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The Land That Said No

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I never appreciated the metaphor of a frog placed in a saucepan of water and so gradually brought to the boil, that it expires unawares, until I flew to New Zealand. Landing at midnight, the change of atmosphere was palpable. Clearing customs a breeze; free tea and baggage trolleys, an absence of gun toting ninja's. I had come to deliver a keynote on the future of recreation, despite its lack in my current incarnation. According to the conference brochure, "recreation is at the heart of our identity, quality of life, health and wellbeing". New Zealand is an appropriate setting for such an event, themed AT THE HEART, being a land that still has one.

Wellington's sun-flattered harbour foreshores throbs with the fit: toddlers scaling a mighty artificial cliff, while their carers belayed ropes; kayaks bobbing, skateboards zooming, geriatrics jogging. The city's museums and art galleries are free to the public, open seven days a week. The multi media public library is as packed as a dance party. Adorning Cuba Street are quirky sculptures created by council workers, even the manhole covers are individually engraved. In the distance, a busker-with-sax tackles Miles Davis. The virtues of Wellington are listed as "compact, cultural and creative", but there is more to it than that. This is a city without fear. In three days I never saw a cop, not even a security guard. The doors of corporate buildings were open wide, no identity tags, no patdowns. "Why are you all so bloody friendly?" I asked the Kiwi at the cappuccino bar. "Because we've still got what Australia once had." Yep, what we had before we joined the Bush crusade. I felt like the frog fallen from the saucepan into a pond. How simple it had been to ignore the rising heat back home. To loll in the Jacuzzi of forgetfulness, until the heart stopped.

New Zealand resisted the call of the Devil's bugle, and has grown in moral stature. Australia, on the other hand, puffed up with self importance, still dances to the madman's jig as it sinks into the abyss.


On the weekend I arrived in Wellington, a navy frigate shuddered from a series of explosions and burst into a ball of orange flames. Two minutes later, like a scene from Pearl Harbour, it sank to the bottom of the sand. Was Osama bin Laden grinning in his cave, or from the grave? Not really. The ship was scuttled to provide a dive attraction. In the spirit of swords into ploughshares, the wreckage will be transformed by Neptune into an artificial reef, providing a future haven for barnacles, lobsters and scuba divers. If only all weapons of war were put to such use. Who doesn't like the new New Zealand? One person doesn't, and his identity will come as no surprise.

Can you guess? Yup, the new United States ambassador, Bill McCormick, a seafood tycoon, who achieved his posting by tossing gold at Republicans, and probably a few crates of crayfish. McCormick warned New Zealand that its relations with Washington will "not improve" until it drops its 1985 ban on all things nuclear, including US warships. Then he attacked the nation for not attacking Iraq: "It is always disappointing when there isn't participation by a freedom-loving country . . . in a very important matter". That is, murdering civilians, torturing POW's at will, often as a kind of recreation, and using chemical weapons. <>.
New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, the former headmistress of the St Trinians Girls School, politely told the ambassador to jump in the harbor. The Australian Government, meanwhile, licks the shoes of visiting Torturer General Donald Rumsfeld and offers him the outback as a bombing range.

In Wellington, the local newspaper mocked McCormick for reinforcing the "image of the US as a swaggering superpower, strutting the world in the expectation that small countries such as New Zealand will simply fall into line". What this nation was not willing to do, "much to US displeasure, is blindly embark on foreign adventures that are dubious ethically and ill-conceived strategically. New Zealand followed the US into the quagmire of Vietnam. Wisely, it has not repeated that folly in Iraq". The long standing friendship between the two countries "does not and should not mean blind allegiance. A more experienced diplomat than Mr McCormick would know that". What a change from the appeasing drivel dished up by the Australian media. But of course! New Zealand is a Murdoch free zone. Hallelulah!


Free of its press, that is, though not of his presence, as I discovered on the hotel TV, where two desperate old hams from Fox News, the Beltway Boys, were trying to shore up the White House with falsehoods:
" "Those aluminum tubes really proved Iraq was about to go nuclear". All they proved was a forgery.
" "Don't blame President for being wrong about Iraq's weapons". Why not? His team manipulated the data and turned a deaf ear to contrary views. As former President Jimmy Carter again affirmed, the war was hatched before 9/11.
" "Saddam Hussein's regime definitely fostered Al Qaeda". Not even the CIA believes that.

How odd that Rupert Murdoch is considered a fit person to hold a broadcasting license, when his lies cost so many lives.
It's also odd that the CIA has failed to list itself as a terrorist organization. <> What do their agents say to their partners at dinner? A pretty dull day, really, kidnapped a few suspects in Italy, had them tortured in Iceland. Called in a strike on a terrorist cell in Makr al-Deeb, but it was just a bunch of rag heads getting married. Oooops! We denied it of course. Did I mention the waterboarding in Bagram?


You might be fed up with hearing about this dirty war, but I'm even more fed up with writing about it. There's all sorts of buzzy stuff coming down the pipeline, like The Singularity, the "moment when runaway advances outstrip human comprehension and all our knowledge and experience becomes useless as a guidepost to the future" (Bruce Sterling), but the War to Spread Terror is fouling tomorrow and needs to be scrutinised. Futurists bury their heads in bio-tech, robot-tech, nano-tech, which is mind blowing and all that, oft funded by the military, but the carnage in Iraq needs to be resolved, not ignored. We threw the first bomb.

Now we have constructed a bigger theme park than the one we set out to demolish. Welcome to Saddam'sWorld, Global ä . Nastier than the original. More jails, more inmates, more torture, more spin. We've recruited some of the old personnel, like the secret police and the indomitable Donald Rumsfeld, now back in charge of Chemical Weapons. It's a mirror all right, but we mostly look the other way.
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Richard Neville has been a practicing futurist since 1963, when he launched the countercultural magazine, Oz, which widened the boundaries of free speech on two continents. He has written several books, including Playpower (71), the bio of a global (more...)
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