Friday, 31 August 2007

Civil war memorial stolen by fascists

In a remarkably display of co-ordination, brute strength and determination, Francoist neo-fascists have stolen a mural (1) who died fighting for the Spanish republic in the civil war:
A monument to the British dead at one of the bloodiest encounters of the Spanish civil war has been torn down and carried away by rightwing extremists.

The monument is a huge stone plaque to 90 British volunteers in the International Brigades who were killed during the Battle of the Ebro.

The plaque names each of those who died while defending Republican Spain against a rightwing military uprising. "They died fighting for the liberty of Spain," it says.

Now the spot where it had stood for two years has been covered in graffiti left by the present-day supporters of the extreme right Falange party. "The Falange is still fighting," reads the graffiti in large red letters. (2)
Re-fighting yesterday's battles is one thing, but making war on the memorials of yesterday's battles is quite absurd. I'm actually quite pleased that fascist scum can't think of anything better to do with their time - stealing a large stone plaque located in an out of the way spot at night takes time and effort, and there ar efar more unpleasant or worrying things they could have done with their time. Still intelligence isn't a trait associated with the fascism.

The people who erected the plaque have said they'll put it back up, as many times as necessary (3). This is good. History is important. This incident might have the comic - almost pathetic -element identified by Marx when significant events are repeated (4), but this should be though of as an overly-ambitious student prank. Even comical pathetic fascist bastards are still capable of great wickedness, and their potential for evil should not be dismissed.
1 - "Civil war monument to British volunteers stolen," by Giles Tremlett in the Guardian, 31st of August, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/spain/article/0,,2159549,00.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon," by Karl Marx, 1852. (
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm)

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Bush is Insane

"The United States is rallying friends and allies to isolate Iran's regime and
to impose economic sanctions," Bush told veterans at the American Legion annual
convention. "We will confront this danger before it is too late."
(1)

Bloody Hell. I'm stunned. And frightened. Is he really so crazy that he is going to do it? And who are these friends? Surely, by now, there is no-one left stupid enough to enlist in another Bush military adventure? Does "too late" mean "before everything goes to custard"? In which case, it is already too late. Iraq is doomed to a painful, bloody death. Or does it mean "before the end of my term"? Or does "too late" mean "before I get dragged out of office in a strait-jacket"? Because, based on this, I'm not sure Bush will actually make it to the end of his term.

I wish people like George Bush would remember that "this danger" is made up of lots of people, most of whom aren't too hostil to the United States or the west, and would much prefer to be left alone to get on with their lives. Any effort to "Confront this danger" will mean a lot of these lives being lost.

Bush's adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have been failures. He has not caught Bin Laden. There is now probably more hostility towards the USA than there was before the invasion of Iraq. In her book, Seds of terror, CNN journalist Maria Ressa quoted statistics from the Pew Foundation, showing how the feelings of Indonesians towards the USA had changed:

In 2000, 75% of Indonesians said they had a favourable opinion of the United States. In 2003, 83% have an unfavourable opinion of America. (2)

That's from +75 to -83 in three years. 2003 was the year the 'Coalition of the willing' went into Iraq. One can imagine the bitterness and anger that will be caused by another invasion of an arab country, based on shoddy evidence mouthed by discredited liars.

1 - "Bush warns Iran against meddling in Iraq," by Jeremy Pelofsky, for Reuters. Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington. (http://news.uk.msn.com/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=5985334)
2 - 'Seeds of Terror,' by Maria A. Ressa, published by Free Press, New York, 2003. The quote is from Chapter 10, 'American Missteps,' page 190 of my hardback edition.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Andrews and Keelty turning on each other?

Games up awareness seems to have percolated through the inches thick, scaley hide that shields Kevin Andrews's from heavy blows and new ideas. Faced with the very real possibility that his ministerial career, akin to the dinosaurs in its lumber process and pea brained-ness, may be facing its own dinosaurian extinction, he has done what any good Australian 'Liberal' would do - lash out at others to divert attention to himself.

First though, the shocking revelation that ALL IS NOT AS IT SEEMS in the Haneef case. Indeed, it would appear that the allegation made against Dr. Terror, aka Mohammed Haneef, DO NOT QUOITE STACK UP. Catch your breath. I know that will have been a shock to you all.

Kevin Andrews, it will be recalled, claimed that Mohammed Haneef and his brother Shuaib had engaged in a very suspicious internet chat (1), prior to Haneef's attempt to flee Australia like a craven terrorist. Never mind that brother Shuaib has not been linked publically with any terrorist schemes in any way shape or form. This is the genius of the Andrews doctrine: Haneef is tainted by his association with cousin Kafeel. So Shuaib, through his association with Haneef, must also be guilty. So a conversation between the two of them can not be innocent. Follow me so far?

Anyway, Andrews came up with a summary of the potent exchange between Haneef and Shuaib. It was obviously edited, but Mr Andrews, presummably with our best interests at heart, ommited some cardinal details, such as the fact that terrorist-by-association Shuaib had in fact TOLD HANEEF TO LEAVE HIS CONTACT DETAILS WITH THE BRITISH POLICE (2).

Truly, you can see Haneef and Shuaib learned to be terrorists alongside second cousin Kafeel Ahmed, the Glasgow bomber who suceeded in killing himself and no-one else. Keystone, or Keeltystone, cops Australia has already, but now it seems the lucky country is lucky enough to be blessed with Keystone terrorists as well, whose idea of making a surreptitious exit is to ask leave of your employer, and tell the police how to get in touch with you. Perhaps they wanted to mock the police after eluding them, who knows? But that seems unlikely.

The consequences of his blundering have finally reached Andrews's fore-brain, and his Liberal survival instincts have kicked in. Presumably, he looked for some minority ethnic group, preferable immigrant, to blame, but found none available. So the blame is to be placed on the shoulders of the equally saurian Mick Keetly. Responding to suggestions that he had selectively quoted evidence to frame Haneef, Andrews claimed angelic innocence:
But Mr Andrews rejected the notion that he had misled the public, unfairly tarnished Dr Haneef or even selectively quoted from the discussion.

"That is absolutely not true," his spokeswoman told the Herald. "That was only the material that the AFP would enable the minister to release. There is still a range of material we could not release on security grounds." (3)
The AFP was also blamed for Andrews being given false information when mulling the decision to cancel Haneef's visa. The trend is becoming clear - the hapless Immigration Minister, mislead by Mick Keelty, is not responsible. Though even if we accept this rather ludicrous idea, it still leaves big questions unanswered about Andrews's competence to do his job, if he has been lead such a merry dance by Keelty. It looks likely that Andrews Rex (or Andrews Wreck) is doomed to extinction. Hopefully the other Liberal dinosaurs will also be wiped out in the near future.
1 - As desribed at an earlier time on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/haneefs-internet-chat-more-evasion-and.html
2 - "Brother told Haneef to call police," by Tom Allard, Connie Levett and Craig Skehan, in the Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd of August, 2007. (http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/brother-told-haneef-to-call-police/2007/08/22/1187462354367.html)
3 - ibid.
4 - As described at an earlier time on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/big-holes-appearing-in-case-against.html

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Marching against child abuse, but to what end?

Christine Rankin, speaking at the Silent Voices (1) rally against child abuse, branded Children's Commisioner Cindy Kiro "a waste of space" (2), along with comments about her courage and ineffectiveness. Her hunger not sated, she then laid into the government, claiming "this government just turns away," (3), which is just so stupidly demagogic that it doesn't really need further refutation (4).

First, it is good to Christine showing her self-proclaimed leadership skills (5). Nothing like badmouthing the governemnt, agencies working to prevent child abuse and hence the people you might be working with to dispell an lingering notions that you are serious about addressing the issue, and not simply raising your own profile and building a platform for your own ends. But it turns out that Judith Collins, Nationals spokesperson on welfare and family affairs, spoke at the rally as well (6). Surely, an innocent coincidence?

Kiro apparently had a bit of a go in reply (7), telling Rankin to leave it up to the experts. Which struck a fabulously patritician tone, but will probably not endear her to the crowd of non-experts gathered to make their ineffectual protest against child abuse. it is unlikely that someone so warped in their world view that they could beat a child to death is going to give a damn how many people march up and down Queen Street. What is needed is the resources and - YES - expertise to deal with the problem. Things are getting better. It would be nice if they were getting better more quickly, but almost halving the number of Maori child murders in a decade (8) is something.

The worst thing that could happen now is that the country gets dragged back to the right, and the swinging economic policies plunges whole communities and sections of society back into the abyss. It would be a bitter irony if that lurch to the right was brought about by a National government elected - at least in part - on the back of the outrage stoked up by the mendacity of Christine Rankin and her ilk.

1 - http://www.silentvoices.co.nz/
2 - "Rankin slams Children's Commissioner," by Jenny MacIntyre in the Sunday Star Times, 26th of August, 2007. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz (
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4178661a11.html)
3 - ibid.
4 - As described at an earlier time on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/sdsds.html
5 - As descibed at an earlier time on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/christine-rankin-in-nz-herald.html
6 - MacIntyre, op. cit.
7 - "Commissioner strikes back,"
unattributed newstalkZB story, 26th of August, 2007. (
http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/newsdetail1.asp?storyID=123192)
8 - As described earlier on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/sdsds.html

Monday, 27 August 2007

Australian Irony

The AFP have complained about the release of the second Haneef interview:

The AFP tonight attacked the release of the "confidential" transcript, saying
such leaks generated misinformed and speculative reporting. (1)
Whereas Kevin Andrews releasing partial transcripts (2), or Mick Keelty making weaselly insinuations (3), would not. No, I don't get it either. Just as well we have such fine men to do our thinking for us.

Though I suspect they may be trying to stupify us into submission with the blatant nature of their idiocy and hypocrisy. Or they are constructing some sort of real-world satirical meta-narrative, though given the intelligence of those involved, that seems unlikely.

1 - "Haneef lawyers release second police interview transcript," unattributed AAP article on stuff.co.nz, 23rd of August, 2007. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4174387a12.html)
2 - as described on lefthandpalm at an earleir time: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/haneefs-internet-chat-more-evasion-and.html)
3 - As described on lefthandpalm at an earlier time: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/bit-late.html

Friday, 24 August 2007

Andrews admits anti-terror laws are wrong ...

... Because he feels they aren't broad enough. He is claiming that Mohammed Haneef walked free, not because of the fatal combination of a lack of any real charge to bring against him and the incompeence of the AFP and *cough* Kevin Andrews *cough*, but because they aren't wide enough:

"The reason why the charge against Haneef was withdrawn goes to the question of whether or not the people involved, or allegedly involved, in the UK were members of a terrorist organisation," he said.

"Had the legislation been written in a different way that referred to people engaged in terrorist activities, rather than a reference to a terrorist organisation, then it may well be he'd be facing a charge today." (1)
Obviously the people who drafted the laws were fools and incompetents. Who was that, then, Kevin? Perhaps that could have been sorted out, if more time was allowed for discussion before the law was passed. Again, whose fault was that, Kevin? (2)

Andrews is a fool. If the secret evidence is so confidential that it can't be revealled due to "intelligence concerns and the need to protect investigations" (3), then surely even hinting at it may jeopardise it? He should keep quiet about the whole thing, unless of course his true aim is excusing his behaviour.

1 - "Different laws would have caught Haneef, says Andrews," By Paul Maley and Hedley Thomas in the Herald Sun, 24th of August, 2007. (http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22299479-662,00.html)
2 - If you're wondering, it was the Liberal / National coalition, which is lead by a certain John Howard, and in which a certain Kevin Andrews serves as Immigration Minister. Funny how these names keep popping up. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Anti-Terrorism_Act_2005#Chronology)
3 - Maley and Hedley, op. cit.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

The thing about Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is a great writer, but he is too much like Whoopi Goldberg.

That requires some explanation, I feel. Let me explain. Whoopi Goldberg is a great actress. Speilberg's adaptation of The Color Purple may be flawed (arguably, less so than Alice Walker's book) but Goldberg's performance is brilliant. Her career since then, however, has been marred by her inability to choose good scripts. Burgular, Jumping Jack Flash, Clara's Heart ... Whoopi is game, but was too willing to waste her talents in unworthy vehicles.

Ian McEwan suffers from a similar affliction. Though he's a great writer, he seems to be squandering his talents. He never seems to produce convincing books, or even books that are good but flawed. Rather, his books seem to be poor with occasional flashes oif brilliance. Because good McEwan is like nothing else , these occasional fits of inspiration are often the part that gets reviewed -the fairly weak book attached to them is overlooked.

McEwan's work seems too focused on small things. A middle class couple menaced by a lunatic (Enduring Love), a middle class family in turmoil (Attonement), a middle class family menaced by a lunatic (Saturday) ... you see what I am getting at? Without reading his latest On Chesil Beach, it doesn't sound promising, described by the Guardian as "Trauma of a honeymoon in Dorset on the brink of the sexual revolution" (1). This doesn't bode well.

McEwan seems to be stuck in a rut. His books books are always a) too short, b) too middle class, and c) beset by a sense of smallness.

McEwan's books have always been short. Enduring love was a middling 247 pages (2). Amsterdam was a trifling 208 pages (3). On Chesil Beach weighs in at just 166 pages (4). Black Dogs was 178 pages long (5). Atonement was more substantial, at 371 pages, but that just serves to highlight how slender most of his books are (6).

Quantity does not necessarily mean quality, of course. There is nothing wrong with short fiction. A short intense novella, like John Banville's The Sea, or his even better The Book of Evidence, can provide as much satisfaction, trouble, puzzlement or whatever you crave from fiction, as a far bigger book. Bryce Courtney has mastered the expanded style of fiction - he uses as many pages inone book as McEwan might in three or four. Whether his novels are better than McEwan's are, of course, entirely a matter of personal taste.

I am worried, however, about McEwan's tendency to write short, focused novels. It seems to me that by doing so, and doing so repeatedly, he is limiting himself. By necessity, he focuses on striking incidents and short time frames - Saturday covers the events of one twenty four hour period, unsurprisingly. Attonement ranged far across time and space, but did so in clinically discrete sections. Enduring love focused on the relationship between two middle class people and a psychopath. It is arguable that McEwan is allowing himself to focus on (pretentious phrase alert!) the intimate signifigance of moments, with a forensic level of detail, and that is all very well. But that seems to be all his does now.

As for the charge of McEwan's books being too middle class, the truth of this should be apparent from a survey of his characters and his readership. Perowne is a surgeon - a neuro-surgeon at that. The menaced couple in Enduring love are both successful careerists. The family in Atonement have a big country house and SERVANTS, for Heaven's sake. Characters sport names like Briony, Clarissa, Cecilia and Pierrot. Perowne's children are, respectively, a jazz musician and a poet. This wouldn't be a problem if it was just one instance - ther is nothing wrong with a book set in a middle-class milieu, mordern or old, but since he keeps returning to these environs, it is again a limit on his creativity, his licence to explore lfe in all its forms and all the places where it lurks.

At least part of the reason for might be that McEwan is a writer-of-choice among the middleclasses themselves. These are the people who buy his books - self-absorbed professionals and wannabe intelligensia, who would quite like the idea of their children (often named things like Clarissa and Pierrot) growing up to be jazz musicians or poets. They like reading about themselves, and gain a vicarious thrill from the intrusions of ugly, violent reality into the lives of characters the identify with so strongly. THe real challenge, which McEwan seems reluctant to take up, would be to carry his readers out of their comfort zones and into a world that is unfamiliar to them.

This brings us to the sense of smallness that I identified earlier. This is partly a function of the limited scope of McEwan's preferred form, the novella, and his focus on characters drawn from the middle - or upper middle - class. But there is something else apart from that - a lack of ambition on his part, a failure of desire to venture into uncomfortable, unfamiliar ground himself. This is the gravest failing of all for a novelist - choosing the comfortable and familiar over the risky and new. He does not seem interested in pushing the envlope further, introducing new elements or factors into play. It could be argued that he is trying to perfect one thing, but that seems a deathly pursuit - re-visiting the same tropes, shaking them up or rearranging them in the hope that this time, they will fall perfectly into place. Perhaps this is why McEwan's prose has a dettached quality, even as he describes the most thrilling sequence - he's bored, at some level, by what he is doing.

What McEwan needs to do is blow his boundaries sky high. Shakesspeare wrote great plays that reeled from taverns to court to battlefields, combining ribaldry with calculating ruthlessness, heroism, stupity, venality and everything else. In one play. McEwan should take note, and instead of writing another novella about the troubled middle classes, he should try something different. A huge book, covering the whole of society in all its ugliness, the model used by Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Or put his ability to write unforgettable scenes to full use by writing a war novel - the Dunkirk sequence of Atonement hinted at how brilliantly he could do this. Or even follow John Banville's lead and try his hand at genre fiction. Something new, rather than another clinical exercise of his undoubted gifts in the same style as before.

1 - "McEwan's novella top of the list for Man Booker," by Jonathan Brown
and Rachel Wolff, in the Guardian, 8th of August, 2007.
http://arts.independent.co.uk/books/news/article2843951.ece
2 - "Enduring Love," wikipedia article on the book. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enduring_Love)
3 - "Amsterdam," wikipedia article on the book. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amsterdam_(novel))
4 - "On Chesil Beach," wikipedia article. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_(novel))
5 - "Black Dogs," wikipedia article. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Dogs)
6 - "Atonement," wikipedia article. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_(novel))

'Mad Dog' Andrews Continues Snarling

Like a dog with fleas, Kevin Andrews can't help but scratch:
Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, was at it again yesterday - casting aspersions against Mohamed Haneef without providing any details to back his claims.

"I have been provided with no information to lessen my suspicion in relation to Dr Haneef. Any further information I've been provided actually heightens my suspicion," Mr Andrews told reporters.
Perhaps it it is a learned reaction, like Pavlov's dogs salivating at the sound of a bell, Andrews and the Howard administration are so used to electoral reward for immigrant bashing they can't help themselves any more.

As usual, Andrews presents nothing to support his allegations, just vague suggestions that he's still holding back some dynamite revelations for the proper time. When that might be, or how allowing Haneef to leave the country fits in with the idea that he is a duplicious, terrorist fiend.

What Andrews doesn't seem to realise is that his continual slanders are becoming counter-productive. People will see through a magicians trick if they watch it done enough times - and the Howard administration has played this trick numerous times. Even the most knuckle-headed - or loyal - Liberal supporter must be wondering why, if Haneef presented such a grave and present danger, he was allowed to leave Australia.

Still, Andrews's latest outburst is instructive. Assuming that it isn't merely childish pique - and my opinion of Andrews is so low that I can't rule this out - it suggests the Howard administrationis going to carry on. Some pretext will be found to refuse Haneef's re-entry into Australia. The judge, while restoring Haneef's visa, offered an opportunity for theat the minister to make a further fool of himself, pointing out that
the visa could have legitimately been cancelled on the grounds that Dr Haneef was a person of interest to British police or based on the fact he had been charged with a terrorism offence (which has since been withdrawn) (2)
Hopefully, Andrews will take the bait, and the subsequent challenge to his decision will force the Australian government and police to reveal what they are holding back. Though when they do, expect it to be less than overwhelming.
1 - "The strange case of Doctor Haneef and Mister Hide," by Tom Allard, in The Sydney Morning Herald, 22nd of August, 2007. (http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/the-strange-case-of-doctor-haneef-and-mister-hide/2007/08/21/1187462266217.html)
2 - ibid.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Rule of law restored in Australia

Mohammed Haneef has won his appeal (1) to overturn the cancellation of his work visa for Australia. The decision by a Brisbane court suggests that the courts in Australia won't cravenly follow the rule by ministerial fiat witnessed in the Haneef case. Of course, Queensland Magistrate Jaqui Payne had already tried to do some elementary justice for Haneef, only to have her efforts quashed by Kevin Andrews (2). It is fitting that it was Andrews's decsion to cancel Haneef's visa, thus effectively cancelling Payne's decision on bail, that has now delivered a fatal blow to the Howard government.

Andrews was found to have committed a "jurisdictional error" (3), which means the court found he had over-stepped his authority. Bad judgment and incompetence have been a feature of this case. Haneef was detaiend on spurious charges, his visa was cancelled - a bullying tactic intended to keep him incarcerated - as a result of false information given to Andrews by the AFP, and then finally, the absurd travesty of Haneef being released and bustled out of the country, with John Howard (5), Mick Keelty (6) and Kevin Andrews (7) lining up to make nasty insinuations about Haneef's character. The Howard government have shown themselves willing to mis-use power to hang on to it. Hopefully, they won't have it too much longer.

The court decision marks - HOPEFULLY - the end of the Howard administration. They've nailled their colours to the mast so firmly, losing this round must be a huge setback. There are a few months still to potter through, and I wouldn't put it past Howard to try to cook up some new fear and loathing scare story to try to scrape another victory. But the Haneef case will probably be seen as the last act of his political career. Beyond this - again, HOPEFULLY - lie the dismal prospect of defeat and the possible ignominy of losing his seat. I'd feel more sympathy for him if he hadn't spent so much of his time in power making himself so utterly intolerable.
1 - "Court restores Haneef's work visa," unattributed article on NDTV, 21st of August, 2007. (http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/story.aspx?id=NEWEN20070023299&ch=8/21/2007%201:02:00%20PM)
2- "Terror suspect loses visa," unattributed AAP article, in The Age, 16th of July, 2007. (http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/haneef-detained-at-villawood/2007/07/16/1184438205768.html)
3 - NDTV article, op. cit.
4 - "Cleared Indian doctor leaves Australia," unattributed AFP article on Yahoo, July 29th, 5 - 2007. (http://nz.news.yahoo.com/070728/8/11mj.html)
5 - As described on lefthandpalm at an earlier time: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/human-rights-commissioner-calls-for.html
6 - As described on lefthandpalm at an earlier time: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/bit-late.html
7 - As described on lefthandpalm on at an earlier date: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/more-bilge-from-kevin-andrews.html

Eyeism

According to an article in the Daily Mail, eye colour is a good indicator of a person's skills and ability:

They claim those with blue eyes are more likely to sparkle academically than those with brown. They are more intelligent and gain more qualifications because they study more effectively and perform better in exams.

...

In reaction time trials conducted by U.S. scientists, the brown-eyed performed better, making them more likely to succeed at activities such as football, hockey and rugby.

But the researchers concluded that those with lighter eyes appeared to be better strategic thinkers.

Blue-eyed boys and girls proved to be more successful in activities that required them to plan and structure their time, such as golf, cross-country running - and studying for exams.

Without knowing what the original research took into account before coming to these conclusions - WTF?

The best golfer in the world has brown eyes. Roger Federer might have brown eyes (2) but Bjorn Borg 's were blue (3). Brown eyed Indians haven't yet won the soccer world cup, nor the brown eyed Chinese - though the cliche is that brown-eyed asians are very studious, and I know plenty of asian dentists and accountants - presumably they made some effort to study for their qualifications. The best distance runners are come from Kenya and always have brown eyes. Presumably, running 10,000 metres or winning the steeple chase requires an athelete "to plan and structure their time"?

Socio-economic factors will obviously play a part in determining what skills a person is able to gain. Put bluntly:
  • People from lower socio-ecomonic backgrounds tend not to be as effective studiers than those from higher socio-economic backgrounds. They don't go onto further education as often, and in economic terms they tend to be less successful.
  • Sports like golf, yauchting and the like need a much larger outlay of capital than football, rugby and basket ball, so they are mor elikely to be pursued by people from comfortable socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Some ethnic groups are, as a whole, over represented at different socio-economic levels. In the USA, black people are over-represented at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. In New Zealand, Maori 'enjoy' a similar position.
  • Blacks and Maori have brown eyes.
I'd like to think that the researchers have accounted for this, but without seeing the original research, it is unknown. Certainly, the commentary in the Mail, or the TV discussion i saw about it, made no mention of social class or ethnicity.
1 - "Why blue-eyed boys (and girls) are so brilliant," by Ben Clerkin, in the Daily Mail, 20th of August, 2007. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/technology/technology.html?in_article_id=476244&in_page_id=1965)
2 - It is hard to tell with Federer, because of his craggy brows. When his eyes aren't in shadow, they are usually screwed shut. But they are brown, apparently, according to the profile of him on netglimse:
http://www.netglimse.com/celebs/pages/roger_federer/index.shtml
3 - At least they were according to Time Pears, writing in the Guardian on the 5th of June, 2005, in an article called "When he was king." Since a whole paragraph is headed 'eyes,' one assumes Pears checked. (http://observer.guardian.co.uk/osm/story/0,,1496703,00.html)

Monday, 20 August 2007

AFP try to gag Haneef's lawyers

Although they thought it was okay for Kevin Andrews to release material from the second police interview with Haneef, the AFP don't want Haneef's lawyers to do the same:
The AFP have provided Haneef's lawyers with the transcript of the 12 hours they interrogated the Indian doctor before charging him on July 14 with providing resources to a terrorist organisation.

That charge was dropped when the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not a reasonable prospect of conviction. Haneef's lawyers were given the interview transcript on August 8, the day the doctor's appeal against Andrews' decision to cancel his work visa on character grounds was heard in the Federal Court, The Age reported on Friday.

In an accompanying letter, the manager of the AFP's domestic counter-terrorism unit asked Haneef's lawyers not to make the transcript public. (1)

This lack of even-handedness suggests that the AFP aren't neutral in this - perhaps Andrews and Keelty have realised that they sink or swim together.
1 - "Fresh brawl over Haneef's second interview," unattributed PTI article, in The Times of India, 17th of August, 2007. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Rest_of_World/Fresh_brawl_over_Haneefs_second_interview/articleshow/2286796.cms)

Friday, 17 August 2007

Shooting themselves in the foot?

Righties are getting themselves in to a right (see what I did there?) ferment in blogland.

The cause of current frothing is a photograph attributed to Wissam al-Okaili, shown by AFP, of an elderly Iraqi woman holding up bullets that, according to the original caption accompanying the photograph, she claims were fired at her home by coaltion forces.

You see what they're getting at? If not, try here (1). Nothing makes righties happier than exposing supposed liberal or media (terms are interchangeable to righties, with the exception of Fox News) malfeasance.

Little Green Footballs (2) goes on to reveal another, slightly older photograph by Wissam al-Okaili "apparently featuring the same woman, holding another unfired round" (3).

Here are the two photographs. The one on the left is the most recent one that attracted the initial controversy. The one on the right is the older one.

Looks pretty convincing when first viewed, particualrly if by someone eager to be convinced that there is liberal malfeasance afoot. But lets looks beyond the spittle soaked monitors and bugged eyes of rightwing bloggery.

First, there is no reason to think the photos are of the same woman. There are plenty of aged crones in Iraq, dressed in black. If you look closely at the first photograph, you'll see the woman has a lump at the top of her lip. Not visible on the second woman, though she has a lump by her left eye. Not visible on the first woman.

So we can dispatch that piece of paranoid fantasy to the dustbin of history. As can be the suggestion that the woman in the older photograph is holding an unfired bullet. It isn't. To LGF's credit, when it was pointed out that the woman was most likely holding the "steel core of a fired .50 caliber round" (4), they had the honesty to highlight the correction. But I still think they are missing the bigger picture (see what I did there? Again?)

The original controversy focused around the wording of the caption that accompanied the photograph when it was put up online. This claimed that the woman was holding up bullets that struck her house -arrant nonsense, unless someone threw them by hand.

But I am more interested in the photograph than in the bullets. To me, it does not look convincing. It is badly composed and poorly focused. It is drab and uninteresting to look at. Compare it to the second (older) photograph - notice the difference. The second photograph was taken by someone who knew how to take good photographs. It is well composed, the focal point of the bullet lined up with the old woman's face. It has more colour and tone in it and that elusive 'texture' that good photographs have.

The two photographs don't look like the work of the same photographer to me. The first photograph looks like a fake. I'd hazard that someone has taken a detail of a photograph by al-Okaili, and photo-shopped a hand holding bullets into the foreground. The hand might be genuine, but the bullets themselves look very phoney, sitting there. She'd have t have a very long, strong thumb to hold them in that position.

So, if it is a fraud, who would have done it? The obvious suspect, al-Okaili, can be discounted straight away. Why would he bother? There are many old women dressed in black in Iraq, and even more spent bullets (5). If he wanted to pepetrate the hoax, it would have been easier for him to do so without resort to image manipulation. And why would he - a skilled photographer - have made such a crude effort.

This is lost on most rightwing bloggers. Hellbent on exposing liberal wickedness, they have swallowed the notion that al-Okaili or some liberal malefactor popogating for the cause. Which is ironic. I have no idea who might have done this, or why - Hell, I might be wrong and it might even be a genuine photograph, and the whole farce stemmed from a carless editor writing an ill thought out caption - but I'm keeping my mind open.

1 - "Adnan Hajj photographs controversy," Wikipedia article, viewed on 21st of August, 2007. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adnan_Hajj_photographs_controversy)
2 - Rightwing, American blog run by Charles Johnson. (
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/)
3 - "Magic Bullets Discovered in Sadr City by AFP Photographer," post on Little Green Footballs, 15th of August, 2007. (
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=26666_Magic_Bullets_Discovered_in_Sadr_City_by_AFP_Photographer&only)
4 - ibid.
5 - Don't believe me? Follow this link (
http://news.yahoo.com/photos/ss/1479/im:/070812/ids_photos_wl/r947203443.jpg;_ylt=AkvADzbIHG0GhRrLAc.35WfKps8F) and see how many you can count in all the photos.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

First world / third world

According to a report described in The Guardian, the USA has plummetted down the ranking of countries by life expectancy:
Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, America has dropped from 11th to 42nd place in 20 years, according to official US figures. (1)
I don't actually care much. Part of the problem is de to bad choices made by Americans, like eating too much rubbish and not geting any exercise. Part of it is other countries surpassing the USA. Part of it is due to the dismal health system in the States, where 45 million - about 155 of the population - have no health insurance what-so-ever (2).

But, like I said, I don't feel motivated to care too much about whether people in the USA live longer than people in Singapore (they don't, in case you care (3)). What made me feel queasy was the last paragraph of the Guardian article:
The worst life expectancy figures are in Africa, with Swaziland at the bottom, at 34.1 years. (4)
So, if I were an average person in Swaziland, I'd have less than a year to live. And since this is an average figure, the stuation is more likely to be skewed, with some people living longer and some dying earlier, the likelihood is that I'd already be dead. Except I'm white, which would mean I'm just 3% of the population, and I'm willing to bet that 3% has a better life expectancy than the other 97%.

Some other facts about Swaziland, courtesy of Wikipedia (5):
  • in 2003, it was estimated that only 3.5% of the population were aged over 65. 41.4% of the population was under 14 years old, and the median age of the country was only 18.5 years. With so many people dying young, who is caring for all the children?
  • In 2006, the popualtion growth rate was estimated at -0.23%. So it isn't a growth rate at all.
  • The estimated infant mortality rate in 2003 was estimated at 67.44 deaths/1,000 live births. That's high enough to be made into a meaningful percentage: 6.7% of all children die very shortly after they are born.
  • Almost exactly a third of all adults are HIV positive.
We can put men on the moon and we're planning a manned expedition to Mars. But we can't get the average person in Swaziland reach his or her thirty-fourth birthday.
1 - "US tumbles down the world ratings list for life expectancy," by Ewen MacAskill and agencies, in The Guardian, 13th of August, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2147617,00.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - ibid.
5 - "Demographics of Swaziland," Wikipedia article, viewed 15th of August, 2007. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Swaziland). According to the report cited by the Guardian, the infant mortality rate in the USA is 6.8 / per 1,000. That is very high for a developed country, but it is still almost exactly a tenth of the rate in Swaziland.

Not enough from Bradford's bill, or Progressive

I'd like to be happier about Progressive Enterprises's move to equalize youth and adult pay rate, pending completion of a three month probation period. But I'm just not feeling overly-celebratory about it. It is better than treating the youth workers as second class, and removes some of the incentive of supermarkets to employ kids to do adults jobs, but I'm still not happy. Not cock-a-hoop happy, anyway.

It is an improvement on what was. When it gets through palriament, Sue Bradford's bill will give sixteen and seventeen year old workers the full adult rate as well - though, curiously, the deal between Progressive and the National Distribution Union extended to fifteen year olds as well (2). It is still only a partial victory, however. I'm can't help but resent the discriminatory probation period. Failing to extend the rights of adult workers to youth workers leaves the job incomplete. Some of these youth workers will have left school and be starting out on their careers. Some of them may already be parents. They should be granted the same rights as other workers.

Employers may point out that they can't rely on youth workers as they can adults, that youth workers may be feckless, workshy, or not up to the job. This begs the question, if youth workers are so bad, why employing them over adults in the first place? And it is up to the employer, through interviewing and reference checking, to determine if a candidate is suitable for the job. There are just as many useless adults out there. It is wrong that they are given protection denied to youth workers.
1 - "Supermarket chain to raise pay for youths," unattributed NZPA story on Stuff.co.nz, 15th of August, 2007. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4165582a11.html#Scene_1)
2 - ibid.

Mattel recall yet more toys ...

... but still miss the point.

This time, the recall is even bigger than before (1). Again, they are manufactured in China. Again, Mattel says it is seeknig to improve safety standards. This won't make any difference.

The problem is that Mattel is constantly looking for ways to increase profitability. This is why it is in China, because labour is cheaper. Their contracts are awarded to vendors that can fulfill them as cheaply as possible. This ensures that, soemwhere along the line, corners are going to be cut and there are only two areas where this can realistically happen.

Mattel isn't going to award the contract to someone who charges more. The competing vendors aren't going to take a cut int heir own profits - Hell, they are in this to make money, just like Mattel is. The only areas where real savings can be made is labour costs and quality. For the former, read human rights, for the lateter, read our children's safety.

So the vendor pays lip service to safety standards demanded by Mattel. Mattel pretends to believe that they are being met. Then, when some egregious failure forces Mattel to take action - a mass of magnets tearing through a child's stomach, for example (2) - the company can pass off responsibility to the Chinese vendor, and make fine sounding pledges to put children first.

Point is, this will happen again, because in a short while Mattel, driven by the need to remain competitive and profitable, will forget the promises to be made in the wake of this latest recall. It will be decided that such-and-such a vendor is now trusted, and inspections or tests will be forgotten. After all, these tests cost money. Then the vendor, in turn, will source cheaper components. Then there will be another shock recall, more mealy mouthed professions of horror and disbelief, more claims that "absolutely nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our children" (3), and so the cycle repeats.

1 - "Mattel Does Damage Control After New Recall," by Nichoas Casey and Nicholas Zamiska, in The Wall Street Journal, 15th of August, 2007. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118709567221897168.html?mod=googlenews_wsj)
2 - As happened to Kenny Sweet, described in the article.
3 -ibid.

Rightwinger comes clean

Garth McVicar managed a remarkable feat in the New Zealand Herald. Talking about Labour's attempts to reform the rules around electoral spending (1), the head of the Sensible Sentencing Trust described the current bill as "a corrupt piece of legislation" (2).

Nothing wrong with that. the Electoral Finance Bill is a misbigotten creature that deserves pretty much every ounce of opprobrium heaped upon it. McVicar doesn't stop there, however, bragging about the power of his pressure group and how it is above the law:

McVicar wasn't sure whether it would have been under the $60,000 because many of his trust's campaigns get heavy discounts from media outlets as a "charity of choice".

"A $100,000 campaign costs us $5000 because of the discount we get as a charity of choice."

He said the trust did two or three campaigns that would have cost $200,000 or $300,000 at market value "and actually cost us $15,000".

McVicar said the trust's board of advisers was "very smart around this type of area" and would be working out ways for the trust to comply with the new law, perhaps through other trusts.

"We won't be hampered in our message just because Parliament says so." (3)

Let's consider the implications of this. First of all, McVicar has revealled the power of his - and presumably other - rightwing organisations. Backed by the business community - frequently they are the business community - they have massive resources to promote their agendum. This is why electoral reform is needed, and it needs to address the difficult issue of third party organisations. Otherwise, something akin to the situation in the USA will evolve, where political parties are in thall to pressure groups possessed of huge funds and influence. Essentially, it will allow conservative and business interests wto dominate, because that is where the money is. And the media.

Second, the arrogant disregard for parliament revealed in the last line of Mc Vicar's statement - "We won't be hampered in our message just because Parliament says so." Parliament, you may recall, is elected by us to run the country on our behalf. Sensible Sentencing is not elected by us or accountable to us. And he has just announced sensible Sentencing will ignore any attempt by parliament to control the trust's activity. Basically, McVicar thinks his organisation is above the law, and his contempt for parliament is passed on to us. New Zealanders don't want shadowy non-governmental organisations buying elections - that is why they rejected Brash and the National Party last time around.

McVicar is probably wondering why he shot his mouth off like that. He'd reminded us of the power of unelected pressure groups, at a time when people were just begining to file the Exclusive Brethern fiasco under 'old and uninteresting.'
1 - "Electoral bill no one wants," by Audrey Young in the NZ HErald, 11th
of August, 2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10457070&pnum=2)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.

Christine Rankin in the NZ Herald

Michelle Hewitson provided an amusing sketch of Rankin (1) in the NZ Herald. In it, Rankin shared her thoughts on leadership, and indirectly let slip her opinion of her fellow New Zealanders:
What she used to get called was a cult leader, which is not perhaps complimentary. "Yeah, yeah, absolutely," she scoffs. "They said I had a cult leadership style and that's because New Zealanders don't understand leadership and I think that's just amazing. To love and inspire and motivate your people and know them and be out with them and care what they think and feel and what they're struggling with and fix it for them. I can't see how that's a cult." (2)
Later on, she complains that she's seen as controversial because "you're not allowed to be different in New Zealand" (3). She's wrong on both counts.

New Zealanders don't have a problem with strong leaders at all, nor strong female leaders, before anyone suggests it - they've voted Helen Clarke inenough times to put paid to both these claims. What New Zealanders don't like (speaking as a non-Kiwi) is self promotion and arrogance, both of which apply to Rankin in spades. Nor do they like bullshit, or bullshitters, and they are quite good at detecting both.

Note how Rankin describes her role as a leader. It is to "love and inspire and motivate your people and know them and be out with them and care what they think and feel and what they're struggling with and fix it for them" (4). In my experience, it is leaders who talk like this who are hated and feared by their employees, and the organisations they lead are generally de-moralised and shambolic, as the whims of the Dear Leader (who is everywhere, and contributing his or her opinions to everything) change from day-to-day. People don't think for themselves or contribute their ideas because the Dear Leader has done that for them. It isn't 'leadership' but control and authoritariansim.

New Zealanders don't recognise Rankin's brand of 'leadership.' They might describe it as self-aggrandisement, showing off, bullying or bluster. It isn't a surprise that the national sport is a team game, or that the national icon a mountain climber, an activity where, for all the appearance of individual achievement, a team work together and suceed or fail together. "We knocked the bastard off," remember, not "I" (4). The man who will suceed Hillary as the receptacle of the nation's mana is lowly a Corporal, and the most humble man you could wish to meet. That is not a surprise, either. People who stand out for their achievements are admired, people who stand out because of they want to stand out are regarded with suspicion.

Rankin also comemnts on the Louis Rawnsley case, in so far as she explains that she won't comment on it:
AS for Rawnsley's sacking, "I'm not talking about him. You can talk about him all you like but I'm not." But there is an irony here, I suggest, in that the former head of Winz, whose job it was to get people jobs, is now involved in an incident in which a man has lost his job.

"As I say, it's nothing to do with me. Talk to TVNZ. You can ask the questions but I'm not going to talk about it."

I do ask quite a few more and she doesn't answer them, and I ask another one, just to be annoying, right at the end and she laughs and says, "you just keep trying, don't you?" (5)
Rankin is obviously trying to put some distance between herself and the Rawnsley affair. Perhaps because she can see a red 'DANGER' light flashing it, and knows that someone is going to get in to very deep trouble over it.

1 - "She's the Boss," interview with Chritine Rankin, by Michelle Hewitson in the NZ Herald, 11th of August, 2007.
(
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/topic/story.cfm?c_id=322&objectid=10457054&pnum=0)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - Sir Edmund Hillary confirming that the summit attempt had been successful. Read an interesting 2003 profile of Hillary here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/everest/story/0,,955942,00.html
5 - Hewitson, op. cit.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

1934 - the hottest year on record

... So what?

There has been a lot of excitement in blogland (1) (a strange place where normal rules do not apply and anything is true if said with enough conviction) about a slight anomaly in temprature data. Basically, after correcting data, it has been found that 1998 was the second warmest year of the twentieth century, not the warmest. That honour now passes to 1934, which had previously languished at number two.

This has lead to some strange conclusions. It would appear the whole theory of anthropogenic global warming has collapsed in light of this change. It hasn't. We always knew that the early twentieth century, up to the end of the 1930s, was warm. Then the Earth cooled off for a while, before heating up again from the 1980s onwards. In the 90s, the global temprature reached levels similar to those of the 1930s. This time, however, there is no indication of the temprature falling away.

The problem is that the re-ordering of hottest years doesn't prove anything beyond the fact that 1934 was marginally - and we're talking marginally - hotter than 1998, contrary to what was previously thought. It is not as if no-one had known that the 30s were a warm decade. The revision of order says nothing about the causes of warming in the 1930s and the 1990s. It is generally accepted that in the 1930s the largest contributor to warming was solar activity. In the 1990s, however, it is thought that human activity is the major conributor. (2)

The nice chaps at Real Climate put the changes into this into context:
The net effect of the change was to reduce mean US anomalies by about 0.15ºC for the years 2000-2006. There were some very minor knock on effects in earlier years due to the GISTEMP adjustments for rural vs. urban trends. In the global or hemispheric mean, the differences were imperceptible (since the US is only a small fraction of the global area).

There were however some very minor re-arrangements in the various rankings (see data). Specifically, where 1998 (1.24 ºC anomaly compared to 1951-1980) had previously just beaten out 1934 (1.23 ºC) for the top US year, it now just misses: 1934 1.25ºC vs. 1998 1.23ºC. None of these differences are statistically significant. (3)
Whether one year was hotter than another is really irrelevant. They were both hot. The crucial issue is what caused the heat, and what the remprature is going to do next. Based on what the Hadley Institute forecast, it is going to get much hotter over the next few years - so quibbling about what year was hottest is going to be rendered irrelevant. they won't be as hot as what is to come. (4)
1 - Like here: http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2007/08/official-us-cli.html#comment-79206698. Viewed on 12th of August, 2007. Note the wise comment by a level-headed, reasonable sounding poster called lurgee.
2 - As per wikipedia article,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_variation#Global_warming. Viewed on 12th of August, 2007. Note the quote from Stott et al.
3 - "1934 and all that," on
www.realclimate.org, posted on 10th of August, 2007. (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/08/1934-and-all-that/)
4 - As discussed just the other day, in this post:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/08/another-of-durkinism-crumbles-into-dust.html

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Another of Durkinism crumbles into dust

Durkinism (n.) 1. A spurious claim made on a misrepresentation of evidence. 2. A conscious or unconcious attempt at misleading through presenting false or incorrect information. The article was full of Durkinisms. (1)
Science has dealt another blow to the climate change deniers. Truly, I'm beginning to admire them for their pluck - no matter how often they are shown up to be incompetent, bought off by the oil industry or just plain wrong, the gamely keep on trying to argue that left is right and 2+2 =5.

The latest iceberg to crash into the Titanic of climate change denial comes in the form of a report from the Hadley Centre (2). It explodes one of the (many) bogus claims made by Richard Durkin in his response to his critics published in The Australian, recently.

In the article, he claimed that

To the utter dismay of the global warming lobby, the world does not appear
to be getting warmer. According to their own figures (from the UN-linked
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the temperature has been static or
slightly declining since 1998. (4)

I had a go at this claim (5), pointing out that Durkin ignores the running five year mean temprature, which has continued to rise overall, even if it hasn't reached the heights of the exceptional temprature recorded in 1998.

Now the scientists at the Hadley Centre have produced a ten year weather forecast. They factor in weather phenonum such as El Nino. They suggest

... at least half of the years between 2009 and 2014 are likely to exceed existing records.

However, the Hadley Centre researchers said that the influence of natural climatic variations were likely to dampen the effects of emissions from human activities between now and 2009.

But over the decade as a whole, they project the global average temperature in 2014 to be 0.3C warmer than 2004. (6)

My emphasis, obviously. The BBC doesn't go in for big chunky bold fonts in the middle of articles.

So, deniers, please don't waste breath pointing out that the Earth's temprature has peaked and is dropping away. It hasn't, according to sensible people who know what they are talking about. The over all warming is being masked by other factors, just as it was masked between the 1940s and 1970s, but it is still there.
1 - Sadly, this is not in the dictionary, yet.
2 - http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/
3 - "Up against the warming zealots," Martin Durkin in The Australian, July 21, 2007. (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22105154-30417,00.html)
4 - ibid.
5 - Right here: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/durkin-replies-to-his-critics.html
6 - "Ten-year climate model unveiled," unattributed BBC article, 9th of August, 2007. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6939347.stm)

All quiet on the Rawnsley front

This afternoon, I did a google search on "Louis Rawnsley," to check if there had been any new developments. I was delighted and peturbed to see lefthandpalm was in the top ten results thrown up, though a bit saddened to see that it was behind an article on headstones in Tasmania (1), which might be interesting, but didn't seem newsworthy.

I was delighted because everyone likes to feel important. I was peturbed because no-one seems to be talking about Rawnsley anymore. Even TV3 have gone quiet on the story, after twenty-four hours of making hay. Incidentally, we (royal 'we', as used by Benson-Pope) have fallen out of the top ten, but only because the original story is being rehased on other news sites. Nothing new is being brought to light, no fulminations in the opinion columns.

I can't help wondering - is the story being killed? If Tarquin at TVNZ mentioned to Miranda at TV3 that this story didn't need to be followed up too vigorously, and also dropped a line to Peirs at the Dom Post, that would have the desired effect.

This is a bad thing. In part it is an inevitable a consequence in part of being a small nation, with so many of the same names and faces being involved in so many differnet aspects of the media (oh, I mean like Matthew Rea-Rankin being a former HR manager for TVNZ) (2), because everyone knows everyone and everyone wants to avoid treading n toes because they might need a favour or a job from someone further down the line ("Piers, could you NOT run that story about me, the cocaine and the lesbian romp with three prostitutes? Tad embarrassing now that I'm on the list for National!! Cheers, Angelika"). The other problem is the super-concentration of media ownership in New Zealand. There isn't much left that isn't owned by Can West or Fairfax, and that doesn't encourage diverse or indenpendent opinions.

1 - "Headstone of Leonard Louis RAWNSLEY," a website operated by the State Library of Tasmania. (http://eheritage.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/resources/detail.aspx?LOCATION=Tasmanian+Family+History+Society+Inc.+Launceston+Branch&page=1214&ID=LFH_10576)
2 - As per the Rankin Group Ltd website, as of the 9th of August 2007. (http://www.rankingroup.co.nz/aboutus.html)

Friday, 10 August 2007

New-ish Monbiot: Green-lite won't get us anywhere

George Monbiot states an uncomfortable truth when he points out we can't save the world with token gestures:

Dozens of new books appear to provide an answer: we can save the world by embracing “better, greener lifestyles”. Last week, for example, the Guardian published an extract of the new book by Sheherazade Goldsmith, who is married to the very rich environmentalist Zac, in which she teaches us “to live within nature’s limits”(2). It’s easy: just make your own bread, butter, cheese, jam, chutneys and pickles, keep a milking cow, a few pigs, goats, geese, ducks, chickens, beehives, gardens and orchards. Well, what are you waiting for?

Her book also contains plenty of useful advice, and she comes across as modest, sincere and well-informed. But of lobbying for political change, there is not a word: you can save the planet in your own kitchen - if you have endless time and plenty of land. When I was reading it on the train, another passenger asked me if he could take a look. He flicked through it for a moment then summed up the problem in seven words. “This is for people who don’t work.”

None of this would matter, if the Guardian hadn’t put her photo on the masthead last week, with the promise that she could teach us to go green. The media’s obsession with beauty, wealth and fame blights every issue it touches, but none more so than green politics. There is an inherent conflict between the aspirational lifestyle journalism which makes readers feel better about themselves and sells country kitchens and the central demand of environmentalism: that we should consume less. “None of these changes represents a sacrifice”, Sheherazade tells us. “Being more conscientious isn’t about giving up things.” But it is: if, like her, you own more than one home when others have none.

Uncomfortable as this is for both the media and its advertisers, giving things up is an essential component of going green. A section on ethical shopping in Goldsmith’s book advises us to buy organic, buy seasonal, buy local, buy sustainable, buy recycled. But it says nothing about buying less. (1)
First, I'm appalled to learn there are people called Sheherazade outside of the Arabian Nights. I suppose this might mitigate her niavety somewhat. People lumbered with ridiculous names by their parents can't be held responsible for their actions.

Second, Monbiot is abslutely correct to skewer her for her silliness. We don't all live in a world that facilitates the raising of chickens and the quaffing of organic ale. Buying fairtrade, or organic, or locally produced produce from an authentic rural type at a market, are luxuries enjoyed by people rich enough to indulge themselves. For most of us, grabbing something faintly edible from the freezer and heating it is about as good as we can do.

Don't get me wrong. I buy Fair Trade coffee - Hell, I even cycled into town today to buy some - and eschew goods made in third world countries as a rule. Our family buy our fruit and vege at the local markets. But I don't imagine for a moment that this is going to save the world, or that it is a practical option for people who aren't in the relatively comfortable circumstances we are. It is a sop to my conscience, a band-aid for the things that make me uncomfortable - middle class guilt, a general concern about the impact of my lifestyle on the planet, while not doing as much about it as I could, and a sense of being far luckier in my lot than I deserve to be. Similarly, the shiney, seductive baubles on display at Dick Smith or the sleek new cars advertised o TV work in a similar way for people whose priorities are different to mine. Nice, shiney stuff makes those people feel better, just as paying three times as much for coffee from an Ethiopian co-operative makes me feel better. Both are essentially lifestyle choices and neither will save the planet. It might be arguable that my choices are more moral and less destructive, but if forced to be honest, I'd admit I shouldn't be drinking the coffee at all.

This is why change has to come top-down. Modern life is simply too fraught for people to be relied on to make the responsible decisions. I occasionally surcumb and buy something manufactured in China, even though I loathe and abhor the bastard regime there and the slavish manner that we cosy up to it. Supermarkets and stores will always offer us cheap, gaudy goods which will seduce us, because they have massive expertise in seducing us. We'll make bad choices as long as those who stand to profit from our actions are allowed to lure us into making bad choices. That's reality.

In her own way, Sheheradze is as bad as McDonalds or The Warehouse. She is offering us a false version of reality, seducing us, seeking taking advantage of our naivety. In her defence, she probably doesn't realise how false her promises are. It would be nice if it was possible to save the world by following her programme, but since it is impossible for almost everyone other than Sheheradze Goldsith to follow, and since the vast majority of people will not follow it strictly or for long, it is just as phoney as the version of reality profferred by K-Mart or in a commercial for the newest bestest Ford or Hyundai.
1 - "Eco-Junk: Green consumerism will not save the biosphere," by George Monbiot, in the Guardian 24th of July, 2007. (http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/07/24/eco-junk/)

Harawira on the loose in Aussie

Hone Harawira's gone on the lam in Australia:

A row has erupted in parliament over Maori MP Hone Harawira, who has gone
AWOL from a parliamentary visit to Melbourne.

He had been on a select committee trip but while other politicians were
still in Melbourne Harawira travelled to the Northern Territory with a film crew
to see for himself how some of Australia's indigenous people live. (1)
I can't see what the fuss is about. There is predictable a bit of whinging about "abusing an official trip" (2) and the like, but he's probably making better use of his time than if he were hanging about in Melbourne with the official party. Melbourne is a lovely city and if I were minded to go abscond from official duties, I'd have stayed right there. Or gone to a bout a million different places before I ended up in a Aboriginal settlement on the outskirts of Alice Springs (3).

Hone hasn't just been lying back and enjoying the wonderful vista of corrugated iron, grog shops and gang tagging, however:

Mr Harawira told the Herald from Alice Springs yesterday he had gone to the Northern Territory to discuss indigenous issues with Aboriginal groups.

He met tribal authorities and was last night accompanying patrols to Aboriginal camps.

"I want to see the other side of the rabbit-proof fence," he said.

He has criticised the Australian Government's emergency legislation to intervene in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities to try to stop sexual abuse of children.

"I wanted to discuss the racist piece of legislation that no one out here has been consulted on," he said. (4)

Whatever he's seeing and doing out there, its probably more relevant than what his colleagues are work-shopping in a Melbourne conference room.

If he's mis-used tax-payer money, or failed in his duty, some form of censure is needed, of course. Legitimizing his behaviour would set a precedent that other MPs will exploit, though I suspect that most of them would do their 'research' somewhere more appealing than the ramshackle suburbs of Alice Springs.
1 - "Harawira sparks row over walkabout," unattributed One News/Newstalk ZB article on One News site, 10th of August, 2007. (http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411749/1287509)
2 - ibid.
3 - "Harawira defiant over outback trip," By Martin Van Beynen, in The Press, 10th of August, 2007. Reproduced on www.stuff.co.nz, (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4159085a10.html)
4 - "'It's the right thing' - Harawira defends Outback walkabout," by Angela Gregory, in the NZ Herald, 10th of August, 2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10456916)

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Something stinks in the Rawnsley fiasco

Louis Rawnsley commented that he had been working at TVNZ so long that he was on close terms with a lot of the regular guests who appeared on the shows (1). Presumably, he also knew a lot of the staff at TVNZ as well - particualrly since 150 of them have signed a petition calling for his re-instatement (2).

So it is possible that he might have come to know Matthew Rea-Rankin, when Matthew worked at TVNZ as Human Resources Manager (3). If Rawnsley did know Matthew, he have managed a wry smile as he was told he was losing the job he had held for twenty four years, for alleged abusive comments to Matthew's mother, Christine Rankin. That is, if he had the time to think anything before he was marched out the building (4), as TVNZ seem to have acted without much in the way of formal process.

It is very odd that a person who has served a company for twenty four years is sacked in less than twenty four hours for remarks made - or not made, depending on who you listen to - to the mother of someone who used to be the Human Resources Manager at TVNZ. After all, it would be the Human Resources department that would have expunged Mr Rawnsley so swiftly. Though perhaps in light of their inhuman treatment of a long serving worker, they should consider renaming the department to something more fitting. And perhaps put a motto over the door, something like "Arbeit Macht Frei" (5), which would be appropriate in so many ways just now.

Thank you to the anonymous voices for bringing this to my attention. They're real, I tell you. I'm not crazy. But I am mad.

1 - "TVNZ staff object to guard's dismissal," by Simon Collins in the New Zealand Herald, 9th of August 2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=74&objectid=10456627)
2 - ibid.
3 - as per the Rankin Group Ltd website, as of the 9th of August 2007. (
http://www.rankingroup.co.nz/aboutus.html)
3 - "TVNZ CEO defends sacking of security guard," unattributed TV3 article, 8th of August, 2007. (http://www.tv3.co.nz/News/Story/tabid/209/articleID/32152/Default.aspx)
4 - Translates roughly as "Work will set you free." Commonly used as a slogan placed above the gstes of Nazi concentration camps. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbeit_macht_frei#Nazi_use)

Yangtze river dolphin extinct

In the 1950s, the Yangtze river and neighbouring watercourses had a population
of thousands of freshwater dolphins, also known as Baiji, but their numbers have
declined dramatically since China industrialised and transformed the Yangtze
into a crowded artery of mass shipping, fishing and power generation. A survey
in 1999 estimated the population of river dolphins was close to just 13
animals. (1)
And now, it would seem, they are all gone. Another glorious milestone in the Chinese push to achieve a Western standard of environmental degradation. Though someone should tell them that they are already there, now producing more CO2 than the USA. (2)

And, inspite of the Chinese government's despotism, their apalling record on human rights, dreadful environmental record, labour abuses and corruption, New Zealand is aching for a free trade agreement. AND they get to hold the Olympics next year. A profoundly eil, despotic regime with no regard for the rights of its citizens is holding the Olympics, the games of peace. Berlin, 1936?

Why are we talking to the bastard junta in Beijing? They kill dolphins, for fuck's sake!
1 - "Yangtze river dolphin driven to extinction," by Ian Sample in The Guardian, 8th of August, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/aug/08/endangeredspecies.conservation)
2 - "China overtakes US as world's biggest CO2 emitter" by John Vidal and David Adam, in Guardian Unlimited, 19th
ofJune, 2007. (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/jun/19/china.usnews)

Rawnsley saga continues ...

A wise man once said,
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages
appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the
second time as farce. (1)
TVNZ is the Australian government, Louis Rawnsley for Mohammed Haneef. Another tale of bureaucratic bullying, soon to collapse into a similar shambles. I don't know why TVNZ has decided to give the Australian government and police a run for their money in the unpopularity stakes, but they're uping the ante in the Rawnsely affair. Describing the discussion that led to Rawnsley's sacking,
TVNZ spokesperson Megan Richards said Mr Rawnsley was sacked because what he said to Mrs Rankin was "verbal abuse".

"This was a very visible and aggressive challenge and completely inappropriate from any staff member," she said. (2)
That, as they say, is fighting talk, and might come back to haunt TVNZ. At the moment, they are making themselves out to be the bad guy in a Haneef style David and Goliath confrontation. Especially since a lot of their staff seem to be pretty pissed off about this high handed treatment - as they should be (3). If TVNZ can boot someone with 24 years service, then who is safe?

MEanwhile, TV3 are enjoying themselves immensely, caliming that Rawnsely was marched out of the building' (4) and reproducing an email (5) from TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis to all staff. Again, he leave quite a few hostages to fortune:
I can say is that the staff member was dismissed after verbally abusing a
member of the public who was a guest on Breakfast.

The job of this staff member is to meet and greet members of the public, to
be the public face of TVNZ. And critically, while they are on the premises this
role has responsibility for the security of members of the public.

His behaviour was totally unacceptable to TVNZ. Guests on our shows
and to the building, regardless of their views on issues of the day, should not
have to put up with abusive behaviour from staff members but particularly those
whose job is to be the welcoming and safe face of TVNZ.

I want to make it clear that this was not the case of a staff member having
a friendly discussion with a guest or communicating a contrary opinion to that
expressed by the guest. (6)
This could all come back to haunt TVNZ. Rawnsley is sticking to his version of events, and Christine Rankin is not commenting on the affair (7). I predict that TVNZ is going to tough it out a while longer, will engage in the sort of sematic wriggling about the definition of 'verbally abusing' in the same way as Kevin Andrews has bent the word 'association' into a shape that suits him (8), though no-one else would recognise it as valid, then be forced into a climb down, as it transpires that the case against Rawnsley is hopelessly weak.

1 - "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon," by Karl Marx, 1852. Reproduced on http://www.marxists.org/. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm)
2 - "TVNZ staff object to guard's dismissal," by Simon Collins, in the NZ herald, 9th of August, 2007. (
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=74&objectid=10456627&pnum=0) 3 - ibid.
3- ibid.

4 - "TVNZ CEO defends sacking of security guard," unattributed TV3 article, 8th of August, 2007. (http://www.tv3.co.nz/News/Story/tabid/209/articleID/32152/Default.aspx)
5 - ibid.
6 - ibid.
7 - Collins, op. cit
.
8 - "Haneef case rests on guilt by association," by Cosima Marriner in the Sydney Morning Herald, 9th of August, 2007. (http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/haneef-case-rests-on-guilt-by-association/2007/08/08/1186530447617.html)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

TVNZ sack security guard for confronting bigot

There's no justice in the world. Time was, if you stood up to the big man and told the truth to power you got the Pulitzer Prize or some such. Nowadays, you get booted out of a job you've held for 24 years. This man deserves some sort of award for telling Christine "we have got a problem with Maori" (1) Rankin she's out of line, rather than getting sacked:
The Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union says it is shocked by claims a
TVNZ security guard was sacked for criticising the comments of Christine Rankin.

Louis Rawnsley has worked as a security guard for the state broadcaster for 24 years. He says he was dismissed after telling Ms Rankin her comments on Breakfast about Maori and child abuse were "over the top". (2)

Unsurprisingly, this was the lead story on TV3's late news. Can't imagine it got *much* coverage on the other side ...

TVNZ have claimed Rawnsley

used a raised voice and the exchange was not polite and private as claimed ... he was representing the company and was charged with greeting guests and making them feel safe ... it is unacceptable for someone in that position to berate a guest and Mr Rawnsley should not have expressed his opinion. (3)

None-the-less, how the Hell do justify sacking someone over an offense like this. The EPMU National Secretary stated

There are two problems with TVNZ’s actions. Firstly, people like Christine Rankin can’t expect to express controversial views without alternative views also being expressed. Secondly, TVNZ has to understand that its employees are citizens, too, and must be allowed to express views, especially in important national debates like this. (4)

Which is all true but missed the essential point - it isn't to do with freedom of speech or having the right to reply. It is to do with the rights of a working man being trashed by his employer. At most, Rawnsley's actions would have deserved a reprimand. Whatever censure he might have deserved (though I still say he performed a service to the people of New Zealand), there are proceedures that should be followed. To dismiss someone out of hand, for objecting to a whole segement of society being written off as a 'problem,' is disgusting.

1 - Direct quotation from the lovely Christine, in "Urgent calls for abuse inquiry," unattributed One News / NewstalkZB article reproduced by TVNZ, 30th of July, 2007. She repeated the exact phrase in the interview that sparked the debate / confrontation with Rawnsley - http://tvnz.co.nz/view/video_popup_windows_skin/1259020?bandwidth=56k.
2 - "Union investigating TVNZ guard sacking," unattributed article from NewstalkZB, 8th of August, 2007. (
http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/newsdetail1.asp?storyID=122178
3 - "TVNZ defends decision to sack guard over remarks to guest," unattributed Radio New Zealand article, 8th of August, 2007. (
http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/latest/200708081402/tvnz_defends_decision_to_sack_guard_over_remarks_to_guest)
4 - "TVNZ sacking over Rankin comments 'shocking': EPMU ," unattributed press release by the EMPU, reproduced on Scoop, 8th of August, 2007. (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0708/S00105.htm)