Sunday, February 25, 2007


From today’s Sunday Star Times...
A Catholic school has expelled a pupil for getting a tattoo of an American rap musician on his arm - a $300 Christmas present from his social worker mum.

This was despite the student, 17-year-old Zavier Bygrave, pleading with Auckland's Sacred Heart College's board on Monday: "I want to go to school."

He argued he wanted to finish his final year saying: "This tattoo is on the outside of my skin. It doesn't change who I am on the inside."

Although Zavier promised to wear a long-sleeve shirt to hide the tattoo, the school ruled it "did not fit in with the Marist school values" and would be harmful for other students to see.

The black-and-white tattoo of musician Tupac Shakur is on Zavier's left arm, from his elbow to wrist.

I wonder now, would he have been expelled had the name tattooed on his arm been that of Bob Marley? Hmm, perhaps that could be seen as promoting a cannabis culture? How is about Catchafire, or Fat Freddy? Or perhaps any of the other kiwi pop-groups (I am definitely not up in this field)...

I suspect that the name on his arm had as much if not a heck of a lot more to do with his expulsion than the fact of the tattoo itself.

Come on now, thoughts please...

Should this kid have been expelled for the tattoo?

A sunset to remember.

This was last October, one of those stormy Sunday afternoons when I got myself into a right old snit and took myself off for a few hours.

It was at this point that I decided that the best was over. Was I wrong!!

As I was driving up Pakuranga Highway I became aware of the colour ahead of me - to the east. By the time I got myself to the top of the Bradbury Road hill - about 5 minutes later - it was starting to fade but I still managed to grab this -

As inevitable as two trains on the same track...

Here we go again folks!

The pursuit of happiness...

From the august pages of Scientific American
Imagine you have a choice between earning $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000 or earning $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000. Prices of goods and services are the same. Which would you prefer? Surprisingly, studies show that the majority of people select the first option. As H. L. Mencken is said to have quipped, "A wealthy man is one who earns $100 a year more than his wife's sister's husband."

I make no secret of the fact that in the past twenty years I have halved my income, increased my life-span by at least fifteen years if the rather dire prognostications of my witch-doctor had come to pass. More importantly, I now have a lifestyle that I really enjoy.

I am happy with my life and the most important factor in making that change was nothing to do with what everyone else was doing but in deciding what it was that I really needed

So this really does ring my bell -
Happiness is better equated with satisfaction than pleasure, says Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns in Satisfaction (Henry Holt, 2005), because the pursuit of pleasure lands us on a never-ending hedonic treadmill that paradoxically leads to misery. "Satisfaction is an emotion that captures the uniquely human need to impart meaning to one's activities," Berns concludes. "While you might find pleasure by happenstance--winning the lottery, possessing the genes for a sunny temperament, or having the luck not to live in poverty--satisfaction can arise only by the conscious decision to do something. And this makes all the difference in the world, because it is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit."

That has nothing to do with money.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Darwin Awards - 2007

First nomination...
A teenager's new car exploded when he used deodorant spray to polish his dashboard and then lit a cigarette, igniting the aerosol's fumes.

Jayme Edmonds suffered burns and spent three days in Rotorua Hospital and nine more days off school recovering after the blast in his uninsured $3000 vehicle.

The doors blew out and the windows shattered - the windscreen was found metres away down the driveway of his home.

Joanne Edmonds, mother of 16-year-old Jayme, said her family had been traumatised by the incident.

Jayme had gone to his car just before midnight - dressed only in his boxer shorts - to have a cigarette and listen to his stereo. In the car were two bottles of Lynx deodorant. "All my mates use it, we all take it around in cars. Others use Impulse," said the Western Heights High School student.

Both bottles had been left in the car, in the hot sun, all day.

Jayme's Honda Prelude was a recent purchase and he was worried about some paint stains on the inside door. He began spraying from the aerosol can on to the car and rubbing the stains off with a towel, he said.

"Then I lit the smoke and this big ball of fire went up.

"I knew my hands were burned because I picked up this towel to try to save my stereo, only the towel was on fire. It was a blur. I just remember all the heat coming up my body."

The explosion shattered two windows of his father's van parked about 3m away and woke up the neighbourhood. "I've never heard anything so loud in my life," Mrs Edmonds said.

Jayme singed his hair, eyebrows and nostrils, but it was about half an hour before he realised the extent of his injuries.

His mother took him to hospital, where he ended up on an oxygen machine in intensive care.

Unilever Australasia spokesman Nick Goddard said the deodorant was clearly marked "highly flammable".

"Lynx is designed to attract members of the opposite sex, but not in this way. We hope the young man is not too seriously hurt."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What is "A Christian Country"?

From this morning's Herald...
A national interfaith forum has agreed to a statement that New Zealand has "no state religion" - but only as a basis for further public debate.

A draft statement that also asks schools to teach about all religions was amended slightly at the forum in Hamilton yesterday.

But attempts by the Destiny Church, the Exclusive Brethren and the evangelical Vision Network to change the statement to say that New Zealand is a Christian country were unsuccessful.

Evangelical churches are accusing the Government of "religious treason" for promoting a statement that Christianity is no longer New Zealand's state religion.

At a national inter-faith forum opening in Hamilton tomorrow Destiny Church and the Vision Network of evangelical churches are preparing for battle against a draft national statement on religious diversity which says "New Zealand has no state religion".

To make it very clear, I have no problem with any religion whether charismatic or not.

There is a very, very long stretch between acknowleding that the NZ "culture" is based upon the Judeo/Christian "western" civilisation, and having (as Destiny would like it) the NZ State - government, governance and laws - based upon a "Christian" system.

It might seem that there are quite a few who agree...
Responses to the Herald, after an earlier version of the statement was published on Saturday, ran four to one in favour of the view that New Zealand is still a Christian country.

Christians dropped from 60.8 per cent of the population in 2001 to 51.2 per cent at last year's Census, but were still 10 times as numerous as all other religions combined (5.1 per cent).

Those professing no religion rose from 29.6 per cent to 32.2 per cent, and 13.3 per cent refused to answer the question.

... but I must point out that there is a significant difference between "...New Zealand is still a Christian country..." and "..."religious treason" for promoting a statement that Christianity is no longer New Zealand's state religion..."

As I have published earlier -

In a previous visit, Long told a Destiny congregation that the church would be "ruling New Zealand" before its 10th anniversary.

"That means you control the wealth, that means you control the riches, that means you control the politics, that means you control the social order, that means you are in charge", he said.

It means a lot more than that as well. Who can forget Destiny's Blackshirts and their protest against the Civil Union Bill?

This is not a case of enforcing or preventing the right of groups or individuals. This is not about the right to freedom of worship, freedom of belief.

The crux here is the right of one group to impose their beliefs upon others through the force of law. The proponents of these views are no dummies. They understand politics and the processes of governance. They know, as well as do Auntie Helen and Jonkey, the critical importance of the half-truth. Not the half-lie. The half of the truth that suits their ends and the half of the truth that they do not want revealed.

I have no problem in acknowledging that the culture of this country is predominantly Christian.

I have a very major problem when the personal interpretations of "Christian law" start appearing in the statute books as the law that I am expected to observe.

I have a very major problem when those who believe their personal interpretations of God's Law is the only "correct" interpretation.

As I have said previously -
The warning that GG should be spreading, the warning that we should ALL heed is this -

Religion and governance are immiscible fluids.

That was proven in Europe 600 years ago and since.

It is the one reason for the modern cultural differences between Europe and Christian culture generally and Islam.

The power of the Church was removed from national governance in all of the European nations through events such as the French Revolution. Henry VIII intentionally weakened the power of the church in England by creating the English Church. In Germany and the Low Countries it was Luther who attained the same objective. In Spain it was not until the 20th Century that the final bonds between Church and State were finally broken by Franco. The replacement of religious belief by the "worship of the State" has been proven to not work with the collapse of the Eastern European communist regimes.

Looking at the other side of the argument, nations where religion is part of governance the tendancy is toward totalitarian government. The obvious examples of the moment are the extreme Islamic nations - Afghanistan under the Taliban, less so Pakistan though they have their "moments", even Indonesia. Less obvious are the "Christian" totalitarian states; Phillipines under Marcos, Mexico, even Ireland (I know that scratches the barrel bottom but remember the ban on the "pill"?). And, to follow the previous paragraph, the "worship of the State" group would still number China and Cuba amonst their ranks.


This morning's Herald has both editorial and op-ed pieces on this subject.

First, the editorial...
Many eyebrows must be raised at a strange discussion of religion taking place at the Government's behest. A "national interfaith forum" has been held in Hamilton this week to discuss a draft national statement on religious diversity and it has ended in agreement that New Zealand has "no state religion". Well, we knew that.

Nobody except the Destiny Church has claimed the country does have a state religion, and even the Destiny pastor was talking about the country's heritage rather than the usual meaning of a state religion, an officially favoured church.

New Zealand, as the national statement observed, has been a non-sectarian state since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi when Governor Hobson affirmed in response to a question from the Catholic Bishop Pompallier that, "the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome, and also Maori custom shall alike be protected".

Nothing has changed in that regard in the 167 years since and nothing is likely to change. Why, then, is the Government fomenting this discussion? When the exercise was announced, the Prime Minister presented it as an antidote to the potential for religious extremism among second- and third-generation immigrant minorities. We welcomed an effort in that direction. This country must do what it can to avoid the avoid the kind of tensions seen in Britain, and in Australia last summer when Sydney beaches were the scene of riots in reaction to real or perceived offences by young Muslim Lebanese.

But the debate this week is about how much the country needs to deny its Christian heritage in order that other traditions may be assured they have equal rights and recognition here. Those who have no regard for religion at all would be happy to deny that a Christian heritage has any role in the country's modern life, but they are wrong. Most of the attitudes and values that underpin our laws, education and codes of behaviour grew from the teachings of Christianity.

Secularists seemed not to realise that the more a national statement downplayed the country's Christian heritage, the more true to that heritage it would be. Destiny Church, the Exclusive Brethren and other evangelicals who want Christianity to receive some form of official recognition appear unaware they would deprive their religion of one of its prime distinctions.

If the object of the exercise is to reassure Muslim and other immigrant groups of their religious acceptance, the first task is to ensure they understand the place of religion in Western liberal societies such as this one. That understanding is not advanced by arguments that Christianity is in any sense a state religion. The distinction between moral and legal authority is not easy for others to grasp, but it has to be realised if adherents to different spiritual and moral guides are to observe the same laws.

Tapu Misa puts a personal point to it...
Whatever the atheists say, true faith, the Christian variety, isn't something you can get from someone else, or absorb by osmosis. Nor can it be imposed from without. It's a journey that must be travelled, if it is to mean anything.

Which, perhaps, is the point missed by Christian organisations like Destiny Church, protesting the declaration in the draft statement on religious diversity that "New Zealand has no state religion".

Can Brian Tamaki and others seriously believe the state can impose a religion almost half the populace doesn't want? Given the history of the Christian church, no thinking Christian should wish it.

It was Christians, after all, who formulated the principle of separation of church and state, beginning as far back as the 4th century, with St Augustine (from whom comes one of my favourite lines: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet".) Even earlier, was Jesus' instruction in the New Testament to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's".

For once, I also agree with Brian Rudman...
zealots like self-anointed Bishop Brian Tamaki or underhand political activists like the Exclusive Brethren can have their say, then the nay-sayers were surely entitled to be represented as well.

A heathen or two might have resisted, for instance, the watering down of clause six of the statement, which in its original draft, read: "Schools shall teach an understanding of the diversity of religious and spiritual traditions in an impartial manner."

Nobody of a rational bent could surely have argued against that, especially if there was a requirement that the lessons also went into the misery and mayhem that religious extremism and rivalry has caused.

But the extremists obviously objected and, in the search for inclusiveness, the well-meaning drafters have come up with a meaningless substitute: "Schools should teach an understanding of the diversity of religious and spiritual traditions in a manner that reflects the community of which the school is a part."

This leaves it wide open for a clique of religionists to take over a school board and impose whatever religious tradition they deem reflects their community.

I can't argue with the opening statement that "the state seeks to treat all faith communities and those who profess no religion equally before the law. New Zealand has no state religion."

Unfortunately, if the Prime Minister presents this statement as an article of faith at the May Asia-Pacific meeting at Waitangi, she will be leaving herself wide open to questions about such acts of mono-cultural religiosity as the Christian prayer that opens the day in Parliament, or the prayers that open many local council meetings, or the swearing of oaths on the Bible in courts.

Even Bishop Randerson admits to discomfort at leading prayers in public at events such as Anzac Day services which end with a Christian flourish. He rightly acknowledges they leave the rest of us feeling excluded.

While this habit of employing Christian prayers and oaths on state and civic occasions continues, it will be hard for Helen Clark to convince visitors from overseas, that New Zealand has no state religion, and that everyone, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Heffalumpians and non-believers alike, is treated equally.

But best of all comes from a quite unexpected source, Clay Nelson who is currently one of the priests at the Anglican St Matthews in the City -
If my resistance to deem New Zealand to be a Christian nation makes me a traitor, as Brian Tamaki suggests, take me to the Tower, or the New Zealand equivalent, for it would be greatly preferable to living in such a country.

You might think, then, that I am one of the 48.8 per cent of non-Christian New Zealanders.

I am not. I am an Anglican priest serving an Auckland church. And no, I'm not Bishop Richard Randerson under a nom de plume.

As an immigrant from America I know what it means to live in a Christian nation. That's why I left. New Zealand's respect for human rights is why I chose to live here as a permanent resident.

Before Christians hasten to denounce my position, take a close look at the only Christian nation. To be fair it should be described as a Fundamentalist Christian nation.

Such Christians, in my experience, imagine that no faith is more loving or forgiving than theirs, while hating and devaluing all other beliefs. They are totally intolerant of criticism, especially of the Bible they hold inerrant and the doctrines they draw from it.

When so many countries, such as New Zealand, have been clearly blessed and cursed by Christianity, how can I say the United States is the only Christian nation? It is not because its motto in support of diversity, "E pluribus unum", (Out of many, one) was ominously replaced with "In God we trust". And it is not because politicians who want to get elected end their speeches with "God bless America" and - by implication - no one else.

It is because the evangelical Christian right, after losing the battle to have God mentioned in the Constitution in 1789, now strongly influences or controls every branch of government. They are using this power to rapidly dismantle the wall separating church and state so carefully constructed by the founding fathers. This could not happen without the support of the American people.

I leave the remainder of his thoughts to those who might wish to read them - certainly I recommend and commend them to you.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The place of China in the world...

A Sydney Morning Herald John Gray op-ed that caught the eye this morning draws a bead upon a matter that I have prated on about in various comments left in odd corners of the blogiverse (usually in response to extremely uppitty Americans ;D )

A decade ago policymakers and opinion formers were supremely confident that globalisation meant the spread of Western institutions and values throughout the world. Political leaders and international institutions looked forward to a time when "democratic capitalism" would be accepted everywhere.

This confidence was not based on any rational assessment of facts. The mania surrounding globalisation was the latest incarnation of the Enlightenment faith that the advance of science and technology would create a universal civilisation, and predictably it was not long before it gave way to anxiety and foreboding. Islamist terrorism and the emergence of Russia as an authoritarian great power, together with American troubles in Iraq, have shattered the certainties of the 1990s. Yet the faith they expressed has not been destroyed. If anything, it is more fervent than before. For many people the Enlightenment has become a magic amulet clutched to the heart as a talisman against fear. In its most influential forms the Enlightenment has always been an ersatz religion - think of Marxism, for example - and in response to the shocks of the past years it has undergone a fundamentalist revival in much the same way that other faiths have done.

The other end of that particular observation is - of course - the sight of some very strange bed-fellows at anti-globalisation demonstrations. It also gives rise to fervour of the religious right singing the same hymnal as the corporate capitalist.

But enough already because Gray makes some important points in here which are expressed far better than I could ever have assembled...
Will Hutton in The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century asks: "Is the baton of global leadership going to pass from Anglo-Saxon hands, which held so many values in common, to Chinese hands? If so, the implications could not be more profound. The world would have to accommodate a wholly different civilisation and values; the character of global institutions, our culture and the primacy of our English language would be challenged.

"If the next century is going to be Chinese, it will only be because China embraces the economic and political pluralism of the West in general, and our Enlightenment institutions in particular, modified … for the Chinese experience." The caveat is worth noting. There is nothing about accepting China on equal terms with the West; rather, "our" Enlightenment inheritance must be modified to ensure that China becomes Western.

Regular visitors will be aware of my apposition of Dave Justus with the "consoling illusion" and I respectfully submit this quote from Hutton as another instance; another case in point.
If China tries harder it can achieve what Hutton sees as the supreme prize - it can become like us. Instead China has renounced Maoism without becoming like us, and its astonishing record of economic growth over the past quarter of a century is a result of that. The largest economic expansion in history has occurred without any of the institutions many would argue to be universally necessary - such as the rule of law and property rights. Can China's economic success be maintained without the freedoms supposedly integral to the "knowledge economy"?

Now there is the opening here for the argument that, in fact, China is starting to follow the Capitalist model. I agree, that does seem to be so. But at the same time there are very important differences that must be borne in mind.

The first is the obvious role of the State, and the implementation of their command economy. That that is still an imperative is beyond question - one need look no further than the Three Gorges Hydro scheme for immediate confirmation. It is not just in that macro decision to proceed, the State is in full control at the micro level as well with the "distribution" of labour from the cities now under the Three Gorges Lake being moved to other industrial areas.

The second is the current development of the all-important "middle class"; the consumers of national production. This is perhaps the strongest prop for the "China is Changing" supporters. To have such a "middle class" is (to them at least) a strong signal that China is change "to western ways".

And that is where Gray's conclusion comes in...
Behind the stale debates about human rights and cultural relativism looms the fact that Western power is in decline. No longer backed up by invincible military might or unchallengeable economic primacy, Western institutions are now only one way of realising universal human values. Having rejected Maoism and retaining Marxism only in name, China has set out on a path of development that owes few of its ruling ideas to the West. The outcome is uncertain, but in the end what Hutton and others like him fear most is not that the Chinese experiment will fail. It is that China will succeed.

The new look -

Hmm, well it was worth the try I guess.

For the technically minded the header banner was taken from two of mine own photos, ably shopped by my now rather ancient MicrographiX 6 which came as a freebie on an earlier system. How much longer I can keep that going is a worry. I have an old beastie (16-bit) in reserve so that I can go back to it if I need to. I also had to load up the .gif via a dummy posting. If there is another route please tell me because the posting way sets the image size at 420px wide and I want the full 820px. Any suggestions for a work-around?

Has anyone tried animated .gifs on blogger headings? Gotta couple ideas which could be fun. Yeah, I know, do it in Flash because it is easier. It may well be if you spend the USD2000 or whatever Flash costs these days.

Some assistance required with dynamic lists. The post index is not working right. If I click on (say) 2006, I get the last posts in 2006 but the index seems to disappear or it stays stuck at 2007. I might spend some time on that over the next few weeks but my immediate suspicion is that it is widget driven and consequently not accessible unless I write my own. So, to those who might know - help?!.

Yeah, well it is red-face time. I missed the "Y'click on the little triangle thingies.." bit in the 'structions. So that problem is solved.


Friday, February 16, 2007


There has been quite a raruraru down these parts in the past few weeks – let’s say since Christmas – about some new kinda disease that seems to have hit western civilization. It is this thing called “affluenza” and I confess that it has quite piqued my interest.

After doing a quick google I suddenly find that not only is there the original book that invented the “disease”, there are websites galore ranging from to affluenza .org and a grand host (google report over 1.4 million) of other references.

Individually, affluenza is a dysfunctional relationship with money/wealth, or the pursuit of it. Individual and cultural symptoms are: an inability to delay gratification and tolerate frustration; a false sense of entitlement; loss of future motivation; low self-esteem; loss of self-confidence; low self-worth; preoccupation with externals. Sudden wealth syndrome and sudden poverty syndrome are both parts of the greater "dis-ease" of affluenza.

It is, I suspect, just a little more than that as well. But then I just gotta give full credit to Jessie H O’Neill for her perspicacity in detecting yet another hole in the fabric of our society that just begs for someone to write a definitive book and to literally “start a movement”. What is even better is that she has, effectively, either cured or infected herself with the affluenza virus. Just imagine, the money to be made from not just book sales, there are the personal signings, the seminars, the cures …the DRUGS!!

My wife just hates taking me “shopping”, whether for a new pair of trousers or a new car. I get the distinct feeling that I spoil the fun, the thrill, of the process. And that is after she has persuaded me that I need a new…

Take a pair of trews as an example. The ol’ probligo wanders into a likely looking shop. A quick scan gives an indication of price. Note here that “cheapest” is not always the objective – there might be a wedding to attend… A quick walk past the racks gives an indication of style and cut and cloth. Doesn’t matter about size at this stage; a 42 is made from the same things as a 22. Nothing there? Walk out… Repeat in four different shops (any more than that and you are looking for the boutique style stuff which is definitely NOT the probligo). Stand in middle of mall and consider for 5 minutes. Go to best choice, find size and buy. What could be simpler?

The probligo also has this annoying habit of asking “Why?” in response to the statement that “we need a new…”. Take our fridge as an example. It is about 15 years old. It needs some attention, the enamel is worn on the edge of the door, it ices up quite badly especially during summer. It needs replacing? Yeah, right. The door magnetic seals are nearly buggered because someone around here thinks you have to slam the door to get it to shut. Replace the door seals might cost $200 compared with $2,200 plus for a new fridge.

OK, so the ol’ probligo is a tightwad! I blame the mix of Scots (about 40%), Yorkie (about 40%) and German (half of the remainder). An equal mix of Scots and Yorkie… trouble! Especially in parting with money!

But that is before you start looking at the realities of the situation.

Take the fridge. It still keeps things cold. The “warm” part is sufficiently cold set at 2 (on a scale of 1 – 10) to freeze vegetables on the lower shelves and in the bins. Why do I need a new one? Because it gets iced up occasionally? Or is it because the SFIP (Socialist Fridge Inspection Police) might call and see that clunky old fridge and tell all of our neighbours that the probligo is too cheap to even go buy a new fridge!!

Take a car – used only; there is no way I would buy new.

Why do I need a new car? The present one is reliable. It has four wheels still. It has 180,000km on the clock. It starts every morning and again in the afternoon. There is no known rust in it. It passes its regular fitness examinations better than I would. So, I go spend $3,000 for a different car and as soon as I get it out the yard gate it is worth $1,700? Add to that the cost of getting all of the wrinkles out so that it is as reliable as the old one… Y’get where I come from?

Worse still, as condemning as O’Neills idea is of present day society it is not as if it is something new. There was a sf short story I recall reading some time back (years) that was based upon the idea of “compulsory consumption”; that every member of society had the right, no the DUTY to consume as much as possible. To fail in that duty was to be anti-social; it resulted (as I recall) in penalties such as loss of social status, monetary fines, orders to consume more…

But then, don’t look for anyone to try find a “cure” for the disease.

It is in fact not a “dis-ease” perhaps as much as it is a symbiote. Without it the whole of the capitalist fabric of this Western Civilisation collapses. Perhaps not a sudden collapse as in 1929. More of a gradual decline; a long and slow glissando into a silence.

The Best of NZ Sport -

... the very best in fact.

I was hoping to link through to TV1 archive so that you (my casual readers) could enjoy the presentation of the Halberg Sports Awards which took place last night. Obviously, copyright and piracy being what they are TV1 has decided not to put this programme out on the 'Net.

So, you are missing out on seeing and hearing Valerie Vili win the Sportswoman of the Year, Mahe Drysdale's acceptance speech for Sportsman of the Year, Tana Umaga receiving a very overdue award for leadership and a Lifetime Achievement Award for Ken Elliot who at the age of 91 is still active in golf.

A shame the video is not available. It gives a very real picture of what NZ is, what our people are, and the combination of pride and humility displayed by our top sports men and women.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Remember neo-neocon?

... the "liberal who became a Conservative? No, better yet became a Neo-Conservative? (Please note respectful capitalisation there ;-) )

Here is one who has made the journey in the opposite direction...
Once upon a time I supported the Iraq war. In a spasm of suspended belief, I decided as someone who bleeds red, white and blue for his country that I should go along with George Bush’s declarations that Saddam Hussein was a threat even though I knew that my president was a devious liar who put politics ahead of policy. And that I was throwing my support behind what was bound to be a Godawful war.
This decision came, as it did for what I would imagine was a goodly number of people to the left of the right, on the morning of February 5, 2003, as I listened to Secretary of State Colin Powell use what we were later to learn was cooked intelligence regarding WMDs and nukes in declaring to the U.N. that Saddam was a very bad man. (At least he had the last part right.)

Bloodied and bowed, but a whole lot more alive than the 3,100-plus American soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, I look back on my four-year journey from reluctant supporter to vociferous opponent with shock and awe.

and his conclusion is sad, to say the least...
There are opportunists in the blogosphere who are using the war to promote themselves. Am I one of them? The answer is an equivocal yes. Of course I'm promoting myself every time that I click on the PUBLISH button and send my thoughts out into the blogosphere.

That noted, I would like to think that I am helping pierce the fog of this war. Nevertheless, I can hardly bear to look at that Baghdad map any more, although it’s a rare day that I don’t get up ready to answer the bell.

By my rough count, I have written about 500 pieces on the war. This falls short of the number of bylines I got covering the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials, but at least they had endings.

I’m not so sure about the war.

Kurdistan... the next new nation?

H/T to ALD once more.

From New York Review comes this fairly lengthy (and full) discussion on the history, present and future of the Kurdistan region.

Catching the eye...
Turkey's longstanding fear, that the Kurdish federal region in Iraq will declare independence, adding to nationalist passions among its own Kurds, is shared by Iran and Syria, the other countries that have divided up the ancient region of Kurdistan.[4] Shortly before the US invaded Iraq, Iran started to change its former policy of helping PKK militants as a means of exerting pressure on Turkey. Murat Karayilan complains that the Iranians and the Syrians—who, under Turkish pressure, had already reversed their own pro-PKK policy—frequently now capture PKK militants and hand them over to Turkey. Last summer, Iran and Turkey bombed camps in the Kandil Mountains belonging to the PKK and the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), a PKK affiliate dominated by Kurds from Iran, which started launching attacks in 2004 on Iran's security forces. Turkey's army massed menacingly on the Iraqi border. In fear of a land invasion of their territory, and encouraged, perhaps, by the US, the northern Iraqi Kurds persuaded the PKK to announce its current ceasefire, which is only partially observed.

The Turkish government's decision not to enter Iraq shows how constrained it feels in comparison with the final years of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, when it mounted large-scale annual operations in the Kandil Mountains. Turkey is still feeling the effects of its parliament's decision in 2003 to refuse a US request to use Turkey as a launch pad for the Iraq invasion. This decision infuriated the Bush administration and limited Turkey's ability to influence postwar Iraq. America's occupation of Iraq has curtailed Turkey's freedom to move forces in and out of Iraq when it likes; but the Americans have not themselves taken action against the PKK in Iraq, as Turkey has demanded.

It is not surprising that the US, engaged in a demoralizing struggle against insurgents in Iraq's Arab regions, has balked at starting a new offensive in Kurdistan, the calmest part of the country, against an organization that has never attacked it and at the behest of a country that refused its request for help three years ago. Turkey suspects that Bush's appointment of Joseph Ralston, a retired general, to come up with an anti-PKK policy acceptable to the Iraqi and Turkish governments is a smokescreen. More than four months have passed since Ralston was named to his post, but a specially formed contact group, with Turkish and Iraqi representatives, has yet to meet.

If you visit the Kurdish federal region in Iraq, with its own president, parliament, and flag, you may come away, as I did, with the impression that it is on the way to independence. "At this stage," Massoud Barzani, the region's president, told The Wall Street Journal recently, "the parliament of Kurdistan has decided to remain within a federal, democratic Iraq."[5] How long will that decision last? Most Iraqis, and many outsiders, are suspicious of the Kurds' determination to gain ownership of the oil-rich governorate of Kirkuk—a territory with a mixed population of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and Christians—whose status, according to the constitution, is to be decided by a referendum before the end of 2007. In the words of a recent report by the International Crisis Group, "Kirkuk's oil wealth would enable Kurdish independence.... [The Kurds] know that without Kirkuk, they would govern at most a rump state profoundly dependent on neighbours."[6]

Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish president of Iraq, and a longtime sparring partner of Barzani, is regarded as a restraining influence on the Kurds' irredentist ambitions. In a recent profile of him in The New Yorker, he described the suggestion of Peter Galbraith, a former State Department official, that Iraq should be partitioned, as "wishful thinking.... There is not, I think, a realistic Kurdish leader who would say, 'We want independence.' Why? Because it is impossible."[7]

Some Turkish officials believe that the American government might be protecting the PKK, in order to give its Iranian affiliate, the PJAK, a better chance of destabilizing the Iranian government in the Kurd-dominated areas of northwest Iran. Since the election last year of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad it has become harder to discern what is happening in Iranian Kurdistan. According to Murat Karayilan, the PJAK has slowed its attacks on Iran since the Iranian bombardments this summer, but he says that the attacks are still taking place. It is harder still to gauge the support that the PJAK has, though, in the words of one recent visitor to the region, Iran's Kurds are "transfixed by what is happening in northern Iraq, and the local newspapers report on Barzani as much as they do on Ahmadinejad." Several towns in Iraqi Kurdistan have growing populations of migrants from the Kurdish regions of Iran.

An independent Kurdistan, even if it includes Kirkuk, would still need the goodwill of its neighbors. The Kurds of northern Iraq are already economically dependent on Turkey and, to a lesser extent, Iran. The head of Diyarbakir's chamber of commerce predicts that by the end of this year, Turkey's exports to the Kurdish federal region in Iraq, particularly of food and building supplies, may total as much as $5 billion. Kirkuk's oil flows to the Mediterranean via Turkey—when the pipeline, which has been repeatedly sabotaged, is able to carry it. Once the US starts withdrawing from Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds will once again feel vulnerable to pressures from Turkey and Iran. Barzani told The Wall Street Journal that he would welcome a deployment of American troops to Iraqi Kurdistan—there are none at present. "It would," he said, "be a "deterrent to intervention by the neighbouring countries."

The US remains officially committed to Iraq's unity, but that could change even before George Bush leaves office. From an American perspective, a new Kurdish state would have much to recommend it. It would be friendly to the US, and as much of a democracy as you are likely to find in the Middle East. But an independent Kurdistan would probably cause Turkey to be even more repressive of its own Kurds, and as a result its chances of entering Europe, which the US has encouraged, will become dimmer. Iran would feel more threatened if there is an independent Kurdistan and would be more likely to intervene secretly and openly in Kurdish affairs. Even if they get hold of Kirkuk, the Iraqi Kurds may find that they have much to gain by putting off their dream of statehood for more than a few years to come.

That last para is a real mixture of ideas - tempting the thought that an independant Kurdistan is not viable but with the hint that Bush might be tempted to make it so.

Feet on the ground suggests that nothing much will change in the short term. Where the greatest opportunity/danger exists is in who actually moves first to get the support of the Kurds.

Will it be an increasingly overt Iran attewmpting to gain protection from the increasingly bellicose US?

Will it be an increasingly concerned US seeking to retain or gain "friends" in the Middle East against foes real and imagined?

Monday, February 12, 2007

IT (MS variety) is madness...

I have been trying (with only marginal success) to wrestle my way through Peter Gutmann’s lengthy review of some of the technicalities of MS Vista. It is not an easy read, especially for the technically incompetent such as I. HD-DVD is a very long way down on my list of desires. But I have my present computer set up with the intention that it will form a part of my "home entertainment" system. For that reason, the commentary coming from news and interviews about Vista was of some interest.

I have on board a thing called "Windows Media Centre" which at the time of purchase seemed like a good idea, a reasonable start on the kind of centralised television / radio / DVD / video system that would be cheaper in the long run than having to match and buy individual components or (as with the last two stereo systems I have owned) buy matched systems of plastic switches and frequency displays that crap out two or three days after the warranty expires.

Because MCE is now discontinued, replaced with Vista, Gutman’s article has increased interest for me.

But I want to stick with MCE for the moment because it has a very interesting feature that I was unaware of until just this past three days or so.

I was given (thanks Kath and D) two DVD’s for Christmas; for those wanting the detail they are "Hoodwinked" and a Special Edition of "World’s Fastest Indian".
Simpleton that I am I put them into a back cupboard until "the right moment" which turned out to be Saturday evening and "Hoodwinked" was piquing my interest. Simpleton that I am, I put the DVD into the right slot and pressed all the right buttons (I have played a number of music DVD’s on the system without problem).
What’s this? Cannot play the DVD? "Region 4" protected? WTF? To cut a long story short one of MS’s little updates is a precursor to some of the features in Vista.

Among the communications from MCE as I worked my way carefully through the processes to get to play my DVD were –
"Region 2 capable only"
"To change Region select from the following"
"You are permitted to change Region only four times. Select your Region with care for this reason..."

There was also a fairly dire warning that the system could (under some given circumstances) –
"Prevent further use of the DVD player"
"Cripple the DVD and CD write features"
"Attempts to clear the disabling of these features by re-installing the system will be unsuccessful".

I am NOT going to find out just how accurate that last warning might be.
What it does point out though is another feature of the "protection rackets" that are developing in response to the piracy of the few – or am I in the minority here?

If a good friend of mine in the US or Japan or Britain were to send me a DVD unavailable in NZ it very likely that the gift would be totally useless. Why? Because the "protection features" would prevent me from playing the DVD.

How F***ing STUPID!!

Mr Johnson, that fuzzy region on your X-ray indicates one of two things. Either you have multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, or the copy-protection system on our computer thinks that part of your left lung looks like Mickey Mouse.

Oh, and if you are wondering why the ol' probligo is now part of the NEW google empire there was not much choice. It was change format or not sign in.


Strikes me that there is a common point there -

Yeah!! That's right!

Intended Product Redundancy

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Thoughts on Social Control -

Time magazine most surely has had a very rich vein of articles on the human mind and related topics.

Whilst picking around on my "Consciousness" pieces I also came across this -
How To Change A Personality
Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007 By FRANCINE RUSSO

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a treatment given to Parkinson's patients who don't respond to medication. A neurosurgeon implants a set ofelectrodes deep into the victim's brain, where they give off little jolts of electricity to disrupt the involuntary tremors and other symptoms of the disease. But according to Martha Farah, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, at least one patient routinely chooses which electrical contact to activate depending on how she wants to feel: calm for every day, more "revved up" for a party.

Sounds innocent enough, huh! The electromagnetic equivalent of party pills...


It really does get scary -
Neuroethicists are also worried that these new cognitive technologies could widen the gap between those who can afford them and those who can't, eventually creating different classes of human beings. Just as problematic as unequal access, some say, is the prospect of people being forced, implicitly or explicitly, to take mind-altering medications. Someday we may all feel pressure to take--or give our kids--focus- or memory-sharpening drugs to compete at school or work. In fact, says Richard Glen Boire, senior fellow on law and policy at the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics in Davis, Calif., "some schools require kids--not diagnosed with ADHD by doctors--to take Ritalin to attend school."

Farah also imagines the day when we have what she calls a "neuro-correctional system" that could transform criminals into noncriminals. We already force sex offenders to take libido-dampening drugs or face denial of parole. A drug to dampen violent impulses might someday be similarly applied. That could, in theory, prevent crimes.

If you know not why I highlighted that last para, go read Huxley, "Brave New World", to find out.

And, for Dave, there is the future of your "we are doing alright society".

On Consciousness 3

Naive person that I am, I thought when I took up this idea of “consciousness” that it would be a relatively easy path to walk using my own experiences as a guide.

After sitting down and digesting TF’s thoughts on the subject, based upon his faith as they are, I came to the sad realisation that I had in fact bitten off far more than I have the mental capacity to chew.

What a day or so of intense reading has brought to me is a whole series of ideas, ranging from Godel’s Theorem to the “colour experiment” I worked through in Part 2 to musings upon the possibilities of “consciousness” in other animals. There are innumerable papers ranging from para-psychology through the physical sciences to the outright fruitcake. There are ideas that range in their supportability from the strangely curious to the totally wierd.

Out of this experience I have a strong sense now of three fundamentals –

The first is the obvious. The connect between “consciousness” and scientific explanation is no closer today than it was fifty years ago, or five hundred years ago, or will probably be in another 50 years’ time.

The second, parallel, is that every attempt to explain “consciousness” has to fail because the language and concepts do not exist beyond the limits of personal experience. That, because of the very nature of the “Hard Problem” means that every attempted explanation has to fail. Even when the idea creates the language and concept requirements (as a free-mind thought problem) it is still going to fail (it is at that point the Godel enters the mind even though his Theorem was limited to the philosophy of mathematics and number.

The third is the realisation that any explanation I might develop (quite apart from any learned scientific discovery) can always be over-ridden with the metaphysical “God Influence” and the “Soul” – as evidenced by TF’s reply referred to in the Update on “Consciousness 2”.

I had in mind to try and draw a parallel between the (comparatively) orderly brainwave patterns of a conscious (or equally a sleeping) person with the chaotic patterns of an epileptic episode. I was a part way through writing that version when it occurred to me that I was in fact not going to be pointing at the solution of the Hard Question, but merely an illustration (another of very many) of the Hard Problem itself.

Godel is a large part of that – “In any formal system of number, there are propositions that can not be decided”. It is a small change from that idea to “In any formal explanation of consciousness, there are oppositions that can not be resolved.” Yes, not the same idea re-wrapped I agree. I was not trying to create a parallel between the two. This is where Pinker steps in with his “Some people may see it as an opening to sneak the soul back in, but this just relabels the mystery of "consciousness" as the mystery of "the soul"--a word game that provides no insight.”

I also had thoughts of passing through the next Pinker door – into the realms of morality deriving from consciousness rather than externally ordained. Don’t worry folks, I can read the replies forming in quite a few passing minds without having written another word. Without the proof of “independent consciousness” (my terminology), the certainty of a related “technology”, there is no way that there will be any agreement on that next step.

So that leaves only faith, or belief, or whatever other vague English terminology one wishes to apply.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Passing thoughts -

H/T ALD again (what a MAAAvellous source of info it is) -

First up an op-ed from LA Times...
IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism.

RTWT, as they say.

Second, William Pfaff, writing in the "New York Review of Books, what is more of a book than a review - in truth an op-ed.

The Bush administration defends its pursuit of this unlikely goal ... by making the claim that the United States possesses an exceptional status among nations that confers upon it special international responsibilities, and exceptional privileges in meeting those responsibilities.

This is where the problem lies. Other American leaders before George Bush have made the same claim in matters of less moment. It is something like a national heresy to suggest that the United States does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations, and therefore in the affairs of the contemporary world. In fact it does not.


Francis Fukuyama, a recovering neoconservative, acknowledges in a recent book that American economic and political policies today rest on an unearned claim to privilege, the American "belief in American exceptionalism that most non-Americans simply find not credible." Nor, he adds, is the claim tenable, since "it presupposes an extremely high level of competence" which the country does not demonstrate

He continues -
The most coherent and plausible official articulation of such reasoning was offered in the summer of 2003 by Condoleezza Rice, then President Bush's national security adviser, speaking in London at the annual meeting of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She said that the time had come to discard the system of balance of power among sovereign states established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Westphalian settlement ended the wars of religion by establishing the principles of religious tolerance and absolute state sovereignty. The UN is a faulty embodiment of international authority because it is an indiscriminate assembly of all the governments of the world, and should, she argued, be replaced as the ultimate world authority by an alliance or coalition of the democracies. This is a theme frequently promoted in conservative circles in Washington.

What's this? So the little item I picked up on the COD was in fact a three year old idea?
Not having the time (at the moment) to critique all of Pfaff's article (which is a very interesting read) I suggest again that RTWT is a good idea even if it is not a very potted history of the US rewritten to fit with the general tenor of his op-ed.

He concludes...

History does not offer nations permanent security, and when it seems to offer hegemonic domination this usually is only to take it away again, often in unpleasant ways. The United States was fortunate to enjoy relative isolation for as long as it did. The conviction of Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the country was exempt from the common fate has been succeeded in the twenty-first century by an American determination to fight (to "victory," as the President insists) against the conditions of existence history now actually does offer. It sets against them the consoling illusion that power will always prevail, despite the evidence that this is not true.

If the idea of "consoling illusion" is truly the mind-set of the US then our whole western civilisation is at risk. Not, I hasten to add, directly from the threat from outside no matter how real the bogey's bump in the night might sound.

No, I turn to TFStern's "Symptoms of Decay" written 31 January. There is the true enemy - in our heads, our children's heads. Everything we do, it might seem, is based upon that illusion that "I Got The Power".
Our society has been on a constant rate of decay, sometimes taking huge leaps toward unbridled depravity under the delusion that any and all is fair game and covered under the constitutional right “freedom of expression”. We have been lowering the bar of what is acceptable in news, entertainment, representative government and social order in general. How’s that for rocking the boat in one sentence?
Now before TF takes me to task for quoting him out of context, let me add...

It is not just the news, TF. It is not just the "reality" pap that we get fed as "entertainment" (and I hang my head in shame every time I write that as the original idea for all of these programmes was dreamed up by an NZer). It is not just the social problems of drugs, or pornography. It is not just our kids, how we raised them, how we taught them the "right" way... It is not just religion, or in my case lack of it...

It is all of these things. There is the true illusion. We have deluded ourselves that we can in fact "handle" freedom, that we are sufficiently mature as both individuals and a society to respect freedom and to nurture it as our greatest good, and we - society - are in the process of destroying it.

How has that happened?

Even more to the point, how can we stop it?