Thursday, March 31, 2005

An afterthought on Schiavo

I posted this as a comment here

"Interesting the contrast between your reports of the Schiavo "affair", and the death of Sr Ann Constance (may she rest in peace).

I can but wonder what lengths the Catholic Church will take to keep John Paul II alive. Or will they allow him the right to die in the dignity that he so richly deserves?

What drives people to the extent that the Schindlers were driven to keep their daughter alive?

My mother died when I was 16. I was a qualified and registered surf lifesaver, certified in CPR. My father refused my attempts to assist him in keeping her alive. Has that affected me? Yes and no. The best that could have happened would be that we saved her, for her heart to fail yet again in one week, or one month, or one year. The worst that could have happened would be that we kept her alive but with no meaningful future life; no consciousness, no cognitive ability, no communication, no senses. For that reason I was happy to grieve, happy to let her go when she died. [postscript to clarify - the decisions were not mine to make. That was made very clear. My father was very much in charge. I was given the job of calling an ambulance, putting a mattress in the back of our s/wagon, and then driving to meet the ambulance; dad in the back doing cpr on mum.]

My father died of cancer. He was ill and in increasing pain for 18 months. His quality of life during that period? By his own words, "No better than drugs and will-power will allow." After he died, no one ever spoke of the piece of tape on the button of his drug pump. I gave him a very hearty farewell at his funeral - I knew it was what he wanted.

And that really is the crux, isn't it...

Holding on, in selfish grief rather than the joy of release.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I put my hand up to "confirmation bias"...

I admit it. I do it...

I came across the term in, of all places, an advertisement for financial services. But, on reading it, the immediate wider application was also apparent.


In statistical inference, confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias towards confirmation of the hypothesis under study. See also bias (statistics). To compensate for this observed human tendency, the scientific method is constructed so that we must try to disprove our hypotheses. See falsifiability.

In psychology, confirmation bias is a phenomenon whereby, in a variety of settings, decision makers have been shown to notice more, assign more weight to, and actively seek out evidence that confirms their claims, and tend to ignore and not seek out evidence which might discount their claims. As such, it can be thought of as a form of selection bias in collecting evidence

And again...
Behavioral Finance: A Confirmation Bias in Action

Iain Fraser commenting on Royal Bank:

On Feb. 18, 2005 we wrote: "Royal Bank ($66.25) is at a new 12 month high. Going through $64.50 was an upside breakout and the technical expectation is for a move to the $70-$72 range. Also on our analysis it still maintains its" No.1 rating."

One week later the stock closed at $73.10! Whoopee!

Much of the time when a stock goes to a new high it keeps on going.

Yes, much of the time when a stock goes to a new high it keeps on going. Except for those times when it doesn`t. Then it falls and we lose money. If investing were that easy, we could all buy stocks only when they make new 52-week highs and retire rich. Unfortunately it`s not that easy.

This is what behavioural finance calls a confirmation bias:

In psychology, confirmation bias is a phenomenon whereby, in a variety of settings, decision makers have been shown to notice more, assign more weight to, and actively seek out evidence that confirms their claims, and tend to ignore and not seek out evidence which might discount their claims. As such, it can be thought of as a form of selection bias in collecting evidence.

When investors notice a particular event a few times, such as a stock ripping through its 52-week high, they tend to make notice of other stocks that obey this rule and tend to ignore those stocks which do not follow the trend. This results in clouded judgment which can impair the investment process. As investors, it is important to remain as objective as possible and to guard against cognitive biases which give us a false perception of reality, such as the notion that "much of the time when a stock goes to a new high it keeps on going."

I will not use the Schiavo case to illustrate the point. Anyone who wishes to google "schiavo" through the blogworld can sit down and enumerate the number of times that those supporting the husband have quoted news article and source after source giving that side of the story. No, don't look here; as I said I am as guilty as any...

Similarly, if you look to sites that support the Schindlers you will find again "loving parents", Biblical quotation on quotation, news article and source after source.

One could use the start of the Iraq War, the Iraq elections, the UN, any number of the "hot topics" that vitalise the people (including me) who comment upon the state of their world at anything above the "heart on the sleeve" entirely personal level.

Back in June last year, I wrote on the different emphases on the same story between The Guardian - a fairly stolid right of centre "traditional" British paper, and Fox News. I came to the following conclusions;

Well, there it is…somewhere in there is the truth.

The differences between Guardian and Fox are perhaps slight, but very subtle. In both cases there are key elements of the story attributed to anonymous but key figures. In both cases there are direct quotes from named sources.

Perhaps the biggest difference though is the amount of space that Fox gives to Chalabi himself, and the Iranian government. I can hear the right arguing the truth comes from those involved. I can hear that and my head says “vested interest” for both parties. Chalabi, because of what he has already lost, how much more he can lose, and what he thinks he can gain. The Iran government because they have been caught with honey on their paw.


Most significant difference in my view?

The Guardian starts by stating that the Iranian government passed false intelligence through Chalabi and INC to Washington…

In the Fox article, the Iranian government denies that Chalabi passed intelligence to them.

Nice, subtle, and revealing…

I followed that with a number of ideas on propaganda, but in terms of the opening gambit on this post the comparison between Guardian and Fox is closest to the point. For once (I recognise) I have managed to use a specific example to present a fundamental idea. What a pity that I had not heard of "confirmation bias" at that time, but perhaps just as well. I can carry too few ideas at once as it is...

I have battled at times with the Artist over his insistence that I present "evidence" supporting opinions I express. Oft times this of itself has raised the ire level somewhat for no other reason than (as he has pointed out quite rightly) my opinion will always be better than his; in exactly the same way that he believes his opinion will always be better than mine (for example). So, the effect of this is to immediately send me into a frenzy of googling trying (and I meekly admit sometimes without success) to find authoritative "sources" to support my contention. I have pointed out the futility of this in the past. No one "learns" anything; and far more importantly no one examines the sources being used critically to judge their validity to the point being made. So, in place of informed debate we end up with what amounts to a mud pie fight; with the mud pies being "suitable and appropriate quotations of important sources" and whether taken in or out of context is really not material.

The difficulty with suppressing the expression of opinion - not supported by "evidence" - is that it neatly prevents such analysis unless of course you can find some other "more authoritative commentator" who has picked exactly the same matter using the same logic that one is wishing to present. Then, can it be considered an "original" thought. Obviously not... But I must move on.

What has become apparent to me is this - obvious as it might sound;

Any site, any blog, any commentator, that consistently presents only one side of an argument; that consistently presents the same sources as "evidence"; that persists in discounting any sources or evidence to the contrary without examination; obviously suffers from a very bad case of confirmation bias.

I have much to work on...

Postscript -
An after-thought after reading the financial example I gave at the start of this post...

To what extent was the dot-com sharemarket boom driven by confirmation bias?
Anyone prepared to bare their conscience?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Well, this about closes the Schiavo case for me...

Predendum -

Original post starts -

I know that there are people who don't like the WaPo, but this seems to me to put the FACTS together quite nicely...

Medical, Ethical Questions Largely Decided, Experts Say

By Shankar Vedantam and Rick Weiss
Washington Po
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page A06

For all the political controversy over whether Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state and should be allowed to die, neurologists and ethicists said yesterday that the case presents few scientific and legal ambiguities.

Congress, President Bush and others have sought to place the case in the context of a broader ethical and political struggle to define when life ends -- with resonances for the lingering question of when it begins. But many experts said this is the wrong test case for a nation struggling with those profound questions.

Michael Schiavo has maintained that his wife, Terri, had said she would not want to receive treatment if she were ever in a situation like the one she is in. The brain-damaged woman will never regain the conscious awareness she lost 15 years ago, medical experts said, and decades of case law have already dealt with the legal issues raised by people in her condition.

Patients who do not return to normal within weeks of losing conscious awareness have a very poor prognosis, studies have shown. Electrical measurements have revealed no activity in the regions of Schiavo's brain needed for such consciousness, and repeated clinical examinations have left no doubt about her future.

"She is permanently unconscious and will never again have consciousness," said Robert M. Veatch, a professor of medical ethics at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, adding that she cannot feel sensations of hunger or thirst. "She can't starve or be thirsty. Anyone who uses those words doesn't understand the condition she is in."

Schiavo's husband has said she expressed a desire not to receive treatment if she were ever in such a situation -- a claim that was repeatedly upheld in court.

Schiavo's parents, however, have argued that their daughter's condition is not as bad as doctors suggest. Schiavo sleeps and wakes, blinks, and sometimes seems to smile. Her parents and other critics of the decision to remove her feeding tube insist that she responds to the presence of friends and relatives.

Medical experts said those behaviors are the cruelest aspect of a terrible condition: Grimaces and other facial expressions give families of tens of thousands of such patients hope, but they are evidence only that Schiavo's brain stem is working, keeping alive reflexes and routine bodily functions. They do not suggest that the higher areas of brain functioning needed for her to regain conscious awareness will return, experts said.

"It's uncanny but misleading," said William Winslade, who has studied how to distinguish patients in a persistent vegetative state from those suffering from other conditions at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. "Family members . . . will interpret random eye movements as something is happening. That has to be the case with Terri Schiavo. A truckload of physicians have concluded she is in a persistent vegetative state."

Videos, such as those of Schiavo examined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart transplant surgeon and sponsor of legislation requiring her case to be heard in federal courts, can be particularly misleading, said a neurologist who helped develop national guidelines for determining when someone is in a persistent vegetative state.

Ronald Cranford, like other doctors who have examined Schiavo, found that she cannot respond to commands and lacks visual tracking, essential signs of consciousness. Cranford, a neurologist and medical ethicist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, has testified on behalf of Schiavo's husband.

"Tomorrow I will do a transplant surgery if [Frist] starts doing neurology," he said. "I have as much competence in transplant surgery as he is competent to do a neurological diagnosis on a videotape. He has no clue."

Schiavo's wish not to be kept alive should be respected regardless of whether others agree with her decision, several ethicists said.

"This case isn't about definitions of death, it's about personal autonomy," said R. Alta Charo, associate dean of law at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "She expressed her wishes, and now people are standing in the way of her having those wishes carried out."

The struggle over Schiavo's state of consciousness echoes the long-standing controversy over defining death. Such debates have been as contentious -- if less public -- as debates over when life begins. They have changed substantially over time with the advent of new technologies and advances in scientific understanding about how the brain works.

The idea that a stopped heart determined death gave way in the late 1960s to the idea of "irreversible coma" or brain death.

Such definitions, however, have struggled to impose a bright line on what appears to be a biological gradient between life and death. A persistent vegetative state is confusing because only part of the brain is alive, even as higher centers are dead. The diagnosis can be controversial because it relies on clinical judgment and experience -- not an objective test or marker -- but experts said those ambiguities disappear when people have been unresponsive for very long periods.

Advances in imaging technology have recently raised a new round of issues, however. Some high-tech scans, for instance, show variations in blood flow in the brains of patients who are totally unresponsive, but the significance of those findings is unclear.

"Our brains are mysterious entities because you have chemical activity, electrical activity, organic activity all going on simultaneously," Winslade said. "Just because there is blood flow doesn't mean there is cognitive ability."

Because the brain performs so many functions, Veatch and others said, the ongoing challenge facing scientists and ethicists is to determine which of those functions add up to a life.

Mystic Knight, obviously you know more than any of these "experts" at least some of whom have had the opportunity to examine Mrs Schiavo in person.

I take it that your informed opinion is based upon similar informed examinations made by yourself?

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Terri Schiavo debate...

How many people have major heart attacks every week?

How many of those people suffer major brain damage as a result of the heart attack?

Of those, how many die without the benefit of TECHNOLOGICAL (OR MEDICAL) intervention?

I submit that Terri Schiavo is not a unique case. I submit that cases such as hers occur on a regular basis right across America.

So, if the life of this one person is so incredibly important that the government of the US interrupts all other business to ensure that she is kept alive...


Ah, there is the difference.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

I need some help here...

It has to do with the Second Amendment and the fact that I seem to have upset the Artist once again.

The whole story is here

Can someone please explain, in simple terms, why a person would prefer to live in a society where the possession of firearms for personal protection is not a choice, but ( seemingly from the justifications used by so many people ) a neccessity.

As I said to the Artist in one of my comments, he is obviously not alone. The criticism is not personal in the least because of that. Because of that also, the attitudes he expresses seem societal and cultural, not personal.

As has happened in the past he has this dislike of contention without confirmation so in order to prove that there were orders of magnitude (I told him the difference was a factor of ten but I think it might be as high as twenty) in the rates of gun killings in the US and NZ I referred him to this site

But really, the question I have to ask - have asked of every person with whom I have debated gun ownership and the Second Amendment - is this...

"How can one honestly live in a society where the use and ownership of firearms is a culturally and socially accepted necessity?"

Friday, March 18, 2005

Net the minnows, forget the sharks...

From the Herald...

US says two indicted in Kuwait fuel scheme

18.03.05 11.40am

A former Kellogg, Brown & Root employee and a Kuwaiti businessman have been indicted on charges they attempted to defraud the US government of more than US$3.5 million on a fuel supply contract for military operations in Kuwait, US prosecutors said on Thursday.

Jeff Alex Mazon, the former KBR employee, and LaNouvelle General Trading and Contracting Co. managing partner Ali Hijazi, were indicted on 10 counts of fraud by a federal grand jury in Illinois, the Justice Department said in a statement.

KBR is a unit of Halliburton Co.

Yup, and the trail will get as far up that tree as the Abu Ghraib enquiry got up theirs... about six inches.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The new economic miracle...

Otherwise known as "Maccawberism" (Yes the mis-spelling is intentional).

In the great words of Mr McCawber "Income one pound, outgoings nineteen shillings and sixpence; result bliss!! Income nineteen shillings and sixpence, outgoings one pound; result misery!!!"

US Current Account (the international "trading bank balance") USD188 billion overdrawn.

Trade balance for 4th quarter 2004 (the latest released) USD58 billion imports exceed exports.

MOST of the deficit is trade with China. MOST of the US Securities being used to fund the Current Account (total taken up in the last quarter was some USD20 billion) are being bought by Chinese banks and investment houses.

Worried yet?

Warren Buffet of Berkshire Investors -
Buffett has argued since 2003 that this huge trade deficit will eventually bring a sharp decline in the dollar, and he has tried to protect his company's shareholders against that dollar crash by speculating in foreign currencies. But this year, with the trade deficit having ballooned to a record $618 billion in 2004, Buffett's tone is almost apocalyptic.

"The evidence grows that our trade policies will put unremitting pressure on the dollar for many years to come," Buffett writes. "The decline in its value has already been substantial, but it is nevertheless likely to continue. Without policy changes, currency markets could even become disorderly and generate spillover effects, both political and financial." That's careful language, but what Buffett is saying is that America is risking a financial crash -- a bursting bubble -- if political leaders don't do something about the trade deficit.

Buffett phrases his analysis in his usual homespun metaphors. By buying more abroad than we produce at home, "We are like a family that consistently overspends its income," he writes; we are financing this self-indulgence only by writing IOUs that are claims on our future income. Rather than an "ownership society," we are creating a "sharecropper's society" that, by Buffett's calculation, will owe the world $11 trillion by 2015 if we continue on the current course. Servicing that debt would cost $550 billion annually, a payment to the rest of the world that "would undoubtedly produce significant political unrest in the U.S.," Buffett fears.

Alan Greenspan is quoted on the other hand -
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan counters that the economy is headed for a soft landing, and the debt owed to foreign investors and savers is no big deal.

...and again in Business Week... and Asia Times
As if this weren't trouble enough for the besieged greenback, US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan stirred up the market Thursday night saying foreign investors would reduce their US asset holdings at some point, while new findings came to light that China is indeed doing so.

Saying he is not "overly" concerned about the record US trade gap or heavy consumer debt, Greenspan said the budget deficit gives him the shivers. The US current account deficit widened to a record US$164.7 billion from July through September, the most recent figures available, equivalent to 5.6% of gross domestic product (GDP). "Our current account deficit and household debt burdens do not strike me as overly worrisome, but that is certainly not the case for our fiscal deficit," Greenspan told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "Our fiscal prospects are, in my judgment, a significant obstacle to long-term stability, because the budget deficit is not readily subject to correction by market forces that stabilize other imbalances."

According to the high priest of finance, international investors have only modestly shifted their portfolios away from dollar assets so far. But he warned that they might at some point decide their portfolios are too dollar-centric, ominously adding that if the dollar keeps dropping, foreign exporters may start looking elsewhere.

When you have leading investors (and I could probably find quite a few more than just Mr Buffet) giving consistent warnings that directly counter the head of the Federal Bank not only is someone wrong, someone is horribly wrong!

I regret to say that the spin coming from the Greenspan camp sounds distinctly like the confident pronouncements that were being made by the Muldoon government here in NZ just before the watermelon struck. It took over twenty years to pay off the debts from that fiasco.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

One of those moments...

It is very rarely that I am tempted to write on matters religious, but this is one where in one day where two events and a moment of perspicacity over ride all other considerations.

The "main event" on which I was going to write I have put down second; it is the political march of the Destiny Church here in Auckland that took place yesterday. To my chagrin and potential embarrassment I knew nothing of it until it hit the news at midday by which time the fun was all over. What has overtaken it in importance is a post at OneHandClapping which drew me through to this from Ragamuffin...

Jesus Talks With A Gay Man - (John 4:1-33, 39-42 - more or less...)

1 In late July, the Metro Chicago Synod heard that Jesus was attracting more first-time visitors and baptizing more adults than any other ELCA pastor in the city, 2 although in fact it was not really Jesus who had baptized them, but his irregularly-commisioned staff of unordained lay ministers. 3 Now when Jesus learned of this, he left the seminary community in Hyde Park and went back once more toward the ELCA headquarters on Higgins Road.

4 Now to get there, he had to go through an area just north of downtown called Boystown. 5 So he came to a part of Boystown called Northhalsted, not far from the plot of ground where Emperor Mayor Daley had ordained that the Chicago Cubs should play baseball. 6 Cub's Stadium was near there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey on the Red Line, sat down at a sidewalk café table outside the bar called Hydrate. It was just about lunch-time, and though the rainbow flags were fluttering in the breeze and the music inside the bar was pumping, there weren't many people around (because it's often hot and miserable outside, at mid-day in late July, in Chicago).

7 A waiter came to the table, wearing a bright pink "His+His" t-shirt and a "Silence=Death" armband, and raised one eyebrow at the man seated at the table in front of him in the "Come Follow Me" t-shirt. Jesus said to him, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (All the lay ministers had gone down the street to pick up Subway sandwiches for the rest of the journey.)

9 The gay man said to him, " tell me. After all, you appear to be a straight Christian, and I'm a gay man. Let's face it - we don't get many religious folks in Boystown, let alone places like this. And I'm not only a gay man, but I'm a Muslim gay man. So where does a guy like you get off asking someone like me for a drink?" (For Christians do not associate with gays, nor with Muslims if they can help it.)

10 Jesus answered him, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

11 "Hey, mister," the gay man said, "I'm the waiter here. I don't see you with an order pad or a serving tray, and it's tough for customers to even get close to our fountain-drink station, let alone our bar. So how are you going to get anything for me to drink, let alone 'living water'? Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you somehow greater than the folks who own this place, who let us drink have free water and soda (and snitch the occasional mixed drink) whenever we want?"

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks your water, or your soda, or your beer will get thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

15 The gay man said to him, "Yeah? know what, I have no idea who you really are, or even what the heck you're talking about. But you're the first Christian man in 20 years that hasn't spit on me, or called me 'an abomination' to my face. Somehow, I think I want some of what you're offering. Give me some of this water you keep talking about, so I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to get something to drink."

16 Jesus told the man, "OK - just call your wife and come back here, and we'll talk."

17 "Who are you kidding?" the gay man said. "Don't you know where you are? You're in Boystown, for cryin' out loud. I don't have a wife, or a girlfriend. Heck, right now I don't even have a boyfriend," he replied.

18 Jesus said to her, "You're right when you say you have no boyfriend. The fact is, you've had five boyfriends, and the guy you're living with now isn't even your boyfriend. He's just a guy you picked up in the club - some guy who doesn't even know your real last name."

19 Whoah, buddy," the gay man said, "that's pretty intense! How'd you know that about me?" Jesus was silent. "OK...I get it. Maybe you're one of those folks who can see right through people - maybe one of those guys with 'second sight.' Maybe you're one of those folks who 'have the Spirit,' like those televangelists say. 20 I don't know anything about that. My family - my people (the ones who are observant, anyway) - think that you have to pray five times a day to Allah to get that kind of power. The rest of the people I know don't even bother with that spiritual mumbo-jumbo...they just think you have to work out a lot, look good, live fast, die hard and leave a good-looking corpse. And all the Christians I've met think that I have to pray their way, and start living life their way, or I'm 'going to hell.' Either way, my day-to-day life is so empty, I'm not convinced that I'm not already in hell. What's a guy supposed to believe?"

21 Jesus said, "Believe me, my friend, a time is coming when you won't worship God in Mecca, or in the gym, or in the club, or in a church sanctuary. 22 You and your friends worship what you think you know, but do not know. Christians worship what they do know, for salvation is promised in Scripture. 23 Yet a time is coming - and has now come - when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

25 The gay man said, "I know that the church folks say that their Savior is coming. Maybe when he finally gets here, he will explain everything to us."

26 Then Jesus declared, "Then wait no longer. I'm the one they're waiting for."

The Irregularly-Commissioned Lay Ministers Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then the lay ministers returned and were more than a little surprised to find Jesus apparently talking with a gay man - one who appeared to be Middle-Eastern in origin, to boot. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with him?"

28 Then, leaving his tray and his order pad behind at the table, the gay man went back to the bar, and even next door to the gym and to the other clubs, and said to the people, 29 "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted. Could this possibly be 'the Christ' all those religious folks keep talking about?" 30 People came out of the gym, and out of the bars and clubs, and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile the lay ministers (the ones who considered themselves Jesus' disciples) kept saying, "Hey, padré, you may walk on water, but come on - even Michael Jordan's gotta eat something." 32 But Jesus said to them, "I have a source of energy that you know nothing about."

33 Then his disciples said to each other, "Did someone slip him some Mrs. Field's cookies while we weren't looking?"


Many Gays and Lesbians Believe

39 Many of the gays and lesbians who gathered from all around Boystown believed in Jesus because of what the waiter said: "You gotta come and see this... come see a guy who told me everything I ever did, and didn't run away or act disgusted." 40 So when the people of that area - gay men, lesbians, bisexuals (even people in civil unions from Vermont and Episcopalians visiting from New Hampshire) came to him, they urged Jesus to stay with them. So rather than continuing the ride out to Higgins Road, the irregularly consecrated lay ministers found some rooms at a nearby bed-&-breakfast, and he stayed in Boystown - amidst the people with whom most Christians would not associate - for two days. 41 And because of what Jesus spoke to the men and women there, many more became believers.

42 The people who heard Jesus said to the gay man who first encountered him, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."

Remember, that is not my sermon. But, from my childhood knowledge of Christianity it rings something of a bell.

What I do want to do is to contrast it with the events of yesterday...

There is much in the following two articles regarding the counter-demonstrations. That to me is a disappointment, but not the reason for this post, because that reportage detracts from the main "news"...

First, extracted from the news this morning...

Warwick Gilmore and his children came from Tauranga to take part.

"This is not my scene. I've never marched before in my life and it aggrieves me that I have to do it, but I feel like I have to make a stand. Moderates like me are being pushed into this, it's like the basics (of society) are being redefined," he said.

National Front youth members, one wearing a balaclava, walked next to Destiny members.

Tamaki, overtly political, called Christians to arms in election year.

"Christians hear me. You are one of the largest voting blocks in the country, yet you are one of the most under-represented in places of influence. It's time for you to make your stand."

While digging around for that, I also came acros this opinion piece datelined from Friday...

But Christian Life Centre pastor Paul De Jong insists: "We are for something, not against anything."

There is an incorrect perception that the march is a Destiny event, he says. The family isn't important just to Christians, "many New Zealanders share these views".

He says the march is intended to be a political statement - leaders need to be reminded in election year that people are concerned about the moral state of the nation, and the lack of importance being placed on family values and society's cornerstone: the nuclear family.

Other groups lobby hard, so Christians need to.

He doesn't approve of black shirts and fist salutes and there will be none of that today. Anything that can be seen as a hate march is not helpful to the Christian message, he says.

"It's about marching for marriage, for our families and for the future generations."

That's not what the website says. Well, he admits, the website was a Destiny thing.

And the Destiny Church will be the only political party to speak. Others were invited and agreed to speak, but they pulled out. Why? "The perception that it was a Destiny march."

Does his church support Destiny's political aspirations? "We've never expressed categorical support."


Mr Winslade (national leader of the Baptist churches], making it clear he was expressing personal views, said Christians should not support Destiny at the general election or take part in public demonstrations that could be interpreted as political support.

This is despite "agreeing wholeheartedly with Destiny's desire to see an arrest of liberal and destructive social policy on the part of the current government".

"Could it be that such public displays are embarrassing the wider Christian community and stigmatising fellow Bible-believing Christians?" he wrote.

Mr Winslade argues that public displays are not the Christian way.

"Jesus and his first followers eventually won an empire through a revolution of love and faith and good deeds."

The Destiny movement is based on "presumptuous false prophecy - that Brian Tamaki was the anointed spiritual leader whom God is raising up to lead the nation", he says.

"Allegedly within four years Brian Tamaki will be the spiritual leader of New Zealand. Many Destiny Church members, and a growing number of Pentecostal Christians, believe this to be true. It's time to call this for what is really is: wrong."

The only mention on tv news yesterday evening was a 5 second clip of Tamaki haranguing the crowds after the demonstration... The outtake they screened "...our leader, Helen Clarke, is an avowed atheist..."

Which she is, and as if that makes any difference to how the country is governed.

To you folks of religious persuasion, which of these two pictures represents more closely the religion that you follow;

the picture of a Christ sharing a glass and debate with a gay muslim waiter,

or the Destiny Church marching against an inclusive society, accompanied by members of the National Front (who for those who do not know or remember are the neo- and devout followers of a diminutive Austrian paperhanger and Corporal who affected a funny little mustache)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Twenty years ago... my doesn't time fly when you are having fun!

Twenty years ago today -

David Lange debated nuclear deterrence with Jerry Falwell... "I can smell the uranium on your breath".

New Zealand floated its currency on the international market for the first time...

From the NZ Herald
Before the float, New Zealand used a variety of exchange rate mechanisms, including a crawling peg between June 1979 and June 1982, and fixing the exchange rate against a basket of currencies between 1982 and 1985.

Under these arrangements, the Reserve Bank acted as a residual buyer or seller, trading foreign exchange in whatever quantities were necessary to support the exchange rate.

The amounts traded are much bigger now than 20 years ago. Then, a $200 million deal would dominate the market on the day and affect the value of the kiwi.

Now four times that amount is needed to move the rate.

The kiwi is now the 11th most traded currency in the world, with daily turnover in the New Zealand market of around $7.5 billion.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Whistling in the wind again...

There is an absolute wealth of learned analysis and comment on the meaning and validity of George Orwell's "newspeak" on the internet and in published works of all kinds, and a ten-fold more (including my little effort here) which probably will never bear mention.

It all starts with this -
" 'It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take "good", for instance. If you have a word like "good", what need is there for a word like "bad"? "Ungood" will do just as well -- better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of "good", what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like "excellent" and "splendid" and all the rest of them? "Plusgood" covers the meaning, or " doubleplusgood" if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already. but in the final version of Newspeak there'll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words -- in reality, only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.'s idea originally, of course,' he added as an afterthought." - George Orwell - 1984.

My 1982-83 Concise Oxford Dictionary gives the meaning of newspeak as "artificial language of George Orwell's '1984'" which is entirely accurate and not at all newspeak. My 1999 edition of Collins on the other hand gives "language of bureaucrats and politicians regarded as deliberately ambiguous and misleading".

Truth of the matter is, I believe, that newspeak is alive and well in western civilisation today. It does not take the "good, plusgood; doubleplusgood; ungood, plusungood..." form of Orwell's original language. In fact it is considerably more sophisticated and malleable. There is a synonym for it here in NZ, one which it would not surprise me to find is used elsewhere - WEASEL WORDS

The Collins meaning gives rise to an interesting parallel. The original newspeak as formulated by Orwell was to remove from language any possibility of mis-interpretation; the machinery of that was to remove all possible ideas from the language. The Collins meaning leaves open the possibility of a different principle...

"It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of truth. Of course the great wastage is in the rights and the ethics, but there are hundreds of lies that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the positive truths; there are also the negative truths. After all, what justification is there for an idea which is simply the opposite of some other idea? The idea contains its opposite in itself...In the end the whole notion of truth and untruth will be covered by just the one concept; that there is only one truth, there is only one word, there is only the Word. And the Word is the State."

Now if I throw in here a series of terms used widely in the media, since about the past 30 years, it should show the links in the chain I am following...

  • "spin"

  • "public relations"

  • "image"

  • "interests"

  • "damage control"

All of these terms have meanings and context outside of the modern "Minitrue"s in everyday language, but they also have very specific meaning and context within the political arena. It is the Minitrue and the political context of these terms (as a collective, not individually) that make the Newspeak of today. You don't think we have Minitrues in place right now? What possible purpose do you imagine the plethora of advisers, analysts, speech writers, press agents, personal assistants and secretaries are for in the administration of pretty well every Head of State? Do you really believe that the conglomerate of staff is there to ensure that you the elector are fully aware of the TRUTH?

It starts with a principle -

"If you have something important to say, always use language that allows for semantic re-interpretation."

And a qualifier -
"The best language is that which uses existing public knowledge and concept, and which at the same time allows scope for far different application."

There is an excellent example of this going on at the present time between NZ and Israel. Regulars will recall my mention of the Israelis caught while trying to obtain an NZ passport using fraudulent documentation. One of the principals is a gent who is well known to the Australians as an agent of the Israeli Intelligence unit, Mossad.

The newspeak exercise is being undertaken by the Israelis in their attempts "to find suitable words" which will satisfy the NZ Government as an apology including "Mossad agent", "responsibility" and "the intended use of the passport". At the same time they have to be able to tell the electorate in Israel that Elisha Cara was in fact a misguided private citizen who was trying to obtain the passport for his own criminal uses. In addition to all that, the Israeli government also has to try and justify Cara's luxury retirement suite overlooking the beach at Tel Aviv or Haifa.

There is another on the news tonight. One of the election promises of our beloved Labour Government was "No New Taxes". Well, they just announced one; a five cent per litre impost on petrol and diesel to provide additional funds for roading. The verbal contortions that the Minister of Transport went through to weave the original policy into todays truth was an entertainment in itself.

I have no doubt that if we sit down and think, just a little, there are innumerable examples from politics all over the world... Ones that spring immediately to my mind -

  • "closing the gaps" The totally discredited policy of the current Labour government intended to "improve the primary social indicators of Maori" (BTW they are income, health, education and housing.) There was a suggestion from the opposition parties that it should have been called "giving the Maori of handout" policy. As a piece of newspeak it was terrible, as a policy it stank to high heaven and it was dropped within weeks of its announcement.

  • "Transparency" No, not the photographic term, but one applied - the original was by Rob Muldoon - to the process of covering up something that had gone wrong. The solution - "...increased transparency of decision making..." - meant quite the opposite. In fact, to those in the know the mere utterance of the word should have the "what are they hiding" alarms screaming and flashing. The mechanism is to create a new bureaucracy to deal with the "problem" promising "transparency" and then making the outcomes of action and deliberation so sensitive that (in the words of the tv joke) "...if I told you I would have to kill you..." By the time that mess has been sorted those really responsible have retired - either voluntarily or not - or the "problem" has been forgotten by the electorate.

  • "collective responsibility" The art of spreading the blame so thin that it is impossible to make anyone responsible for the stuff-up. I am waiting for this one to be used in the NCEA debacle.

  • "sexual relations" The instantly recognisable American example. When prefixed with the phrase "Read my lips" you just know that he is not talking about full sexual intercourse. The newspeak term though leads you in that direction, while leaving the contradiction "I did not say that..." wide open.

  • "war on terror" This is going to be a classic. The "exceptions" abound. Not Indonesia because they are mates of ours at the moment. Not Sudan because we haven't got reason. Syria unless they play our game - win/win US, lose/lose Syria. Iran the same. North Korea we will blame the Chinese for doing nothing. It has to be one of the masterpieces...

And that really is the essence of newspeak.

It is the ability to give a word or phrase an instant and pre-cognitive meaning, then to use the term repeatedly in a form which gradually negates that meaning. The tv news "soundbite" is an absolute perfect arena for newspeak and weasel words. The editors are under pressure to fit as much of what they think is important into as small a time as the revenue earning advertisements will allow. That brevity, as far as the skilful politician is concerned is manna from heaven. It forces the use of pre-conceptions to get the initial idea across to the listener. Then in subsequent interviews the meaning can be shaded toward the real.

It does us well to be able to recognise the use of newspeak terms whenever they arise. It is essential for our civilisation's, for democracy's, survival that we let our politicians know that we do recognise their use of newspeak. It is essential that they are called out. Every time.


To wind this up, a thought from another great of the same era as Orwell. Huxley this time...

"There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianism should resemble the old. Government by clubs and firing squads, by artificial famine, mass imprisonment, and mass deportation, is not merely inhumane (nobody cares much about that nowadays); it is demonstrably inefficient - and in an age of advanced technology, inefficiency is a sin against the Holy Ghost. A really efficient totalitarian state would be the one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors, and school teachers.


The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but refraining from doing. Great is the truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth."
- Aldous Huxley, Introduction to "Brave New World" 1952 edition.