Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas meme?

From TFS

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Iced coffee?

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? Puts them under the tree...

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Colored!

4. Do you hang mistletoe? We use a small sprig of pohutukawa.

5. When do you put your decorations up? About the first or second week of December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Fresh fish - preferably hapuku (sea bass) - pan fried with butter and nothing!

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? Going out on the cream run (milking, and collection, never stops.) with my dad.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? From as early as I can remember.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Tinsel and lights!

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Snow? Sun and sand here!

12. Do you ice skate? No.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? A jewellery box that I made for my wife from rewarewa.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Being with my family!

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Hmm, tough one that. Strawberries in kirsch with cream.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Christmas tradition? Tough one that too. Family dinner, which usually started at about 2pm and finished about 8pm.

17. What tops your tree? A star.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? I have always had a fear of receiving gifts, and a dread of buying. On balance, giving.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Handel's "Messiah", the whole thing. Far more inventive and cheery than Bach's "Christmas Oratorio".

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? Yeeech!!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Snapshot of the "average American"...

I could not help a quiet smile.

Reyes sat down with a reporter for the Congressional Quarterly to answer a few questions, like: Is Al Qaeda Sunni or Shia? Answer: Sunni. Reyes stumbled around and tried to sit the fence by saying both. Clueless.

What's the difference, Mr. Intel Committee chairman, between Sunni and Shia? This one actually requires two minutes of reading and even Wikipedia can keep you in the ballpark. Suffice it to say, Shia are followers of Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. Ali was married to the prophet's daughter Fatima, and when the prophet died some Muslims thought Ali should lead Islam and others thought a learned scholar should be the leader, hence the split between Shia, followers of Ali, and Sunni, a long time ago after Muhammad died.

That thumbnail sketch would have gotten him through it, even as crudely as I related it.

Now are there Republicans who voted for the war who don't know these facts? Sure. But we're now talking about the people in charge, and as of January Reyes is in charge and he's clueless.

Pelosi told Brit Hume that the war in Iraq isn't a war, but a situation that needs to be fixed. She picks a guy who doesn't know why Al Qaeda was formed or which branch of Islam it represents.

The Herald this morning mentioned Reyes' response to the question "What is Hezbollah?". He offered to respond in Spanish but, as the Herald article pointed out, it is unlikely that Spain has much to do with the correct answer.

I wonder - I can think of some - a few - NZ politicians who would certainly know the answers to two of the three questions. But what about the likes of the common back-bencher?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Be President for ten minutes...

For those who may be interested in the “how” and the “why” of international politics, here is a small (in every sense of the word) conundrum for consideration and debate…

Situation –

A small, Pacific Island nation, democratic government, strong law, strong military.

Population comprises First Nation people (51%), and an immigrant population predominantly descended from cheap labour brought in to work the sugar plantations.

Over the past 20 years, there have been four coup d’etat. These coups have essentially been driven by the perception that the immigrant population was exercising too greater power in the government. That perception is based upon (in the first instance) the election of a left of centre government led by an immigrant Prime Minister. At that time the immigrant population was a majority, about 55% of the total population. After changes to the Constitution which vested guaranteed government control in the indigenous population, the last election in 2001 has resulted in relatively stable government.

That government recently proposed three laws which the Commander of the Army does not agree with. The first proposal included government pardons and freedom from prosecution for all civilians involved in the four coups, and particularly the last civilian coup. Three members of the deposed government are “beneficiaries” of that proposed law. The second proposed that all foreshores and the seabed should vest in the ownership of the indigenous population.

The Army Commander has acted against the government because he believes the proposed laws “will cause major civil strife”.

After a slow and progressive series of actions, the Army has taken over the Government, the Commander has adopted the position of President and has appointed a government of ministers in place of the elected government.

The questions for debate –

How should your nation respond to a call for assistance from the deposed Prime Minister?

What manner and level of action should be taken against the “illegal” government?

Should there have been pressure on the deposed government prior to the coup? If so, what form should that pressure have taken?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A week is a long time in politics...

... not that the current events in NZ are of the kind I would blog continuously - there really is little new in what as been going on. It is just that I have been away for a week, on holiday, taking a break.. down in the 'Naki helping my daughter and s-i-l move in to their new house.

This really starts with comment that I made immediately after the last General Election and this in particular...

The “collapse” of the Christian parties was pointed out during the evening. The fact was not lost on Brash Donnie who, in his closing speech last night referred to the National Party as the party of Catholics, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, and - after a prompt from the audience - Closed Brethren... That is a scary prospect for the next election whether it be three years or three months down the road.

What do I think?

A National government will not be a surprise, especially if the Green vote goes under 4.9%. If that does happen, then I would expect a fresh election within 12 months. I don’t believe that Brash Donnie has the political nous that will be needed to keep a fragile government together.

The Nat's didn't bridge the gap. Brash Donnie didn't get that close.

I touched on the thought again here, with the idea that there is a need to in some way "control" the involvement of "non-political partisan electioneering" (Don't worry, I made that one up for myself) and the potential for abuse of the systems and controls on the funding of elections.

There are essentially two opposing arguments with sotto twitterings from the piccolos backstage.

The accusations of “illegality” centering on the Exclusive Bretheren in support of the National Party are likely paralleled by other like minded organizations. Everyone knows who they are; the amounts contributed are comparatively small; the electoral support given is considerable.

Primary instance – much less visible these past two elections it must be said – is the Business Round Table. This think-tank was very active in supporting the Nats, not in monetary terms but in media visibility and open statements. As I said, there are other like-minded organizations.

Now that was written as part of the discussion of the election overspending by everyone except the Nats.

Since then, Nicky Hager (investigative reporter and history writer "supreme") has surfaced with his latest book on the political machinations in this country. Left wing - extreme even - he might be, but those of us who still remember "Corngate" will know that he is not at all partisan in his criticism of political misdeeds and mistruths.

And there is quite a story in how this latest book was born as well. Before publication was even announced, Brash Donnie was in Court with an application for an injunction against "John and Jane Doe". The objective of the injunction was to prevent publication, in any form, of a large number of emails "stolen from his computer". That injunction was given by the Court, and there was considerable debate - media and talk-back radio - about who "John and Jane Doe" might be... The accusations of political hanky-panky were not helped by Winnie the Pooh's lot saying that they had destroyed all copies of the emails that they had held. That led to further wails from the Nat's about "destruction of evidence" etc etc... There was (still is) very little doubt that the other parties all have their own copies as well.

Then Hager turns up, with his new book about to be published. Within two days, three or four days only after it was granted, Brash Donnie is back trying to find some way of removing the Injunction so that Hager's book can be published.

Say WHAT!!!?

Brash Donnie was trying to find some way of getting the Injunction removed so that Hager's book could be published.

I have not read the book as yet. The 5000 initial print will probably go down as one of this countries fastest best sellers. There have been extracts and reviews in all of the media.

At this point there are two important things to come out of Hager's book. No, not whether Brash runs free and easy with the truth; that is a given for any politician. It should suprise no one. Not just the involvement of the Exclusive Brethren either. See my earlier posts on that count.

The first is the representation of the political party as organisation and as individuals. Go back to my personal life in local government. There were (should still be - I hope) two principles that governed both inward and outward communication. All outward communication speaks for the Council, its officers and the elected representatives; every person signing a letter had to be certain of the content, its correctness and presentation. Similarly (and this is the point ignored or forgotten by Brash Donnie and his Party) all inward correspondance is not to an individual, it can rightly be considered as being to the organisation.

So for Brash Donnie to "explain" that he did not "see" (or read) all of the emails in Hager's book is really rather ingenuous. There is no denial that the emails were from Nat records. That is the critical point in my mind. The organisation received them - therefore the organisation "knew".

The second, and far more important expose in my opinion, is the clear picture it paints of the machinations that are a part of the operation of politics in this country. As I said in the earlier piece...

I have worked in the fringes of this kind of movement about 30 years back Spent my time planning “strategies”, “campaign progressions”, and all of the other paraphernalia associated with floating a political idea. About the only thing I lear[n]t was that none of the leading lights were interested in fact or logic. Only the outcome mattered. That outcome had nothing to do with the community, or the cause being promoted. They were only the vehicle for keeping the leader in the public light, as active and proactive, and in power.

The party name or position is immaterial. It is how politics operates. It is the greatest legal con-job in town. It works because so few really "know" that.

Remember this -

... I would expect a fresh election within 12 months... I don’t believe that Brash Donnie has the political nous that will be needed to keep a fragile government together.

And then all hell let loose...

Recommended reading -

The World behind political spin

Tomorrow the National caucus meets to choose a new leader, and the
front-runner is finance spokesman John Key. The caucus will also know there are
troubling parallels between Key and the hapless Brash. Both have little
political experience. In both cases there is a suspicion of a gap between the
image and reality. Key may be much further right than he seems.

The wealthy businesspeople who backed Brash have already signalled that
Key will have to earn their confidence and their financial support. The party
needs the money of the radical right - but they won't grant it willy-nilly. Key
will be caught, as Brash was, between the need to deliver pragmatic, centrist
policies to the voters - and the demands from the right for purity.
Brash has
gone, freeing the party of his clumsiness, his old-guy gaffes, and his
unpredictability. But the same political problems that Brash and National faced
are still there.

Political jargon - useful one this ...

"Inoculation": The PR work that parties do to get embarrassing political issues off the agenda. National had to inoculate itself on nuclear ship visits and Labour's promised fourweek holiday.

"Political hygiene": Camouflaging a political attack on a vulnerable group by expressing concern for their welfare. Brash strategist Peter Keenan said it was "essential that every time we talk tough on (Maori) issues, we also run hard with a compassionate line - otherwise we fail the political hygiene test."

"Lines": The "spontaneous" replies - like actors' lines - designed by spin doctors for politicians. Media manager Richard Long prepared lines for Brash to use when the Exclusive Brethren scandal broke - and he faithfully followed them, right down to Long's instructions "to get mildly irritated".

"Mainstream": A camouflage word to disguise a rightwing policy. It was suggested to National by American neocon Richard Allen, who had used it in the campaign for Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. "Were we really 'right wing' back in 1980, as the press charged?" he [Richard Allen] wrote in an email to Brash. "You bet we were, but (we) responded only by the flat statement that 'Governor Reagan sits squarely in the mainstream."'

"Framing": Defined by National's controversial Australian strategist, Mark Textor, as "setting a notion not about the issues people think about but giving them a WAY to think about the issues". An example was National putting all discussion of welfare and tax cuts into the frame of "incentives", the book says.

"Bridging": Leading the discussion from the manufactured idea in the frame back to issues that helped National.

I will close this with a quote from Marilyn Waring's Foreword to Hager's book. Waring is an ex-National MP, dumped (as I remember) by Rob Muldoon for threatening to vote against his extremely fragile (and politically corrupt) government. She has, as she says, seen this process from the inside. She also knows that it is not unique to the National Party, but endemic in modern politics...

Of course, many of the events and communications recorded in The Hollow Men were legitimate, written by people going about their lawful business. We mightn't like their ideologies, but they would profess as genuine a love and concern for this country as I do. We just see it in a completely different way. But I don't have their business interests. (There's not too much conspiracy in some of the letters quoted from old politicians. I once wrote to John Banks agreeing with something he had said, but I certainly wouldn't want anything to be inferred about my political ideology from that!) There will undoubtedly be a lot of commentary of that nature, but Nicky has undertaken an excellent systems analysis. You cannot take isolated and separate instances away from the whole, and still make sense of the analysis. The constant build-up of' data and texture means the book must be examined as a whole. I hope the reviewers will see that.

I must admit to a sense of anticipated despair about the treatment The Hollow Men might receive. Most of the people I know (and a number of them sit in parliamentary seats) are disgusted with the sandpit the House has become - and it was certainly this bad when I was an MP. We are desperate for a government and an opposition with policies that have content. We are desperate for intelligent debate about the wrinkles around the shades of grey that are the real choices. There's tremendous impatience from many of us with the present simplistic black/white approach. We feel ashamed that a country with such a basically decent and principled population can be so manipulated. There's a real chance that both politicians and the media, and especially the talkback hosts, will see this book as more grist to the sensationalist mill. The focus may be on looking for and condemning the leakers, as opposed to scrutinising an appallingly mendacious political campaign. This is not the outcome Nicky intends. I am sure, as he notes, that there are unpleasant little stories in the emails of other political parties. They may be best to slay well away from the task that now lies in front of National. There have always been people of integrity, intelligence and liberal disposition in the National Party, and they have often been spurned for the cheap sensation of the poll-driven leader. But the country may now like the look of such a refreshingly different group of people: I always prefer the honesty of politicians who agonise in the grey areas. In March 1984 wrote a piece for the New Zealand Listener on 'Leaving Parliament'. Early in the essay I quoted from Adrienne Rich's writing in Women and. Honour: Some Notes on Lying: 'We assume that politicians are without honour. We read their statements trying to crack the code. The scandal of their politics. Not that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed. We are accustomed to the contempt inherent in the political life.'

It is my hope that the ultimate effect of The Hollow Men will be the return of honour and honesty to our democracy. I thank Nicky Hager for his courage and extraordinary hard work.

Marilyn, I wholeheartedly and totally agree.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A piece of hidden history...

I wrote about the 125th Anniversary of Parihaka. Our week-long trip to the 'Naki was not connected in any way until I wrote that.

So, I took with me a small collection of J.C. Sturm's poetry, including her two poems on Parihaka, with the intent of reading them at the site of Parihaka itself.

Now, the first difficulty is finding the site of the original settlements. There is nothing on any of the maps that we were carrying - there is a map here that will help. There are descriptive locations in many of the various writings. They make reference to Bell Block, to a nearby military outpost, to Pungarehu, Pukearuhe both of which you will see are a fair distance apart.

I thought that a visit to Puke Ariki (source of the map, and an excellent museum and aftgernoon's wander) might have helped solve the immediate problem of "Where...?" We found a couple of the old survey pegs in a case. We found detailed description of the Taranaki Wars through the 1850's. The nearest that we got to Parihaka though was the Declaration of Martial Law by Govenor Gore-Brown in 1860; the proclamation that was repealed 24 hours later. That Declaration was the beginning (20 years prior to) the end of the story at Parihaka. It was the show of power and intent that I believe was a strong motivator for Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi in their promotion of Maori economic independence, if not political and national independence. To be fair to Puke Ariki, their web-site summary of the story does some justice to the man, if not the events.

There was a second reference in the Maori History section of the Museum, including a brief description of the actions of Te Whiti, the responses of the militias, and of the debt owed to Ngai Tahu for their care of the men who were taken into slavery in the South Island, and the women who followed them there.

We did not find the AA sign. It apparently does exist.

We did visit Pukeiti, and the rhododendron gardens there. The place is important to the story, the rhodos coincidental. Or are they? The original land allocations of the area around Pukeiti could well date from the time of the 1860 confiscations.

All in all, it is a fascinating piece of NZ history. It is a critical illustration of the methods used in building the colony. The actions of the colonial administration differed little from those used in the Waikato in the 1850s and 60s, the Bay of Plenty and Tauranga area about the same time, or for that matter the battles between settlers and British forces on the one hand and the Ngapuhi on the other around Bay of Islands and Hokianga in the 1830s; the battles that led to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

There was a man - JC Sturm

There was a man
preached peace
to warrior chiefs.

He built a pa
at Parihaka.
Soldiers burned it down

robbed the people
of their land
and livelihood.

He preached
to them as well.
They would not listen.

Or history
would be different
if they had.

How much longer
must we reap
their bitter harvest?


Kia ora JC Sturm. Kia Ora, kia mana, kia mana.

From my heart, thank you.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Well, I guess that it must be almost summer...

... the probligo has a week off work, there is a lovely fresh 25 knot NWer blowing outside, it absolutely pissed down about 2 hours back (it is coming up 6 a.m. as I write). Oh, and add to that real live icebergs off Dunedin.

So it must be summer.

Add to that the icebergs - the story in the ODT has the real gas headline of "Flights for Thaw Ice".

Air traffic out to Otago’s celebrity icebergs was so thick yesterday, flight paths were issued by Dunedin’s skyway controllers.

So far, four large icebergs have been spotted off the Otago coast, with one of them in two pieces. By last night, they had drifted about a further 18km from shore.

Helicopters Otago pilot Stu Farquhar was among those ferrying sightseers and he said he had never seen anything quite like it.

“It is flat out, actually,” he said.

"The Dunedin control tower, they haven’t put any rules in place but they have put some suggested routes to keep traffic separated out a wee bit.”

So we are off to the 'Naki. Christmas (a bit early I know) with daughter and s-i-l. Well she is very busy people, and I need to take my hols when I can grab the odd week (not like some who piss off to Old Blighty for a month, huh Col!!)

Oh, the photo of the berg was taken from the top of Mt Cargill, Dunedin. Yeah, the white fly-speck thingie there at the top is the berg...

Oh and a little note for you movie-goers before I forget...

News last evening that two recent NZ films have been sold for the US market.

The first - Number 2 - I can highly recommend. It is the story of the passing of authority within a Polynesian family, and the stresses that causes. Touching and quite funny.

The second - Out of the Blue - is not a film I would personally choose to go see. Those who enjoy the depiction, or recreation, of senseless murder might enjoy. Supporters of NRA can feed their insecurities as they rejoice in "yet another proof of the necessity of keeping a gun by the bed". It is the story of a small rural community that was cut apart when David Gray went berserk with a rifle. It has been consistently ranked 5 stars, so don't let my personal dislikes put you off.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life, the Universe and Everything... One; the movie

HT Dave Justus. Don't know where the questions come from so I copied then from DJ...


1. Why is there poverty and suffering in the world?

Poverty is comparative. A ni-Vanuatu is poor by ‘western’ measures; by Sudanese standards he would be rich beyond measure.

By American standards, I might be considered ‘middle class’; by Samoan standards I might be rich.

I would consider most Americans to be ‘rich’; I would consider Samoans, or ni-Vanuatu to be rich also, but to a different measure.

I consider myself most fortunate.

Suffering is comparative. A person suffering from terminal starvation in Chad would probably have the same emotions as an American suffering the final few hours of terminal cancer. A person suffering from arthritis in Britain probably has the same level of pain as a New Guinean who broke his leg and was fortunate enough to survive.

2. What is the relationship between science and religion?

Science – the 'religion' of what is; of reality.

Religion - the 'science' of anything we do not understand or know.

3. Why are so many people depressed?

Why are so many people ‘happy’?

One of the very great factors leading to ‘depression’ is the expectation generated by our current culture that everyone must compulsorily be happy all of the time. As a consequence of denial of all of the other (equally valid) emotions, the ability to adequately compare and control states of happiness, sadness, or anger, has been lost. Incidentally, I suspect that is why so many try to find their happiness and solace at the bottom of a bottle, or at the Oz end of a drug-induced rainbow.

So depression, other than clinical depression, can be thought of as a disease of our culture rather than of the mind. It springs primarily from the social myth of perpetual happiness and a consequent inability to cope with reality. It is the anorexia of the soul.

Clinical depression is a much rarer, and a totally different state of mind. It is provably caused by a chemical imbalance within the brain. There are very few who suffer true clinical depression.

4. What are we all so afraid of?

Uncertainty. It is the ‘not knowing’ that has led to science, to religion, to soothsayers and astrology.

5. When is war justifiable?

Is it?

War is two sided. There are never any ‘one-sided’ wars.

Defence is justifiable. Attack and aggression are not.

6. How would God want us to respond to aggression and terrorism?

What God?

I would respond to aggression and terrorism by defending myself using every, and any, means available to me. That might include becoming a terrorist.

I would take great care that my defence did not extend to the point where I became the aggressor.

7. How does one obtain true peace?

Peace of the mind? .

If you are Bhuddist, the question might equate to ‘Peace of the spirit’. If you are American, I suspect that it might equate to ‘everyone else leave us to pursue our own interests'.

But let’s take a slightly different path. The greatest enemy of peace (as in tranquillity) is uncertainty. Generally I am at peace with the world to the extent that I have reconciled myself to all known uncertainties. As and when a new uncertainty arises, I might not be at peace until the uncertainty is resolved. I know that I will die. That is certain. I do not know when. That is uncertain. I will not allow the uncertainty to affect my enjoyment of this life.

Aren’t I a smug and self-satisfied ol’ probligo?

Peace of the world?

Peace between people is far more complex and difficult. ‘Why can’t we all just get along’ does not cut the mustard. Nor do any of the other trite political and religious platitudes.

It is to be striven for, but will never be achieved. Because humanity is not homogenous - see 20. - there will always be individuals and groups who believe they have the right to control or direct others to a particular way of thinking or acting. Enforced change - as distinct from evolution - will always give rise to uncertainty and conflict.

8. What does it mean to live in the present moment?

Ummm, so that is what was next?

9. What is our greatest distraction?

What might be…

Sorry, can't separate those two.

10. Is current religion serving its purpose?

If the true purpose of religion is to ‘justify’ war, then yes it is.

If the true purpose of religion is to provide a path for individuals to a ‘better’ and ‘happier’ life then that is debatable – I suspect that it does not. Certainly my brief and very futile brushes with organised religion did nothing for me. Contrast that with any person who is devout in their religion and you will immediately prove me wrong.

11. What happens to you after you die?

There is no ‘after’.

12. Describe Heaven and how to get there.

Look around me.

Look around you.

13. What is the meaning of life?

Look in the dictionary. It is a word.

Seriously, I can only think of ‘life’ as the total combined accumulated effect of certain, very complex chemicals, attempting to provide for their own replication and perpetuation in an environment which is doing its utmost to wipe out the existence of the complex chemicals.


I am. That is enough.

14. Describe God.

How? I have no concept, knowledge, nor understanding, of what ‘God’ might be.

15. What is the greatest quality humans possess?


Sorry, I can not separate these either.

16. What is it that prevents people from living to their full potential?

Measurement. ‘Full potential’ compared to what? A monkey?

What is ‘full potential’ for a new-born girl in Sudan or Nigeria or China, compared with a new-born girl in NZ or Australia?

See 13.

17. Non-verbally, by motion or gesture only, act out what you believe to be the current condition of the world.

Fetal position if you are American.

Everyone else hides behind something (put your hand over your eyes) so that they can not be seen, and nor can they see.

18. What is your one wish for the world?

Good luck!! You are going to need it!!

19. What is wisdom, and how do we gain it?


(There are three intended meanings in that one word. )

20. Are we all One?

No, we are all individuals. And am I glad of that!! Imagine how boring life would be if we were all like George Bush, or Osama bin Laden, or Auntie Helen or worst of all, like me!!

Yes, we are all one species. Nothing more certain than that.

The truth – somewheres in between.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On parental responsibility - and that of society...

As an ancillary to my previous post there was a little gem on the news last night which quite literally had me looking for my gun.

But a little background first.

New Zealand has a gambling problem. Well, to be honest we have two gambling problems.

The first is the number of opportunities there are for gambling. When I was a kid you had the races (government controlled through the Totalisator Agency Board), the Golden Kiwi Lottery (again government controlled), and Bonus Bonds. Then someone decided we needed casinos in order to attract tourists to NZ, and to give them somewhere to spend their money. After all, every tourist wants to go to a casino don't they!! So millions were spent on building casinos, including that horrendous phallic symbol in the centre of Auckland. But that wasn't enough. So many locals wanted greater gambling opportunties, particularly for fund-raising for sporting clubs and kindergartens and the like so the Government changed the law to make pokies legal in virtually any and every public space where one or more can be squeezed...

The second is the people who gamble. A number of years back I worked as accountant in a factory with about 25 staff. Come Christmas Eve and the holiday pay (for the next three weeks) was handed out. Fifteen minutes the later the carpark was empty. The boss shook his head sadly and said "All but about three of them will have nothing of that pay left by tomorrow." Come three days later he was back at work, giving out loans to staff who had nothing to live on for the next two and a half weeks. That is not an unusual occurrence. It would be close to a universal.

So,. to the item on the news the other evening... that link will likely expire in the next week. There is nothing on the Herald - yet.

One of Auckland's "poor" areas is the suburb of Otara. It started life as a major government housing scheme. A large proportion of the population are dependants of the state.

A new "games arcade" for the kids was started up about three months ago. Last night's item on the news centred on three new "games" that had been installed recently. Set amongst the shoot-em-up, the hit-and-run, the normal games of the kids of these days were three pokie machines. They were not your casino standard, but were somewhat simplified for the kids to run. According to the reporter there were two different "games", one of which gave a monetary "win" in the form of tokens that could be exchanged for soft drinks or similar. While the camera was filming, one of the players (a kid who looked every day of about 12) won a $5 token. After getting their film, the reporters contacted the regulating agency for gambling in NZ, and the importers of the machine. At the end of the report they returned to the arcade and these machines had been removed. What spoil-sports are they!!


Right, now to fill in a bit more of the background -

Probability one - the parents of these kids were either at work (filmed at about 4 p.m.) or they were in one of the local bars playing the pokies.

Fact one - from the programme. The regulating agency did not know of the import or availability of the "kids pokies".

Probability two - the parents neither knew nor cared where their kids were, nor how they obtained the money for their games.

Fact two - from the programme. The kids playing the machines wanted more of them because "they are easy to beat". They proceeded to show the reporters how to win from the machines.

Now, is anyone getting the feeling that there is something wrong in this picture? No, it is not that the nanny state is responsible here. Well not directly anyhow. It is not the "failure of welfare" because there is equal chance or better that both parents are in paid employment. It is not entirely the failure of the parents as they are (very probably) unaware of what their kids are doing.

But, at the same time, is it right that kids as young as 10 or 7 or even 5 should be getting "training" in the use and "benefits" of gambling machines?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More thoughts on justice and punishment...

Been a few blogs around that have indirectly (some directly) drawn attention to this article written by Theodore Dalrymple (otherwise known as Dr Anthony Daniels).

Now it is very difficult for me to argue with much of what he says. Once again it is not the "facts" that are "wrong" so much as the additional narrative that is missing.

The first and most important missing fact is that his two week stay in this country was as guest of the "Sensible Sentencing Trust".

Take the two examples that he gives as "instances" of how the NZ justice system "fails", and the sequel to the second;
The first concerned a man with 102 convictions, many for violence including rape. (I should point out that 102 convictions means many more offences, since the conviction rate is never 100 per cent of the offending rate, and is sometimes only 5 or 10 per cent of it.)

This man nevertheless became eligible for parole.


The second case was of a man with many previous convictions, some for violence, who abducted and murdered a young woman aged 24. He was imprisoned and applied for bail. Three times he was turned down, but a fourth judge granted him bail. He was sent to live at a certain address, where he befriended his neighbours, who did not know that he was accused of murder. Eight months later, while babysitting their children, he killed one of them.


Perhaps the most extraordinary twist of this terrible tale is that the parents of the murdered child then had another baby, which the social services then removed from them on the grounds that they had previously entrusted a child to the care of a murderer and were therefore irresponsible parents. The state blames its citizens for the mistakes - if that is what they are - that it makes.

You can find the gory details of two more instances if you wish on the SST page...

Those four have occurred over a period of some 15 years.

I could add another, of a 15 y-o who was convicted of drug related crimes including use of methamphetamine, who was released to the care of his family and given work experience in a local office. He went back to the office one evening, killed two and seriously injured a third with a baseball bat and made off with the day's takings. He is now the youngest person in this country to have been sentenced to life imprisonment (which given NZ sentencing law means he will be eligible for parole when he is about 30).

It would be a perfect world if we could stop all of these killings and maimings. It would be a perfect world if we did not have road traffic deaths as well.

But commentators like Dalrymple, and organisations like SST as well come to the point, really do piss me off more than just a little.

Yes, I have a problem with them, and it is very simple.

Like so many people, they take a single instance or a very small number of instances and make sweeping generalisations covering the whole population. I can not argue against the figures, they pretty much speak for themselves.

What is missing -

* A meaningful and supportable discussion of the causes of increased crime levels.

* A meaningful and supportable discussion of possible and effective measures that would reduce crime.

* A meaningful and supportable discussion of effective crime prevention.

To take the first point - why did serious crime levels start increasing so rapidly in the early 1980's? Were the causes economic? Were they connected to other social or cultural changes? Were they the result of poor education of parents 20 years earlier? There is no examination of that question by SST. There is a good chance that every one of those questions contributed, but not one more than others.

As an instance in the second case. Parliament last night rejected legislation to increase the minimum age for purchasing liquor from 18 back to 20 (it was reduced some 6 years back). I am pleased that it was rejected. Most of the 18 and older people I know are comparatively responsible. There are a small minority who are not. That is the group that society has to minimise. I can suspect that a goodly number of that minority abuse alchohol, or supply it to under-age siblings, because that is what they were given or allowed to do by their parents. Well documented instances exist - the mother grieving for her son killed in a car accident; she had given him a 40oz bottle of vodka to take to a party and he was driving.

This is very much a social problem. For Dalrymple (as just one instance) to characterise it in this fashion in a somewhat differently edited version of the same op-ed as it appeared in the Herald -
For several hours a large number of these young men careered through the streets (of Napier) in their cars with sawn-off exhausts, completely unoposed - as far as I could tell - by representatives of the law.


And I don't suppose that I have to elaborate on the likely future of a society that fears its own children, or at least enough of them to retreat indoors when they come out to play.

Children have parents.

A very good number of those "children" - the boy racers - are in fact driving vehicles either owned by or purchased by their parents.

A very good number of those "children" are in fact in their 20's. A few could themselves BE parents.

That excuses nothing. This is a problem that society needs deal with. It is the kid's "fault"? Or is it the parent's?

What pisses me is that a person (not the term I would like to use) like Daniels can come to a country like NZ as a guest of a group with a political agenda and can then spout off with great authority about what is wrong.


How about some sensible, workable, suggestions on how it can be stopped?

What a hoot!!

Just stuck my nose in neo-neocon's door for a quick gander at what might be happening in her post election partying.

Waddayaknow? She's got trolls again!! (Or is it "still").

The hilarious bit is that it looks like she misses me!!!

Good luck, Neo. Everything you deserve!!

Oh, and there was nothing on the election other than a brief "Democrats will win". It does make me wonder - what will the extreme right of the US blogiverse do now? Nothing to defend, everything to attack.

I guess that the standard of the rhetoric is due to go south by quite a few notches.

Oh, and "Told ya so..." will be a paramount!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hollywood? Nah! Wonderland!!

There has been a lot of raruraru in the US blogworld these past couple days about Richard Perle’s recant of his position on the Iraq War. Apparently, it is no longer a “good idea”.

Similarly there has been a lot of baying for the blood of Don Rumsfeld in the military press this morning. They are coming to the realization that he is “not the best Secretary of Defence there has ever been”.

But is this really what should be happening?

There was a quiet, somewhat brief, mention in the local news that the National Security Archive had released a paper on “war games” involving an invasion of Iraq. As in “declassified”?

Well, Alice would have loved this one as “curiouser and curiouser” it truly is.

The first reference took me to GWU’s National Security archive. Well, I guess that has some logic to it. The link at the end of their release however was a “404”. Hmm, curious?

Google again… this time for National Security Archive.

Ah Ha!! And there is a piccyture of the said report!! A line banged through the middle of the word "Secret" yet!!

Yep, sho’nuf, there it is again, right there!! Along with these two darling little quotes…
"There was consensus that the United States would not intervene without coalition support except under the most dire circumstances such as WMD use or catastrophic humanitarian disaster."
- Desert Crossing After Action Report, 1999.

"When it looked like we were going in, I called back down to CENTCOM and said, 'You need to dust off Desert Crossing.' They said, 'What's that? Never heard of it.'"
- General Anthony Zinni (ret.), 2004.

That also contained the main substance of the news report that I had heard. But I don’t think that we are quite there yet. One more link and BINGO!!

The Executive Summary on its own makes for interesting reading.

So, why is this “curious”?

Well for a starter, the report date – 1999 – and the declassification date – 2004.

The report dates from Clinton’s Presidency. I suspect that it should have been the foundation stone for any reticence that there may have been at that time for solving the Iraq question by invasion.

That of itself adds a “curiouser yet” when we recall the blame and imprecations heaped upon Clinton for not having taken action. Here is a very primary defence – the National Security Agency were recommending against invasion without some very careful and thorough appraisals of the risks involved. But, never once has it been mentioned... until now.

The second is that the report – see my little quote above – was so “secret” that even CENTCOM knew nothing of it in 2003. Curiouser yet is the fact that only some 12 months later it was declassified. How important and secret is that? So curiouser yet – the highest levels of the US Army knew nothing of it? Even after General Zinni’s phone call to his mates in CENTCOM, it seems that there was very little done with the report prior to the invasion. After all virtually every recommendation in that report was ignored.

Despite all that, the US blogiverse seems happy with the Perle (sorry) that has been cast before them. They are happy to bay at the smiling Rumsfeld or, like the Queen of Hearts, shout "Off with 'is head!!" at every turn.

Sadly, it seems there may be many more heads to fall.

Curiouser and curiouser… not least of which is "Is it a fake?"

Sunday, November 05, 2006

November 5, 1881

Today is the 125th anniversary of the sacking of Parihaka, a Maori township on the west side of Taranaki. This single event ranks as one of the more shameful in the history of this country.

I commend the following as compulsory reading.

Historic Places Trust

New Zealand in History

It is worth reading the Teara account of Te Whiti O Rongomai. It is a brief picture of the man, who led his people, his town, in a peaceful protest of civil disobedience.

Monday, October 30, 2006

On being a boring old fart...

There is a long-standing tradition in NZ of celebrating (of all things) the “Gunpowder Plot”, of Guy Fawkes and his ill-fated attempt at a bit of meaningful terrorism at the Houses of Westminster. Those interested can follow up on his involvement in the plot to kill the Anti-papist King James I (he of the King James Version) and as many of the then Parliament as possible.

The celebration on November 5 has changed a bit – the bangers are no where near as big or powerful, the range of candles is now immense, the rockets don’t really rocket any more, the bonfire has been legislated out of existence entirely…

And that decline (over 30 or so years) has “all been for our own good!!”

David Tennis Ball Benson-Pope started the ball rolling last week with a solemn warning that “if we did not behave ourselves, the government would make fireworks illegal…” As in this op-ed in the Taranaki Daily News –
Government bans always strip most from the law-abiding
23 October 2006

Once a schoolteacher, always a schoolteacher, writes the Taranaki Daily News. Or so it seems with Environment Minister David Benson-Pope. If the nation does not behave this November 5, he warns, he will report to the principal and the board of trustees and have fireworks banned.

Unfortunately, this will open the way for the Law of Unintended Consequences. The field will be surrendered to those folk – plus a new crop freshly deprived of legally purchased excitement – inclined to smuggle their own or look up explosive recipes on the Internet. Or perhaps Mr Benson-Pope will also introduce China-style State filters that block certain unsavoury topics. A cursory search using "fireworks homemade" currently offers more than 800,000 sites, and even if just one in a 100 were useful it is still a sizeable armoury of mayhem at the flick of a button.

The minister will also need to ban sales of sulphur, carbon, chlorine, aluminium powder and a dozen other common chemicals that famously add colour and zip to fire crackers.

Shotgun powder, of course, will also need new permits.

Better ban matches and lighters, just to be on the safe side – in case someone cuts out the middle thrill and goes straight to arson.

Come to think if it, that already happens.

Yet, curiously, the behaviour of a hard core of fireworks abusers has become worse over this time, with the latest ultimatum meaning that a few unstable and badly raised youths are in danger of spoiling the fun of the universal child in everyone else, no matter what their age.

Could there be yet another message in this quandary pertaining to child-rearing responsibilities and the diminishing effectiveness of the courts in punishing those who deliberately and seriously endanger others?

I can only hope that was written with tongue somewheres toward the side of the jaw, if not past and well into the cheek because given the attitude of Helen’s mob in the past few months anything could be possible. But to return to the fireworks -
I can remember instances such as a cat with a skyrocket strapped to its back, pensioners being too frightened to leave their homes, a mentally retarded boy who had bangers stuffed in his ears… there is a long and sad catalogue of offences deriving directly from the abuse of fireworks in this country. On the tv news Friday evening was a sequence showing some bright young sparks shooting at buses and other vehicles with roman candles. That is before you start on the intentional arsons, the accidental house burnings, the scrub fires (one that started from a family bonfire at Coopers Beach in the early ‘70’s could potentially have burned out at least nine houses had the wind blown in the wrong direction), and the stock losses from panicked animals.

The other side of the debate, and also including the “Once a schoolteacher…” thought (not sourced as direct from Taranaki Daily News so that this could well be that link) comes from Finlay McDonald
Reluctant though I am to endorse David Benson-Pope's own gunpowder plot to ban fireworks if we don't behave, there is a good argument for putting this desultory date out of its misery: as a festival, it's become a bit of a fizzer.


What began as a truly visceral celebration of religious nastiness, treachery and torture is now just a damp squib, one more opportunity for The Warehouse to cash in on some empty calendar entry, another sanitised, commercialised non-event for the occupational health and safety culture.


What's really funny is that until 1959, apparently, it was technically illegal in England not to celebrate the date of Guy Fawkes's arrest, according to the Fawkesian Society's history of the plot and its aftermath.


Who knows what a modern government would make of another (albeit lapsed) November tradition that predated and influenced Guy Fawkes celebrations, known as Mischief Night, when children were allowed to roam their neighbourhoods looking for trouble and playing pranks. I think it's safe to assume this would be deemed "inappropriate" by the professional worriers of the Rules and Regulations Reichstag.

Now I am not exempt from supporting this celebration of failed terrorism and of excessive punishment. My family has participated in the “pleasures” of a few bangers and roman candles, we have paid for the pleasure of attending a public display on several occasions as well.

But what is actually being celebrated here? Is it the fact that the Papists, Fawkes and the people behind him (for certainly he became the fall guy for some very powerful people), had the gumption to try and kill the Protestant King? Is it to celebrate the fact that he failed? If it were to celebrate the bravery of the person who revealed the plot, then it would not be Guy Fawkes but some other name. And why the “penny for the guy”?

Let’s be honest. The truth is that it is little more than a good excuse for a night outside, with a monstrous great bonfire, the thrill of crackers being set off left right and centre and perhaps the ultimate excitement of the whole box of fireworks accidentally catching fire at once. It has the obvious adrenalin rush that comes with a normally illegal activity. If we return to the first op-ed I quoted –
It has been under increasingly tighter restrictions for the last 30 years in this country, with "bangers" and skyrockets banned in 1994 and all the rest limited to over-14-year-olds and for only 10 days before November 5.

Yet, curiously, the behaviour of a hard core of fireworks abusers has become worse over this time, with the latest ultimatum meaning that a few unstable and badly raised youths are in danger of spoiling the fun of the universal child in everyone else, no matter what their age.

Could there be yet another message in this quandary pertaining to child-rearing responsibilities and the diminishing effectiveness of the courts in punishing those who deliberately and seriously endanger others?

Now there is a good thought!! And (confirmation bias firmly to the fore) a line that I have tried to promote several times in the past, and shall be in the near future as well given the moves to revert the minimum drinking age to 20.

Yep. Guess that I am showing my age at that. Becoming an old, reactionary, spoil-sport boring old fart. Kids these days show no respect – for anyone or anything. There is no discipline… yada yada yada as my daughter says. But let’s stick with the fireworks… Returning to the first op-ed once more –
Less government, not more, should be the order of the day.
Government bans are a heavy but crude weapon, always stripping more from the law-abiding than they achieve among the offenders and idiotcracy.

There is simply no way to issue an edict that will prevent every last twisted soul from tying a catherine wheel to a cat or inserting a double-happy into a chicken.
These people need another type of help.

Don’t know that I entirely agree with that. The help that “these people” need is to be held responsible for their actions, and for the way in which they have raised their kids.

A 14y-o who ties double-happies to toy arrows and shoots them at 6y-os resulting in one losing an eye can legally be held responsible for his own actions. He can stand up in Court and say (probably quite honestly) that “he was never told that it was wrong”. His parents can equally argue that “he is beyond our control” and absolve themselves of any failure or legal responsibility. THAT is part of what is wrong.

Then finding a suitable and meaningful punishment for the 14y-o is difficult. Jail? Enforced confinment with all of those thieves, murderers, blaggards, mother-rapers, father-rapers, vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells, will ruin the poor laddie for life. Of course there is no question of punishing the parents - they have no control... no responsibility... and that might mean the family having to survive without a father or a mother for a period of time. Can not possibly have that!

Perhaps Finlay McDonald has the right punishment for mis-use of gunpowder after all…
When poor old Fawkes was captured, the king ordered that he be tortured -lightly at first, gradually proceeding to more extreme forms - until he confessed.

A couple of days later, the now broken Guy was hanged until only half dead, at which point his genitals were cut off and burned in front of him, his heart and bowels removed, his head cut off (one must presume he was no longer only half dead by this stage) and the rest of his body dismembered and left for the birds.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Slo-news day 2...

Had a quiet debate going with Callimachus, fine right wing gent that he is, where he made this threat to expose my "anti-semitism"...
You sure you don't want to see a post here about your opinions about Jews and Americans? It would lend a lot of context.

Well, it might be quite a party if he did.

Here is the background -
JERUSALEM, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Israel confirmed on Sunday it had used phosporus shells, a controversial munition condemned by many human rights groups, during its war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

The International Red Cross and other human rights organisations have urged a world ban on the munitions, saying they cause undue suffering through severe burns.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed a report in Israel's left-leaning newspaper Haaretz that it had used phosphorus munitions in the 34-day offensive against Hezbollah, which ended in a U.N.-brokered ceasefire on Aug. 14.

"The army made use of phosphorus shells during the recent conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon for the purpose of attacking military targets located in open areas," the Israeli military said in a statement.

"According to international law, the usage of phosphorus ammunition is permitted and the army conforms to international regulations and standards."

The announcement that the Israel Defense Forces had used phosphorus bombs in the war in Lebanon was made by Minister Jacob Edery, in charge of government-Knesset relations. He had been queried on the matter by MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad).

"The IDF holds phosphorus munitions in different forms," Edery said. "The IDF made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground."

Edery also pointed out that international law does not forbid the use of phosphorus and that "the IDF used this type of munitions according to the rules of international law."

Edery did not specify where and against what types of targets phosphorus munitions were used. During the war several foreign media outlets reported that Lebanese civilians carried injuries characteristic of attacks with phosphorus, a substance that burns when it comes to contact with air. In one CNN report, a casualty with serious burns was seen lying in a South Lebanon hospital.

In another case, Dr. Hussein Hamud al-Shel, who works at Dar al-Amal hospital in Ba'albek, said that he had received three corpses "entirely shriveled with black-green skin," a phenomenon characteristic of phosphorus injuries.

Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud also claimed that the IDF made use of phosphorus munitions against civilians in Lebanon.

Slo-news day...

Today NZ observes Labour Day. If I recollect right we were one of the first, if not THE first, to introduce the 40 hour week. For most anyways. Seems that in recent times it has become more honoured in the breach than the observance, but that is a different story. Take a mate of mine who works in "Logistics". He must deal with people in the US, so his day normally starts at around 7.30 or 8.00; at work. He normally drags himself off home at about 6.00 in the evening after "doing business" with Asian matters. By my reckoning that is a 10 hour day. He gets paid by salary, not by a wage.

There was a law change brought in a couple years or three back which impinged directly on the payment for time worked over a Statutory Holiday (which today, Labour day is one of some 7 we have during the year). In most instances, the impact is felt through such imposts as a 15% surcharge on a cup of coffee or lunch.

It can also be seen on the International page of today's Herald. You will not find the article on the Herald webpage, I looked. There is all manner of worthy news there.

The international page was one story -

Macca vs Macca; now it is video evidence.

About says it all. The marital affairs of entertainers be more important than Korea, the Pacific Forum, riots in France, Bushy, or the many other events that might have occurred in the wider world.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Riverbend is back...

It is so good to hear her voice again.

H/t to Donklephant who linked Riverbend's piece on the Iraqi body count. Worth the time to read...

I will admit that as time went on since Riverbend's last post (31 July) I was getting increasingly concerned. There are a number of other who went quiet around the same time. Perhaps now that their autumn is coming on there might be more from them as well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Q.O.D. - 18/10/06

The breakfast round of news and views included this from Dave Justus who picks up this question from Deans World -
You Islamophobes have yet to answer me a simple question: how can you possibly support what America is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq if you believe that Islam and Muslims are inherently incapable of modernity and tolerance and democracy?

[Dave starts with...]
Leaving aside the ‘when did you stop beating you wife’ aspect of this question, at it’s core there is an interesting thing to discuss here.

Many of the comments at Deans World seem to start from the premise that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Dave's comment, the bulk of his post I have linked to above, is both cogent and reasonable. But it seems to leave an after-taste that I could not quite place.

One of the items new to ALD this morning led to this interview, which I have now read over my lunch. It makes an interesting comparison with Dave's post...
Die Zeit: Mr. Meddeb, how is it that in the Middle Ages, a peaceful dispute between Christians and Muslims was possible, whereas today, the very mention of these times causes an uproar?

Abdelwahab Meddeb: Because at that time, the Islamic world was home to a large, well-educated upper class which encouraged debate. Throughout the medieval period, there were renowned literary salons in major cities like Baghdad that were run by aristocratic patrons and merchants and whose sole raison d’être was to bring together Christians, Jews and various sects who did not agree at all on questions of faith. The Pope is wrong to speak of a single Islamic doctrine; there were many, and they were often the subject of open disputes. In Tunis, the capital of the Maghreb, the Sultan explicitly placed progressive theologians under the protection of the freedom of opinion and defended them against attacks by the people. Of course, the majority of simple Muslims were uneducated and hardly willing to be persuaded by the power of logic and arguments as the intellectuals hoped. Today, we have comparable Muslim masses, but there is little trace of an educated elite capable of leading the discussion.

That last paragraph is right where that after-taste starts from. As I read it, the one very fundamental difference between West and Islam can trace from one very small difference. Between a thousand and five hundred years ago, a very small number of intelligent Christians won small but significant victories over the Church. Similar cultural battles were fought in the world of Islam over the same period, ending probably with Spinoza, but the difference is that in Islam the intellectuals lost and religion won.

And this insight is worthy of thought as well...
Die Zeit: Where does the violence in Islam come from?

Meddeb: It really is not unique to Islam. But whereas it took Christianity a thousand years to discover fire and the sword, this violent persuasion was part of Islam’s inheritance from the very beginning. Muhammed was a warlike Prophet, and the Islamic conquests from China to Spain followed a quasi-Napoleonic principle. Yes, Muhammed was a kind of successful Napoleon. But this is less astonishing than the fact that there was violence in Christianity, as this was completely at odds with the spirit of the gospels. Acting against all Christian teachings, there were Popes who also called for holy war and promised religious warriors a place in the kingdom of heaven. Not to mention the forced conversions during the Inquisition, when Jews and Muslims in Spain had the choice between exile, burning at the stake, and baptism. But just as the Christians overcame their historical phase of violence, the Muslims face the same challenge. What Europe experienced in the age of the Enlightenment happened a century later in the Arab world, coming mainly from Egypt, which until the interwar period was the centre of modernity and reason in the Islamic world. That was the place most likely to produce a figure like Spinoza, someone to finally break the taboo of the holiness of scripture.

Die Zeit: Why did this process stall?

Meddeb: Since the Middle Ages, Islam has been left behind by the rise of Christianity and has resigned itself to this plight. But we should not forget that Christianity too had to pass through thebloodbath of interdenominational wars. The fundamentalists’ current struggle against modernity can be seen as a form of belated interdenominational war. One major problem is the failed Westernisation of many Muslims, who only have a scant knowledge of their own tradition and who are looking for a replacement. There is no more dramatic example than the attackers of September 11th, who may have been incapable of building aeroplanes but who were at least able to pilot them.

The reference to "failed Westernisation" I presume is reference to the London train bombers and other fundamentalists of similar background.

Die Zeit: What can the West do to ensure that this new religious war ends well?

Meddeb: What Europe must do – above all the Germans and the French – is to face Islam with solid convictions and to make clear to the Arab states what a danger the fundamentalists pose to the world. To give just one example: many countries have no idea of the unbelievable things going on in their schools. After September 11th, when Saudi Arabia’s leaders were reeling under the shock of Saudi nationals having attacked the country’s traditional protector, the USA, the Saudis were surprised to realise that their children’s schoolbooks contained things that were bound to produce hordes of little bin Ladens. The rulers of many Arab states have long since lost touch with their populations, which is most clearly visible in the puritanical Stone Age Islam of the Wahhabis.

And at that point, I come back to my continual theme that the WOT is NOT a war against Islam. That portrayal, almost betrayal, of the religion of Islam is the greatest "crime" that both the Wahhabis and the US have committed. The Wahhabi for their involvement in the schoolbook example and the many other "interpretations" that they promote. The US I have put down because of the fact that from 9/11 there has never been any real distinction made between the fanatic fundamentalist Muslim, and the ordinary Muslim shopkeeper, farmer or clerk in Baghdad, Jakarta, Mumbai or Auckland.

If we were able to return to 9/10/01, then at that time we would find the fanaticism of Islam limited to a very small number of people bounded in an even small region.

The response by the US, the equate of WOT with WOI, the "axis of evil", has alienated a very great silent majority of Islam. That majority while not marginalised or radicalised to the extent of the extremeists does now have a relationship with fundamentalist Islam that did not exist on 9/10/01.

Another article from the same source looks at the different faces of Islamic commentators and the modern Islamic intellectual.

This article perhaps goes some way to explaining why it is that (to give the right wingnuts example) only 38 Muslims accepted the Pope's apology.
Many of them are characterised by a carefully masked double standard. In their home countries they present themselves as guardians of traditional Arab values, but when writing in other languages for foreign audiences they express very different, more cosmopolitan views.

The Arab intellectual behaves like a despotic father. No internal family matter may be exposed to the outside world; regardless of what the reality may be, a façade of unbroken unity must be maintained. This is especially evident with respect to such matters as relations with Israel, the scandal over the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the attacks of 9/11, the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, or the recent war in Lebanon. In private talks with such people, one hears opinions that are radically different from what they publish in the newspapers the next day. It is as if the views propounded in the Arab media are not based on independent thinking, but formulated as opportunistic statements for public consumption.

I wonder, how many reporters from NYT, USA Today, WaPo, CanWest, FoxNews or any of the other principle media outlets can honestly say that their personal observations and opinions are accurately presented by their employers. I am not including the op-ed writers, the entertainment analysts, the ex-party hacks who write a slanted line for their editor. I am thinking here of the honest Joe reporter, who gets sent to Suva to cover the next army coup d'etat as it develops, who does his job well and objectively, and whose reports might not meet the political line his employer wants to take.

Gamal al-Ghitani, the Egyptian novelist who is also editor-in-chief of the weekly literary journal Akhbar al-Adab, is notably restrained when commenting about such crimes against humanity as have been (and continue to be) committed in Rwanda, Darfour and Iraq. But when the affair of the Danish cartoons was at its height in February of this year, he sounded like some preacher at a mosque and called for a boycott of Danish products. When the Danes finally proffered an apology, he interpreted it as being motivated by fear for sales of Danish cheese rather than as an acknowledgement of respect for Islam.

Or take the famous poet Adonis: In the West he is seen as a Syrian exile who sharply criticises Islamism and the state of the Arab world. But his statements and his silences in recent decades present a completely different picture. Upon the death of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, the Arab masses went into profound mourning – and Adonis lamented his passing with a poem. This prominent exile has had nothing to say about the victims of the Syrian regime over the past four decades. But he published another old-fashioned panegyric to the victory of the Iranian Revolution in 1978, ...

The Lebanese poet and journalist Abbas Beydoun is a cultural correspondent for the Lebanese daily as-Safir. ...those of his articles which appear in German differ markedly from his pieces in Arabic. In Der Tagespiegel of July 26, 2006 and in Die Zeit of July 27, for example, he criticised Hizbullah's solo attack and confrontation with Israel, going so far as to describe it as a military putsch. He also emphasised that the majority of Lebanese want peaceful development in their country. But in the edition of as-Safir dated July 28, we find him writing, in cliche-ridden rhetoric, about Hizbullah's great deeds, which, he stated, had generated respect even among the party's sceptics and critics...

Many Arab writers and publishers regard themselves as secular, enlightened and critical – in other words, as intellectuals who stand up for freedom of speech and, of course, for human rights. Two months after the 9/11 attacks, during an Arab book fair, a rumour suddenly made the rounds that an aircraft had crashed into a high-rise building in Italy. Many people immediately thought this was a repeat of the previous attacks on America. Numerous publishers and editors shouted Allahu akbar (God is great) and welcomed the presumed act, which turned out never to have happened at all.

It strikes me that, more than anything else, the contrast is that simple - the west where the control of religion over culture was broken and the secular society allowed to develop; the Islamic society where the control of religion over culture and life remains. This does not in any way argue that religion has no place in society - it truly does for a great majority of people and the world would be a sadder place without religion (Well I mean, what could Bach have written all his glorious music for had it not been dedicated to God?).

But to return to Dave's quest...

Dean, and his simplistic approach to this debate, are as much the problem as the Islamophobes he intends to castigate. There is no simplistic answer.

Islam itself has such strong roots into their society that it would destroy the society if the roots were removed - the essence I believe of where Iraq is today.

So, it is not a matter of Islam vs Democracy at all. Islam must be allowed to evolve so that the principles of democracy - the freedoms of debate, of criticism, of tolerance and of acceptance - can develop.

We, the west, must not lose sight of our own principles of freedom while that evolution occurs. We, the west, must not lose sight of the immense upheavals that were the consequences of our own societal evolution from religious to secular - the revolutions of England, of France, the Wars of the Roses, the wars between Rome and the newly secular states.... all of the history of the West and Christianity over the past 1000 years.

We must have patience to allow the flower to grow. We are not seeing that patience today.

It is not a case of "Islam and Muslims are inherently incapable of modernity and tolerance and democracy", but rather that these are concepts foreign to their culture and their religion at the present time.

The problem is not "inherent". It has been "learned", in exactly the same way as western society has "learned" freedoms.

How long would it take for Western civilisation - Christianity if you like - to "unlearn" those freedoms and rights from the past thousand years? One generation? Three? How about ten? I would accept between five generations and ten. Certainly no less than that.

Updated 16:30 NZDT

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Some good news on the legal front...

I discussed, if a little briefly, the sedition charges brought against Tim Selwyn for sticking an axe into Auntie Helen's shop window. I still have nothing in favour of Selwyn, nor any criticism of the other charges of which he was found guilty.

Reported quite widely today, but this thanks to Herald -
New Zealand's Law Commission wants to abolish the crime of sedition - just a year after Australia created five new sedition offences as part of its "war on terror".

The commission says the ancient law of sedition "invades the democratic value of free speech" and should be repealed and not replaced.

Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer said he was astonished by the case because Selwyn was charged with so many other offences that the extra charge of sedition was unnecessary.

Last month police laid another sedition charge in the Rotorua District Court against a youth who is also charged with threatening to kill. Details have been suppressed but Sir Geoffrey said that, again, he could not see why police used the sedition law when other charges were available.

I was unaware of that - more to come as it comes to hand.
"They have never charged anyone for 50 years. Now they have just remembered it."

And to a greater extent, this is really the strange part. From time to time (over the past five or six years) there has been the odd whimper - usually from National MP's - of political interference in Police investigations, and the resulting charges. Examples? The refusal to lay speeding charges against drivers in Auntie Helen's "racing and chasing on Canterbury Plains". The recent (and pianissimo) announcement that the remaining convictions had been quashed. The charges laid against a Natinal MP for driving a tractor up Parliament steps. "Throwing the book at" Tim Selwyn. There have been a number, others lurk in the back of my mind.

The commission's new 105-page report argues that all the crimes of sedition under existing New Zealand law either restrict free speech unduly or could be covered by other laws.

The report says it should no longer be a crime at all "to bring into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against, Her Majesty or the Government of New Zealand or the administration of justice".

"This is the sort of dissenting statement that, without more, should be protected by the principles of freedom of expression, and that a healthy democracy should be able to absorb."

Another offence of inciting political changes by unlawful means is already covered by the law against incitement to treason, it says.

Other offences to incite or procure violence, lawlessness or disorder, or any offence that prejudices public order or safety, are "too wide".

The offence of exciting "hostility or ill will between different classes of persons" is covered by the Human Rights Act if the language used is threatening, abusive or insulting, the report says.

The looser wording of the sedition law "has the potential to be used indiscriminately against religious or racial groups".

The report is open for submissions until December 15.

But National Party justice spokesman Richard Worth has warned against simply abolishing the sedition law. "I think there is still a case for retention of law in that area."

I shall be giving very serious consideration to making my own submissions. The line of thought at the moment is the prospect of indirect governmental control or censorship of internet publications, opinion and debate - viz, blogging. Naturally, I will be supporting the removal of sedition as a crime...

Also in the same article is this brief report -
In contrast, the Howard Government's Anti-Terrorism Act in Australia last year created five new seditious offences, including urging anyone to overthrow a lawful authority by force or violence, urging any group to use force or violence against another group and urging anyone to assist a country or organisation at war with Australia.

The Australian law provoked a wave of protest, a Senate inquiry and a report by the Australian Law Commission tabled last month which also recommended abolishing the word "sedition", although keeping the substance of the new offences. It said they should be tightened by requiring proof that an offender intended to provoke force or violence.

The Herald summarises -
IN AUSTRALIA [it is a crime -]

* To urge another to overthrow, by force or violence, the constitution or government of the Commonwealth, a state or territory or lawful authority of the Government.

* To urge another to interfere by force or violence with the lawful process of parliamentary elections.

* To urge a group or groups to use force or violence against another group or groups.

* To urge a person to engage in conduct where the offender intends to assist an organisation or country at war with the Commonwealth.

* To urge a person to engage in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force.

- Anti-Terrorism Act (No.2) 2005, section 80.

Thank you, America...

... for recognising that our armed services are worthy allies.

Members of the New Zealand Defence Force received a rare honour from the United States as they were presented with medals for service during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Seven members from the army, airforce and navy were awarded with the Army Commendation Medal, and 10 were awarded the prestigious Bronze Star.
During the ceremony at the United Stated Embassy in Wellington this afternoon Ambassador William McCormick praised the New Zealand soldiers' ability to establish friendships with the Afghan people.

"I am reminded of the words of Abraham Lincoln when he said 'I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends'."

Defence Minister Phil Goff said it was only the second time in about 30 years that New Zealand defence personnel had been presented with medals from the United States -- the first occasion was in 2004 when medals were awarded to members of the SAS at the White House.

"The recipients of these awards served in a wide variety of roles and undertook a range of tasks. Most were acknowledged for their work with the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan but several received awards for work in staff or headquarter roles."

New Zealanders had contributed to Bamyan becoming one of the most stable, secure and progressive provinces in Afghanistan, Mr Goff said.

Awards were to -
Bronze Star -
Major Marcus Linehan - Army
Warrant Officer Class Two Dugald Brown - army;
Staff Sergeant Kevin Cowsill - army;
Major Roger Earp, - army;
Commander James Gleeson - navy;
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Hickman,- army;
Air Commodore Gavin Howse - air force;
Major Mark Taylor - army.

Army Commendation Medal -
Group Captain John Duxfield - airforce;
Warrant Officer Class Two Michael Hadfield - army;
Chief Petty Officer Stephan Lock - navy;
Lieutenant William Petersen - army;
Captain Dean Rennie - army;
Major Andrew Shaw - army.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I was wrong... but got some of it right...

"... the continuing stoooory of the pet who has gone to the dogs..." Well that is how Jim Henson might have scripted it.

The news today on election overspending...
New Zealand First is likely to recall undistributed leaflets from its branches to back its case disputing the Auditor-General's findings that it unlawfully spent $157,934 last election.

And it hopes that when leader Winston Peters presents the evidence to the Auditor-General it will avoid a legal challenge of the findings.
Once the evidence is collected, it is expected the party will appeal to Auditor-General Kevin Brady to reconsider his finding. Mr Peters and Mr Brady have not yet met.

Party president Dail Jones hopes the party will not have to challenge the findings in court.

"Going to court is a sign of failure in a way. If you settle it before you go to court that's a lot better than wasting your client's money going to court."

Mr Jones said he was not sure of the sums involved but that if, for example, 60,000 pamphlets had been printed for $60,000 and 40,000 had been distributed during the campaign, then the party would argue that $20,000 should come off the total. "All around, let's hope common sense will prevail."

Don't bet on it Winnie. I can't see Brady backing down.
In other developments, Labour's ruling body yesterday authorised president Mike Williams to seek a one-off levy from MPs tomorrow to fund virtually half of its $824,524 spending.

I note that H2 has not been levied. Perhaps she could pay as much as H1.
Labour president Mike Williams said he would ask Labour MPs tomorrow for a one-off payment of 5 per cent of their gross annual salary.

That would raise about half of what Labour has agreed to repay - although it assiduously avoids the term "repay", preferring "refund", a term that implies no obligation.

THere was an interesting speculation that Labour might try delaying repayment until after the validating legislation has been passed. Given that Labour is still in denial on the whole mess it is a possibility; but a remote one. More on that aspect later.
And United Future will decide tomorrow how to tackle the $71,867 identified as unlawful.

After they find their leader... Oh! He's is there!
United Future leader Peter Dunne said his party was not trying to play games on the matter. "We are just taking it steadily and calmly."

He said United Future would make its decision independently of whether New Zealand First took a legal challenge.

The Green Party has said it will pay its $87,192 within this financial year.


On the matter of the validating legislation -
Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen has labelled retrospective legislation validating the expenditure as a confidence issue because, technically, part of it relates to supply in this financial year.

But it won't be seen as an ordinary confidence issue because, in the unlikely event of it not passing, the Government would not realistically be expected to resign.

New Zealand First has said it will back it, and the Greens have indicated they will abstain, meaning there will be enough votes to pass it.

Not resign if they lose?

Oh, and who IS H2?
Heather Simpson, Helen Clark's long-time chief of staff, is believed to have insisted on producing the party's $447,000 pledge card for last year's election, despite the misgivings of members of the party's council.

She and Labour minister Trevor Mallard met Auditor-General Kevin Brady at his request before the last election, when he warned parties to be careful with their spending.

There is also resentment in some caucus quarters at the way Heather Simpson and Helen Clark have handled the issue.

They are annoyed that the Prime Minister waited so long to commit to repaying the unlawful spending when MPs were daily coming under pressure from their electorates to give the money back.

No MP who wants a future in the party would dare to publicly criticise Heather Simpson. She is "untouchable", as one MP put it yesterday, because of the complete confidence Helen Clark has in her.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

...but why should I have to buy the book?

ALD again get the h/t...
Whoever said long stories put off readers hasn't scanned the New York Times best-seller list lately. Even though newspapers and magazines have crammed their pages with Iraq reporting, readers seem insatiable on the topic. The current Times list features four heavily reported and lengthy books about the Iraq adventure: Hubris, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn; Fiasco, by Thomas Ricks; State of Denial, by Bob Woodward; and Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

All four titles belong to the genre I call the "newsbook," which straddles the space between contemporary history and daily journalism and is usually hooked to Washington and politics....

So, if I want an up-to-date detailed analysis of the news, I don't buy a newspaper or watch a "news" programme on tv.

I gotta go buy a book?
Let's reserve the final credit for the newsbook's ascent to readers, that much-maligned group that is said to crave a diet exclusively composed of shorter news stories, gossip columns, and blog entries. Every time they buy a newsbook, they're voting with their dollars for complex, in-depth journalism. Isn't that good news?

I am perhaps well served with news background and analysis, provided that I am prepared to accept the limited cover from SST, and the occasional burst from Granny Herald.

And too, to what extent can one trust the honesty and objectivity of the authors of the newsbooks? No more so than the writers of the articles the papers dish up.

Hmm, is it any wonder that news and reportage these days is governed by confirmation bias rather than fact. Oh for the days of Stan Freyberg...
...the facts Ma'am, nothing but the facts...

Friday, October 13, 2006

The glories of freedom of speech -

Thanks to ALD...

Following on from the debate below with Dave Justus about the "banning" of a film because of its subject matter (for the semantically correct, substitute "refusal to show"), comes this little item from WaPo...
NEW YORK -- Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry.

The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest debate.

An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.

"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

Judt, who was born and raised in England and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, took strong exception to the cancellation of his speech. He noted that he was forced to cancel another speech later this month at Manhattan College in the Bronx after a different Jewish group had complained. Other prominent academics have described encountering such problems, in some cases more severe, stretching over the past three decades.

The pattern, Judt says, is unmistakable and chilling.

"This is serious and frightening, and only in America -- not in Israel -- is this a problem," he said. "These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone who might listen."

The leaders of the Jewish organizations denied asking the consulate to block Judt's speech and accused the professor of retailing "wild conspiracy theories" about their roles. But they applauded the consulate for rescinding Judt's invitation.

"I think they made the right decision," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "He's taken the position that Israel shouldn't exist. That puts him on our radar."

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, took a similar view. "I never asked for a particular action; I was calling as a friend of Poland," Harris said. "The message of that evening was going to be entirely contrary to the entire spirit of Polish foreign policy."

Judt has crossed rhetorical swords with the Jewish organizations on two key issues. Over the past few years he has written essays in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books and in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz arguing that power in Israel has shifted to religious fundamentalists and territorial zealots, that woven into Zionism is a view of the Arab as the irreconcilable enemy, and that Israel might not survive as a communal Jewish state.

The solution, he argues, lies in a slow and tortuous walk toward a binational and secular state.

He has, of late, defended an academic paper -- co-authored by professor Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and John J. Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago -- which argues the American Israel lobby has pushed policies that are not in the United States' best interests and in fact often encourage Israel to engage in self-destructive behavior.

These are deeply controversial views -- Foxman of the ADL and writer Christopher Hitchens, among others, have attacked the Walt and Mearsheimer paper as anti-Semitic. And Judt's advocacy of a binational state has drawn a flock of critics, the more angry of whom accuse him of "pandering to genocide" as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America put it. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum said Judt was pursuing "genocide liberalism."

Foxman has referred to Judt's views of Israel as "an offensive caricature."

The Mearsheimer and Walt paper, however, has drawn praise in some quarters in Israel, particularly on the left. So, too some Israeli writers, not least Israeli historian and social critic Amos Elon, have praised Judt's writings on Israel. Nor are Judt's arguments without historical precedent: Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky, who is Jewish, has advocated a binational solution in Israel, a view that three decades ago sparked such anger that police stood guard at his college talks. More recently, the ADL repeatedly accused DePaul University professor Norman G. Finkelstein, who is Jewish and strongly opposes Israeli policies, of being a "Holocaust denier." These charges have proved baseless.

"There is an often organized and often spontaneous attempt to marginalize anyone in the Jewish world who offers a critique of Israeli policy," said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal magazine Tikkun. "It's equated with anti-Semitism and Israel denial."

Foxman says such complaints are silly. "Nobody has called Judt an anti-Semite," Foxman said. "People who are critical of Israel and of the Jewish people often flaunt their Jewishness. Why isn't that an issue?"

Judt replies that he only reluctantly talks of his Jewishness, in no small part to inoculate himself against charges of anti-Semitism. "For many, the way to be Jewish in this country is to aggressively assert that the Holocaust is your identification tag," Judt said. "I know perfectly well my history, but it never occurred to me that my most prominent identity was as a Jew."

And another opinion -
By Suzy Hansen

“I’m struck when I observe the Jewish community in the United States, especially in New York,” said Tony Judt last Saturday, Oct. 7, sitting cross-legged in his Washington Square Park apartment, “that it’s a community which is the most successful, the wealthiest, the most well-integrated, the most influential, the most safe Jewish community in the history of Judaism, period—anywhere, anytime—since the Roman Empire. And yet it’s driven by an enormous self-induced insecurity.”

The 58-year-old Mr. Judt, a British-Jewish professor of European history at New York University and director of the Remarque Institute, had just come off a busy week perhaps particular to accented intellectuals who speak controversially about Israel: Just days before, Mr. Judt found two of his New York speaking engagements, one at the Polish Consulate, the other at Manhattan College, suddenly canceled.

Now, please someone, tell me who is right and who is wrong here...