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Friday, February 23, 2018

Guns and the Wild West of Modern America


As if teachers did not have enough to do, training for the very exacting job of keeping students actively interested, as well as keeping up with the skills they are expected to impart...

As friend Maggie Rainey Smith commented on FaceBook, "Imagine if our professional development week mid-term, included how to handle a semi automatic firearm or hand gun...then imagine the funding issue - hmmm bullets or whiteboard markers ... and then of course, the parents will want all their kids to have a gun in their lunch box to keep things in perspective."

Has anyone over there thought of the obvious answer, that to buy a gun you have to have a gun licence, issued by the police -- which means you have a clean record, no history of violence or mental illness, are old enough to drink and vote and have a driving licence and a car with a licence of its own?

But let's get away from the controversy, and look at the Second Amendment, instead.  What does it actually mean?  

It reads:  A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

There are two important words here -- important because they are the focus of the debate of who has the right to bear arms.

The first is MILITIA.  The impressment of citizens to form military groups -- small armies -- began in the 10th century in England, and was formalized after the Norman Conquest into an obligation to serve a term for some lord or other, who was supposed to arm and feed them.  They were incurably amateurish, however, something that was recognized in the English Civil War.  The Royalists, supporting the king, relied on these small, amateur armies, while the Parliamentarians developed a much more professional version, called the New Model Army, with the result that we all know.

And so the system survived after the Restoration of the King to the Crown,  with the royal household having what was in effect a small army of its own, though everyone was very careful to call the soldiers "guards."  (Hence the Royal Guards.)   Then, in colonial North America, the militia system evolved even further.  The settlers had hostile forces to contend with, but no professional soldiers, so formed their own squads of guards -- the village militia.   These amateur soldiers were remarkably successful -- in Bermuda there were interesting encounters with mutinying privateers, where the Bermudian Militiamen did very well indeed.  (In New Zealand, in the 1860s, similar village militia units were raised from the local populace to help fight the Land Wars.) 

Back in England, in the 18th century, the militia system was evolving, as well.  The politicians, wary of a military force that was controlled by the throne, passed legislation outlawing the establishment of a standing army in times of peace -- with the codicil that any man who was a Protestant had the right to bear arms.  This meant that a local militia could be easily raised in an emergency -- for instance, to contest the tyrannical action of a king.

This system was easily transferred to colonial North America.  Colonial militia, manned by villagers, served a vital role in the French and Indian Wars,  And then they were taken over by the Revolutionaries, providing a valuable supplement to the regular force that was also formed -- the Continental Army.  And we know the result of that, too.

Interestingly -- and importantly -- the militiamen were expected to provide their own weapons.  The Militia Act of 1792 reads, in part:  "... each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, ... every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock."

So there we have the explanation for the second important word in the Amendment -- PEOPLE.

To read it again:  A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Every able-bodied white male citizen, according to this, had the right to carry a "good musket or firelock" so that if he was called up to join the local militia, he would be carrying his own weapon with him.

Today, there are more than 500 militia groups in the United States, most of them rightwing.  You can watch a PBS documentary about them HERE.

Naturally, they all claim the right to bear arms.  Naturally, too, those "arms" are not "a good musket or firelock."

Did the writers of the Second Amendment have assault rifles in mind?  Obviously not.  But still it comes down to semantics.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

HMNZS Wellington and the million-dollar mouse

Rodents escaping ship, artist Ron Druett

The million dollar mouse and the New Zealand Navy

Ten rangers, three sniffer dogs, a government minister and members of the New Zealand defence force have been dispatched on a special mission to hunt for a rodent – known as the million-dollar mouse – living on remote islands in the sub-Antarctic.


The inhospitable Antipodes Islands are located 470 miles (760km) south-east of New Zealand and were until recently home to a 200,000-strong mouse population, thought to have been introduced by sealers or a shipwreck more than a century ago.
The mice – the only introduced mammalian pest on the island – ate albatross chicks alive, devastated vegetation and threatened rare insect life.
In an attempt to eradicate them two years ago, New Zealand raised NZ$1m (£526,000) and embarked on one of the largest and most ambitious extermination programmes undertaken anywhere in the world.


In June 2016, 65 tonnes of cereal-based rodent bait was dropped by two helicopters over a total area of 2,045 hectares (5,051 acres) of the islands. The airdrop was supported by a 13-strong crew on the ground, who spent 75 days exterminating an estimated 200,000 mice.
Now, the first monitoring team from New Zealand has departed on the HMNZS Wellington to spend three weeks hunting for mice in the world heritage site, to see if the project was a success.
New Zealand conservation minister Eugenie Sage, who was onboard the ship steaming south, said the expedition was exciting but nerve-wracking.

The Antipodes Islands
Pinterest
 The Antipodes Islands. Photograph: milliondollarmouse.org.nz

“As with any island eradication, success is never guaranteed. The Antipodes operation was delivered to international best practice – however, the sheer challenge of eradicating 200,000 mice from such a remote and wild part of New Zealand should never be underestimated,” Sage said.
“If any mice had survived the operation, the population would have rebounded by now to a level where they should be detectable … the international community will be watching closely.”
Stephen Horn, the project manager for the department of conservation, said getting on to the islands was the team’s first challenge, with the crew having to scale 18-metre (59 feet) cliffs to access their accommodation.
“The mice are having a massive impact on a whole range of species,” he said. “The beauty about the sub-Antarctic Island that is so far away from New Zealand is that over time it has developed its own unique range of species. There is rare, threatened, endemic species out there that we’re looking to protect.”

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Yet another violent cruise


Twenty-six family members forced off the Carnival Legend for intimidating other passengers

Passengers experienced the cruise from hell after several fights broke out on board the Melbourne-bound Carnival Legend.
The 10-day cruise to the South Pacific was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Eden, New South Wales, on 16 February for 23 members of a Melbourne family to be removed following the brawl.
Other passengers caught the violence on camera, with several videos of the incident showing up to 30 people fighting while others screamed and the ship’s security guards pinned the perpetrators to the floor.
“It was a bloodbath,” one passenger told 9NEWS. “We will not be leaving our cabins and are truly scared for our safety and what could happen next.”
Passenger Kellie Peterson told 3AW: “They were looking for trouble from the minute they got on the ship."
NSW Police confirmed in a statement that they had removed passengers from the ship and were investigating the incident: “Police are investigating an alleged fight onboard a cruise ship while it was about 220km off Jervis Bay.
“Police have been told a fight involving several men took place on board the ship after an argument about 12.45am today. Security intervened and detained the men before notifying the Marine Area Command. “About 1.30pm today, six men and three teenage boys were removed from the ship at Twofold Bay, Eden. A further 14 passengers, including women and children, also left the ship. The group were transported to Canberra where other travel arrangements were made.”
Carnival Cruise Line spokesperson said the company took a “zero tolerance” approach to violence. They said in a statement: “We are deeply concerned by the incidents that occurred on-board board Carnival Legend last night, as the safety and security of our guests and our crew is our number one priority.
“We apply a zero-tolerance approach to excessive behaviour that affects other guests.
“In line with this policy, we contacted NSW police this morning and we asked them to attend Carnival Legend in Eden today to remove a large family group from the ship that had been involved in violent and disruptive acts. The group has disembarked from the vessel and we are cooperating fully with employees.

    “We are confident that this strong action has addressed the disruption on-board Carnival Legend and enabled our remaining guests to properly enjoy the closing stages of their holiday.” 
    So she said.  I doubt she felt that optimistic.  Carnival is going to take a while to live this down, and it is not going to do the cruise sector much good at all.  Except, perhaps, for the luxury cruise lines, who might be facing an unprecedented demand from people who are willing to pay a lot more, for their personal safety.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2018

    Comedy cruise turns violent

    Add caption


    Cruise ship forced back to Sydney after toilet brawl

    AFP 19 hours ago 

    Monday, February 12, 2018

    Lectures on the luxury cruise ship PAUL GAUGUIN



    Joan Druett

    Maritime Historian & Writer
    Call it destiny. In 1984, while exploring the tropical island of Rarotonga, Joan Druett slipped into the hole left by the roots of a large uprooted tree, and at the bottom discovered the grave of a young American whaling wife, who had died at the age of 24 in January 1850. It was a life-changing experience for Joan. Her immediate interest in the subject of whaling captains’ wives at sea was encouraged by a Fulbright fellowship, which led to five months of research in New Bedford and Edgartown, Massachusetts; Mystic, Connecticut; and San Francisco, California. The result was her study of whaling captains’ wives under sail, Petticoat Whalers.
    The success of this book and a companion volume, She Was a Sister Sailor, was followed by Hen Frigates: Wives of Merchant Captains Under Sail, which was researched and written during a William Steeple Davis Residency at Orient, Long Island, New York. This last book was given a New York Public Library “Best to Remember” Award, while She Was a Sister Sailor won the John Lyman Award for “Best Book of American Maritime History.” Another study, She Captains, Joan’s groundbreaking work in the field of seafaring women, was also recognized by a L. Byrne Waterman Award. 
    While on Long Island, Joan Druett was also a consultant for an exhibition called “The Sailing Circle: 19th-Century Seafaring Women from New York,” which was co-sponsored by the Three Village Historical Society and Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, New York, and which received substantial funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This project won the Albert Corey Award, which is infrequently granted by the American Association for State and Local History for works “that best display the qualities of vigor, scholarship, and imagination.”
    The Stout Fellowship at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, that followed, led to Joan’s study of a disastrous whaling voyage that was commanded by officers from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and crewed by Pacific Islanders. The book that resulted, called In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon, inspired a strong interest in the Pacific Islanders who sailed on Euro-American ships. This led to further research in Australia, the United States, Europe, and the East Indies, funded by Creative New Zealand and the Stout Trust. Her biography of an extraordinary Polynesian star navigator, Tupaia, the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator, which resulted from this, won the general nonfiction prize in the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards, and has been translated into Chinese and French.
    Her latest publication is The Notorious Captain Hayes: The Remarkable Story of William Henry “Bully” Hayes, Pirate of the Pacific.
    Joan is married to Ron Druett, a highly regarded maritime artist.
    Join us aboard the July 18, 2018, sailing of The Gauguin when this distinguished maritime historian and author presents a fascinating series of lectures on:
    • Tupaia and Captain Cook
    • The Discovery of Tahiti by Europeans
    • Shipwrecks and Castaways
    • The Mutiny on the Bounty

    Saturday, February 10, 2018

    Barbeques and military parades


    Waitangi Day, New Zealand national day, February 6, is usually the time for protest and acrimony, but this year was unusual.  As The Guardian meditates, our young female (and pregnant) prime minister has made a big difference.

    What everyone has found rather fun is that instead of the usual formal breakfast for dignitaries to mark the occasion, Jacinda Ardern put on her rubber gloves, picked up tongs, and helped at the barbeque.  Nearly a thousand lined up to fill a paper plate.  Next year, Ardern joked, she and her ministers would stage the breakfast again, but "will cater properly for Ngapuhi appetites next time".

    Which leads me to an amusing editorial piece in today's Dominion Post, comparing two very different leaders.

    IN PRAISE OF THE HUMBLE BARBEQUE, it begins --

    Donald Trump's sleep is restless.  He dreams of column after column of cold-steel phallus rolling along Pennsylvania Avenue.  Rows of gigantic missiles to put Putin in his place, thousands of gun-metal grey tanks to set Jong-un's nerves a-jangling...

    We may not have the missiles, the marines, the military might, but there is much to be learned from a man or woman's management of the barbecue .

    Our own leader, Jacinda Ardern, demonstrated such power on Waitangi Day when she grabbed the barbeque implements to distribute the sausages and gurther undermine of the pillars of male hegemony.

    Here, in this country, we are proud of the fact, that many a successful political campaign began with a barbeque in a humble street.  And that select leaders have been treated to backyard barbeques too -- where, perhaps, policy was discussed over bangers and beer. 

    It's not a bad way to do politics.  And it doesn't cost nearly as much money.

    Thursday, February 1, 2018

    Galah on cruise ship

    Well, we have heard about the peacock that tried to fly United, and now we have an Australian galah making a luxury cruise about New Zealand....


    Pretty fellow, isn't he?  But I feel sorry for the people in the next-door cabins, as galahs have a really horrible, ear-piercing screech.

    But here is the story --

    An Australian cockatoo has enjoyed a scenic cruise around New Zealand in a luxury cabin after staging a getaway from its Brisbane home.
    The bird – a variety of cockatoo known in Australia as a galah – was discovered by cruise ship staff when they docked at Milford Sound in New Zealand’s South Island, after travelling at least 2,300 kilometres without detection.
    The staff alerted the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to the avian stowaway, which is not native to New Zealand and posed a threat to the country’s fragile native bird population.
    MPI officers then had to decide whether to detain the bird or have it put down. “The only way for the ship to enter New Zealand was to have the bird euthanised or secured and bonded to the vessel,” said Andrew Spelman, an MPI Border Clearance Services Manager.
    The cruise ship officers opted to save the galah’s life and secured it in an empty cabin on board the ship, allowing the cruise liner to continue its journey.
    “We needed photographic evidence of its containment and the name of an officer responsible for looking after the bird,” said Spelman, who said the galah was subject to strict conditions on board.
    “There was also a requirement for MPI officers to check on the bird and its containment facilities at every new port visit in New Zealand.”
    A microchip was found embedded under the skin of the solo traveller and MPI officials have located its owner in Brisbane after working on the case with their counterparts in Australia.
    The cruise ship will be returning to Australia this week, with the bird cleared to fly home in Brisbane after undergoing a vet check.
    There are 168 bird species in New Zealand and about a third are threatened with extinction, with dozens more on the endangered list. Some species have dwindled to a few hundred individuals tucked away in isolated pockets of the country.
    Galahs usually spend their days sleeping to avoid the heat and build their nests in the hollows of euculpytus trees. The parrots travel in “huge, noisy flocks”, and roost with their companions at night – including their mating partner, with whom they bond for life.

    Tuesday, January 30, 2018

    Magical cruise from Tahiti to the Tuamotus


    On July 18, the amazing little cruise ship Paul Gauguin sets sail from Papeete, Tahiti, to the Tuamotu Islands -- once known to sailing ship captains as the Dangerous Islands, and now one of the remotest destinations possible.

    And I will be on board as one of the lecturers.

    I have explored the Tuamotus before, and recommend it as one of life's adventures.  On Fakarava (now a UNESCO-classified Nature Reserve where experienced divers can descend up to 130 feet to visit a world inhabited by gray sharks, schools of colorful fish, and untouched coral) there is an amazing church, originally founded in 1850.  Inside, it is all mother-of-pearl and blue.

    And then there is Rangiroa, the largest of the Tuamotus.  Rangiroa (rung-ee-roh-ah) is one of the biggest atolls in the world, with a lagoon so vast that it could fit the entire island of Tahiti inside of it. While visitors coming directly from Bora Bora or Tahiti will probably find Rangi (as it’s known to its friends) to be a low-key, middle-of-nowhere sort of a place, this is the big city for folks coming from anywhere else in the archipelago. With paved roads, a few stores, a couple of resorts, plentiful internet and gourmet restaurants, there’s really everything here you need – and in the Tuamotus, that’s a really big deal!

    Other islands visited include one of my favorites, Huahine, which is an undiscovered tropical jewel. Here, you can buy the best vanilla in the world, and explore ancient marae.

    And then there is iconic Moorea, with its amazing mountainscape.  If you want to stay in the Tahitian Islands before or after your cruise, Moorea is strongly recommended.

    The Paul Gauguin people have their own private island, Motu Mahana.  You have to swim ashore from the tender, and then swim out to the floating bar for drink to accompany your BBQ on the beach, but what the hell, if you would rather stay on board the lovely little ship, there is amazing food and service there, too.  And you have the lovely little ship almost to yourself ... except for the captain, who once served me my salad meal!

    And Bora Bora.  Who needs explaining about Bora Bora?  One of the hugely iconic islands in the Pacific.  Personally, I like the pareu dyeing trip.  And I really rather like the village, where the shops that sell black pearls are more like world-class art galleries.

    And then there is the ship itself.


    As you can see, it is small.  It is like sharing a luxury yacht with just 200-300 other guests.



    Designed specifically to glide through the shallow seas of the South Pacific, The Gauguin is the flagship of Paul Gauguin Cruises and a small-ship cruiser’s dream. She delivers travelers to intimate ports inaccessible to larger cruise ships, all the while providing an onboard experience that is nothing short of luxurious. Guests aboard our luxury cruises enjoy spacious suites and staterooms (more than 70% with private balconies), an onboard watersports marina, three dining venues, an extensive spa, and five-star service. Life onboard also reflects the beauty and rich cultural heritage of the islands she calls upon, with a warm, friendly feel, informal setting, and even a beloved troupe of Gauguines and Gauguins—local Tahitians who serve as cruise staff, entertainers, and storytellers.
    The food is amazing.  The staff are even better.  Highly recommended.
    And the flights to and from Los Angeles are included, along with transfers to the port.

    Saturday, January 27, 2018

    Toilet for Trump


    From The Independent

    I found this story hilarious.

    Trump and Trump wife Melania wanted a painting for their bedroom.

    So they asked the Guggenheim for a Van Gogh.

    And the response was classic.

    The White House apparently contacted the Guggenheim Museum in New York and asked for the loan of Van Gogh’s 1888 Landscape With Snow. The museum wrote back to say it could not loan the item but instead offered an 18 karat gold sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan of a functioning toilet.
    The piece, America, designed as “a cipher for the excesses of affluence” and the creation of which was inspired by Mr Trump's decision to run for the White House, had been on display at the museum where countless thousands of museum visitors made use of it.

    “We are sorry not to be able to accommodate your original request, but remain hopeful that this special offer may be of interest,” curator Nancy Spector wrote in an email to the White House, according to the Washington Post.
    The museum’s online notes accompanying the sculpture, say that “like all of Cattelan’s most complex works, this sculpture is laden with possible meanings”. They also say the sculpture was inspired by Mr Trump's decision to run for the White House. They say that more than 100,000 people made use of the toilet when it was on display.
    “The equation between excrement and art has long been mined by neo-Marxist thinkers who question the relationship between labour and value,” add the notes.

    Creating beauty out of evil


    A beautiful story by Jennifer Homans in the New York Review of Books


    On March 14, 1934, in New York City, George Balanchine began working on a new dance set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 48. He had arrived in the United States from his native Russia via Europe some five months earlier, and had just taught a morning dance class at the School of American Ballet on the fourth floor of the Tuxedo Building at 59th Street and Madison Avenue. He and Lincoln Kirstein had founded the school that January, and they had a small following of students. Everything was new: Balanchine barely spoke English, barely knew Kirstein, and barely knew his American dancers. Serenade would be his first American ballet. As the class ended, one dancer later recalled, Balanchine climbed onto the “watching bench”—a stool that allowed him a vantage point over the dancers—and stretched his arms invitingly toward them with open palms. He quietly dismissed the men and asked the women to take a break and return in fifteen minutes ready to work.
    When they were all gathered, Balanchine nodded to the pianist, his fellow Russian √©migr√© Ariadna Mikeshna, and turned to the sweaty young women in leotards, tights, and practice skirts leaning nervously on the barres. They were teenagers at the peak of health; he was thirty, fighting tuberculosis, and had recently lost the use of one lung, the consequence of living through the brutalities of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian civil wars during his youth. He graciously approached each dancer, took her by the arm, and escorted her to a spot on the floor. There happened to be seventeen women in class that day, so he made a pattern in the large studio for seventeen: two perfect diamonds of eight, with a single dancer at the point joining the two formations. From the front, every dancer could be seen—like an orange grove in California, he later liked to say.
    As they stood in their places, he started to talk. In pidgin English, he told them something of his Russian past. He was a ten-year-old student at the Imperial Theater School when World War I began, and only thirteen when the revolution erupted in 1917. He left for Europe in 1924. A decade later in New York, the memories still haunted him: gunfire in the streets, scavenging for food, killing and eating cats, and freezing in subzero temperatures, not to mention the dead bodies piled in the streets as the war and revolution took their toll. He told his students about the small dance company he had started in the midst of it all, and about leaving for Berlin and Paris and working with Sergei Diaghilev. He talked anxiously about Germany and Hitler, much on everybody’s mind in 1934, and about the "Heil Hitler" salute.
    Who knows what went through the minds of the young dancers?  Balanchine showed them how to stand facing forward, and raise their arms straight up, in the pompous gesture that Hitler would have recognized and been delighted to watch.
    But then he showed them how to create beauty out of evil, by turning their arms and heads gently to the side, gazing up at their hands. 
    And so the classic ballet evolved.  Balanchine changed it often over the years, but still it opens with the dancers standing with their right arms raised. Then, slowly and gently, the pose relaxes, as the hand drops, moves toward the brow, and then down to fold across the chest, and down again, as the women move through ballet's classic positions, and on into the dance.