Monday, April 18, 2005

Come To Sunny Saipan

The aspect that we've always most enjoyed about science fiction books is their freedom to imagine new political boundaries. The one example that always gets us thinking is the religious fundamentalist faction that takes over a large tract of the midwest in Greg Bear's Moving Mars. Green Idaho, it was called, and it was meant to exemplify how people might be tempted in the future to form political enities based on religious belief.

To be honest, we should have recalled the idea when we saw all those maps floating around after the election, which dubbed, rather insensitively in our view, the flyover states as Jesusland. It also bubbled back when we were reading Benjamin Schwarz' piece in the Atlantic, on how changing demographics would force Israel either to redifine its boundaries, or redefine itself.

We share what we think is a common European conception that, to paraphrase Don Rumfold, you go to work with the population you've got. Most Europeans have dealt with adapting political structures and societies to immigration, mostly by making government as morally unobtrusive as possible. Not that its necessarily been pretty, as you can see by the Netherlands recent scuffles over the tolerance that it should extent to less tolerant immigrants. But we still say that the European approach is now nearer to the old American approach, which enunciated, very clearly, the areas where government was not mean to to go. That American discourse now centres on where, morally, you as a citizen, or indeed Non-Resident Alien, may go, is to us rather disturbing. It should have caused more of a schism on the right by now, in our opinion.

The second area where we like science fiction writers to imagine states is where they do it on a grand economic basis. Let's say they don't care what the residents of a particular planet believe, but they all have to do the same thing. Douglas Adams did this a lot in his Hitchhikers books. There would be an entire planet devoted to beach holidays, or an entire planet devoted to record-keeping. The incongruous match-ups were the most fun. Indeed, you can go to the movie website and design your own planet, if you have the time and the boredom threshhold.

Which brings us to the unfortunate island of Saipan, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI). The place is all over the news because of the fact that Tom Delay was such a staunch supporter of their exemption from normal US labour protections. That made the island a top destination for cost-conscious garment makers that wanted to stamp their goods Made In the USA, because of the islands' status. DeLay's interest stems from his association with Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist that worked for the islands.

We'd have thought that it would be hard to entice congressmen into supporting your client by offfering them trips to the sweatshop capital of the Pacific. In fact, this was also remarked upon by the 2002 Irish World Cup Squad, who used the island to prepare for the main event in Japan and Korea. As Tom Humphries reported in his mostly entertaining book on the 2002 sporting year in Ireland, Laptop Dancing and the Nanny Goat Mambo, the squad were told by their manager Mick McCarthy that he'd played a few holes of golf there and it seemed rather fun.

And indeed, according to Marshall Whitman's Bull Moose blog, this is the same way that the Marianas lobbyists served their clients, flying over group after group of congressmen and their staffers for a spot of golf. Now, we're probably doing the islands a wee disservice, and apppreciate that our knowledge of them is down there with our knowledge of Pitcairn, but based on these two references, these two activites, golf and subhuman garment manufacture, are what sustain the islands' economy. A rum pairing, if ever we saw one.


Post a Comment

<< Home