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...

I was wrong!!

There is no constitutional crisis this morning.

Auntie Helen has said the Labour Party will fork up with the $800,000.

Winnie the Pooh is seeking a Declaratory Judgement.

Peter Piper is just stunned, though mullets have not yet been mentioned because no one can find out where he is...

Brash Donnie and his merry men are basking in their own virtuosity.

Jeanette is speechless.

Rodney is going to pay the ACT bill himself.

All is right with the world.

Of course, Brady is still WRONG, you understand... but he is more right that Auntie Helen. Madame Speaker has a legal opinion that says Brady is wrong. But he is still more right ... Just to prove Brady was wrong there will be "validating legislation". Then Parliamentary Services can ask the Parties to pay it back. Madame Speaker is going to ensure that the legislation also changes the Rules, so that everyone understands them....

Well it was a good raruraru while it lasted. I am not sorry that I was wrong either. Not because I want Helen to stay on. The use-by date expired some while back. The latest alternate batch is already pretty scummy.

Hey!! Interesting thing there too... Brash Donny would not commit himself to an immediate tax cut, nor to tax cuts in 2008. No problem for Jonkey though... stick the knife in at about $50,000 and cut the tax off there would be great!!. Nah I made that last little bit up. :) I wonder though - is someone lining up the top job? Are we going to have another PM/Finance Minister? Oooo I love being wrong!!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Right Wing-nut MUST have been short a rant or three...

... and I can not resist (once in a while when the liver plays up on me) taking up the gun control cudgels. I guess that it must be the primal dishonesty in what people like this say that stirs the gall into the liver where it reacts with the decomposition products of the pinot gris that I enjoyed last night, along with the venison steaks and kumara mash, when we went out to celebrate the wife's birthday.

Now, I have little doubt that the present Dalai Lama might have said "...If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun..." But I can imagine that it would have been in a context far removed from direct support of RKBA. I can imagine that someone like this wingnut would enjoy having Hitler support his position.

I am not going to argue the "for/against" either. The US is quite welcome to the RKBA. It matters not to me which of the sides one takes - pro- or anti- gun control.

If the wingnut wants to compare the US with Brazil, that is fine by me too. He could chose Mexico, or South Africa, or Albania if he wants.

What I ask is some honesty, rather than the blatant (and blind) application of confirmation bias. That is not too hard to do, is it?

It is to that end that I present this link to a paper prepared for our Justice Department on the topic of comparative murder rates, and interestingly the wider subject of violent crime.

The Introduction shows part of the problem...
Differences in definitions of violent crime make international comparisons problematic, and account for at least some of the apparent differences in recorded violent crime rates between countries.

Definitions of offences vary between countries due to both legal differences and statistical recording methods. For example, the USA and Canada do not appear to include minor assaults, intimidation, and threats within their definition of violent crime. However, New Zealand does include these crimes in its definition, and these offences comprise approximately half of all violent crime in this country. Also, New Zealand does not include sexual offences in violent crime, whereas Australia, USA, Canada, England and Wales do.

But read the whole thing. It is an interesting paper, with some surprising outcomes!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Political decadence… 2.

I wrote under this title back here, mainly to do with the Taito Phillip Field raruraru. Election funding was mentioned in passing,

I concluded -
This will be the last term of this Labour government. There is now quiet debate on their ability to see out the full term. There are deep political stirrings with the minor coalition partners already seeking to create brand difference to limit the fallout damage should the worst happen to Labour.

This will be the last Labour government until the Nats start getting too big for their boots, too arrogant to listen, too close to the margins that we the voters will accept; then perhaps we will welcome back the new blood.

I followed that up by stealing the summary that Herald put out – and an excellent review it is too.

Now we are rapidly reaching the meeting of rock and hard place. It was due for tomorrow, but the news this morning was reporting that Madam Speaker had deferred that prospect until Thursday.

Sunday’s papers were generally pushing the line that –

• Brady will “water down” his report.
• Madame Speaker will announce her intention to “ensure better controls in future”.

The logical inference being that there will eventually be payment of some of the “overdraws”, validating legislation all round, and some frantic sweeping in the corner of the room where the carpet doesn’t quite fit behind Auntie's desk. That latter process would hide behind the skirts of legislative changes – skirts made from flour sacks by first-year homecraft class girls – intended to introduce “government funding of party election expenditure”.

I don’t think that is quite right.

I think it would be a travesty if that happens.

It would be a further and total betrayal of the office of C and AG.

It would be a total betrayal of the legislative process.

It would do nothing more than confirm that, for the past six years and more the party that has been the centre of this government ( a generally fairly successful government) has in fact acted in a manner that can be described (at least and at best) as dishonest.

No, I think it time to call it in. This has gone way past the point of minor political point scoring.

Auntie Helen should have quietly acceded to Brady's initial opinion. She should have accepted with grace that she and her party hierarchy have stuffed up big time. This is now a monumental cock-up that has already broken the back of the Labour Government's credibility.

Helen, we are not all that stupid.

It is more likely that Brady will in fact be giving Auntie Helen both barrels, salt pellet laden, close range. At the very least he will require all parties to repay the “overdrawn” amounts to Parliamentary Services.

Auntie Helen has publicly impugned Brady, and his office, with her statements that "he is wrong". Brady, for the sake of his office if not his career, can not allow that to happen. By his actions thus far and his intention to report to Parliament as Controller show that he has his teeth into a very good proportion of someone's derriere.

Madame Speaker will make her predicted announcement.

The fallout will be (should be, MUST be) that this is going to precipitate a Constitutional crisis of some severity. If Auntie Helen does not toe Brady’s line, does not agree to repay the somewhere around $500,000 “overspend”, does not recant on most of what she has recently said on the matter outside of Parliament, then IMO she will be breakfast toast – not even there to be gone by lunchtime.

For a start, there is the possibility that Auntie Helen will find her party haemorraghing support.

That will be led by a catastrophic fall in her personal credibility (already starting to sink slowly in the west).

She will be an increasing liability to the Government for as long as she tries to maintain the charade of “the rules were changed”, and “approved by Parliamentary Services”.

How far will that go? Will it be sufficiently serious for the minor parties to withdraw confidence and supply? That is becoming a distinct possibility. Certainly those parties can not be seen to abdicate their own positions by agreeing to support “validating legislation”. It would paint them with the same tarbrush that Auntie Helen is trying to persuade us all is in fact whitewash.

And as soon as confidence and supply goes, so too does Auntie Helen.


No, Friday 13th…

Ok, now let's hear it from the Right!!

Remember all of the castigation that was poured upon the Muslim world of for their reaction to the Mohammed cartoons?

Remember the trumpeting of Freedom of Speech in America versus the religious strictures of fundamental Islam?

Ok, so does this mean that GWB ranks above God and Christ in the American panoply?

I mean, why else would US theatre chains effectively BAN showing of this movie?

Where is the protest in the streets, the baying for blood that the rights of expression and speech can be limited so?

Or is it true that the American right wing does have two faces.
Two major U.S. cinema chains say they will not show a controversial new movie that depicts the assassination of President George W. Bush, while the film's distributor defended it as a thoughtful political thriller.

A third major chain said it was undecided on whether to show "Death of a President".

The movie is scheduled to open in U.S. on October 27 and its backers said they are booking it into many regional venues and art houses, despite being shunned by the large chains.

The fictional film is told like a documentary that tracks the political drama behind an investigation into Bush's murder in October 2007. It has raised a ruckus because it uses digital technology to depict Bush being gunned down.

Regal Entertainment Group, the No. 1 U.S. cinema operator with more than 6,300 screens in 40 states, will not show the movie because of its subject matter, Regal spokesman Dick Westerling said.

"We do not feel it is appropriate to portray the future assassination of a president, therefore we do not intend to program this film at any of our cinemas," he said.

Westerling said Regal has received "numerous phone calls and e-mails" supporting the company and even if the film became a hit in other venues, Regal would stand by its decision.

Cinemark USA, which operates roughly 2,500 screens in 34 states, told show business newspaper The Hollywood Reporter it would not screen the film.

A spokeswoman for AMC Entertainment, which runs 5,600 screens, told Reuters her company had yet to make a decision.

Definitely two faces...

(Hat tip Digby at Hullabaloo)

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Published in Herald yesterday...
For an international community consumed with Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Darfur is one humanitarian crisis too many.

Individuals like Lisa Blaker provide hope. The Auckland intensive care nurse is one of a handful of New Zealand aid workers to have ventured into Darfur, the west Sudanese province where Government-backed militia have uprooted two million people, destroyed their villages and killed or starved to death up to 200,000.

Blaker has been to Darfur twice with Medicins sans Frontieres. She's itching to go back.

Her diaries help explain why.

Even in the vagaries of an Auckland spring, Lisa Blaker feels guilty to be relaxing in the sunshine at the Ponsonby home she's minding.

The intensive care nurse returned in June from her second nine-month stint with Medecins sans Frontieres in Darfur, doing what she could for refugees driven from their homes by rampant militia.

Civil war in the arid Sudanese province has driven a third of the population from their homes since 2002, when the Janjaweed militia embarked on bloody massacres against black African farmers rebelling against the Government. Up to 200,000 black Africans have died. Infighting among resistance groups has killed thousands more.

The Khartoum Government has refused a United Nations assistance mission and warned that anyone who turns up on its soil uninvited will find Darfur their graveyard.

An under-financed African Union peacekeeping force of 7000 soldiers and civilian police has struggled to protect up to 2 million displaced people living in makeshift camps. It was due to leave on September 30, raising fears of an escalation in the killing, but extended its stay until the end of the year.

Within this vacuum, volunteers working for aid agencies represent the only international response to the genocide.

MSF launched the biggest humanitarian effort in its history in Darfur in 2004, running primary health care clinics, a surgical programme, nutritional programmes and providing assessment and practical support for those displaced by the war.

MSF has 170 international staff and over 2600 Sudanese working in 18 locations around Darfur. Among the internationals are a handful of New Zealanders; many more Kiwis work for other aid agencies.

On her second trip, Blaker was based in the south-eastern town of Muhajariya, working at the hospital and travelling to the camps by Land Rover to set up mobile clinics, often staying overnight.

Blaker has returned to work at Middlemore Hospital, her frequent employer of the past decade. But the 35-year-old plans to go back to Darfur after Christmas for her fourth overseas aid posting.

"I've been bitten by the bug," she says.

"Since 2000 I've led parallel lives - one working in intensive care as an associate charge nurse and the other working in the bush and sleeping under the stars.

"My charge nurse told me it was time to make a choice - that I couldn't keep switching from one to the other.

"Well, MSF wins every time."

Rumours of a pending escalation in the conflict, with the Government-backed militia preparing to attack the rebel stronghold of Muhajariya, has heightened Blaker's impatience to return.

"It's not enjoyable, it's not pleasure - it's this powerful sense of satisfaction and purpose."

Tuesday, October 18
"The 5 of us stood side by side while the soldiers walked around us. No one made a sound. In the heat, surrounded by 300 people, that stillness was eerie.

Three of them had camel whips, the long, thin leather ones. They moved around the outside of the crowd with their guns and whips, and we were all watching them, wondering what they were going to do.

All of a sudden the three with the whips started into the crowd, spinning and cracking the leather whips as they tried to hit people. Everyone who could run did. In seconds the whole area was nearly empty, and the soldiers stood in the shade laughing. The only people still there were the seriously ill ones, the ones that couldn't run.

The 5 of us stood still in the sun. We had all turned our heads to see what they were doing with their whips but our feet hadn't moved in the sand.

That was when I felt frightened. When I realised what it must feel like to be one of the people here. To be completely powerless, knowing that at any moment your freedom, your health, your life could be taken away by someone that doesn't care."

Wednesday April 19
I arrived at the hospital at 9.30 this morning. The attack happened two days ago and I needed to speak to the victims, to hear their stories. My translator Adam Ali* and I walked across the compound and stepped into the men's ward. It was already hot outside, so someone had strung blankets over each doorway to keep out the sun.

We walked to the foot of the first bed. "Hello, my name is Lisa and I am one of the nurses. Could we talk to you about what happened on Monday?" The family were standing and kneeling around the patient's bed.

His head was tightly wrapped with white bandages, his eyes swollen shut. He was covered with a heavy grey blanket and every few seconds he would kick and thrash under the blanket, his arms flailing as he struggled.

His brothers would quickly take hold of the blanket and use it to pin him down, trying to stop him moving. He would stop struggling, his arms resting by his side and he looked peaceful for a moment. Then he would start struggling again.

"He's been like this since we arrived," said one brother. "They hit him on the head, he was bleeding everywhere." His mother was kneeling beside him. Every time he started to struggle she would speak to him gently. "Go to sleep, everything will be all right. I am here." Over and over she repeated it.

"We'll come back later," I said.

We turned to the next bed. A man lay back on his bed, his sheets in a tangle as he kicked at them in the heat. "Hello, my name is Lisa. Could we talk to you about what happened on Monday."

"They shot me in the back and in my arm while I was running away," he said abruptly. "I know their faces. I know some of their names. I know where they came from and where they went when they had finished killing and stealing. But I'm not going to talk to you. Talking to you won't help, it never helps. You kawadjas [white people] come and look and talk and take notes every time this happens. But it never helps."

I stood there listening to Adam Ali translate the patient's words. I felt a wave of shame at my job. Who am I to talk to these people? Is he right? Will my listening and taking notes change anything? Will anyone else listen to his story?

I stumbled through the words of an apology and walked to the next bed. Unable to meet the eyes of the next patient I started again. "Hello, my name is Lisa. Could we talk to you about what happened on Monday?" The patient's family welcomed me, cleared a space for me and I sat cross-legged on the floor beside them. For half an hour I sat there, looking up at the patient and around at the family as they spoke. Listening to his story and trying to take notes as I blinked away the tears.

His story filled me with pain and sadness. His words wove a story of such pain and brutality that I had to put my pen down and tell myself to breathe. In, out, in, out. I became aware of the way the sand was rubbing against my ankles as I sat on the floor. The way the flies gathered around the half filled bowls of food under the bed. In, out, breathe in, breathe out.

His story of the attack told of a government helicopter, soldiers in vehicles, militia on camels, horses and donkeys. Most of the militia brought trailers with them, to load up the spoils of war. They circled the village, then began firing.

They shot some in their homes, some as they ran away, they chased, intimidated and killed indiscriminately. Once the village was empty they moved from house to house, taking all the belongings they could find. Everything. Beds, clothes, sacks of grain, cooking pots, tea cups, shoes and animals. When villagers returned after sunset they found their homes stripped bare. The message was clear - there is nothing here for you, you are not welcome.

The villagers returned to search for relatives among the bodies and all started to move south. Taking only the clothes they wore, they walked through the night and some arrived in our village the following day.

The wounded were brought by truck the night of the attack. "They shot me in the legs, both my legs," he said. "But Allah was watching over me, and they didn't kill me. I just lay there and waited for my family."

I wiped my eyes, thanked him and stood up. My knees were stiff from sitting on the concrete floor and my ankles raw from the sand. There was a shout from a bed behind me and we turned. The family that had been standing around the first bed were wailing and beating the mattress with their fists.

His mother knelt, crouching on the ground as she rocked back and forth and cried. He had just died. Four soldiers had held him down and beaten him with their guns. One beat him with an axe. In an act of senseless violence they stole his life.

I turned to my translator. He looked at me, took a deep breath and shook his head. "We have to carry on, Lisa. We have 16 more patients who can tell us what happened. We have to listen to them."

So we walked to the next bed. I stood at the foot of his bed, my heart full of sadness and my eyes full of tears. "Hello, my name is Lisa. Could we talk to you about what happened on Monday?"

Tuesday, March 9
Penny has been dancing in the delivery room again. She says it's the best way to get her ladies to deliver, bodies moving, standing upright, pelvis swaying. She put on some music and soon all the midwives were dancing. Six of them, dancing, shaking their shoulders and laughing.

After 16 hours of labour the woman was so tired, but she was trying and laughing in the dark. There were kerosene lanterns on the floor, each making a little pool of golden light. The room smelled of kerosene and sweat and perfume. And it was filled with love.

In the end she needed a caesarean. The baby just wouldn't come through all that scar tissue. Why do they circumcise these women so badly? The baby is fine, though. A boy. Everyone was so happy.

I went looking for Penny half an hour after the woman was taken back to the ward.

She was lying on her side on a narrow string bed. Penny pulled back the blankets. Blood clots stuck to the sheets, to her legs, to her life. She was bleeding to death. The one drug we needed to try to stop the bleeding was finished. We've been out of it for two weeks.

I called the surgeon while I waited in the shadows. Penny and the midwives were doing all they could. It is so hard to see what you're doing in there. The biggest solar light was needed to prepare the theatre for the surgeon.

Perhaps they could stop the bleeding in the theatre. With the dim light of the lanterns, the moving shadows, too many people in the room, blood-filled sheets making it hard to turn her it was impossible to work properly.

Penny shouted out "she's not breathing, STOP!" Everyone stopped. There was nothing, no breathing, no pulse. The circle of her family drew closer, each watching for our success. Her one-hour-old baby was on her grandmother's lap in the shadows of our catastrophe, warm and asleep. The women outside started to wail, the men came closer to check, to touch, to cry.

Some people say that people here grieve less. That people here are used to the pain, that they expect it. It's not true. If you had stood with me in the dark last night you would have seen grief. They wept. They beat the ground and wept and prayed.

Penny and the dancing midwives stood in the dark and wept too. And I know that their hearts were breaking because they have lost another one, and there was nothing they could do.

Friday, November 4
We sat on the wall that encircles the clinic and watched the sunset last night. The warmth from the stone wall, the smell of the hot, dusty evening, the sounds of the town from across the lake. We saw 275 patients yesterday. By the end of the day my body ached and I could hardly keep my eyes open. But it was worth it to have seen that sunset.

Children were coming to the edge of the lake to fill their jerry cans. I watched their silhouettes against the orange sky as they led their donkeys into the water. The donkeys walked in until their bellies were touching the water, and if it is possible for a donkey to smile, I'm sure they were smiling at the end of their hot, hard day.

Some of the children had water fights, kicking and throwing water at each other and hooting with laughter. Some went swimming, floating out on the dark water while the donkeys had their fill of water. It was so calm, not a breath of wind.

When everything else around us has been so chaotic and stressful it means so much to me to see life, normal life, carry on. Children are children wherever they are. Laughing, playing and just being children.

After sunset the children left, their jerry cans filled with water and their donkeys content. One donkey was carrying three children, one little boy was hanging upside down under the donkey's neck. The donkey didn't seem to mind. I sat a while longer and just enjoyed the quiet.

Thursday, April 20
I stood beside the landcruiser this afternoon, waiting in the sun. We were waiting for the go-ahead from the other team so that we could drive over the ridge and cross the front line. They had a sick patient for us, so I was anxious for the call that would allow us to go and get her.

We had stopped near the hand pumps. There were no trees nearby, just a few bushes where the sheep and donkeys were trying to squeeze into the shade. Usually the hand pumps are crowded with women, all queuing for water. But because of the recent fighting, people were staying away. The only people collecting water today were children and old people.

The old man had walked up to our vehicle as I waited. His clothes were threadbare, his white jelabiya was torn and dirty. It pulled and tugged against his legs as the wind blew. His feet were bare, the skin dry and covered with sand. My feet burn if I try to walk on the sand without shoes. Does he not feel the heat?

He stood looking in through the back window, asking Omar* if he had seen his donkey. He lost everything in the attack on Monday. His house, his belongings, his food, his animals. Everything.

"Please, I've lost my donkey. Have you seen her? She's brown, with a white nose. She's my only donkey," he asked.

"No sir, sorry. We haven't seen it," said Omar.

"I need to find my donkey," he repeated. "I haven't eaten for two days. I need to go to the market to sell my donkey."

"Sorry, asma. I can't help you. Goodbye," Omar replied.

We were in the middle of nowhere. It was hot. The radio call could have come at any second to give us the go-ahead. We were all feeling tense, sitting so close to the front line. Jack sat in the front seat, his face red from the heat, his cigarette hanging out of the window. He took a chocolate biscuit from the packet in his bag and offered me one.

"Jack, how can you eat in front of this man?" I was nearly in tears listening to the old man talk. "He hasn't eaten for two days and you're eating chocolate biscuits in front of him."

"I was eating them before he arrived," Jack said. "I didn't ask him to come over, so why should I stop? Besides, if you help one then you have to help them all. And I don't have enough biscuits for the whole of Darfur."

I took the proffered biscuit and gave it to the old man. Mohammed*, our translator, reached out from the back seat window and held out his biscuit as well. I pulled a few dinars from my pocket and gave it to him quietly.

The old man put the money and the two biscuits in his pocket and said thank you. He walked away slowly, his eyes focused somewhere in the distance. He talked quietly to himself, "where's my donkey? I need to find my donkey".

There is nothing saintly or foolish about giving an old man some biscuits and some money. In a war or in your local community it's compassion that keeps us alive. It's not futile. It's not throwing money away. You help who you can, while you can. Maybe it makes a difference and maybe it doesn't. But I believe you have to try.

Thursday, June 1
When the wind picks up we know we have 10 or 15 minutes to find shelter before the rain comes. The wind is not mere breeze, gently lifting leaves and cooling the brow. It comes in powerful gusts, slamming doors, sending teapots and small chairs crashing across our compound.

The wind brings the sand and in seconds you feel the sand whipping against your skin in hot, sharp gusts. It's then that you know you have to run.

The rain starts to fall slowly. Fat, heavy raindrops that leave little craters in the sand. In minutes the ground is pockmarked with them.

There is always that first wet earth, hot sky smell, the smell of life and growth. In every storm I stop and stand still to take in great breaths of the warm air, wet, storm filled air. And every time I feel tears in my eyes, tears of relief that the rains bring.

Tuesday, October 13
Today I felt frightened for the first time. We arrived in the village around 9 o'clock with plans to see what the health situation was like after the last attack. It didn't take long to see there were so many sick people that they needed to see a medic. Unfortunately I was the only medic.

It was so hot, every time I stepped out of the shade I felt as though I was on fire. Even the birds had stopped singing in the heat. My skin was covered in sand from the windy drive. We parked our two cars under the trees and set up the clinic between them. One end for me to see patients and one end for the drivers to dispense medications. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The village leaders put the word out that we had arrived. In less than an hour there were about 300 people under the trees. I climbed on to the roof of one of the cars to work out how we were going to manage. People were everywhere, pushing, surging towards the cars. They haven't seen a doctor for two months and it's the peak of the malaria season right now.

Abubaker* is one of the drivers, but his hidden talent is doing malaria tests. He had about 12 of the tests lined up on a cardboard box, each neatly labelled. If the patient complained of a headache and fever he had taken a blood sample before they knew what was happening. Where would I be without him?

I thought we were doing okay until the soldiers arrived. Three vehicles drove up fast and stopped, side by side. Everyone froze, it was completely silent under the trees. The weapons on the back of each vehicle were huge, I've never seen guns like that. And each soldier carried more, their bodies covered with the sort of weapons I've only seen in pictures. I had six sick babies lying in the sand between the cars, so I left my colleague Mike to do the negotiating while I carried on working.

They gave us five minutes to pack and leave. Mike talked and asked and pleaded for more time. And while he talked I treated the babies, thinking just one more, one more. They got angry when they saw me working and made me walk over to them.

We had to surrender our radio, the phone and the batteries. The five of us stood while the soldiers walked around us. No one made a sound. We stood like that for about five minutes. The soldiers all jumped off the back of their vehicles, their guns and grenades clattering as they landed. Three of them had camel whips, the long, thin leather ones. They moved around the outside of the crowd with their guns and whips, and we were all watching them, wondering what they were going to do.

All of a sudden the three with the whips started into the crowd, spinning and cracking the leather whips as they tried to hit people. Everyone who could run did. In seconds the whole area was nearly empty, and the soldiers stood in the shade laughing.

The only people still there were the seriously ill ones. The five of us stood still in the sun. We had all turned our heads to see what they were doing with their whips but our feet hadn't moved in the sand.

That was when I felt frightened. When I realised what it must feel like to be one of the people here. To be completely powerless, knowing that at any moment your freedom, your health, your life could be taken away by someone who doesn't care. And knowing that there is nothing you can do about it.

* Some names were changed for security reasons.Darfur aid

This is the lass I have mentioned in a number of comments round the place. I thought it might be nice to "meet" the real person...

From the comfort of a Whangamata mansion...

I was going to post up about the election overspend and all that entails. Brady (Auditor General and Controller is due to present his report to Parliament on Tuesday and the commentary is thick and fast.

There are, as it happens similar and equally as sinful events which I have not touched upon.

Rather than rehash the whole sorry story start to finish, here is Rosemary McLeod's commentary. Very very well done Rosemary...

The orgasm, the whole world knows, is an elusive creature.

A friend once glimpsed one in her kitchen, but it bolted behind the fridge, leaving nothing behind but a couple of tail feathers. She says that what little she saw was scary, and she wouldn't advise anyone else to approach one. She said it had a mad look in its glittering eye, and fangs.

Well, we always assumed they were orgasm tail feathers. That's why she put them in a jam jar, and screwed the lid on tight. But now an Auckland University academic has raised the troubling issue of whether she glimpsed the genuine article, or a phony. It turns out that there are fake orgasms on the loose in this country. The implications are distressing.

Annamarie Jagose, an associate professor of media studies, and an acclaimed fiction writer, has been granted $50,000 to help her investigate the fake orgasm situation. That sum comes on top of $465,000 she's been allocated, with two colleagues, to inquire into the cultural history of sex. Only half the $50,000 will go directly to the crucial fake orgasm work, which is not nearly enough. The rest will be allocated to "Twentieth Century Orgasm", a more general topic with less specific application.

Orgasm study is obviously vital, fake or otherwise, and surely the job's too big for one little Auckland woman specializing in gay topics. It will take teams of them, toiling around the clock in attic bedrooms and science labs, to carry out the experiments needed, and we should not fund such labours half-heartedly. We should dig deep, surely, and fling her another half mill to be going on with.

Be prepared for the outcome of Jagose's research to be devastating. It could rock the country to its foundations. Many of us could have been deceived for years, a cruelly undermining thought, and we need to know one way or another now that she's flagged it as a real possibility.

Think of the questions the work raises. How do any of us really know whether we've encountered a real orgasm, or a fake one? What exactly is a fake orgasm, how do you describe it, precisely, and how can you be certain of that description? They say the earth moves, but this is a land of earthquakes.

Nobody can afford to be smug, now that she's identified the problem, of their precise orgasm status. You could have chased after a fake in all honesty, and never known. You could have cornered several of them and been taken in by appearances. The shadow of doubt hangs over the whole upsetting business until the results come in.

Maybe it's like passive smoking: you could be suffering from the effects of the experience without having experienced it. It could be like headaches: if you were born with a headache, you'd never know if you really had one because you'd never not had one, if you see what I mean.

But why should research stop at the elusive shoreline of the 20th century orgasm, and fakery of that kind? Work is crying out to be done on phony intellectuals, who dominate so many universities and dinner parties. How can you confidently tell a phony intellectual from a real one? Are black berets, as I have always believed, invariably evidence of the bogus? Do the French still have a stranglehold here? Are Jean-Paul Gaultier wire spectacle frames a clue? Does speaking French still count? And is reading French post-modernist philosophers still compulsory?

Jagose's work seems to connect neatly with that of Michel Foucault, who died of Aids-related illness while writing a history of sexuality. Maybe there are post-modern fake orgasms. Maybe they are a cultural construct. They are quite possibly a health hazard. Thank goodness someone disinterested is prepared to sacrifice years of their life to this basically mundane, but worthwhile and necessary topic, and that someone could actually read Foucault without falling asleep.

Dr Jacose is not the only creative writer in the country whose intellect is currently publicly drawn to matters of a sexual nature. Last week Wi Huata, husband of Donna Awatere Huata, revealed an unsuspected talent - and hinted at an unsuspected asset - in verse he dictated outside a courtroom after appealing a fraud conviction.

"Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise?

Because I dance like I've got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs" he asked, in two of his more poignant lines.

I don't have an answer to those questions. The thought of all that sparkle has quite distracted me. But I feel I know just the person to undertake the necessary field work.

Quite apart from the direction of Jagose's "research", one really has to wonder at the workings of research funding or the parallel of the funding of art work when grants like this are made.

Or perhaps not!!

Perhaps the much criticised "art work" that was submitted to a European Biennalle was far closer to great art than the critics imagined.

Who were the braying donkeys in the old outhouse? Perhaps Jagose might come up with a similar "great truth".

Perhaps a conclusion that "science research grant allocation in New Zealand is nothing more than a full monty glorious fake dildo up.

Friday, October 06, 2006

It is strange how the truth might out…

In NZ this would be called a “leak” and someone’s head (probably a bicycle riding message boy) would roll for it.

Rice Briefing En Route Shannon, Ireland
Thursday, 5 October 2006, 1:38 pm
Press Release: US State Department
Briefing En Route Shannon, Ireland

QUESTION: A bit off topic, but in the Bob Woodward book there is a meeting detailed in July of 2001 at which you and then CIA chief Tenet were present. Did that meeting happen the way he describes it? Did Tenet at that point express to you a real feeling that there was an attack coming, and if so what did you do about it?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'll have to -- we'll have to go back to the records to see if there was a meeting on July 10th. I met with George Tenet repeatedly, including every morning during that period of time. What I am quite certain of, however, is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States; and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible, especially given that in July when we were getting a very steady stream of quite alarmist reports of potential attacks -- by the way, all of the information was about potential attacks abroad. There was supposed to be -- the countries that were assumed to be targets -- Saudi Arabia, Yemen, I think there was one about Israel, maybe Jordan. Nothing about the United States. And we were in very active disruption operations abroad, including redoubling efforts to try to capture Abu Zubaida, who people thought might know something about this.

We were in -- George Tenet was working with the security officials from 20 countries. The Vice President called the Saudis to enlist their help. We were taking protective measures abroad; for instance, the Fifth Fleet was redeployed out of harm's way, military forces were put on alert in half a dozen countries, travel alerts were issued for Americans traveling abroad.

It was an extremely active period in terms of responding to what was a steady stream of chatter about potential attacks. And we were getting briefed on them every morning with the President's daily briefing and I was indeed talking to George about them all the time. So it comes as no surprise that in fact the threat level, or the level of threat reporting, was very high during this period.

Now, there was nothing that related to an attack in the United States. Nonetheless, because no one could rule out the potential of an attack in the United States, we took several measures in the United States to protect the United States as well. For instance, the counterterrorism strategy group which was meeting every day during this period of time -- that's the kind of nerve center; it still is, by the way; now it's reformulated into the NCTC.

But the counterterrorism strategy group that was meeting every day, Dick Clarke was reporting on what they were doing. And I believe the date is July 5th when, because I was concerned that even though there was no threat reporting about the United States we couldn't rule out an attack, I called Andy Card and asked him to join me with Dick Clarke because I didn't have authority over the domestic agencies, I thought having the Chief of Staff there might give us some potency if we needed that with the domestic agencies, and asked Dick to convene a meeting, which he did, with agencies like the FAA and other domestic agencies.

I understand too that the CIA briefing was then given to security officials from domestic agencies. I also asked that John Ashcroft be shown the threat reporting because the Attorney General of course oversees the FBI. The FBI held several briefings, including with their special agents-in-charge, one of which they told their special agents-in-charge that even though there was no credible threat reporting about the United States, that could not be ruled out.

So this was an extremely active period of time in terms of responding to what were admittedly vague but repeated and indeed steady reports of impending attack. So I just don't know how -- first of all, I don't know that this meeting took place, but what I really don't know, what I'm quite certain of, is that it was not a meeting in which I was told that there was an impending attack and I refused to respond.

At the moment, all of this is nothing more than reaction to Bob Woodward’s latest book – and what better free marketing could he ever hope for?

In terms of realities, and let’s be honest here, any further revelations on the pre-9/11 period will land at the stoep of now departed senior figureheads in CIA and FBI. That is where they will do the least (political?) damage.

In the meantime, there will still be the “Rice knew = Bush knew” prating which is going to mean absolutely nothing and achieve even less. For let’s face it – politics is a game where the truth must never be allowed to get in the way of an objective.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Weather vagaries...

During September (normally the depths of winter) Auckland had some 18 fine days and about 65mm of rain.

Last night, Auckland had over 80mm of rain in 8 hours. It is still raining, on and off.

UPdate - 4 October

These past two days, Wellington has had southerlies - 100kph gales, reaching 120kph today and today snow to 300m. Wellington Aitport was closed for most of yesterday, and the inter-island ferries did not run (15m seas in Cook Strait).

Auckland yesterday - light westerlies, 20C.

Today we have 0/10, light southerly, 15C.