Deforestation, New Zealand Style

botanical gardens

Ahipara, New Zealand    Family vacations are wonderful things.  I idealize them perhaps.  After four days in Auckland and Ahipara in the “far north” of the country where we are traveling, I rated not only the trip, but the family interactions in the A+ range.  In organizations there’s something called “founder’s syndrome” which speaks to many issues, some real and some false, but valuably warns of self-delusion.  Perhaps there’s a “father’s syndrome” much like that.  To my surprise not everyone was grading the marks as high as I was.  There was even a B-!

Outside of the car though, there is universal agreement about the beauty and wonders of the country.  We’re not in Lord of the Rings space, that’s the South Island.  We’re in the north island and in the far north, though it is winter here, they refer to the climate as subtropical, and it in fact has been near perfect temperatures.  I hope I didn’t just put my dirty mouth on it.

Of course, it’s crazy expensive, but that’s not atypical of island countries and continents.  A cup of coffee, even at a gas station, is 4.50 NZ which is about $6 and change in USD.  Gas is through the sky.  Food is crazy, but, as I say, it’s what seasoned travelers would expect.  As for driving on the left side of the road, what can I say, thankfully, so far so good.

We visited the Auckland Botanical Garden.  I’m a huge fan of such gardens.  I try to visit them everywhere I travel if I have an extra minute.  The one in Rio de Janiero is my favorite and Kew Gardens outside of London I might have thought was the best, but Auckland might just be in a different league.  It was amazing!

I can’t help but try to find out more about a such a gorgeous and exotic country and environment and of course there’s always other features not visible cruising along the highway.  We picked up some $2 NZ books at the Botanical library.  Reading one, Historic Trails of the Far North from 1981 by E.V. Sale, has been eye opening.  Though ostensibly Sale is writing about what’s along the roads going north all the way to Cape Reinga, he details the bloody missionary and colonial imperialist battles with the Maori including some coverage of the Maori’s inter-tribal wars.  There’s nothing pretty to read here.  This is the American story of exploitation of native peoples with another accent but the same through line.


Every story and plaque talk about the giant kauri forests, yet I’m not sure I’ve seen a single tree.  Some of the sheep grazing on green grass hills along the road are really an example of almost total deforestation.  Kauri was immensely valuable.  The girth of the trees was huge and their height serious.  Ships coveted kauri for their masts and builders for their endurance and ability to stand the weather.  They are protected in some state forests, but they were sacred to the Maori and just commercial to others.  The sap produced a gum and brought thousands of gumdiggers.  Fresh or moistened, it could be chewed, but its real value lay in how flammable it was as tinder or torches.

So far, the only kauri I have seen are as stumps or as tree fall.  There’s a wonderland in New Zealand, but there are also lessons from the past, still important today if anyone is willing to learn.

dunes and deforestation


When Television Made a Difference and How

Auckland   Sometimes the little things turn out to be big things or at the least added with lots of other things, become very big indeed.  That was part of the message I got from Cory Albertson’s book, A Perfect Union? Television and the Winning of Same-Sex Marriage, and our discussion on Wade’s World recently.  Albertson’s thesis is that part of what drove a 9% surge in approval of same-sex marriage and relationships prior to the pathbreaking 2015 Supreme Court decision was the increasingly common and positive depiction of such relationships in major, popular television shows, and that change helped to drive the social change in popular attitudes.

The power of television may be diminishing compared to the decades when it dominated news and entertainment venues, but Albertson is correct in arguing that it can still move the needle.  The continued power of Fox News as a rightwing megaphone for the President and his policies is of course a current example before us on a daily basis.

Importantly, as Albertson thanks television for its blessing of same sex relationships, it is important to note that there is a question mark that looms heavily over this thesis, just as it does in the title of his book.  Television played a positive role in his argument, but not without a potential long-term price because of what he termed its obedience to heteronormativity.  It didn’t just legitimize the relationships, it presented them stereotypically as duplicating heteronormative relationships with marriage, two parents with different roles, etc, etc, etc, that one expert he quoted called “compulsory heterosexuality.”  Similar to any other stereotype, doing so puts more pressure on those outside of the norm, implicitly portraying them as deviant, rather than simply diverse.

Albertson came to his thesis by watching all of the episodes of a number of popular television shows like Gray’s Anatomy, The Queer Eye, Modern Family, Glee among others in order to unpack how they handled same sex romantic relationships.   He claims to have been unscarred by the experience, but most of us would have to say he took one for the team in doing the hard time even if he jokingly claimed he was in bed eating bonbons at the time.  This “homonormativity,” as he quotes one expert is burdensome, often idealizing same sex marriages on an even higher pedestal than heterosexual marriage.  In handling same sex relationships, Albertson also found, not surprisingly as we are constantly learning from all reports of many executives’ behavior, they catered to the “male gaze,” tricking out many lesbian or bisexual women as sex objects for heterosexual men as part of the television package.

So, yes, Albertson’s finds that television contributed to the creation of a “Badiou event” meaning something that disrupts the normal “rules of the situation” sufficiently to enable social, political or other changes.  Albertson also finds there may be a steep price in the role television played that will require continued struggle not just to help change a law, but to win full recognition and acceptance of the diversity of expression of same sex and other non-heteronormative behavior and lifestyles.

It’s hard to argue that he isn’t making a valid point, whether you turn the television on or off in these situations.