Sunday 27 January 2008

Why I like John Edwards

There are several good reasons for liking John Edwards, and hoping he wins the Democrat nomination. The most pressing reason is Hillary Clinton. If she won the nomination, it would be a disaster for the Democrats. They would almost certainly be defeated. Clinton is a sitting duck for rightwing dirty tricks.

To win the election, the Republicans only need to replay that footage of Clinton blubbering in New Hampshire, with a voiceover to the effect of "When the going gets tough, the tough get ... flowing." It might have served her well in New Hampshire, but it will come back to haunt her. With Cryin' Clinton representing the Democrats, the Republicans can look forward to an easy victory. Even if their candidate is Ron Paul, who I always think is RuPaul, the transvestite.

And to be honest, Clinton comes across as someone interested in two things - being president, and being the first female president. It's about her, not about her burning need to guide her country. She's too airbrushed, image conscious and lacks sincerity. Hell, even when she breaks down in tears, it comes across as phoney.

But I do like Edwards. Perhaps it is my Quixotic streak, since he seems doomed to finish a respectable third. Perhaps it is because he seems a bit more grown up than the other candidates - yes, I know that's a carefully cultivated image, but it also seems genuine - and I like what he says about the economy and social issues.

The problem is, of course, that he's in a race which features two tother candidates who are so successfully controlling pblic attention that even when he registers with voters, it is usually in reaction to one or other of the candidates.

This (1), by Eugene Robinson, sums it up pretty well:

Edwards has a coherent, consistent message and is running a top-shelf campaign. He has beaten his rivals to the punch on several issues, and he's the most skilled debater of the bunch. The problem is that Clinton and Obama aren't candidates so much as phenomena. They take up so much space that it's impossible to see the other guy.

Such is politics. But every time I go to an Edwards rally, I come away feeling disheartened -- not for Edwards, but for the people whose disappointment and disaffection he captures in his cadenced rhetoric about taking back the country from "special interests" holding it for ransom. Dismissing him as a born-again "populist" ignores the fact that Edwards has touched a nerve, especially in small towns and rural areas where, for the unskilled or the unlucky, "the economy" basically means Wal-Mart.

"You have been ignored too long," Edwards told the people in Lancaster. And he's right.

In campaign appearances and television ads, Edwards cites an aging CNN poll (it was published Dec. 11) showing that he would defeat any of the top four Republican opponents in the fall. Maybe, but how does he get to the fall? Given the power of the Obama and Clinton juggernauts, how does he even stick around long enough to be there if they falter?

For a while, it looked as if his strategy was to team up with Obama to knock Clinton off her stride. But in the last debate, he joined Clinton against Obama -- and then met privately with Clinton afterwards.

I asked him what they had discussed. "We talked about how the media isn't giving me enough coverage," he said with a smile. (2)

Note his "You have been ignored too long" comment. Who says American's can't do irony?

Great bloke. Can he be president? Only if we're very lucky.

1 - "Running Third, Edwards Still Dazzles," by Eugene Robinson, posted on Real Clear Politics website, 26th of January, 2007. (
2 - ibid.

"Unsentimental Education" by George Monbiot

Flaubert's novel, Sentimental Education, is one of my all time favourites, so I raised an eyebrow at Monbiot's rather silly play on its title. Beyond that, he's spot-on with his assault on the ridiculuous idea that Private Schools shouldn't just benefit from being able to pick and choose students from the ranks of the wealthy and privileged, but we should be expected to subsidise them as well.

It is still a great insanity that the education of children should be dependent on the ability of a parent to pay for it. What happened to all being created equal? Injustice and class distinction is built into the system from the start. The idea tha tone person should receive a better education than another because his or her father made a killing from ripping-off privatised assets in the 1980s is obscene. Unless we are to accept the principles of aristocratic hereditary - and you only need to look at the ineptness of our aristocrats to see this is absurd - the inescapable conclusion is that an education system based on parental ability to pay for it is unjust, and (if calls for justice won't move you) allows mediocrity to florish, while holding back ability.
1 - "Unsentimental Education," by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian, 22nd of January, 2008. Available on (

Wednesday 23 January 2008

The lingering taint of Thatcher & Blair

The latest annual survey by British Social Attitudes shows how horribly rightwing Britain has become. In its write-up (1) The Independent attributes this to Thatcherism, it misses a key point - things have become worse since Labour came to power in 1997.

With regards poverty, the survey found:

More than a quarter think poor people are poor because they are lazy or lack willpower, a view held by less than a fifth in 1986. Only 34 per cent think the government should redistribute income, compared with 47 per cent in 1995. (2)
Note the last bit - in 1995 almost half the population would have supported policies aimed at redistributing wealth. So ten years of Blairism and Brownism has managed to make people MORE selfish and rightwing. How can this be?

I think the problem lies in the failure of the British government to actually do anything radical - other than embark on imperialist adventures in the Middle East, I mean. People feel that the country stands pretty much as it did. Nothing about the New Labour project seized the public imagination. After about month of unfettered joy at having the TOries out, the realisation sank in that nothing was going to change. Britain was going to carry on rotting.

The survey reveals one what was perhaps Blair and Brown's greatest miscaluation - that they had to convince the British people that they were as beastly and Scrouge-like as the Tories. Brown commited himself to wearing the Tory spending strait-jacket and to not raise income tax. It was meant to reasassure middle-Britain, an oft-derided and abused constituency. But, this survey suggests, middle-Britain would have supported a socialist, rather than a Tory-lite government.

If Blair and Brown had offfered the country a more radical manifesto, they would have won. Whether or not it would have been as convincing a victory as 1997 was is moot - perhaps some people would have been scared off by a redder tinged Labour party, perhaps not. It was almost impossible for them to lose the 97 election, however. But their timidity and pragmatism won out, and the opportunity is lost.

Instead now we have a miserable spectacle of the slow death of an administration that has accomplished some things, but not enough. The first Blair government never built up any momentum. They won office, and didn't do anything terrible, but they didn't do anything outstandingly good. They were competent managers, but what you might call the underlying philosophy of the administration remained the same - the small minded, money-grubbing, selfish philosophy of the Thatcher decades, amerliorated only slightly by Major and Blair.

Thatcherism has created a sort of impetus. By ripping the guts out of the welfare state, the unions and the other countervailing forces, the Tories created a society where selfishness and greed were valorised. They weren't just desireable. They became necessary. With not alternative, they have continued to be necessary. Labour haven't created a socially just society, so the values that go with that will be replaced, as the survey shows is happening. It is a measure of how far removed from Thatcherism the British people were that after her reign, and the Major years, so many of them still supported socialistic ideas. The disappointment of the Blair years has probably contributed to the rapid slump since 1995, with people thinking, "If Labour aren't going to look out for me ..."

So, curiously, New Labour have done a far better job of promulgating the Thatcherite values, by default, than Thatcher ever did.

The children of Thatcher are now the ones taking part in the survey - their attitudes shaped by the attitude of the country they grew up in. The children of Blairism and Brownism won't be any different, because they haven't been shown anything different. But if Blair and Brown had possessed the courage to offer a strong socialist vision in 1997, then the survey of 2017 might have shown that the majority of Britons supported a just, decent society. Not because they were indoctrinated by evil socialist propganda, but because it would have made the country a better place to live.
1 - 'Britain in 2008: a nation in thrall to Thatcherism,' by Andy McSmith in The Independent, 23rd of January, 2008. (
2 - ibid.

Monday 21 January 2008

Alliance: "no answers to housing crisis from Labour and National"

The Alliance express disappointment with both major parties over their failure to address the housing crisis. (1)

As they point out, the affordability isn't going to be solved through tax cuts, which will favour the wealthy. Tax cuts will actually drive the prices up further, in the same way that building more roads simply leads to more congestion - the cars that congestion is keeping off the road simply appear to fill up the space. It will simply put more pressure on the market.

The Alliance suggest the utterly sensible idea of a capital gains tax on properties other than the family home, home loans for low income families and an expansion of quality state housing. (2)

The first proposition is so absurdly uncontroversial that it is unbelievable that a fringe party is advocating it. I don't think it goes far enough, frankly. I can't see any reason to exclude the family home - and I'm speaking as a home owner. If your home gains value and you make a profit from selling it, I don't see why that extra income shouldn't be taxed. Perhaps there is an obvious reason - other that lumpen bourgeois opposition to a tax that would effectively target their interests. If so could someone explain it to me?

The idea of a tax on capital gains tax will pain property investors and speculators. Fine. They are contributing to the problem and anything that hurts them is a Good Thing.

The second and third proposals will hurt property investors and land-lords from the other end, by reducing the pool of renters and forcing them to fdrop rents to remain competitive. Again, this is a good thing. It will have a further advantage of driving the quick-buck cowboys out of the property market, leaving it open to land-lords who are interested in the long term. So again, not a negative.

It will be said that these ideas will be 'inflationary.' I'm tired of inflation being held up as a bugbear for every idea put forward to make society better. I am staunchly, despicably middle-class. I'm the sort of person who should be horrified at the thought of inflation eating away at my savings. I'm not. The social costs that go with low infaltion are a far greater evil, to my mind. The super-rich might think differently, but they don't live in the same world as the rest of us. The great trick that has been played on middle New Zealand is the suggestion that there is a shared concern between the super-rich and the middle-class. The latter lose far more than they gain, by living in a society riven with poverty, violence and crime.

Anyway, the measures proposed by the Alliance will probably not cause inflation in the house market, as the increased demand from home owners will be balanced with the fall in demmand from proerpty investors. Certainly, it is impossible to argue that the status quo has not had an inflationary effect on house prices.

1 - 'Alliance says no answers to housing crisis from labour and national," press release by The Alliance Party, 21st of January, 2008. (
2 - ibid.

Sunday 20 January 2008

It isn't absurd, it's torture

The Canadian government has caved in (1) to pressure from Israel and the USA over a document that included them on a list of countries that use torture:
The Canadian foreign minister has apologised for including the US and Israel on a list of states where prisoners are at risk of torture.

Maxime Bernier said the list, which formed part of a manual on torture awareness given to diplomats, "wrongly includes some of our closest allies". (2)
Truth hurts, doesn't it? Rather than bullying and threatening another country for being so rude as to tell the truth, there is a far simpler way to avoid being included on lists like this - don't bloody well use torture.

The US response was particularly interesting:
"We find it to be offensive for us to be on the same list with countries like Iran and China. Quite frankly it's absurd," said the US ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins. (3)
It isn't absurd, Dave, it's the truth. And what your country does is torture. If you don't like it, rather than be part of the barbarity, why speak out against the savagery, rather than being an efficient little Eichmann (4) and doing your job?

Poor Dave. If being included on a list like this upsets him, imagine how cut up he'd be if he knew what was being done in his name, either by the USA, or by even less scrupulous entities acting on the USA's behalf. But notice the slip about China. It's not really on to say things like that about our esteemed Olympic hosts and valued trading partner.

The bastards of Beijing, if they have any sense, will immediately protest Mr Wilkins inclusion with Syria. After all, it appears that the truth isn't the criteria as to whether a nation should be on the list, merely how aggrevied they feel about it, and how much pressure they can bring to bear.
1 - 'Canada FM regrets 'torture list',' unattributed BBC article, 18th of January, 2008. (
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - A term coined by the John Zerzan, and also used by Ward Churchill to describe those killed in the Twin Towers on Spetember the 11th, 2001. Churchill's thesis was that they had permitted atrocities to be carried out by the US government and military when they were in a position to know about it and act accordingly, so they were not innocent victims. I don't agree with him, as the US government ceased to heed its citizens a long time ago, but the term is apt in the case of Mr Wilkins, who is an insider. Churchill's essay, "Some People Push Back: on the Justice of Roosting Chickens," published on the 12th of September, 2001, can be read here:

Saturday 19 January 2008

lefthandpalm says ... Do Not Feed The Troll!

If, for example, a prominent rightwng blogger were to start publishing photographs and details about the houses of leftwing activists, rather than get in a lather about it, it would be sensible to ignore the antics of the troll. (1)

Remember the words of the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases!
If the trollish one has gone to far and actually committed an offense here, I am sure the prominent leftwing activist will be aware of it and will take whatever action he sees fit.

If not, then by making a fuss about it, we are only giving the twattish troll the satisfaction and sense of importance he craves so desperately. Recall the fate of the Duschess's child - eventually, he turns into a pig and runs off, bothering no-one any longer. Ignored, the game will soon lose its appeal. It's only fun as long as the more intelligent and eloquent leftwing bloggers are getting themselves in a tizzy about it.

One might be permitted to call the blogger in question a dick, however. So here goes:

DICK. (2)

1 - Any striking similarity between the contents of this post and recent happenings in less salubrious parts of the New Zealand bloglands is purely coincidental. Honest.
2 - A rather small, floppy, unclean and underused one at that, with perhaps some mould starting to grow on it.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Bush begs for quid pro quo

The day after his cronies back in washington announced (1) arms sales to Saudi Arabia worth $20 billion, Dubya has asked (2) the Saudis to think about increasing oil production in the hope of preventing the US economy falling to pieces entirely.

I can see why Dubya likes the Saudis - both the house of Saud and the house of Bush are reactionary dynasties adhering to an obscure, fundamentalist faith, take a dim view of women's rights, don't really get democracy, and glory in capital punishment. They should get along famously.

1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
2 - 'Oil prices slip on Bush warning in Saudi Arabia,' unattributed AFP article, 15th of January, 2008. (

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Biofuels - Castro was right! Official!

The E.U. is reviewing (1) its commitment to 10% biofuel by 2020:

The reason for this re-think are that the envronmental and social consequences of converting arable land for biofuel production - or clearing Indonesian rainforest for palm plantations - are becoming apparent:
Supporters argue that biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because the plants they are made from absorb carbon dioxide from the air. But a number of studies have raised doubts about the green credentials of many of the leading candidates, such as palm oil and ethanol made from corn. Critics say biofuels compete for land with staple food crops, and vast areas of rainforest are cleared to grow them. (2)
Why is this a surprise to anyone? There are two sorts of people in the world - those who accept human responsibility for global warming and want to do something about it, and those who accept human resposnisbility for global warming and want to make money out of it. Yes, it appears there is a third group, made up of those who don't accept that the globe is warming, but on examination it transpires that most of these people are just very cynical members of the accept-global-warming-and-make-money-off-it camp.

The problem with biofuels is that they offer a great way to make money. People who have latched onto this idea are all for them. Huge swathes of crops that could be used to alleviate world hunger are instead intended for use in biofuels, so that western consumers can feel virtuous and ethically alert as they continue to use their car - perhaps even more often than before, because its on biofuel, right?

It's almost something you'd find in a film by Jean Luc Godard in his Weekend phase, or by Louis Brunel. People who already have far too much of everything burning food while others starve. People who already have far too much of everything congratulating themselves on doing their bit for the environment while Indonesians rainforests are destroyed to fuel their cars. And in the background, of course, are the people profiting from this latest middle classs green-lite silliness - the same people (or at least, indistingushable substitutes) who made profit from our infantile obssession with cars before we decided to try to do a bit - but not too much - for the environment.

The one thing these people don't want, of course, is for us to have to start asking ourselves hard questions about our lifestyles. The one thing we should never have to think is "Do we need a car?" or, since society is now so geared to wards the automobile that it would be difficult for a lot of people to cope without one - "Do we need to use one all the time?" Because these sorts of questions will hurt profits, and that is the unspeakable, obscene idea - more obscene, apparently, than screwing up the planet through, negligence, greed and deliberate blindness.

Fidel Castro spoke out against biofuels in March, 2007, warning of the inefficiences in the process, and the consquences converting food crops into biofuel would have on food prices, food supply and the environment:

Today we know with accurate precision that one ton of corn can only render as an average 413 liters of ethanol (109 gallons), a figure that may vary according to the latter's density.

The average price of corn in US ports has reached 167 dollars per ton. The production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol requires 320 million tons of corn. According to FAO, US corn production in 2005 reached 280.2 million tons.

Even if the President is speaking about producing fuel out of switchgrass or wood chips, any person could understand that these phrases are far from realistic. Listen well: 35 billion gallons, 35 followed by nine zeros!

Beautiful examples of the productivity of men per hectare achieved by the experienced and well organized US farmers will come next: corn will be turned into ethanol; corn wastes will be turned into animal fodder, with a 26 percent of proteins; cattle manure will be used as raw material for the production of gas. Of course, all of this will happen after a great number of investments, which could only be afforded by the most powerful companies whose operations are based on the consumption of electricity and fuel. Let this formula be applied to the Third World countries, and the world will see how many hungry people on this planet will cease to consume corn. What is worse, let the poor countries receive some financing to produce ethanol from corn or any other foodstuff and very soon not a single tree will be left standing to protect humanity from climate change. (3)

I can't vouch for Castro's figures. That he is at least broadly right is bourne out by the E.U.'s decision to review its biofuel commitment, however.

This is a measure of the world we live in. A world so distroted by greed, graft and cronyism that sometimes even Fidel Castro can be right, and prescient.

1 - 'EU reviews biofuel target as environmental doubts grow,' by David Adam and Alok Jha in The Guardian, 15th of January, 2008. (
2 - ibid.
3 - 'Foodstuff as Imperial Weapon: Biofuels and Global Hunger,' by Fidel Castro Ruiz, originally published in Gramna, reproduced on Counterpunch, 30th March, 2007. (



Coinciding with Bush’s trip, the Bush administration in Washington notified Congress on Monday that it will offer Saudi Arabia the chance to buy sophisticated Joint Direct Attack Munitions — or “smart bomb” — technology and related equipment, the State Department said. The administration envisions the transfer of 900 of the precision-guided bomb kits, worth $123 million, that would give the kingdom’s armed forces highly accurate targeting abilities.

The sale is part of an overall $20 billion weapons package for Saudi Arabia, administration officials say. (1)

Clearly, the Middle East needs more weapons. Particularly in the hands of the Saudi regime, which is one of the most hateful on the planet. But perhaps it is time to butter up some Arab princelings in the kingdom "responsible for almost one-third of OPEC’s total output."

1 - 'Bush in Saudi Arabia with major weapons deal,' unattributed AP article, 14th of January, 2008. (
2 - ibid.

Friday 11 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary

My parents were odd, and wouldn't allow a TV in the house until I was in my mid-teens. Instead, I read books and listened to audio tapes of books. One of my favourites was a reading of Scott's Antarctic Diary. The other was the story of Everest. I must have listened to these tapes hundreds of times. So from a very young age, I knew who Sir Edmund Hillary was and what he had done. I also knew that Tensing Norgay was his companion on the final push when they 'knocked the bastard off,' and once managed to supply a crucial answer in a pub quiz by advising that Sir John Hunt was the overall leader of the expedition.

So I feel like someone I've known for years has died.

Given the inescapable linkage between Hillary and Everest, I thought these lines from Burns' love song, John Anderson, My Jo were appropriate. The poem was also used by Maurice Gee in his novel, Plumb:
John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And monie a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.

Thursday 10 January 2008

151,000 Iraqis killed since invasion

According to the World Health Organisation. Main points, courtesy of Stuff/Reuters (1).
  • "About 151,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the three years following the US-led invasion of their country, according to the World Health Organisation"
  • "violent deaths could have ranged from 104,000 to 223,000 between March 2003 and June 2006"
  • "The study drew on an Iraqi health ministry survey of nearly 10,000 households – five times the number of those interviewed in a disputed 2006 John Hopkins University study that said more than 600,000 Iraqis had died over the period."
  • The figure "exceeds the widely-cited 80,000 to 87,000 death toll by the human rights group Iraq Body Count"
  • " insecurity made parts of Baghdad and Anbar provinces unreachable for those conducting the survey ... Many families also fled their homes as a result of the violence, and some left the country, making it hard to give a precise assessment of the violence in Iraq. As a result, Ali said the margin of error for the toll was relatively high."
  • "More than half of the violent deaths documented in the WHO report occurred in Baghdad."
  • "An average of 128 Iraqis suffered violent deaths every day in the first year following the invasion. The next year, an average of 115 were killed daily and 126 died from violence each day in the third year after the war started."

Of course, it doesn't matter if the figure is 80K, 150K or the dubious 600K. It is still a mid-numbing loss of life. But if the 150K figure is approximately right, then it is the equivalent of everyone in Palmerston North being killed. Twice.

1 - '151,000 Iraqis killed since invasion,' unattributed Reuters article, 10th of January, 2008. Available through stuff. (

Don’t frickin’ cry for me, New Hampshire

I know it is a long way a way and not important anyway, but Hilary's teary antics in New Hampshire have riled me. In fact, everything about Hilary and New Hampshire seems to bug me.

First, the way her victory has been presented as an incredible turn around after the defeat in Iowa. Bollocks. Clinton was well ahead in New Hampshire prior to Iowa. It would have been remarkable if she'd not won. In fact, in a few short days, she almost managed to lose it. In December, 13 out of the 18 polls (1) conducted in New Hampshire predicted a Clinton victory, with margins of victory anywhere up to 17%.

Even The Guardian (2) bought into the comeback nonsense, writing it up as "a stunning victory" over the "the seemingly unstoppable bandwagon of her rival Barack Obama." It was nothing of the kind. Yup, there was a big surge in Obama's favour in January, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that the state was in her pocket, and she still, somehow, almost managed to lose it. The Guardian shouldn't be encouraging this sort of dizziness.

Second, the crying thing - what was that all about?

If it was genuine, it raises questions about her ability character. If she falls apart at the prospect of losing a primary ballot, how is she going to cope with a presidential race, or with being president? If it was faked it was a lousy stunt, pandering to stereotypes of vulnerable women in need of support. Way to go, sister.

Either way, the suspicion that it was all put on for the camera will linger, and while it may have helped sway a few waverers in New Hampshire, it will have irritated a lot more across the country. They'll write it off as another piece of Clinton manipulation.

Either way, I can't see Ahmadinejad being moved by Hilary's tears.

1 - Courtesy of the aply named Real Clear Politics:
2 - 'Clinton reveals turning point in race for White House,' by Simon Jeffery, Ewen MacAskill and Suzanne Goldenberg in The Guardian, 9th of January, 2008.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Fisk on Bhutto

Robert Fisk responds to the assasination of Bhutto. He acknowledges it as genuine act of terrorism (in the most literal sense) and that Bhutto is a "martyr," but tries to counter predictable pro-Bhutto slobbering that emerged following her return to Pakistan, and reached hysterical levels following her assasination.
1 - 'They don't blame al-Qa'ida. They blame Musharraf,' by Robert Fisk in The Independent, 9th of January, 2008. (

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Climate change nonsense in The NZ Herald

Bryan Leyland seems to be demonstrating a new denier tactic in this Herald article (1).

Working on the assumption that few people will read the whole article, he has crammed the opening lines with unscientific, denier tosh. The idea being, no doubt, that someone reading it will absorb the nonsense in the first few lines and wander off, convinced that there is reasonable grounds for scepticism.

The claims made in the opening paragraphs are as follows, with my comments in plain text:
  • "It [the science relating to AGW] cannot explain why, before the days of man-made CO2, the world was warmer during the Middle Ages, Roman and Minoan warm periods."
Of course it doesn't. It doesn't try to. Anthropogenic climate change was not repsonsible for the Medieval warm period, the little ice age or any other historic periods or warming or cooling. We know what caused these historical variations. The causes of current warming are not the same as the causes of previous warming. It doesn't fit. The theory underpinning AGW relates only to the special circumstances we are seeing now. Claiming that the IPCC or anyone is trying to explain previous warming through the science relating to AGW is dishonest or stupid.
  • "The surface temperature record used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that the world has not warmed since 1998."
1998 was exceptionally war, due to various climate factors. Trying to argue anything, based on one year's temperature is like asking one person which party they'll vote for and predicting the outcome of an election on it. The five year rolling average temperature (2) clearly shows temperatures are still on the increase.
  • "The strategy ignores the increasingly strong evidence that solar emissions related to the sunspot cycle and cosmic rays have a major influence on our climate. Unlike the carbon dioxide driven hypothesis, this theory explains climate change in the past and predicts that the climate will cool until 2030."

There is no good evidence that solar activity is responsible for recent warming. This was investigated Lockwood & Frolich (3) and they found no evidence to support the contention that solar forcing was responsible for recent warming:

There are many interesting palaeoclimate studies that suggest that solar variability had an influence on pre-industrial climate. There are also some detection–attribution studies using global climate models that suggest there was detectable influence of solar variability in the first half of the twentieth century and that the solar radiative forcing variations were amplified by some mechanism that is, as yet, unknown. However, these findings are not relevant to any debates about modern climate change. Our results show that the observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanisms is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified. (4)

Even Nir Shaviv (5) - often identified as a AGW sceptic - only attributed the warming in the first part of the 20th century to solar activity, and acknowledged that subsequent warming was a result of human activity:
... the truth is probably somewhere in between, with natural causes probably being more important over the past century, whereas anthropogenic causes will probably be more dominant over the next century. Following empirical evidence I describe below, about 2/3's (give or take a third or so) of the warming should be attributed to increased solar activity and the remaining to anthropogenic causes. (6)

Most readers will have given up by the time they've read Leyland's opening paragraphs and not bother with the remainder of the article. Their abiding memory will be the that there are still grave questions surrounding this 'global warming' business.

There are, but not the one's Leyland is asking. The real questions are 'How much?', How fast?' and 'What are we going to do about it?'

1 - 'Powering our future or wrecking the economy?,' by Brian Leyland in the NZ Herald, 7th of January, 2008. (
2 - 'Global Temperatures,' courtesy of Wikipedia,
3 - 'Recent oppositely directed trends in solar climate forcings and the global mean surface air temperature,' by Mike Lockwood & Claus Frolich, published in Proceedings of the Royal society, 2007. (
4 - ibid.
5 - 'Carbon Dioxide or Solar Forcing?' by Nir Shaviv, published on his webiste,
6 - ibid.

Killing me reasonably

The US Supreme court is hearing arguments (1) against the use of lethal injection as a means of capital punishment. The argument is that lethal injection is unconsitutional on the grounds that it is a cruel and unusual punishment:

Attorneys for two death row inmates in the eastern state of Kentucky argue that
lethal injections can cause unnecessary pain and suffering.

The three-drug cocktail injection that Kentucky uses for executions has one drug to make the prisoner unconscious, another to paralyze the body and a third to stop the heart.

Opponents to the method argue that if the first drug does not work, the inmate would not be able to move but would feel excruciating pain.

Executions in the United States have come to a halt until the court issues its ruling, expected by June. (2)

The idea that there are more benevolent ways to kill people, more in keeping with legal niceties, is bizzare to me. It is the killing, not the cruelty, that is wrong. I'm reminded of the Monty Python Piranha brothers sketch:

Presenter: Another man who had his head nailed to the floor was Stig O' Tracey.
[Cut to another younger more cheerful man on sofa.]
Interviewer: Stig, I've been told Dinsdale Piranha nailed your head to the floor.
Stig: No, no. Never, never. He was a smashing bloke. He used to give his mother flowers and that. He was like a brother to me.
Interviewer: But the police have film of Dinsdale actually nailing your head to the floor.
Stig: Oh yeah, well - he did that, yeah.
Interviewer: Why?
Stig: Well he had to, didn't he? I mean, be fair, there was nothing else he could do. I mean, I had transgressed the unwritten law.
Interviewer: What had you done?
Stig: Er... Well he never told me that. But he gave me his word that it was the case, and that's good enough for me with old Dinsy. I mean, he didn't want to nail my head to the floor. I had to insist. He wanted to let me off. There's nothing Dinsdale wouldn't do for you.
Interviewer: And you don't bear him any grudge?
Stig: A grudge! Old Dinsy? He was a real darling.
Interviewer: I understand he also nailed your wife's head to a coffee table. Isn't that right Mrs O' Tracey?
[Camera pans to show woman with coffee table nailed to head.]
Mrs O' Tracey:
Oh, no. No. No.
Stig: Yeah, well, he did do that. Yeah, yeah. He was a cruel man, but fair.
[Cut back to Vince.]
Vince, after he nailed your head to the floor, did you ever see him again?
Vince: Yeah.....after that I used to go round his flat every Sunday lunchtime to apologize and we'd shake hands and then he'd nail my head to the floor.
Interviewer: Every Sunday?
Vince: Yeah but he was very reasonable about it. (3)
Dinsdale might have been very reasonable. There might be very constitutional means of killing people. But nailing people's heads to coffee tables, however reasonably it is done, and killing people, no matter how much legal balm is applied to the consciences of those ordering the killing, is always cruel and barbaric and something no civilised society can accept.
1 - 'US Supreme Court Considers Arguments Against Lethal Injection,' unattributed VOA News article, 7th of January, 2007. (
2 - ibid.
3 - 'The Piranha Brothers' sketch, Episode 14 of Monty Python's Flying Cricus. Transcript here:

Monday 7 January 2008

The lie and the tragedy behind the surge

Iraq Body Count have calculated the number of deaths in Iraq in 2007 was the second highest in any year since the invasion, according to an article in The Independent:

IBC compiles its data from official sources, including the Pentagon, and found that between 22,586 and 24,159 civilian deaths were documented for 2007, with the vast majority of those killed between January and August.

The most lethal violence took place in Nineva, where the number of deaths rose by 143 per cent. Baghdad on the other hand saw a decline of around 39 per cent after a drastic fall in numbers of deaths in the last three months of the year.

The first eight months of 2007 also saw the highest number of car-bombings in the Iraq. The report claims that last year there were 20 explosive devices that killed more than 50 civilians, compared with 12 bombings in 2006.

The number of civilians killed during operations involving US forces in the past 12 months also rose, from between 544 and 623 in 2006 to between 868 and 1,326 in 2007. The report claims that most of these casualties were linked to air strikes, in which 88 children were reported to have died. (2)
What this shows is that the surge has had an effect, in a very limited area - the KPI of Baghdad, basically, but the rest of the country has pretty much continued to go bloodily to Hell. The truth is that people are still dying, as fast or faster than before.

I don't think you could say that the surge has worked - to paraphrase Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past, it is just a way to fail more slowly. Boosting troop numbers in Baghdad has brought a degree stability. But losing slowly in Baghdad isn't enough, because the losing outside Baghdad is accelerating - the losing of lives, I mean.

It its mind-boggling - and sickening - to contemplate the incompetence of the people who thought that Iraq could be controlled with a token force. We shouldn't be surprised - these are the same sort of people (in some cases, the very same people) who supported Saddam in the 80s and quashed the Prevention of Genocide bill to avoid having to condemn his murderous regime, post Halabja. They are evil, ruthless people, and also, arrogant, over-confident and very stupid.

And these are the people who lambast liberals and leftwingers as niave and unrealistic. Even if these claims are true, the consequences of niaveity and unrealism can't be worse than idiocy coupled with megalomania and a sense of divinely ordained mission.
1 - 'Iraq death rate belies US claims of success,' by Kim Sengupta in The Independent, 7th of January, 2008. (

"The Kings of England" by George Monbiot

Monbiot scathes Lord Guthrie and Sir Kevin Tebbitt (1), following comments on the Today programme demonstrating their aristoctactic assumption that our leaders should be allowed to act as they see fit, regardless of piddling concerns like the Geneva Conventions.

An additional comment. Guthrie bemoans the fact that seeking parliamentary assent to declaring war would mean that secret intelligence being shared with MPs. Where has this man been for the last five years? Isn't he aware that virtually every piece of intelligence relating to Saddam Hussein's supposed horde of weapons of mass destruction has been proven false?

That is why we need more scrutiny, not secrecy. Perhaps their enoblement has befuddled Lord Guthrie and Sir Tebbitt and they fancy their rank invests with the rights and privileges of the medieval period. It would appear the aristocratic mein blinded a certain alumnus of Fettes College as well.
1 - "The Kings of England," by George Monbiot, published in The Guardian, 1st of January 2008. (

National starts sniping

First there was the row over the supply of 32 LCD televisions to New Zealand prisons (1). Never mind that LCD models were cheap and replacing existing units, not new provision. Or that the LCD models are less amenable to being turned into weapons in riots - the idea of prisons being equipped with modern equipment provoked predictable slavering from the right:
Mr Power yesterday claimed the purchases reinforced concerns that life in the prison system was creating a mentality of idleness.

Authorities should be concentrating on providing services to help ensure inmates do not return to prison once released, he said.

"Perhaps if Corrections spent more time getting prisoners into work or training or rehabilitation in preparation for release, they would be making greater inroads into the recidivism rate." (2)
Could this be a hint at that rarest of things, a National's policy? Does it herald a return of treadmills and slopping out? Or is it just a predictable and pointless attempt to discomfort the government in election year? The imputation is that Labour are soft on criminals, sof ton crime ... It will play very well in Talkbackland, unfortunately, so expect more of it.

And Pansy Wong also got in on the act (3), when it was revealed that ACC were paying for a prisoner to have his ear - ripped off by a police dog during his arrest - reconstructed at a cost of $20,000:
The National Party has expressed its disbelief at the notion that ACC could fund this "cosmetic" job.

National's ACC spokeswoman Nancy Wong said it is a disgrace. She said she regularly receives calls from disgruntled people who are not getting surgery because ACC will not pay for it.

Pansy Wong said the decision does nothing to help ACC's image. (4)
Which suggests 2008 is going to be a very long, and not very edifying election campaign. And that National will continue making ugly faces and hoping that they can inflict a death by a thousand cuts on Labour as they still can't think of a single positive reason why people should vote for them.

National, of course, long to privatise ACC, but probably lack the courage to declare the intention (5). So in the meantime, they'll take every opportunity to belly-ace and bag ACC, hoping to be able to claim support for privatisation in a second term.
1 - 'Thousands spent on high-tech TV sets for prisoners,' by David Eames in the New Zealand Herald, 3rd of January, 2008. (
2 - ibid.
3 - 'ACC to replace ear torn off by police dog,' unattributed article in the NZ Herald, 6th of January 2007. (
4 - ibid.
5 - See The Hollow Men, page 246: "the party [National] was known to be intending, if elected, to privatise the Accident Compensation Commission."

Haneef triumphant

Just before Christmas, the appeal by former government of Australia, against the court ruling restoring Mohammed Haneef's visa was dismissed:

An Indian doctor briefly charged over failed bomb attacks in the UK in June has won a court battle to return to Australia on a work visa.

The Federal Court of Australia dismissed an appeal by government lawyers against a judge's decision to restore Mohamed Haneef's visa.

Ex-Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews revoked the former Gold Coast Hospital registrar's visa on character grounds.

Dr Haneef was accused of links with failed attacks in London and Glasgow.

The decision by the former immigration minister to cancel the Indian doctor's visa was quashed by a federal court judge in August. (1)
So "hurrah" for that. Good to see that even when berserk rightwing racist goons seize control of the state with a combination of bribery and racist incitement, the courts are still strong enough to stand up to power. And that the Aussie public will (eventually) see through lies and charlatanism and boot the lying charlatans out.

There needs to be an inquiry into the case, however, to see how a reasonable action (detaining the cousin of a terrorist bomber as he tried to flee the country) developed into an attempt to thwart the will of the courts (2). The shameless lies and smears (3) of Kevin Andrews and his apparent personal vendaetta against Haneef need to be investigated as well.

1 - 'Haneef wins Australia visa appeal ,' unattributed BBC article, 21st of December, 2007. (
2 - 'Secret plan to keep Haneef in detention even after bail exposed,' unattributed article in Thaindian News, 14th of November, 2007. (
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: (


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