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Uncommonly grim news from New Zealand

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We caught word of the tragedy in the Pike River mine yesterday. We did not get as far north as the mine in our travels, making it only as far as the the Franz Josef Glacier. But ever since learning of the trapped miners we have been keeping watch on the news. I know that mine rescues are dangerous ventures unlikely to succeed, but I had irrationally expected this one to work out. Part of this was undoubtedly bias at having watched the Chilean miners be triumphantly rescued, but it also stemmed from the sense that this was New Zealand, and bad news didn't happen there.

In the middle of our van trip across the country, we'd had a rough day in Christchurch. The cooler in the van had failed, resulting in spoilt milk and a two hour delay at a Jucy Rentals location. But we were finally on the road and receiving an unusually strong radio signal from a station broadcasting a news program that sounded like NPR down under. The top two stories? An outbreak of disease had struck the nation's kiwi fruit crop, and a school bus driver had been shot. But this was not an American school yard shooting: the driver had been hit by a pellet gun, and, as the announcer sternly informed us, was receiving medical treatment.

I don't mean to say that these are not serious concerns. Agriculture makes up a large percentage of New Zealand's exports, and kiwi fruit are a major crop. The bus driver was doubtlessly traumatized and in pain. But after a few years of the crime, corruption and financial crisis that make up the nightly news in New York, New Zealand's reporting was comfortingly somber and calm.

We'd actually joked about this on the flight from Sydney to Cairns, when Pallavi was looking through a copy of Time that she had picked up at our hotel. America's once-great newsweekly had spent a year studying the decline of another once-great American institution, Detroit:

But if city officials ask Corley to relocate, as political winds blowing through Detroit indicate they soon might, she's not budging. If this desperately poor city is no longer able to provide services to the neighborhood -- trash pickup, fire protection -- "we'll just have to deal with it," she says.

Just as she had to deal with the discovery of a man's burned torso in the underbrush across the street a few months ago. Betty Corley says she won't move away, but other isolated homeowners don't share her loyalty. Cynthia Ciesiolka, who lives on the next block with her four grandchildren, says if the city offered her $5 and a place to live, she'd be gone tomorrow.

(emphasis mine) It's a shocking return to Detroit "normalcy" to see the discovery of charred body parts relegated to a minor paragraph, when one has been driving through a country where pellet-gun assault is lead local radio news.

So when I heard about the miners, I thought that only the Chilean best-case scenario was probable. Yet as lovely as New Zealand is, it is not immune from misfortune. Sadly, I was wrong, and our hearts are with the families of those who were lost.

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