Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On being hypocritical ...

Just down the road from us, about 5 minutes by car or 25 minutes on foot, is a Presbyterian church.

This one is notable for the fact that it originally resided some distance from its present location. I also consider it somewhat notable for its advertising. So it was two weeks ago when I drove past, in a somewhat foul humour and saw their latest offering. Regrettably, I missed getting a photo (no, you do not need to know why) of the sign in question but it rang a very loud bell when I saw it.

It read -
God does not discriminate.

Religions do.

Now think about that for a moment. If you can not pick where I am about to go, then perhaps take a few minuites out to read the opening pages of the Gita (as a purely independent source) which says at some length what St Columba's has condensed to two lines.

I had the minor misfortune to trip over this wally who would (very likely) agree with the sentiment of the sign. Just as long, you understand, that it applies solely to Islam. I suspect that there would be quite a number of past visitors to these pages who would agree with the patriotism (and that is both nation and religion patriotism to which I refer) of the gent from Chowan River.

Pointing out the application of St Columba's general statement to the opposite would be totally futile.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On the disappearance of...

... the (often difficult to understand and appreciate) Chinese commentors.

They might be peddling unwanted wares. That was not difficult to detect. They might have been incomprehensible.

The question is, WHERE HAVE THEY GONE?

Is this a policy being imposed by Google, on their own behalf? Or at the persistent request of their clientele?

Or is the result of their acquiescence to pressure from the Chinese authorities who desire that their community be sheltered from the excesses of Capitalism; or whatever the current bugbear might be.

A loud BOOOOOO!! from the probligo if the latter is the case.

On Diplomacy - 2

When I first started sketching out this series of ideas back in June, I resolved that I would try very hard not to drag the US into the debate; at least not until toward the end. I am trying hard to maintain that resolution.

O'Brien introduced me to the uncertainties of diplomacy and the risks involved with taking position between parties internationally.

One of the very first instances he gave was the formulation of the "nuclear-free" foreign policy of the Lange Labour government. He ran through the immediate consequences of that policy; it ended with NZ being excluded from active participation with the US in the ANZUS Treaty.

I am not going to follow that line (directly), because O'Brien also spent considerable time examining the "other consequences"; both the immediate and long term results.

Among those immediate consequences (and likely primary factor in the position that the US took) was a fear that other, more strategically important, nations might follow NZ's example. That particular result does not seem to have appeared.

What did happen was a fundamental shift in the way NZ was seen by the ROW; one of the direct results was NZ's election as a Member of the UN Security Council, followed by a year as the Presidential appointee of the Council. Not surprisingly, O'Brien makes little of this period for the simple reason that he was the individual nominated and appointed; and the native NZ humility kicks in to turn attention away from his personal role.

From that point, there is little question that, while NZ's voice is small in global terms it is heard still with considerable respect by most nations.

The point here is that NZ took a considerable risk in diplomatic terms with the creation and formulation of its anti-nuclear foreign policy. Had it been set up with an individual target (such as the US) then NZ's place at the international table would have been totally denigrated. The risk of that happening with the global exclusion was large enough. We were and are fortunate indeed that the considered shift toward a more neutral stance was accepted as an honest and brave move rather than being a popularist dart from the US into the inevitable backwaters.

It goes further though. One of the reasons for the success of the anti-nuclear policy on the world stage is that it very rapidly became a pillar of NZ domestic politics and foreign policy for both of the major parties. It was not until Don Brash tried leading the National Party against the (longstanding) Clark Labour government that the policy came into serious question. The consequence for Brash's electoral chances against Clark (which were already slim) became impossible once the idea that the anti-nuclear policy would be "gone by lunchtime" became public. Much as he might like to snuggle up to the US, the jonkey has not as yet had to consider the way that the anti-nuclear policy might be used to ingratiate favour from the US. The reverse has been true; the Brash promise was heard and with the installation of the jonkey government (which is much of the same political colour) the scent of olive branches has been carried right across the Pacific.

But, at that point the government (of any nation, globally, generally) has to recognise not only does foreign policy make for external risks there are also internal risks associated with any change in external relations. These risks might result from; negotiating a FTA with China; negotiating a FTA with US; taking part in the invasion of other nations; getting into extreme and unsupportable debt; the list goes on...

The principle of risk, and the corollary of risk-taking, in foreign relationships and policies - diplomacy - is clear. That it is an art, not science.

It is important to realise that the risks, and the uncertainties are as much internal as they are external. Brash learned that with "gone by lunchtime". He was, along with the chances of the Nats overtaking Clark's Labour government in the next six years.

It is this aspect, of controlling "internal risk", that formed a backbone in my earlier series of thoughts on propaganda; the direction of the society to a particular line of thought and action which has the effect of reducing the internal risks associated with a change in foreign direction. In the case of NZ and the anti-nuclear policy the input came from the electorate, the society, in the form of strident and vociferous protest to US nuclear naval vessels and to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

It is the internal risk that leads to much of the outrageous rhetoric in fora such as the UN Genral Assembly; and it is a practice not limited to the likes of Chavez and Ahmedinejad. Both of those "orators" are addressing those they govern in addition to those in the room; to confirm their power to those who support, to reinforce the fears in those who oppose. If I limit the forum to the UNGA, it can be detected in the words and actions of Colin Powell after 9/11, the shoe-banging of Khruschev, the over-long haranguing by Chavez, the spite and outright duplicity of Mugabe...

Ahmedinejad and over-reaction...

Be clear on one thing. I have even less time for Ahmedinejad than I had for GWShrub and his cohorts. With that perspective clear, I can continue.

Ahmedinejad uses fora such as the UN General Assembly in exactly the same way as America's uber-right uses Fox and the internet. That gives rise to the first difficulty. He has to try and cram as much condensed invective and hatred into his annual 15 minutes of fame.

For that reason, Ahmedinejad's criticism of the difference in public America's attitude between the stoning of a woman in Iran for adultery, and the State-sponsored murder in America of a woman arranged the death of her husband gets lost.

Had Ahmedinejad concentrated on just that one difference in attitude he might well have had far fewer delegations walk out on his speech.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On neo-wowsers - an open letter to Karl du Fresne

Mr du Fresne,

As it is Friday, my copy of the Listener has been retrieved from its hiding place on top of the fridge giving me the opportunity to read your article.

I am not going to disagree with you in any way. In fact I am somewhat disappointed that you left out what might be seen as possible solutions to the complaints of the neo-wowsers.

We agree that the "booze problem" exists, driven as you have said by the neo-wowsers whose consumption of alchohol is limited to that tablespoon of brandy in the Christmas pud; nothing more than that. Oh, that and perhaps the occasional wetting of the lips with the communion wine.

As I see it, there are two problems to be resolved.

The first is the consequence of lowering the drinking age. What to do about that? It might be interesting to see how many of the neo-wowsers suddenly picked up "NO YOU DON'T" signs if it were proposed to reinstate age 20. Oh, and at that point I cannot help but wonder how many of the neo-wowser camp would support the reduction of the alchohol level for driving from .08 to .05 ...

The second is like so many of these social problems. It is the few, the bottom 5% or perhaps 10%, whose excesses will spoil the enjoyment of a good pinot (gris or noir) with a meal out, or in for that matter
So, rather than wailing in the wind about the neo-wowsers spoiling our fun we should give them some real suggestions on how to handle the problem; that basement 10%.

My first reaction is to keep it cheap. It is totally apparent that trying to prevent them from driving is a lost cause. Fines and other monetary penalties likewise have become a badge of pride rather than approbrium. Providing drinking drivers with free board and lodging for a week, ten days or a few hours would cost too much. Besides, I (and I suspect a large number of others) might appreciate the opportunity to voice our displeasure in person and on their person.
If you dig back to the time of Dickens there was a common punishment for a wide range of social misdemeanours perhaps or not including public drunkenness.

I can but wonder how many recidivist drunks and driving louts there would be around town after a spell of a couple hours - or days for the very worst - in the town stocks. Rotten tomatos, very mouldy fruit, very smelly eggs... it could even end with a wash-down under a firehose. User pays? Bring it on!! Fifty cents for a bag of three eggs... or bring your own.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On being pursued by police -

No, the ol' probligo has not been breaking the law, getting on the wrong side of the law or anything else with the law.

The police in these parts have been copping a fair bit of flak in recent times - like the past three or five years - for the number of road deaths "caused by police pursuit".

In the most recent example - last night - the Herald at least has taken a slightly softer line but they can not resist the temptation, and the associated implied blame, of listing off the circumstances of the 14 deaths that have occurred in this year alone "following a police chase". The next sentence adds some truth as it ends "after drivers fled police". Truth, as I said.
A man is being questioned by police this morning after two people were killed and two others seriously injured in a crash after a police chase in an Auckland suburb last night.

Police said they pursued the car through Onehunga after reports that someone was shining a red laser beam at drivers on the Southwestern motorway.

A quick google of "zealand police chase death" will turn up any number of blogs and other commentary castigating the police for the deaths all too easily associated with police chases.

Hello people!!!

Now please, do your best to follow this -

1. Why were the police even remotely interested in this car and its occupants. Was it even remotely because they might have been following up on actions that could be considered dangerous, illegal and maybe even stupid?

2. Why did the driver of this car try to get the h3!! out of there when the police turned up? Was it even remotely because there as reason to leave in a hurry? Like he (and they) knew damned well that they had been doing something dangerous, illegal and maybe even stupid?

3. Why did the driver not stop when (as is required by law) you have the polis behind you with lights and siren going? Probably because he (and they) knew damnned well that he could easily avoid the police's interest simply by going faster?

On at least three counts - presence, location and time for one, stupidity for shining a laser at cars on a motorway for two, hightailing it for three - it is not apparent, it is blindingly obvious.

Who would be blamed for an accident caused by a driver being blinded by a laser shining in his eyes while travelling at 100k? Of course!! It would be the police!! Too busy issuing stupid infringement notices for parking, speeding and all of those other revenue gathering things that they do.

No. This total wally, this nincompoop, this no-brain who killed two of his mates deserves everything that he gets. No. On reflection he won't get what he deserves. How is about tying him to a lamppost, say somewhere very close to the edge of the Royal Oak roundabout where he can take his chances with those who play chicken with the centreline and the roundabout itself and perhaps get an appreciation of the danger he and his ilk cause to (comparatively) law-abiding drivers?

What is the old gun-slinger's excuse? "Guns don't kill people. People kill people"? Learn something kiddo. The police did not kill your mates.

You killed them.

On "deserved punishment".

Time to bring back the stocks, the pillory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On Right Wing Politics in New Zealand -

The most “right wing” of NZ’s right wing political parties is a small group represented in Parliament by 5 MPs. The party stems from what was originally called ”Association of Concerned Taxpayers”; now known just as ACT.

The party was started by a group led by two of the more right wing movers out of David Lange’s Labour (left Wing) government by then Finance Minister Roger Douglas and Minister of Rail (as I recall) Richard Prebble.

The party’s representation in Parliament is based entirely on the fact that the Leader (the Rhinohide) is an electoral MP (as distinct from List). That, and the fact that they polled nationally some 4% of the total vote at the last General Election has given them 5 places around the table and a good part of the current Government.

I must be honest. I am not in any way a supporter of ACT. Realistically they are no more than a bunch of opportunistic self-promoting wallies – but then isn’t that what “politician” means? To give a f’rinstance their current Policy on the shape and form of the government of NZ -
Constitutional Framework
Action: Strengthen. Adopt Tax Payers Bill of Rights. Pass Regulatory Responsibilty Act. Return to privy council. Hold referendum of MMP voting system.
Benefit: Makes democracy more democratic. States spending capped, taxes kept low. Hard to make bad laws like the EFA. Free access to best judicial minds from a population of 58 million. People get long-overdue say on how they like MMP.

Sounds great, huh! So, let’s take a look at the “Action” –

“Adopt Tax Payers Bill of Rights” – whatever that means. Go find out if you want. I think that they favour flat tax rates.

“Pass Regulatory Responsibility Act.” Interesting one this, given that they have just supported the introduction of a Bill to “fast-track” the work needed in Christchurch (post-earthquake), which said Bill includes extensive Regulatory powers to the Ministers involved. Essentially, this gives the Government the right to make fiat law, within the structures of the Statute that will come out the other end of the process. So, there y’go. Instance one of great words being spoken by weasels.

“Return to privy council”. No I don’t think that they mean a convocation in the gents at the top end of The Terrace. I think they mean “Privy Council” – an august and highest Court in Britain. So they want to sell justice as part of our silverware, like so much else of NZ that they want to part with.

“Hold referendum of MMP voting system”. Now, I have to admire their political chutzpah on this item. I am quite certain that a good part of their party support comes from those who (like my #1son) believes that MMP is death and destruction to democracy and wishes for a return to FPP. The smile on my face as I type that is broad because, if it were not for MMP, ACT would have at the very most one member in the House. He would not hold anything like a balance of power. He would be a dim shadow of the last two (and quite missed in some respects) “third party members” under FPP, Bruce Beetham, and Gary Knapp (who I knew well and who had the most inappropriate nickname) who both originated in the (equally marginal) Social Credit Party. They were preceded by one Vern Cracknell (also SC), who achieved a heck of a lot for his electorate; primarily because the government of the day wanted to get the electorate back into their own (National Party) hands. Beetham and Knapp were nowhere near as successful.

“…democracy more democratic”? If the Rhinohide had his way… well just look at his approach to the Ministry he holds; autocratic and dictatorial.

“State spending capped…” See previous paragraph.

“Hard to make bad law like [Electoral Finance Act]”? How can I say this gently Rhino. Look in the mirror. What do you see? There is no question in my mind that you and ACT would not differ from any other parliamentary party in power. If expediency calls, then the law will be made; with or without consultation; with or without advice. That is the nature of politics in this country. No matter how you might try to argue otherwise, that is a truth that applies to your Party as much as any other. “Why” will be explained below.

“Free access to the best judicial minds…” Hey folks, this is the party that promotes and praises “user pays” and capping government spending. But when it comes to Justice, they propose that NZ should free-load on the British Justice system? Tui billboards spring to mind – “Yeah, Right!”

“…get a say on how they like MMP”? OK Rhinohide. I for one luvit! Why? Because it puts idiots like you and Boscowen and Garrett in Parliament where you can show the world just what “Right Wing Politics” really means.

That comes by way of introduction.

The present government is propped by two minor parties, ACT being one and Maori Party the other. I feel sorry for the Maori Party; they have been well and truly dicked by the Nats, and for some strange reason seem totally unaware of the fact. Perhaps it has something to do with the anaesthesia of political power? That aside…

During this past six months, ACT has been showing signs of suffering the kind of damage recently visited on Christchurch. Liquifaction of support, crumbling brickwork, failing infrastructure; and none of it due in any way to the impact of the outside world. Well, I must agree that the Rhinohide will blame “the left-wing dominated media” for his woes (well, I mean to say, it worked for George, why not me). In truth, that is about all he has to work with.

It began with the dust-up between Rhino and Heather (Pass The Duster) Roy. The detail goes a lot further down, I suspect, than the latter having her Ministerial mail read by the former. It ended with one of Rhino’s mates – Boss Cawan – replacing Roy as Deputy Leader of the Party.

Now that might seem a little bit trivial, but what has become apparent is that the Parliamentary Caucus comprises two clear camps – Rhino, Boss and Garrett on the one hand and Douglas and Roy on the other; 3-2 in favour of Rhino.

Now in the past week, another of the number has come under fire.

It transpires that ACT’s spokesman on Justice, “three-strike” law, and strong supporter of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, David Articulated Garrett has a conviction for assault ($10 contributed to His Majesty King Tupou IV of Tonga and conviction) and has appeared before a NZ Court on charges (which I hasten to say did not result in penalty or conviction despite his admission that they were true) of obtaining a Passport under the name of a dead infant – as done by The Jackal and, more recently, MOSSAD.

So now the Rhino has a problem, a veritable dilemma.

On the one hand he has an MP with “shadow Ministerial” responsibilities including one of the more important pieces of recent Government legislation who has a minor criminal conviction plus some quite idiotic law-breaking history.

However, if Rhino were to “do the right thing” and shed that said MP, then the next in line (Articulated Garrett being a List MP) is very likely not a Rhino supporter. Then, suddenly, the vote in Caucus becomes 2-3.

Oh, Dear!!! The next few weeks promise to be interesting indeed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Houseguests...

For the past four weeks (nearly) we have had a houseguest. This would not normally be a problem given that the commitment to a houseguest, the hospitality, the inconvenience, the reduction in privacy is finite and (in the normal course of events) expressed in the invitation.

It is in that last word that the problem begins – the present houseguest was uninvited, unbidden, very nearly unwanted, but - as the probligo household is discovering - family ties create obligations and commitments that are far stronger, last longer, and far more binding than an open invitation.

We are learning this as the result of a telephone call from numberoneson( #1son ) one morning, advising rather than asking that he would be moving in that night. It transpires that he confessed in the heat of a marital moment to having it off with another woman. I am not going to preach the probligo’s thoughts on the morality of the event(s). As far as I am concerned his actions and the (inevitable) consequences are his alone. I leave that part to him to get sorted. To make it clear, #1son is unmarried, has two children in the now defunct relationship.

The choices made by both our children have been handled on a very open laissez faire basis. There has never been, other than two instances of “your choice but you wear the consequences”, any pressure brought to bear on either despite some (quite normal) parental misgivings. Advice has always been freely and honestly given, but only when asked for and always on the basis that ”you might not like what you hear”.

All of which is, on reflection, incidental to the fact that the probligo’s household presently includes an unbidden and largely unwanted houseguest.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Diplomacy - 1

On my bedside table these past two weeks has been (courtesy of my local library) a slim volume of speeches given by Terence O'Brien in various fora in NZ between 2002 and 2009. (I recommend it to anyone interested in why things happen the way that they do - ISBN 978-0-908772-31-5)

His name would mean little to most NZers let alone further afield, but he has been a man of some import in the relationship between NZ and the rest of the world. He is a career diplomat and has held many important posts including Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador to the UN in New York, and Ambassador to the European Community in Brussels. He also held the post of President of the UN Security Council. All in all, his name would be widely recognised and respected in the arena of international diplomacy.

The book is appropriately titled "Presence of Mind; New Zealand in the World". The predominant theme, as one would expect, comes from O'Brien's personal experience and knowledge of NZ's place in the international community, and of the way that successive NZ governments have directed our involvement in world affairs.

His expression of the historic background to modern diplomacy he describes as -
In 1900 there were some 60 independent states; by 2000 there were nearly 190...

...the result is that the majority of states today (103 countries) have populations of 10 million or less. Of these, some 87 countries have populations of no more than 5 million... When the 1945 UN Charter was signed by the original 50 members, New Zealand was amongst the six smallest signatories... Going back to 1900, New Zealand was, amongst the established democracies, one of the very few that extended suffrage to include women and indigenous people, groups who were still [electorally at least] disadvantaged in other and more assertive democracies for up to half a century or longer.

Among the first of the diplomatic parameters O'Brien runs through, centres on "Values". The principles of life, liberty and core economic and social freedoms form an unprecedented structure for the (now) history of the second half of the last century. The point is made (to my surprise) that the UN has now "some 67 agreements, codes and standards". O'Brien continues -
All of these conventions derive from the UN Charter... There exists in the Charter however inherent deficiencies that in practice substantially shackle the human rights cause. First, its provisions are designed to promote, not guarantee, human rights.... The rights are not legally enforceable, and anyway the international community possesses no means for such a task.

The primary observation O'Brien makes is the persistent resistance of the "West" to "accountability for their own perceived human rights infractions". For that reason, human rights like foreign policy must "start at home" rather than being imposed from without.

Now if you think that human rights is a peculiar angle from which to start a treatise on diplomacy and foreign relations, O'Brien ties the two in this way -
The reason why human rights occupy so prominent and formal a place in international affairs is because powerful nations believe that it is in their self-interest that the issue should figure in this way. It is a precise illustration of the part power plays in shaping international politics...

Until now, I must confess, the most prominent aspects of NZ foreign policy were (in my mind) our anti-nuclear policy, our occasional involvement in (so-called) peace-keeping missions, and apparently desperate attempts at retaining a livable overseas income from the sale of our agricultural products. In that last quotation there are two words that, for me at least, have epitomised the processes of international relationships; self-interest and power.

However O'Brien describes the process of diplomacy in these terms -
It is a product of managing [the] tensions of living on this planet with others who are different, and who are either too close or too important to ignore. Modern diplomacy ... is the conduct of business between governments by peaceful means... activity to promote and protect a nation's political and economic well-being; ... entails dialogue and bargaining; ... acting upon that which is relevant to the national interest.

Which leads to -
For small countries in particular, it is a reactive business, often involving nimble improvisations in the face of intractable events. New Zealand is no exception to that rule.

Diplomacy in the twentieth century was transfigured by the revolution in communications technology and the rise of the media... .

He continues when discussing "God Defend New Zealand - From What?" -
Globalisation ... has tamed the tyranny of remoteness [of New Zealand] while retaining a moat of protection against trans-boundary risks... [such as] the spread of crime, of weapons, of drugs [the current amphetamine epidemic accepted], of illegal immigration, of health epidemics (both human and animal), and of terrorism.

As importantly, and another aspect which I had not previously considered, are the risks associated with that process; the risk of mis-assessment or incorrectly formulated response -
The absense of a well-defined concept of risk, or of a refined ability to assess risk, is therefore an occupational hazard of foreign policy making...
exaggeration [of risk] is part of a venerable tradition amongst foreign policy makers to vindicate chosen policies or expansion of military power or indeed both together.
To define risks or threats to a country's security merely, or principally, in military terms in today's world is a false image of reality. True security depends on much more than military prowess, on factors such as economic strength, competitive industry, quality of education, adequate public health, wholesome environment, social welfare and effective leadership.

I am going to leave it there for the moment. It is a convenient point to stop; I have been brewing this for the past week; it leads to the next step quite nicely.

Points to note -

As is my practice, my comments and clarifications inside of quoted portions from O'Brien are enclosed in square brackets [].
I have left out (and hence the ellypses scattered throughout the quotes) those portions of O'Brien's writing where he has given extensive descriptive and clarification of the fundamental statements I have extracted.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Christchurch -

Photo page

No words can add to that...

Thus far, it seems that the response (at all levels) has been prompt and appropriate.

But we are so lucky. Christchurch is so lucky.

Just imagine the scale, the catastrophic impact, had that earthquake struck just twelve short hours prior.

They improved the probligo?

Let me introduce the Duzgo...