settlement construction had accelerated since the US vetoed a similar resolution in 2001, and that the Obama administration has been warning Israel for eight years that this 'trend-line' was both making peace more difficult and isolating Israel from the international community.

 

The foundations of the settlements

Settling population in militarily-occupied territory is contrary to the Geneva Convention, to international law and previous United Nations rulings.

Settlement building is usually strategic. Settlements create 'facts-on-the-ground', making it more difficult to give back captured territory (in this case, territory captured during the 1967 Six Day War).

Hardliners believe the territory is theirs by God-given right, but its return, at least in part, would be necessary for a lasting peace based on a two-state solution. The tracts that are currently Palestinian controlled areas are an unworkable, disconnected patchwork of territories.

Settlements also increase local conflict by expropriating land and resources to construct and sustain the townships. Moderate Israeli administrations have tended to restrict or demolish settlements, while hawkish governments look the other way, or - like the current one - are gung-ho on expansions which push Palestinians into an ever-diminishing corner.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his country would not abide by a new UN resolution.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his country would not abide by a new UN resolution. Photo: AFP
 
Former US President Jimmy Carter has repeatedly stressed that peace in Israel/Palestine is only likely when the Palestinians also have a viable state, where middle class citizens have a reason to hope and work for a future. Some form of two state solution has been American policy for decades.

Seeing this may be about to change, and after significant antagonism from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama apparently believes it is time to allow a line in the sand.

 

Kiwi peace-broker

A few years ago, after the successful Bougainville peace talks, New Zealand imagined a role for itself as an international peace broker. It was a nice idea that turned out to be harder than it sounded, but it marked an increased New Zealand confidence to act independently, for good purpose.

This week's action is a further brave step from New Zealand. It has no obvious ulterior motives, but instead seems an attempt to simply do the right thing and bugger the consequences. A nation like New Zealand cannot throw its feather-weight around internationally in order to win friends.

Frequently, the opposite is achieved. A friend won with one action is alienated with the next, and nations often remember slights more strongly than support.

 

The blowback

The blowback has already begun. Israel is apoplectic and has recalled its envoys to New Zealand and Senegal, and stopped its Senegal aid programme. It called the resolution "despicable" and "an evil decree". The Israeli Ambassador to the UN said the vote was "a victory for terror, a victory for hatred and violence."

New Zealand was already in Israel's bad books. In 2014 Israel refused to accept New Zealand's ambassador because he was also to act as an envoy to the Palestinian Authority. In October 2015, Israeli officials reprimanded our Ambassador after New Zealand dared propose a Security Council resolution that dared encourage a return to peace negotiations. Palestinian supporters were equally upset, seeing the wording as supporting Israel.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council.
A meeting of the UN Security Council Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

But this time is worse. Israeli-New Zealand relations haven't been so poor since 2004, when New Zealand imprisoned 'Mossad spies' for attempting to fraudulently obtain a New Zealand passport.

After a year, Israel apologised and relationships were slowly mended.

This new rift may take longer. Much of the anger is being directed at the US, where President Obama could have chosen to veto the resolution. But Netanyahu's conservative government will not take kindly to us fronting a resolution that pointedly calls East Jerusalem "occupied Palestinian territory".
New Zealand's government will have known blowback was likely. It has decided that, if you ask to be on the Security Council you need to appear from behind the parapet and take a stand.

In an era where the world's mood seems to be trending towards resentment, aggression and extremism, a country wins few friends by calling for tolerance or asking for restraint. But that doesn't mean that working for peace and goodwill isn't the right thing to do.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Alaric Bond's Latest

Great review from Historic Naval Fiction

The Blackstrap StationFollowing the wreck of HMS Prometheus, some of the crew have managed to evade capture and a British Frigate is nearby. When their attempt to steal a vessel coincides with a cutting out attempt, action and new responsibilities follow for Tom King. Now based in Malta with a shore job he worries that  his seagoing career will be over.

Another well written narrative from Bond with sea action and some nefarious shoreside activities which as usual follows a wide cast of characters from all ranks as well as some civilians, all of whom you feel you know. The plot had plenty of unexpected twists which made it hard to put down.

Bond's historical accuracy, knowledge of sailing ships and characterisations imerse you in the period and he continues to be one of the best contemporary naval fiction authors. Highly recommended.