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"By Morgan Godfery
| Contributing writer March 13, 2020 A proper reckoning with March 15 2019 demands that we take up a generations-long struggle to destroy all the exclusions that make up our society and produce the conditions we know as racism. An essay by Morgan Godfery. This work is made possible by Spinoff Members.
I was cleaning out the garage the other day and found an old Crusaders jersey. If I remember right it’s their team kit from 2005, the white knight sewn into the chest and the old Ford logo printed in the centre. The jersey itself is still as fresh as new paint, a novelty purchase from when we were passing through Christchurch on our way to Christmas in Oamaru. I was a year 9 in school and a Super 12 jersey was the kind of item you had, just so you could say you had one. This is about the same time it was still acceptable to whisper things like how the white players in the Crusaders were responsible for their team’s championship success, playing their footy with brains, and the problem with mid-table finishers like the Blues were too many brown boys who only knew how to throw their weight around.
I’m not quite white-passing, but my upper middle-class accent, generally preppy affect, and not-quite-pasty-not-quite-brown skin makes me ethnically ambiguous enough that people are happy to share their thoughts about big Polynesian units, Asian immigrants, Muslim terrorists, and the Jews. The first time I remember running into entirely casual racism was in Christchurch, on the way back from that Christmas in Oamaru, when a retail worker caught up with me on the street apologising for short-changing me in store. I didn’t realise or particularly care, but years later I thought about his apology. “Sorry, I just Jew-ed you”.
At the time it was nothing to me. In high school and later in my flat at Victoria that was just what people said. “Jewing” someone was a verb for ripping them off, taking an advantage, or just a way to give someone a bit of stick. In my experience it was especially popular with the Christ’s College boys, which probably has something to do with the city’s private schools inheriting their culture from Britain’s public schools. “A Jewish boy at a public school almost invariably had a bad time,” wrote Orwell in 1945. Things probably aren’t that much better in 2020. The other day I read an old mate – a private schooler too – on Facebook joking about how Jews are useless at sport.
I suspect for good liberals this is probably shocking. This isn’t language that ever sneaks through our circles. But outside of our cosy hermetic world words like coconut, boonga, fob, wog, gook, curry muncher, towelhead, the hundred variations on the N word, and “Jew” as more than a noun are common currency. The stains from that vocabulary seep into every part of the culture and society, and nothing much has ever been done to wash it out. The first time I remember encountering deliberate, menacing racism is on the rugby paddock when a white coach was yelling at my mate on the wing “run you BLACK bastard”. I thought about that moment when spectators in Christchurch were caught vilifying Fijian player Sake Aca
in 2015, screaming from the stands “black cunt”.
Fandoms like to imagine their sports, multicultural rugby especially, as pure and independent realms (“a level playing field”) absent race, politics, or any disadvantage other than skill. It’s a seductive argument, I’ll concede that much, but it’s so self-evidently false it still surprises me every time someone insists on it earnestly. Sport? Not racist? In 2012 talkback callers and trolls went after then Blues coach Pat Lam and his family
for the great crime of simply being Polynesian. In 2010 former All Black Andy Haden was put through the wringer
for telling media the Crusaders only recruit a maximum three “darkies”, presumably to preserve the team’s famous brain-brawn balance.
Even in the laudatory histories New Zealand rugby was, and probably remains, a notorious nexus for down home conservatives, know-nothing administrators, and out and out racists. In 1960 the rugby union sent the All Blacks on tour to Apartheid South Africa, waving the team off without any Māori players or officials in a remarkable sop to the country’s colour bar. In 1976 the national team were sent back, this time defying international calls to cut sporting ties with the racist state. In protest at the tour more than twenty African countries led a boycott at that year’s Olympics, a moral stand that should perpetually shame New Zealand Rugby. Not racist? As if.
In an ideal world the Canterbury Crusaders would study this history, carefully considering whether their decision to retain the team name is another brick in rugby’s wall of shame. The managers might consider how “deus vult”, meaning God wills it, a battle cry from the first Crusade, and “Acre 1189”, a reference to a siege in the third Crusade, are URL shorthands and postscripts for white supremacist users constructing a historiography for their neo-fascist movement. The managers might also reflect on how real-life white supremacists
in countries like Brazil, Norway, and Australia are adopting the Knights Templar, the Christian warrior monks who made up the crusading hordes, and the literal white knight that was formerly the Canterbury team’s logo, as their saints.
CRUSADERS MASCOTS AT AMI STADIUM IN CHRISTCHURCH IN 2019. PHOTO: DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES. FEATURE IMAGE: FRIDAY PRAYERS AT AL NOOR MOSQUE ON MARCH 22, 2019. PHOTO BY SANKA VIDANAGAMA/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES
As it happens the team’s managers, after kicking the issue to a “market research” firm shortly after March 15, made the call to save the name. It’s an unconscionable decision, for obvious reasons, but the team bosses seem cognitively incapable of reasoning through the issue and its implications beyond mere “branding”. In a statement announcing the name-stay the team’s PR people wrote
“for us, the Crusaders name is a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community,” as if it’s possible to just reframe the holy war using a press release. It’s a cretinous thing to do when not even a year earlier an alleged shooter undertook a massacre at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques as part of his own “crusade”.
A28-year-old man is before the High Court facing 52 murder charges relating to the events of March 15. What we know about his life is little, save the things he was curating about himself online, which in this essay I treat with caution and scepticism. But it seems clear enough the Australian citizen was an obsessive for the Crusades, scribbling references to the religious war for the Holy Land across the weapon police accuse the man of using to carry out the massacre. Investigative reports
note in his pilgrimage to Europe the 28-year-old – who pleaded not guilty to all charges – made particular visits to Christian-Muslim battlegrounds in the former Ottoman Empire, apparently as a tribute to the crusading warmongers he was so keen to match.
To outsiders the obsession with this particular historical episode is probably bizarre, if not creepy. But in the nether world this man and his neo-fascist comrades inhabit they imagine they’re acting out the thesis and title in Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations
. In his 1993 essay the American political scientist argues that in the immediate past global conflicts were between warring ideological factions – capitalism and communism – but post-Cold War conflict will centre between clashing civilisations. The West vs the rest. Christianity vs Islam. The Crusades II.
In Huntington’s telling, and in the alleged shooter’s head, the West and the Islamic world are fated to compete. Yet that competition won’t centre over economic issues like stable oil supply lines, or even political issues like the territorial integrity of Western allies in the Middle East, instead the clash is meant to happen over Islam’s apparently regressive values and the West’s progressive tradition. It’s a striking thesis, especially for the generals and politicians who were hunting for cover for their military adventures in the Middle East and East Africa in the late 80s and early 90s. But it was always a notion that was impossible to apply, reducing the Islamic world to a series of stereotypes (it never had its enlightenment) and setting it against an equally reductive West (it did have its enlightenment).
The late Edward Said, the Palestinian scholar, cut right to the heart of Huntington’s argument in identifying it wasn’t an argument at all – rather, he was “a partisan, an advocate of one so-called civilisation over all others” who maps billions of people into “vague” and “manipulable” abstractions and then presents it as a true account of the world. “Thus to build a conceptual framework around the notion of us-versus-them is in effect to pretend that the principal consideration is epistemological and natural – our civilisation is now and accepted, theirs is different and strange – whereas in fact the framework separating us from them is belligerent, constructed, and situational.”
In other words, the thing separating the Christian us from the Islamic them, to the extent a clean separation is possible at all, is history – of colonialism, of Cold War power politics – and not immutable categories like “the West” or “the East”. That the categories exist at all are a function of history and political convenience, not a universal law stipulating conflict as the only end. Yet for the neo-fascists like the alleged shooter every thought they cherish orbits this particular rock: that the entire Islamic world is one dirty blob of terrorism, rape, and invasion, and that all its more than one billion members act with a single purpose and co-ordination unknown in the entire history of humanity.
But why commit to a dichotomy so obviously stupid at all? The 28-year-old grew up in Grafton, a waterway town in northern New South Wales, and in his time on the Eastern seaboard it seems unlikely he ever actually met many Muslim people at all. In his own family’s account they were just ordinary Aussies. It’s impossible to interrogate the claim – every family thinks itself the norm and we can’t penetrate their private lives to investigate how true it is – yet the family were probably ordinary in one sense. They were unremarkable. Just another white family. The alleged shooter’s parents were in traditional jobs. Mum a teacher. Dad a rubbish man.
The people who were closest to him – cousins, old school mates – pinpoint his OE to Europe as “the moment”. As RNZ reports
in his manifesto the alleged shooter recounts his trip through North Korea and Pakistan, paying tribute to the locals’ kindness and hospitality (noticing the contradiction he explains he doesn’t hate the yellows and blacks who stay in their own “homelands”). Eventually he lands in Europe, road tripping France. In one passage he despairs that he can’t seem to find an all-white town
or city. In another passage his travels take him, quite conveniently, to a cemetery for the European dead of the world wars. “I broke into tears, sobbing alone in the car,” he writes, mourning the apparent Islamification of Europe. “Why were we allowing these soldiers deaths to be in vain?”
He didn’t realise that the dead he mourned died trying to kill people like him. In 2018 I wrote
(presciently, without claiming too much credit for an insight this awful) that “white nationalism is, for the basement dwelling 4chaners, mouth breathing Redditors, and Youtube philosopher kings, nothing more than a desperate search for an alternative fatherland”. That search is what drove the alleged shooter from his Australian home. “The origin of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European… most importantly, my blood is European”. To the alleged shooter his actual home was irredeemable. “What is an Australian but a drunk European?”
In each claim is a desperate narcissism, reaching for an imaginary identity when your existing accomplishments don’t match your personal ambitions. It’s tempting to extend that psychoanalysis. The alleged shooter’s fetish for imaginary “whites” is a cover for the trauma of being a nothing, disembodied. Or maybe the urge to order and rank the world into competing civilisations is a neurosis, like stacking your knives and forks in a row. Perhaps the pleasure he takes in trolling is jouissance, a momentary transgression in the service of briefly feeling. Yet those readings are weightless if they stand alone. The alleged shooter’s interior life is relevant, certainly so for a conviction on murder, but studying the actually existing politics that shaped his positions and actions seems more important than base speculation.
In The Invention of Tradition
the historians Terence Ranger and Eric Hobsbawm argue that traditions, far from the ancient wisdoms of old, are often nothing more than recent beliefs that help foster a common identity when – to borrow from Said – “organic solidarities” like the family or village break down. The inventions are easy to spot in the courts and parliament where British ritual connects the two institutions to a pedigree and past that their move half away across the world broke. In the neo-fascist movement the inventions are slightly more subtle, taking actual historical happenings like the Crusades and pick-and-mixing the symbols (Knights Templar), battles (Acre 1189), and language (deus vult) that they can contort around the various anti-Muslim bigotries.
The idea that traditions are a kind of stand-in where old connections break down seems especially apt in settler colonies where the relationship to the past and a present community often amounts to nothing more than a shopping list of shared habits and references. Gumboots as culture. I appreciate that description could come across as banal, or even malicious, but it gets close to the impulses apparently guiding the alleged shooter: the search for meaningful political connections and political community. As he saw it Australia had no identity to offer. Instead he found his connection in an “imagined community
” – in violent European nationalisms – and online.
“I am a racist”, the man writes in his manifesto
. His neo-fascists comrades were too.
2 One of the first inspirations he cites is Luca Traini
, a 28-year-old Italian neo-Nazi who, with a 9mm glock, went on a drive-by shooting injuring six African migrants in Macarata in 2018. The racist rampage lit a fuse under that year’s Italian general election. The left went after Matteo Salvini, the League Party leader, the same party in which Traini stood as a mayoral list candidate, for inspiring his violent work. In an ordinary election a political leader would make an immediate climb down, condemning Traini and his crimes. But Salvini, best known in the English-speaking world for closing harbours to refugees crossing the Med, was surprisingly consistent. He said the left had “blood on its hands” for packing the country with “illegal migrants”. The unspoken implication: Traini was doing his patriotic duty.
The alleged shooter, watching on from another hemisphere, found a brother in arms. The two men had built their identities around all the same hatreds and had clothed their boogeymen in all the same threads. One stitch for migrant “invaders”. Two stiches for liberals and Marxists, and a needle for the “race traitors” among them. But where the twin gunmen’s hatred really met, transforming from online big noting to a real-life passion, was in protecting “their” women. Traini undertook his crime as an apparent act of revenge against the three Nigerian refugees in court for killing 18-year-old Pamela Mastropietro.
In his manifesto the alleged shooter offers a similar provocation
, taking 11-year-old Ebba Akerlund’s death as his red pill. In his self-mythologising, the Stockholm truck attack, a deadly terrorist attack that took Akerlund’s and four other lives, was his waking moment. “It was another terror attack in the seemingly never-ending attacks that had been occurring on a regular basis throughout my adult life,” he wrote
. “But for some reason this was different”. What was that difference? Akerlund. An innocent. It’s a vile misuse – he doesn’t care for anyone or anything beyond himself – but the narrative demands an affect, the shooter turning in his coward’s rags for a knight’s armour.
For neo-fascists it’s essential to tell their origin stories through the opposite sex. For aspiring movement leaders like the alleged shooter it’s the fight to protect the “virtue” of “our women” against “Muslim rapists” that forces their hand. For lurkers, shitposters, and like-avores it’s the feminists and “Staceys” who never recognise the genius and vigour of their own race (plain meaning: “women don’t want me”) who lead them into fascism. Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger, a martyr for beta males, undertook his crimes and suicide as an apparent act of “retribution” against women for denying him the sex and love he thought of as his by right.
This, not the customary declarations of love for the race, or even the thrill of sharing the same enemies, is usually the heart of online fascism – it’s a reaction against women.
In Male Fantasies
the German sociologist Klaus Theweleit argues the fascist men who fought against the Weimar Republic from 1918 to 1933, and who went on to prominent positions and a political home in the Nazi regime, were in their heads and hearts afraid of women. For the “Freikorps” there were two womanly classes: White Women, “the nurses” representing order and servitude to men and country; and Red Women, “the communists” representing disorder, whoring, and the end of patriotic men. The latter were the women the paramilitary movement were under an obligation to kill. In one speech a general complains that when “a few old girls get blown up the whole world starts screaming about bloodthirsty soldiers”.
“As if women were always innocent,” he said.
This is why every fascist movement purges women first – metaphorically and actually. In Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema
the American historian describes how films under the Duce’s regime “remove the Italian woman from the colonial space”, portraying the colonies as where men might find purpose through trans-national thuggery, and attacking women’s emancipation at home as a “corrupting” force and a check on the people’s success. The alleged shooter undertook his killings with similar illusions. That he could forge a new identity in gun fire and blood, and that liberated women (and Jews) were responsible for his personal and racial decline. In his manifesto the opening line is “it’s the birth rates
”, repeated three times.
THE WELLINGTON 15/3 VIGIL HELD AT THE BASIN RESERVE (PHOTO BY ELIAS RODRIGUEZ/GETTY IMAGES)
It’s easy to diagnose the same pathologies in his comrades. Game developers Zoë Quinn, Brianna Wu and media critic Anita Sarkeesian – the victims in 2014’s Gamergate troll – were made targets for harassment for no other reason than they were women crossing the border between a man’s stuff (the spacies) and a woman’s role (sex and housework). In New Zealand the death threats against Golriz Ghahraman, our first MP who arrived in New Zealand as a refugee, are so frequent Parliamentary Services ensures special protection for the Green MP. The critics go after Ghahraman for everything from fakery (her “CV” is a lie, she isn’t a “real refugee”) to acting as part of a globalist conspiracy to wipe out the white race. It’s impressively stupid, of course, but the point isn’t the truth in the charges. It’s that an Iranian-born woman sits in our parliament.
The same trolls go for the prime minister on Twitter’s #TurnArdern hashtag too, condemning Jacinda as a lazy woman (#parttimePM) who coasts along on nothing more than her femininity (“she’s a pretty communist”). That’s hardly out of the ordinary, of course. In the 2000s print commentators were comfortable enough to throw equally chauvinist slurs at Helen Clark, using “Helengrad” for Clark as the controlling woman and “political dominatrix” for ball-breaking the men around her. The difference is today’s trolls serve their sexism with Islamophobia on top. Last year activist Rangi Kemara found a telling correlation between tweeters of Turn Ardern and tweeters of Islamophobia. The Christchurch man selling MAGA hats – “Make Ardern Go Away” – on TradeMe once wrote he would destroy “mosque after mosque till I am taken out”.
Give me the misogynist, to corrupt an old saying, and I’ll show you the Islamophobe.
Simone Weil, the French philosopher, would recognise in the turn to Europe – and the turn against
women – a classic “uprooting”. In almost every country material comfort and security often rely on cutting the cord between a person, the past, and a present community: removing Indigenous people from their land; separating citizens from their homes and families in one place for work in another; and reducing people to their supposedly “innate” categories (race, gender, etc). These uprootings, in Weil’s words, are a “sickness of the soul” that leave men especially vulnerable to demagoguery. In their search for past and present connections they turn to “false conceptions” like patriotism and national greatness, and at the core of each in 2020: hatred for and fear of women.
What’s notable about this neo-fascist movement isn’t necessarily its reach but its mode. Online, yes, but more importantly: politically free. Other than finance, the alleged shooter had no political or bureaucratic restraints. He could post all the tell-tale things he apparently did, and it seemed neither the police nor the spy agencies would ever flag it. He could acquire the semi-automatic weapon the Crown charge him with using with nothing more than a gun licence – and the seller was under no obligation to log the purchase. And he could move between Australia and New Zealand’s practically open borders with only a passport and a straight face for the eGate.
I hope you register the irony in this. Borders were the very thing the alleged shooter was desperate to enforce against the Muslim hordes. After moving to New Zealand, ostensibly to plan an attack back home, the 28-year-old found instead that “the invaders were in all of our lands
”. Even at the bottom of the world in formerly lily-white Christchurch. “Nowhere was safe”, he wrote. The alleged shooter, in a bonfire of pomposity and self-regard, actually did think himself at the centre of a civilisational struggle between the out-bred West and Islam. In the mind of the manifesto writer, massacring Muslims would enforce the borders the supposed sell outs in government wouldn’t.
But in allegedly killing the innocent people he did he wasn’t taking on a powerful soon-to-be majority. Rather, on one side is the 28-year-old with all his political and social freedoms, and on the other are the shooting’s victims who were living their lives under significant political and social restraints. The spy agencies were dedicating their resources to “Islamic terrorism”, not the alleged shooter’s terrorism. Police commit more resources to “street gangs” – that is, Māori – and barely even bother with the alleged shooter’s brothers and sisters in white power. The immigration department, as any anecdote can confirm, focuses disproportionate attention on non-white entries, and the only people who move freely between borders are people like the 28-year-old.
In short: non-white people live their lives under scrutiny and surveillance.
The government’s official response to the Christchurch shooting is to extend that scrutiny and surveillance to, well, white people. Jacinda Ardern is leading reforms to gun laws and the rules governing how online users share violent, racist, and other objectionable material. Last month the country’s top spies told a parliamentary select committee that they’re keeping watch on dozens of suspect characters. Police, even a year on, are still making home visits to destroy illegal weapons and otherwise interview lurkers and posters. The changes, taken together, rightly remove the freedom and options the alleged shooter had, and make it almost impossible for his comrades to organise.
Yet as good and necessary as those changes are some of the structural conditions that produce the racial distinctions the alleged shooter holds so dear are left intact.
In organised debating one of the famous moots is the “balloon debate”. In it each speaker, usually arguing on behalf of someone famous, proposes why the others shouldn’t toss him or her over the side of a hot air balloon in order to save the others. It’s a riveting hypothetical, placing six people in disaster’s mouth and exercising the collective choice to doom one and rescue the others. But for anyone who understands how it feels to have their apparent merits and demerits subject to “debate”, with someone else drawing up a balance sheet in red and black, it’s horrendous. The idea is we’re born equal, but after that all bets are off. This is what women, takatāpui, Māori, Muslims, and other deviations from the “norm” deal with most days.
Are we worthy?
It’s the same principle that organises immigration to New Zealand: who’s worthy? In our system the government literally attaches “points” to the world’s hopeful according to their potential for improving the lives of the hosts. Good English? Points. A tertiary qualification? Add to the tally. Assets? You’re basically in. The system’s political champions admire this approach for its rationality. Unlike the US where immigration sometimes relies on a lottery – eg the American Diversity Immigrant Visa – or just keen racism – i.e. the Muslim travel ban – New Zealand immigration is hassle-free and non-discriminatory.
It’s a self-serving argument, of course, because an immigration system where the purpose and function is defining inclusions and exclusions (who’s in and who’s out) is never neutral. When Winston Peters calls for tighter English language requirements
, for example, that’s really an argument for conferring an advantage on applicants from the Anglosphere over people with equivalent skills or greater need from other parts of the world. This isn’t explicitly discriminatory, at least in the sense the exclusionary threshold doesn’t depend on a person’s race, but the impact is racist in that one group of people (mostly white) enjoy an advantage over another group (mostly non-white) thanks to nothing more than the great good fortune of being born an English speaker.
It’s a perversity. Yet this is what border systems, including our points system, do: they force you to think about inners and outers. The threshold between the worthy and the unworthy. This is one reason the refugee-led campaign to end
the “family link policy” was so important. In removing the rule barring African and Middle Eastern refugees from settling in New Zealand (unless their family were already here) the campaigners saw to one of the worst racial exclusions our border system made. If you’re an optimist you might hope the other racist exclusions in our border laws – like The Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act, the legislation stripping Samoans of their Privy Council-confirmed New Zealand citizenship – are but a campaign away from abolition.
I’m a pessimist.
I suspect most people imagine borders as objects, a line in the ground demarcating our country from theirs. Yet the American southern border, as one example, is notable more for “the Wall’s” absence than its presence. The northern border is even less dramatic, a largely wide-open space with fences here and there to pen in the farm animals. In New Zealand airlines usually enforce the country’s borders thousands of kilometres from our actual line on the map. Under the Advance Passenger Screening programme carriers only board passengers with the appropriate documentation.
A POLICE OFFICER DEMONSTRATES ILLEGAL GUN MODIFICATIONS. (PHOTO: RNZ / ANA TOVEY)
It’s another marvellous technocratic achievement, appointing airline staff as de facto border patrol agents. But like the points system the screening programme’s impacts can end up perverse and racial making it almost impossible for refugees and asylum seekers from “non-visa waiver countries” (i.e. the developing world) from ever making it far enough to lodge a claim for protection in New Zealand. The programme, more than anything else, exposes borders for what they really are – a list of biased inclusions and exclusions – and the structural violence borders perform are in whom they include (the English-speaking, the educated, the wealthy) and who they exclude (the desperate, the poor, the mostly brown and black).
The alleged shooter and the neo-fascist movement understand a struggle is happening over the nature and function of borders. This man recognised new borders – the “balkanisation of the US” – as the only way to guarantee
“the future of the White race on the North American continent”. His comrades, like the neo-Nazi who went on a stabbing riot on a train in Oregon, claim their end goal is smashing the US into competing ethno-states. For them – and their king in President Trump – reconfiguring the borders, whether as policy changes to the inclusions and exclusions or new border lines entirely, is the best way to guarantee their political supremacy this century.
Are borders by their very nature racist?
I took my last trip to Christchurch a month and a half after March 15. I had a speaking engagement with Network Waitangi Otautahi, the local tauiwi Treaty group. I thought about putting it off. Post-March 15 the only conversations that seem urgent and necessary are about March 15. Taking up space felt wrong, and even stepping off the plane felt intrusive. The city was grieving. Even the affect was off. People were unusually quiet in public spaces. In private one person I spoke to was literally in tears. We weren’t talking about March 15 at all but she was thinking about it every day. Even that felt like I was taking up space. Am I here to grieve too? I thought about Sam Neill breaking down in a taxi when the news broke, openly weeping, and how he took comfort from his Muslim driver.
I spoke, in the end. Not entirely comfortably, but an intervention of one kind or another felt right after the racism debate went from “individual hate” to “firearms access” to “the internet”. Each is its own valid connection, sure, but it felt as if all the most important connections were missing. In the English-speaking world it’s fashionable to name private, individual acts as “racist”. The intolerant, unfair, or simply racial things that fall out of people’s mouths. Like “cheeky darkies” on the 7pm telly. But it’s unfashionable, of course, to name racist systems. Instead bureaucrats and opinion-makers opt for euphemisms like “unconscious bias”, reducing racism to a state of mind and not a systemic design.
This is why I thought it important to issue a reminder, in the very small way that I could: racism is a social relation. It’s the principle governing the relationship between coloniser – the people who took this land and built the institutions to control and profit from it – and colonised, the people from whom the land was taken and the institutions built to protect and exploit the founding theft. The same principle shapes the relationship between citizens – people who enjoy all the rights the state confers – and non-citizens, outsiders who must prove their worth through their contribution to citizens.
These are the systemic conditions that produce racism – unequal power relations – and it’s what makes it so easy to condemn the Māoris or the immigrants or whoever else. When one people are up and the other are down, and the scales are apparently resistant to any remedial attempts to balance them with Treaty settlements or an increase in the refugee and asylum seeker quota, it makes it seem as if their disadvantage is a state of nature and not a centuries-long project to exclude certain people from prosperity. To the alleged shooter his victims were by their very nature irredeemable, abusing the West’s generosity, and he understood himself as enacting the same permanent exclusions his ancestors made, from the Crusades to the war on terror.
In this sense, the alleged shooter was an individual racist. Of course he was. But in another sense he was taking our exclusionary systems to their logical end.
Is there any response to savagery like this? The government’s reforms are one. I entirely support them. And yet they fall so short. People will still define their identity in different nationalisms, just like the alleged shooter did, so long as there are racist border system to enforce them. Neo-fascists will still define their identities against women as long as there is an unequal “domestic sphere”, an unequal workplace, and a society where one group – men – accumulate and exercise disproportionate power over another – women, trans people, non-binary people. That makes the struggle against the alleged shooter’s politics longer than his trial, his probable conviction, and his probable imprisonment. It’s a generations-long struggle to destroy all the exclusions that make up our society and produce the conditions we know as racism.
On my read Simone Weil’s original, vital insight is that as people and communities we find our identities in the obligations we owe – and in the obligations owed to us. In those reciprocal relationships we find meaning and purpose. In the give and take, in its delights and frustrations, and in the everyday work of making a home in these islands. This is where we find our roots, connecting to each other in different ways – whether as Māori or women or Muslims – but never excluding. “They are us” is an inclusion. They are us is an affirmation. They are us is also an urgent and uncomfortable call to action. As New Zealanders, it’s our responsibility to take on every exclusionary system, whether it’s racist borders or enduring gender roles. The memory of those who lost their lives on March 15 demands no less."
That reminds me of a story.
Imagine you’re a molecule of water vapor, floating around high up in the clouds with trillions of your best friends. Life’s good: there’s the occasional bump and tussle. Whoa. Watch it, putting on some weight. Best get my vibrate on. Fucking cosmic waves. Wham! “Yeah? Up yours, buddy!” Hey, what the? “Well, double dumbass on YOU!” Is it getting chilly up here or is it just me? Oh, well. I just love to float around, up here where the air is cool and clear, way up above the ground... “WATCH IT, MAC! I’M DRIFTIN’ HERE!” Damn, it’s definitely getting colder. Feeling weird. Wait. What the ever-lovin’ fuck? I’m solid? What’s with the six arms? A Hexapus
? Shit. Hey, why does the ground look like it’s getting closer? What is falling? Am I falling? Who the hell are all these other guys? I can hardly see the air’s so full of…Oh, fuck. I’m certain now, I’m falling. What’s that thing down there? Is it soft? Is it nice? I wonder if it will be my friend…
Swish of snowbrush on the windshield. “Fucking snow. Damn, I hate winter in the Midwest,” an anonymous motorist declares to no one in particular.
It was that most wonderful time of year. Cold, wet, snowy but that never stands in the way of SCIENCE!
I call the quarry; they’re very interested and anxious to have me drop by for a chat. So, on a Saturday, I borrow Esme’s Nova and drive the 25 miles south to the quarry.
I am warmly greeted by the Quarry foreman Mr. Varovik and the soon-to-be-retired blasting boss Mr. Mesterlövész.
“Hello, Mr. Rock. We have your examination scores. You have passed. In fact, you scored very highly, which was surprising as you only attended 3 of the 6 classes.” Mr. Varovik clarified.
“Yes, sir”, I rejoined, “I’ve had quite a lot of previous training and thought my time would be best spent preparing for the practical aspects of the exam.”
Mr. Mesterlövész chimes in: “I like that. Enough with the books and on with the show! Oh, please, call me Andras, Mr. Rock; I’m afraid my last name could cause your strangulation.”
“Please, just call me Rock.” I reply, “I agree. My previous mentors were more practically oriented. There’s a time and place for everything, but with blasting, it’s best learned in the field by example.”
“We so agree, Rock.” Mr. Varovik adds, “We have more than enough work to attend to here that it would be best for you and Andras to hone your talents out in the quarry. We’re expecting great things, Mr. Rock, and I believe there’s no time like the present to begin. I see you already have the requisite PPEs, so after a bit of paperwork formalities, we’ll get you your security clearances, passes and permits to work.”
“Brilliant”, I agree, “I’d like to begin as soon as possible. I’ve got rather a full plate as it stands with my thesis and upcoming marriage, so I need to manage my time judiciously.”
After the blizzard of paperwork, Andras and I are out in the quiet quarry, standing next to a block of dolomitic limestone the approximate size and dimensions of a home refrigerator.
“Such a nice block for you to start on” Andras smiles, “Let’s see. Describe for me how you would handle this specimen.”
“First, I’d have to have a bit more information from the client. What are they looking for? Dimension stone? Facade? Gravel? Lunar dust simulation?” I reply.
“’Lunar dust’. Very good” Andras chuckles. “Good, you have a sense of humor and detail. Now, tell me what you see in this block of limestone.”
“Andras, I’m a geologist. You need to be a bit more specific or we’ll be here all afternoon.” I say.
“I have nowhere else to be…” Andras says slowly.
“OK”, I tell him, “Remember, you asked.”
“This is a sample of Silurian Niagara Dolomite, approximately 420 million years old. It is classified as a dolomitic carbonate, relatively pure, gray, vuggy, in reefs; and argillaceous, silty, brownish-gray and greenish-gray, cherty dolomite with beds of relatively pure dolomite between the reefs. It has a low dip angle off the Wisconsin Arch off into the Michigan Basin of about 3 degrees to the east-northeast. Shall I continue?” I asked.
“Oh, please do. You’re about to get to the interesting bits” Andras explained.
“OK. There are representative shallow marine reef and associated reef-adjacent facies present divided into fore reef, reef core and back reef. This block, due to its lack of visible porosity and overall massive character is probably from the quieter, muddier back reef facies. There are visible stylolites semi-horizontally within the block, but no vertical ones. The three σ directions appear undifferentiated. Therefore the principal stress directions are not delineated. There a few small vertical fractures, but these are probably extractive artifacts. How’s that?” I ask
Andras smiles, “Very good. I was wondering when you were going to get to the structural aspects of the block. Faults, fractures, joints, tension gashes, fissures…these are your friends. You must learn to let them work for you when you are harvesting in the quarry.”
“That’s an interesting way of defining the problem” I reply, “Think of the rock as an entity the result of many differing stress regimes and structural variables…”
“Or, just ask the rock and see what it will tell you…” Andras adds. “Get the big picture, first. Then, work your way down to the project at hand.”
“Sound advice. But I still need more information. What is it exactly you want from this block of limestone?” I ask.
“Let us begin easily. Please, how would you split the block in half?” Andras asks.
“Horizontally, vertically, or diagonally?” I reply.
“Ha. You are the first to ever consider splitting a block diagonally. Very good. Let’s keep it easy, how about horizontally?” Andras says.
“Well, we could drill and foss the block. But since we’re dealing with explosives, I’d go with Primacord.” I reply.
“Just Primacord?” Andras asks.
“Sure, given enough yardage, I’d say 5 or 6 full coils, it’d split right along that stylolite here.” As I point out the discontinuity in the sample.
“Hmmm” Andras considers. “Perhaps. Tell me some other ideas you might have.”
We spend the next half hour going over the pros and cons of various low and high explosives. Andras was most interested in my background with binaries and nitro. His specialty was plastique; that is, moldable plastic explosives.
He decides it was high time for me to start making little ones out of big ones. So I grab a spool of Primacord, some initiators and the handy electronic blasting machine.
“Quick, dirty and essentially moron-proof,” I tell Andras.
He has a good snicker and is impressed I finish my preliminaries in so short a time.
We retreat to a safe distance and go through the required pre-blast protocols. Clear all compass points, air horn tootles, the requisite ‘fire in the hole’ and we’re ready to go.
He tells me “Hit it” and mash goes the big red button.
The Primacord does its 25,000 foot per second rave and the block is neatly sheared into…
A bit more than what a bargained for. It split horizontally just fine, but it fell off, impacted the ground, and split into another couple of pieces.
“Maybe 6 coils were a bit much,” I said.
“Don’t worry.” Andras reassures me, “We’ve plenty of blocks for practice. Sometimes they do what they want, but you did split it well, just it had other ideas…”
Thus ended my first day of practicals for my unrestricted Master Blaster’s certification. We had a lot more ground to cover, metaphorically speaking, before Andras was comfortable retiring and leaving me to my own devices. So I did a little more research into the usual quarrying and mining pyrotechnics. Coupled with my already not insignificant practical experience, I was really looking forward to our next session.
I drove back to pick up Es as we had our weekly movie outing planned. We are both aficionados of Film Noir
, unusual animation, and Russian Neo-Expressionism.
Today the Oriental, the ‘art house’ theater in town, was hosting a sneak preview of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards
, which we didn’t want to miss. I had to get to my dump of a duplex, shower, change, get Es, acquire some chow, and arrive at the theater before the massing throngs.
OK, so I was speeding a bit, but this Nova had the big 454 V-8, and I have a lead foot. Sorry, it’s congenital.
The road was clear, the winter sun was bright, but the blue and red flashing lights behind me were even brighter.
“Fuckbuckets!” I said to the headliner of the car, “Not now. I’m on a mission. Son of a Mothering Bitch!”
I pull over, put the car in neutral, engaged the emergency brake, cock the wheels so if it were to roll away, it’d first hit the curb, turned off the engine and rolled down my window some so I could converse with the nice officer.
I sat there with my hands in plain sight, at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.
“Tap, tap, tap,” says the nightstick against the window.
“Officer”, I say loudly and clearly, “Before we begin, it is my duty to inform you I am carrying a sidearm. I am licensed and have the proper permits.”
“OK, bud. Hands where I can see them”, he brusquely replies.
“They’re already white-knuckling the steering wheel, you mouth-breathing idiot” I mused.
“They are, Officer,” I replied instead.
“Um, OK then. Um. Show me your hands.” He orders.
“They’re right here on the wheel, Officer. See?” as I raise them slightly and waggle my fingers.
“Oh, yeah. Well, roll down the window and no funny stuff.” He orders.
Damn, and I had my skit for the Comedy Club all ready. “OK,” as I comply.
“Yes, Officer?” I ask.
“Let’s see your sidearm.” He tells me.
“OK, but I have to reach over here to undo my seatbelt that I’m clearly wearing in order to comply” I note.
“OK, just do it slowly,” he tells me.
I undo my seatbelt, reach for my sidearm, dump the bullets, and spin the gun around to offer it butt-first to the nice policeman. Just like they told me in my concealed carry course.
I surrender my sidearm to the nice policeperson. He takes it and all hell breaks loose.
“Holy Fuck, Rock. What the hell is this thing? A fucking cannon?” he exclaims.
I look out the window and see someone I’ve known for the better part of 2 decades.
“Polack? You asshole. What’s the big idea?” I ask my longtime acquaintance.
“Ha, ha! You should have seen yourself. You were all red and white. What the fuck, Rock, what the hell is this damn thing?” as he sights in an imaginary target down the empty road.
I get out of the car and just shake my head, grimacing.
“Baja Canada’s Finest, ‘eh? It’s a .454 Cusall Magnum. Shooting it just right kills and field dresses your game.” I tell him.
“Damn. I have got
to borrow this. Can you loan it to me for a while?” He asks.
“Not as such. Why?” I ask.
“Oh, Captain Pizelli is always going on about his great, big .44 Magnum down at the range. It’s a noisy fucker, but I bet this will shut him up at our monthly target competition.” He says.
“Look, Polack. Let me know when the next one is and I’ll personally deliver this to you with some custom hot loads. But right now, I’m in kind of a hurry so if we could just get back to the matter at hand, I’ll be off.” I reply.
“Oh, yeah. That. You were doing 61 in a 55, so I need to write you a ticket.” He says.
“OK, you got me. But you ain’t got no noisemaker for your next cop party…” I say extortingly.
“OK, then. Well, consider this an official warning. And our next target competition is the 28th.” He smiles.
“Where you going in such a damn rush?” he asks as he hands me back my sidearm.
I explain what I’m up to and he smirks a bit.
“Well, I’m headed back toward the east side. Now, if you were to be following me, I couldn’t very well ticket you for speeding, now could I?” he smiles.
Got to hand to Es’s old Nova. She kept up with Polack until we hit triple digits. At that point, I figured police escort or not, rolling or crashing Es’s car would probably be frowned upon by several distinct lineages of people.
After a delightful dinner at Suburpia, a Miles Standish and a Real Beefer, we make it to the theater that evening with time to spare.
The winter holidays were over and the so-called spring semester had started. I had long-term sedimentological experiments working in the sub-sub-basement of the museum, I was writing up my results for my thesis, I was also still waiting on my slide-converted photos from New Mexico. I was still going to the lakeside labs for general and sundry, I hadn’t yet made any decisions on where I was going career- or college-wise, I was teaching an additional 3 classes in the Geology department. Plus I was still slated to be wed come the summertime.
When I had the time, I ate quickly and slept furtively. As well as take Es out for the occasional movie and dinner date night.
So when Dr. Davey approached me with an opportunity to do some more ice diving for the Geophysics department, you could understand my cool enthusiasm.
After I managed to negotiate the initial offer of $100 per dive up to $250, its great having a monopoly sometimes, I had to find time in my schedule for another check out dive. I also had to go over every piece of my diving kit as ice diving, like all diving, doesn’t suffer fools lightly.
Esme would be really pissed at me if I died due to hypothermia some fine winter’s day.
However, before all that, I had to teach a new course, one that I’ve not before been called upon before to proctor. It’s Geology 102, basically one step up from Geology 101 or “Rocks for Jocks”. I have to cover the entire spectrum of lithologies; sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic as well as the rock cycle, mineralogy and other such fun lithological niceties.
Enter Tim, my artist buddy from the world of movie special effects. As a gag gift, he sent me a ‘box of rocks’. These were amazingly accurate recreations of classic rock types that were used in movies. They were hand sample-sized, foam rubber, and ridiculously correct in every detail, save one.
They barely weighed 10 grams each.
So, every day before my lectures, I’d set out all eight faux-rocks and ignore them. This went on for a few weeks until one inquisitive neo-geo asked why I was setting up a display of rocks before each lab and lecture, but never even mentioning them.
“These rocks?” As I pointed to the foam samples.
“Yes.” He replied.
“What about them?” I asked.
“Why are they there? You never as much as pick them up or talk about them but they’re always just there for every class.” He continues.
“Ah, I see. You’re curious about these rocks then? “I ask.
“These rocks here?”
“OK, catch!” as I wind up and hurl a piece of fake diabase at his skull.
Very little, save for the discourse on their origin, was done that day in class.
Tim made a nice bit of skittle and beer money filling the orders I sent him over the years for his amazingly realistic bogus hand samples.
Later, I’m in the prow of an only just seaworthy Zodiac inflatable working its way out of the harbor, through the pack ice floes out to the permanent pack beyond the offshore breakwater.
Winter was particularly nasty that year and the ice extended from great compression pile-up teepee structures on the beach clear out to the breakwater, some 300 meters off the beachfront, and beyond.
There was a considerable amount of damage being done to beaches from the ice pushing in landward. As well as it playing hod with all manmade structures left out to weather the winter storms, like the one we were battling out to the ice front.
I was already wearing all my ice diving gear as changing either en route
or once we reach the ice would have been impossible, not to mention ridiculous. As such, I was relatively immobile on the front of the boat as the beleaguered 150 horse Johnson Seahorse struggled against the 30 knot east headwind, ice floes, and ice-choked waves.
As I was on the leading edge of all this nonsense, I received the spray from every breaking wave which froze almost instantly. I was rapidly becoming encased in ice.
“Take it easy, you wobbly Scottish git!” I holler over the radio, as there was no way other which we could converse.
“I can’t” yelled back Iain, the Scots driver of the boat and full-time fish annoyer. “I’m givin’ her all she’s got…it’s the only way to push against the wind…if I give’r any more, she’ll blow”.
“Well, I’m going to have to use one of these seismic charges to pry myself apart from the boat then. I’m getting frozen in up here.” I yell back.
There had been some improvements over the years on ice dynamics and ice geophysics.
Now instead of dragging all the acquisition and recording equipment out to the ice with us, we only had to set up a small radio relay on the boat. The charges were set to be detonated remotely and all the data recorded after I plant the jugs was relayed back to shore. It made it somewhat easier logistically, but a real pain in the ass in reality as now we could only take the lab’s Zodiac instead of the Grady White cabin cruiser.
The ichthyologic bunch commandeered that craft for a bothersome fishy census.
That’s why I was sitting in the front of a wonky inflatable, being slowly encased in ice, wondering if I should have held out for $300 per trip.
We make the edge of the ice and Iain runs the Zodiac up on the floe. Casimir, the lab’s electronics guru, an obligate landlubber, was exhibiting a shade of green not normally seen in nature.
“Nice move, Captain Ahab” I yell, “Now how the hell can I get in the water?”
“I did that on purpose. Toss the anchor out on the ice floe, Cas’ll chuck the stern anchor out, and we can park next to the ice.” Iain explains.
OK, makes sense, somewhat. Next time tell me before you run us aground.
It took a fair exertion of moose muscle to break the ice off, grab the anchor, and chuck it out onto the ice. Casimir did the same, and both anchors took hold. Iain backed us into a standard parking orbit juxtaposed to the leading edge of the ice sheet.
After Iain and Cas help me break free of my icy embrace, we get rigged up for setting and recording the charges. I tell Iain that I’m going over the side to get rid of the rest of my ice pack, as the lake water was actually warmer than the air. Cas would set up the antenna for the radio link back to shore.
I don my three-tank backpack, no small challenge, and go clumsily over the side. Good for losing any encrusted ice but not so good as the boat is bucking and jumping like a green foal in its first springtime.
Iain inflates the blaze-orange 2-meter diameter float to which all the recording devices will be tethered. The float is also anchored to the bottom to keep it more or less in place.
Shear wave marine geophones are bloody expensive and I don’t wish to have to replace any. Cas tosses me one line of jugs (geophones) as I make certain my running line is tethered to the boat. Under I go and make my first of five dives under the ice.
I plant the geophones on the underside of the ice in as straight of a line as I can manage. It’s difficult as the wind and the waves are making the ice undulate. Up and down. Push up to plant a jug and the ice heaves up, most annoying. After a while, I find a rhythm and just hold the spike of the jugs against the ice and wait for it to drive itself home.
Jugs are planted, tethered to the orange float, back to Cas and his electronic gizmos.
We’re getting ready for planting the explosive charges. I check my dive-o-matic and see I’m on less than fumes. I call to Iain and explain I need to switch tanks before I attempt setting the charges, with no re-boarding the boat. It’s bucking a jig and the last thing I want to do is try to scamper aboard with all that electronic shit laying all over the deck with the wind and the ice.
Iain passes me a free-tether and I clip my tanks and backpack for him to drag on board.
That means I’ll be floating loose for a while, but I think I can handle this. He gets my empties on board, swaps out for a new set, and has them back to me in mere minutes. I was back tanked-up and ready to go set charges in less than 10 shakes.
Iain hands me the first string of charges, and back I go, under the ice. I run the charges perpendicular to the lines of jugs I had set previously. This was for ‘best data collection’ or so we were told. It was becoming more of a bother as I noticed the ice jumping and bucking harder than when I set out the jugs.
I was in the water now for over an hour and even with a pair of thermals under a union suit under a wet suit under a dry suit, I was feeling the cold. True, I have this abnormal resistance to cold, being an ethanol-fueled carbon-based organism, but I could not deny physiology. I had another 30 minutes maximum before things could start to get hairy.
Iain hands me the last of the charges and I note the boat is now rising and falling far more than it was when we got here. I couldn’t tell, other than by the ice was bucking, that the weather had shifted. It had, quickly and dramatically.
The wind shifted from easterly to due north, and ramped up to 50 knots, as we found out later. We should have probably hauled ass at that point, but I didn’t say anything, as I didn’t know of the surface events. Iain and Cas said nothing because I didn’t say anything and if I didn’t think things were rapidly degrading…
I set the last of the charges and washed over to the boat. I tethered myself to the prow railing, which I found was an instant mistake. One moment, the boat and I were level in the water, the next I was near 2 meters out of the water as the boat rode the next wave crest.
This was an unacceptable situation as I was being slapped around like a tournament volleyball.
I pop the quick release and plop gracelessly back into the water.
“Iain. Cas. Come in. We’ve got a problem.” I called.
“Rock. What’s the worry? I was just about to have Cas send the ‘Go’ codes.” Iain replied.
“I can’t get back in the boat. When did the weather go this sour?” I asked.
“About 20 or so minutes ago. You didn’t say anything, so I thought we were OK” Iain replied.
“How the fuck can I monitor the weather under an ice floe? Belay that, we’ve got to sort this out, now.” I note.
“How’s your air?” Iain asks.
“Good for 30 or so, more if I stay topside,” I reply.
“OK, it’s getting nasty up here. Want to call it?” Iain asks.
“Let me think a minute. I don’t want to lose all this effort just because it got windy.” I replied.
It immediately begins to sleet heavily.
“Fuckbuckets” I muse.
“Have Cas call the Barn. See what Davey has to say,” I suggest.
“On it. Stay put.” He adds.
“Where the fuck do you think I’m going to go?” I wonder.
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound, as a wave broke over the railing. Even I knew, as Cas and Iain did too, t'was the witch of February come stealin'.
“Rock, Davey says to get back. Let’s reel everything in…” Iain reports.
“Iain, we’re almost done here. Tell you what, can you handle the boat this close to the ice and over to the breakwater?” I ask.
“Yeah, we can handle that.” He replies. “Cas is even greener, but that’s normal.”
“OK, I’m going to unhook, head over to the breakwater, and hang on there. You finish the shoot, have Cas rig down the antenna and electronics. We’ll leave the float out here; it’s tethered to the bottom, it won’t go anywhere. Then come pick me up. Back to the Barn for whiskey and hors d'oeuvres. Easy-peasy.”
“You sure? It’s at least 200-250 meters to the breakwater. It’s blowin’ a full gale now…” Iain notes.
“Yeah, I’ll inflate my Mae West if I get in trouble. Besides, I’ll just surf over on a hunk of ice. It’ll be a walk in the park.” I reply, already thinking this was a stupid idea, but necessary.
“Well, get your ass over there. I won’t have Cas send the ‘Go’ codes until you’re out of range.” Iain tells me.
“Roger that. See you in a few.” I reply, unclip from the boat, and head over toward the breakwater.
I swim casually, no hurry. The lake could have taken me at any point but hasn’t, so I figured this was just another little inconvenience. I dog paddle onwards against the storm and actually do find a hunk of loose ice to bodysurf over to the breakwater. My damn mask keeps icing up from the spray, so I have to make like a submarine now and again.
It’s not a pleasant task. I doubt this will become a new national obsession.
Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
200 meters took me more than 30 minutes. There is an iron ladder down to the water line on the breakwater. I was most pleased to clip a carabiner onto that and send Iain my situation report.
Minutes later, I could actually feel the concussion of the small seismic charges as they went off in their data-mining dance. Fifteen or so minutes later, I see an ice-encrusted Zodiac slowly making its way over to me.
Iain pulls up to the breakwater and has me hand Cas my tanks and backpack. I was out of air and I didn’t need the extra bulk as I was going to try and re-board this bucking bronco.
Iain was worried he’d get slammed against the rough concrete of the breakwater so he told me to clip onto the bow of the boat. He’d back off to clear water and Cas would help drag my weary ass on board.
Great plan, except it didn’t work worth a damn.
The waves, wind, and weariness sapped us all.
“Rock, you secure up front?” Iain asked.
“Yeah, I’m still half in the water, but I can’t make it any further. I’m clipped to the bowline cleat. I can’t go back to the transom of the boat, it’s too rough. Plus there’s that spinney propeller thing back there…” I replied.
“OK, hang on. I’m going to motor us slowly into the harbor. Just hang tight. You’re protected in your gear and lashed securely.” Iain replied as he inched the engine forward. “Cas will keep an eye on you…”
“Oh. Good-o.” I muse.
The harbor and relatively calmer water was still 250 meters out. It was the longest 250 meter trip of my life. I was thoroughly encased in ice by the time we made it back to the comparative calmness of the harbor.
Once we’re in moderately passive water between the two harbor piers, Cas tries, unsuccessfully, to drag me on board. No dice, I’m covered in ice. We’re a bit more protected here, but still could be thrown up against the rough concrete of either pier as the water was still acting all angry-like.
“Rock, there’s nothing we can do. Hold on and I’ll take us back to the Barn. I’ll call ahead and have’m open the boat-slip garage so we can drive right in and they can dry dock us.” Iain tells me.
I’m too tired to argue.
And that’s how I became a frozen Zodiac figurehead that cold, blustery winter’s day.
Once in dry dock, they broke out the steam guns and carved me off the bow of the boat.
I was tired, a bit chilly, bruised but otherwise undamaged.
Dr. Davey storms into the locker room after Iain, Casimir, and I had restored ourselves to near normal operating temperature and reads us the riot act.
“What the hell were you guys thinking? You could have died out there. Do you have any idea how that would look on my permanent record?” he howled.
“Doc” I said, “We survived, your hardware survived, and you got some data the likes of which can never be repeated. What’s now going to happen is that our price just went to $400 per dive. Plus, you’re taking us over to McClusky’s and buying us several rounds of warming drinks.”
Over drinks, I tell Dr. Davey, “As I said, it’s great to have a monopoly. Prosit!”
Esme was not exactly thrilled later when I recount my latest adventure. She didn’t forbid any more ice diving but strongly suggested it would probably not be in my best interest.
Amazing how persuasive some people can be at times.
There were no further dives that winter, but spring was another story. Forming ice is bad enough, wasting ice is considerably nastier. I found a chap over at the local dive center who was glad to take my place now the weather calmed a bit. It wasn’t my first choice as I could have used the extra money, but as I said, certain people can become very persuasive.
Back at the quarry, Andras and I have been progressing through the standard inventory of common quarrying explosives. Andras had spent quite some time adding to my education on formable explosives, how shaping moldable pyrotechnics could accomplish the most amazing feats.
He was old school to a high degree.
If it called for quick and dirty, it was dump the ANFO in the shot holes, prime and blast away. But when I mentioned that the reef needed to be exposed but gently, he could be most discerning. He was a true master of the art, and I learned much from his instructions.
One oddity, it that he avoided nitroglycerine at all costs. He didn’t care for its twitchiness and penchant for going off whenever it felt the mood. I told him I was quite familiar with nitro.
“OK, Rock. How about a demonstration?” Andras asked.
Into the blasting bunker we went.
I told him that there was this rather energetic mixture I’ve developed over the years and it was nitro based. Would he like to see how I created that?
“Absolutely.” Andras replied, “But only if it’s safe.”
“Of course”, I said, “I’ve taken precautions.”
The nitro was stored in Nalgene plastic carboys and I had relocated it into the lab refrigerator. It wasn’t cold enough to freeze, but cooling the stuff calmed its temper significantly. I set out the other adjuncts to my recipe and began creating.
“Let’s see…15 drops of [essence of terror], 5 drops of [sinister sauce], and just a tincture of [trinitrotoluene]. There, now let it set up in the fridge for a while and it’ll be tamer than a pussycat. For a while” I note.
There was a 1.5-meter cube block of jagged limestone that’s just been annoying me since I began this little exercise. I asked Andras if it could be our test subject.
“Ah, yah. It’s been slated to go for over a month, but they never got to it. Let’s try your potion there.” Andras agrees.
“I’ll probably kill it,” I said.
“Dead, I hope.” Andras adds.
After taking a gad pry bar and sledgehammer to the errant block, I’ve got enough cracks, fractures, and fissures to ensure its demise. I retrieve my concoction from the fridge and gloopily pour it into the interconnected network of fractures. I let it seep in deep before I run a little bit of Primacord as an initiator and set everything with a fuse and blasting cap.
Andras smiled broadly when he pulled the cap off the fuse actuator and we briskly walk away from our latest experiment; after the prerequisite clears and fires in the holes, of course.
We were in the blasting shack watching the pre-detonator smoke curl up into the calm spring breeze.
There was a ground-rumbling FAAGAROON and what was previously a block of tough dolomitic limestone was now a pile of dolomitic limestone gravel.
Andras decided that I knew what I was doing. There was a retirement blowout for Andras later that month. I was now the de facto
Master Blaster for a Midwestern limestone quarry; and finally had the paperwork to attest to that fact.
Time marched on and I still hadn’t made any decisions. Continue my education? Go private sector? Take up Javen Spanner’s offer?
What to do? What to do?
I finished my thesis and submitted it for review. If it was passed, a date would be set for my thesis defense before a panel of chosen professors. This group would include my primary thesis advisor, Dr. Jak, a couple more in my general field; that is soft rock stratigraphy, sedimentology, depositional environments, and paleontology.
After one round of revisions, my thesis was accepted and the date for my defense was set.
The university also announced my defense committee:
• Dr. Jak, the vertebrate paleontologist and advisor, of course.
• Dr. Nebolshoy, our 6’ 8” tall micropaleontologist. No problem here.
• Dr. Bhūkampa, the geophysicist. He might be a bit of trouble.
• Dr. Hensei, the metamorphic petrologist. He shouldn’t be much of a problem.
• Dr. Deponejo, the sedimentologist. Easy-peasy.
• And Dr. Vesistö, emeritus professor of hydrology. Shouldn’t be too bad.
So classes were nearing finals, my thesis was submitted and accepted, defense time and committee set, all my experiments run and documented. I actually had a spare second or two for reflection and consideration.
After a late-night showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Esme and I were sitting in the local George Webb
having either a very late dinner or an early breakfast. It was cheap, it was good, and it was the only place open at 0300 in the morning.
“Rock, have you made any decisions yet on what you’re going to do after next Friday?” Es asks.
“Yep. I’m going to get drunk for a week, sober up, get back in shape and get drunk for a month again” I replied.
“No, seriously. You’re almost done with your degree and the wedding’s planned for early the next month. Then what?” Es inquires.
“A long and not terribly restful honeymoon,” I leer. “I hope.”
“Can you be serious?” Es sighs.
“I am being serious.” I reply.
“OK, let’s do this the scientific way. What are you not
going to do after our honeymoon?” Es continues.
“Stop drinking and smoking cigars?” I reply.
“That’s a given. No, come on. Time to pull your finger out. What do you really want to do?” Esme bats her big brown eyes and suddenly, reality crashes the party.
“OK. I’m not going to accept Javen’s offer. I’m not going to shill for any explosives manufacturer. I’m not going to go to the UK…” I finally say.
“So…then it’s…” Es continues.
“Yeah. I’m thinking of going for my doctorate at the state school campus in the capital city. Full ride, good with grants, stellar facilities, my own lab, globally known professors and, well, I’ve already been accepted. Plus, your company has a branch there. I was hoping you might see if you could transfer there. I haven’t accepted yet, I was waiting for the proper moment to tell you.” I said.
“Over industrial coffee, bratwurst, and eggs at three in the morning?” Es exclaims.
“Yeah. You knew I was eccentric from the onset. What do you think? Do I accept or continue to put them off?” I ask.
“You accept the first thing in the morning. That is after we get some sleep. Rock, I’m so proud of you and proud to be the future Mrs. Dr. Rock.” Es gushes.
I formally accepted my endowed tenure-track doctoral position in global stratigraphy and sedimentology two days later.
Well, we had to get some
sleep, after all. To be continued
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