Wednesday 30 July 2008

Hurrah for Lurgee's Paradigm!

From the website of The Daily Press:

Some 31,072 American scientists have signed a petition rejecting the assertion that global warming has reached a crisis stage and is caused by human activity.

“No such consensus or settled science exists,” said Arthur Robinson, founder and president of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine in the July issue of “Environment & Climate News.”

“As indicated by the petition text and signatory list, a very large number of American scientists reject” the hypothesis of human-caused global warming. (1)

The Oregon Institute petition and it's lying claim that "31,072 American scientists have signed a petition rejecting the assertion that global warming has reached a crisis stage and is caused by human activity" was used a demonstration of Lurgee's Paradigm (2), and so the whole article can be ignored as propoganda and / or very bad journalism.
1 - "31K scientists sign petition disputing global warming," unattributed article posted on the Daily Press website, 28th of July, 2008. (
2 - as described previously on lefthandpalm:

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Yellow Journalism

From The Times:
ALMOST a third of British Muslim students believe killing in the name of Islam can be justified, according to a poll. (1)
This is based on a survey carried out by an organisation called the Centre for Social Cohesion (2). It examined the attitudes of Muslim students in British Universities, and one of the findings [PDF] it uncovered was that:

Respondents were asked if it is ever justifiable to kill in the name of religion. Just under a third of Muslim students polled (32%) said killing in the name of religion was justified – the vast majority of these (28% of all respondents) said killing could be justified if the religion was under attack and 4% of respondents supported killing in order to promote and preserve that religion. (3)

The Times makes no effort -NONE AT ALL - to break down the figure of 32%. It does not point out that of that of that 32%, the overwhelming majority specified that killing was only acceptable in tha face of aggression.

As for the 4% who said killing was acceptable to "promote and preserve" Islam, bundling promoting and preserving may have confused some ome respondents. The times makes no comment on this, either.

As said, the report itself is published by the Centre for Social Cohesion. This is turn was set up by Civitas (4), a rightwing think tank. THe SFSC, inspite of its name, seem to exist for one purpose only - to publish reports portraying Islam and Muslims negatively. Scanning their list of publications, there is NOT ONE that deals with any other social group. Its other reports are titled are:
  • Virtual Caliphate: Islamic extremists and their websites
  • Crimes of the Community: Honour-based violence in the UK
  • Hate on the State: How British libraries encourage Islamic extremism (5)
The trend is pretty obvious. Nothing about gypsies and travelling communities, blacks, the unemployed, the career criminals, immigrants in general, or the BNP's constituency. Like the trend, the purpose is pretty obvious.

I've had a look at the report itself, and I'll go into it in another post.
1 - "A third of Muslim students back killings," by Abul Taher in The Times, 27th of July, 2008. (
2 - The website of The Centre for Social Cohesion:
3 - "Islam On Campus," by John THorne and Hannah Stewart, published by The Centre for Social Cohesion, 2008. (
4 - The website of Civitas:
5 - A list of publications by The Centre of SOcial Cohesion, as displayed on their website aon 29th of July, 2008. (

Monday 28 July 2008

My favourite irony

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

'This Land is my Land' is something of an alternate national anthem in the USA, written by semi-mythical folk legend, Woodie Guthrie. What is usually ignored is that Guthrie was a life long socialist and the early versions of the song, as sung by Guthrie, contain verses criticising private land ownership, and the church and the government's failure to address the real needs of the American people.

Unsurprisingly, these verses are usually omitted, or replaced by less challenging fare:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Joe Klein's biography of Guthrie is a remarkable book. As Klein remarks, Guthrie has become a bit of a folk myth, a hobo-like figure from the dust bowl, sanitized of his political convictions. I used to have a copy of it, but it was 'borrowed' by a friend of mine and never made it back to me. The last I heard, my friend wasin India, working in television. I like to think the book still out there somewhere, pursuing its own hobo-ish course across the sub-continent.

1 - 'This Land is My Land,' by Woody Guthrie, originally published in 1944. The full lyrics can be found on wikipedia, amongst others:

Saturday 26 July 2008

Lurgee's paradigm IV: "Sir David King said ..."

This is a new example of Lurgee's Paradigm, brought to light by the fallout surrounding the Ofcom report on The Great Global Warming Swindle.

I had been aware of the remarks attributed to David King, formerly the British government's Cheif Scientific Adviser, and even knew - vaguely - that they had been referred to in TGGWS and one of the complaints around the programme centred on what was said about him. It wasn't until after the Ofcom ruling that I noticed it was a further example of Lurgee's Paradigm, however.

Basically, in TGGWS, Fred Singer, a cliamte scientist and a vocal denier, attributes the following view to King:
There will still be people who believe that this is the end of the world – particularly when you have, for example, the chief scientist of the UK telling people that by the end of the century, the only inhabitable place on the earth will be the Antarctic; and it may, humanity may survive, thanks to some breeding couples who moved to the Antarctic –I mean this is hilarious. It would be hilarious, actually, if it weren’t so sad. (1)

King complained on three grounds. First, Singer had claimed he said "only inhabitable" when in fact he had previosuly referred to "most inhabitable." Second, he had never mentioned breeding couple perpetuating the human race - this appears to have been a confusion with the well known scientist-fantasist, James Lovelock. Finally, he complained that he did not suggest that such a catastrophic climate change could occur by the end of the century:

By way of background Sir David said that during his original testimony to the House of Commons Select Committee in 2004 he had stated:

“Fifty-five million years ago was a time when there was no ice on the earth;
the Antarctic was the most habitable place for mammals, because it was the coolest place, and the rest of the earth was rather inhabitable because it was so hot. It isestimated that it [the carbon dioxide level] was roughly 1,000 parts per million then, and the important thing is that if we carry on business as usual we will hit 1,000 parts per million around the end of the century.”

Sir David noted that his original statement: made no reference to the survival of humanity depending on “breeding couples who moved to the Antarctic”; and the programme had exaggerated his speech by replacing “most habitable” with “the only habitable”. (2)

There was some fairly typical argument about who was meant by "the chief scientist of the UK" - Ofcom ruled that it was reasonable that it would indicate King, given his job title.

Channel 4 then did a very odd thing, claiming it was justified in attributing false views to King as he'd previously not complained about, in the Independent and the New Statesman (3). This is very odd logic, akin to a mugger pleading not guilty to an assault charge because the victim had not complained about previous assaults. It also says something about the professional standards - or integrity - of Singer and the programme makers. It is very odd to learn that a prominent scientist like Singer gets his information from the Independent and the New Statesman - one would have expected more rigorous interest in the opinions of his - equally illustruous - peers, especially since he makes a career of attacking them. And the programme makers seem to have neglected to do basic fact checking.

Ofcom ruled that the programme was distorting King's views - because of the 'breeding couples' comment. The other points were not addressed, perhaps acknowledging, tacitly, that the previously published erroneous accounts gave Channel Four valid grounds for botching it.

The squabble about "Only habitable" and "Most habitable" is unimportant, though it should be noted that Singer was wrong. The other important, however, is far more serious. Recall that Singer accused King of saying that "by the end of the century the only habitable place on the earth will be the Antarctic". King claimed out that he said nothing of the kind. Channel Four claimed the misquotation came from an interview he gave to THe Climate Group in April 2004, where as King refered to testimony given to the Commons Select Committee in March of that year. King stated that what he said on both occasions was very similar. I have not been able to locate the text of what he said to the Climate Group, but his testimony was quoted in the Ofcom report (above).

It is obvious he is saying that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will hit the same level as previosuly seen 55 million years ago, by the end of the century. He is not suggesting that the conditions prevailing then will reappear in that time. If he were, he would be every bit as laughable as Singer makes him out to be, but as he clearly isn't, it is Singer who looks like the fool, or the liar. Which is it, Fred?

This is all very obvious and straight forward and clear from the information available. So anyone claiming that David King said anything about the Antarctic being the only or most habitable place on the planet by the end of the century is either a fool or trying to mislead you, and can safely be ignored. The Independent and New Statesman stories have been reproduced across denier sites, very quickly, without any analysis of whether it is really credible for a scientist like Singer to repeat the blunders of incompetent journalists. But it is all there in black and white for anyone willing to look and think - and anyone failing to do that can be dismissed, likewise, as a propgandist or a fool.

First cab off that particular rank - Steve MacIntyre (4), who scrupulously avoided that issue in his attempt to undermine the Ofcom complaint against TGGWS. Even though he quoted from part of the Ofcom rpeort that mentioned it, specifically:
Sir David said that he did not say or imply that the Antarctic was ever the ONLY habitable place for mammals, still less was he making a prediction that it would be
the only or even the most, habitable place for mammals if CO2 concentrations reached similar concentrations in the future. (5)
Though he spends a lot of time dwelling on the "Most" vs "Only" debate, MacIntyre ignores the second part entirely, preferring to make silly and disingenuous comments about Monty Python, and post pictures of scantily clad women. Which tells you all you need to know about the objectivity of his website.

1 - Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, number 114, published by Ofcom, 21st of July, 2008.( The material relating to King's complaint is on pages 36-42 and the quotation cited is on page 36.
2 - ibid, page 37.
3 - ibid, page 38. Neither paper gets it right - the Independent claims King "Antarctica is likely to be the world’s only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked, the government’s chief scientist, Professor Sir David King said last week" and The New Statesman also blunders: "he told reporters ... that ‘Antarctica was the best place for mammals to live and the rest of the globe would not sustain human life’. He warned that these conditions, with CO2 levels as high as 1,000 pm [parts per million] and no ice left on earth, could again be reached by 2100.”" [my emphasis] Of course he said nothing about these conditions being possible - merely that we might hit the same CO2 concentration.
4 - 'David King: Hot Girls and Cold Continents,' posted by Steve MacIntyre on Climate Audit, 22nd of July, 2008. (
5 - Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, op. cit., page 39. The quotation is also reproduced on Climate Audit, op. cit.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Of Com ruling: TGGWS broke the rules

The Great Global Warming Swindle has been found to be in breach of principles relating to fairness and impartiality.

Inspite of expressing "some concerns about aspects of this programme as regards the portrayal of factual matters" the report found the programme had not commited factual inaccuracies. This was on a technical diefinition, however, as the Guardian analysis makes clear:

It grouped the complaints about factual accuracy into four categories:

  • The use of graphs·
  • The distortion of the science of climate change·
  • The argument that global warming is used by campaigners to reverse economic growth.
  • The credibility of the programme's contributors – some of whom have been linked to the fossil fuel industry.

On the first two points, Ofcom judged that the programme did not go far enough to cause harm or offence.

It said the third was justified under the right to freedom of expression and was not misleading.

On the credibility of the programme's contributors, Ofcom said such programmes did not have to disclose potential conflicts of interest, and that, in not mentioning them, the programme did not mislead.

On the charge of misleading by omission, Ofcom said it was clear that the programme was attacking a well known, mainstream view, and that viewers would have known this. There is no obligation on such programmes to include a wide range of views. (1)

[My emphasis]

So while the programme was misleading, it was not so to the required (and rather high) standard of causing "harm or offence." While conflicts of interest may existed, it was not required for the programme makers to disclose them. And while the programme makers may have been guilty of misleading by ommission, this was again - technically - not a breach.

Full text here (2) [pdf].

I'm sure there will be a massive attempt by the progreamme makers to spin this as some sort of vindication of their programme - there will be talk of 'minor infractions' and 'slight exaggerations' and so on. But the points noted by OfCom are devastating - they lied, but because we enjoy freedom of speech in this country, that is permitted, so complaints relating to that are not upheld. They distorted and misrepresented people's opinions to fit their agenda, and that is not acceptable, and they have been found to be in breach on that count.
1 - "Global warming documentary: The Ofcom report at a glance" by David Adam, published in The Guardian, 21st of July, 2008. (
2 - OfCom Broadcast Bulletin, issue number 114, 21st of July, 2008. Reproduced on The Guardian website. (

Monday 21 July 2008

OfCom ruling on 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' imminent

... unfortunately I am too tired to stay up for it. Anticipating its findings, however. According to the BBC:
Leaks to newspapers last week indicated that Sir David's fairness complaint - that the programme attributed comments to him that he had not made, and did not allow him a chance to reply - would be upheld.

It is also believed Ofcom will back a complaint from Carl Wunsch, an oceanographer interviewed for the programme, that he was misled as to its intent.

Dr Wunsch, from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, said he believed he was being asked to take part in a programme that would "discuss in a balanced way the complicated elements of understanding of climate change", but "what we now have is an out-and-out propaganda piece, in which there is not even a gesture toward balance".

The accuracy code, meanwhile, includes an instruction that "a personal view or authored programme or item must be clearly signalled to the audience at the outset", and that programmes covering issues of political controversy must not give "undue prominence" to any particular point of view. (1)
My hunch is that the programme will be found to be in breach of both misrepresentating and misleading contributors, and failing to signal that it was, essentially, a shrill piece of hysterical opinion, and counter-factual opinion at that, not investigative journalism.

Which will be interpreted as an attempt by the 'elitists' and the 'so-called scientific consensus' to silence the clarion voice of truth, or some such delusion twaddle.
1 - "Ruling expected on climate film," unattributed BBC article, published online, 21st of July, 2008. (

Zimbabwe deal

This (1), I have to say, I did not expected. Some immediate thoughts on why the MDC and Mugabe might, suddenly, have found common ground:

  • Mugabe has decided to exit and this is a deal to grant him and his family immunity. This would not be a bad outcome. While in an ideal world criminals should always face justice, getting Mugabe and Zanu-PF out of power without further bloodshed would be a good thing. Unlike some, I'm not aroused by the idea of guerrilla warfare and bloody revolution if it can be avoided. Let the old bastard go if necessary, so that other not-bastards might live.
  • Alternately, Mugabe has no intention of stepping down, but he is weaker than previously thought. Perhaps he genuinely fears the MDC, or is worried about elements within his own party. By coming to an accomodation with the MDC, he may hope to stengthen his position and extend his reign.
  • If Tsvangirai is seeking to pull of a Mandela style 'historic compromise' with Mugabe then he's naive. Mugabe is a snake and can not be relied on to keep faith.
  • The most pessimistic option is that Tsvangirai is joining the hegemony with his eyes wide open and with cynical motives in his heart. In which case, he is engaging in a bauble grab to make Winston green with envy.

My gut feeling is that it is either a stalling tactic by Mugabe, or a cynical power grab by Tsvangirai. It won't be the first time an opponent of tyranny has become the thing he sought to overthrow. There is a recent example from the region - think back to Laurent Kablia, one time Congo guerilla, associate of Che Guevara and eventual tyrant of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

1 - "Zimbabwe leaders 'to sign deal'," unattributed BBC atricle, published online, 21st of July, 2008. (

NAKED decline of RIHANNA standards in STEAMY journalism

This article- not written by ANGELINA JOLIE- is very true and amused me - LIKE A NAKED ROMP IN A HOT TUB - while at the same time as - hot girls in your area - depressing me because it is true, even there isn't really any reason to mention BARAK OBAMA and FERGIE. Still, as you can see, I've decided to get BIG BREASTS ahead of the pack and increase traffic by splice dull old lefthandpalm - or NUDECOCAINEHOTELROMPTHREESOMEPALM as it is shortly to be renamed - by tainting it with interent hot searches.

From the article:
There's something uniquely demented about slotting specific words and phrases into a piece simply to con people into reading it. Why bother writing a news article at all? Why not just scan in a few naked photos and have done with it?

And if you do persevere with search-engine-optimised news reports, where do you draw the line? Next time a bomb goes off, are we going to read "Terror outrage: BRITNEY, ANGELINA and OBAMA all unaffected as hundreds die in SEXY agony"? (1)
Makes you long for the days when you could afford to get annoyed with the tabloids bombarding us with pictures of Princess Diana looking oh-so-brave-yet-styly in her body armour, while neglecting to actually say much about the landmines she was supposed to be publicised. Nowadays, that sort of 90s Sun or Express style of coverage might be worthy of a Pulizer. Make that a NAKED HOT Pulizer.
1- "Online POKER marketing could spell the NAKED end of VIAGRA journalism as we LOHAN know it" by Charlie Brooker, published in the Guardian, 21st of July, 2008. (

Sunday 20 July 2008

Pope misses the point

In his address in Sydney, the Pope made the point of apologizing for the sexual abuse of minors. However, his carefully chosen words avoided admitting any responsibility by the Church over failure to act to protect children from sexual predators in the church:

Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that as their pastor I too share in their suffering. (1)
I'm not even going to bother with the Pope's patronising claim that he has a "share in their suffering." That isn't the issue.

Nor, surprisingly, is the issue the fact that a few priests committted terrible crimes against children. Wicked people do horrible things. Some of them wear priestly garb, some of them don't. I don't expect the Pope to apologise for the sins of any individual, priest or otherwise, any more than I expect any given Maori to apologise over the Kahui killings or any random German to apologise for the Holocaust.

But the Catholic church, as an institution, acted to protect itself first, instead of the victims of the abuse. Rather than expose the predators, the church chose to sheild them, allowing them to continue to abuse. That is what the Pope should apologise for. But, at least on this occasion, he failed refused to do so. Like Bill Clinton, he is more than ready to feel the pain of whoever he is trying to reach out to (2). But he isn't going to admit that his church's inaction and hypocrisy contributed to that pain.

Without acknowledging that the church shares the guilt for the abuse, the shame remains, and his words are empty.

1 - "Text of Pope's apology for sexual abuse in Australia," unattributed translation of the address given by the Pope, published by Reuters and reproduced on ONE News, 19th of July, 2008. (
2 - This piece of Clintonesque emphatic vacuity occurred on the campaign traill in 1992, apparently. Tragically, it probably marks a high point for Clinton's sincerity in that decade. (

Elect Vessel in Wellington

The world leader of the Exclusive Brethren made an unpublicised visit to New Zealand last week, arriving on Wednesday, amid strict security, to a large meeting of faithful in Wellington.

The secretive Bruce Hales, known to Exclusive Brethren as the Elect Vessel or Mr Bruce, travelled in a black, tinted-window SUV and was screened from media by hired security guards and Brethren volunteers.

Hales' visit, only three or four months before this year's election, is a reminder of the Exclusive Brethren's controversial involvement in the 2005 election. It is unclear yet whether they intend to repeat that in the coming election. (1)
Now, I'm not really convinced by Hager's claim that the meeting was betrayed by a curious local, who just happened to have Hager's number on speed dial. But that isn't too important.

It is an obvious conclusion to jump to, but why would the Elect Vessel choose to visit New Zealand a few months prior to the election? And would they really be naive enough to try some sort of influence again? Well, yes. They aren't the most politically astute bunch - their amateur attacks on the Greens in 2005 showed that. Probably, they assume that their plan unravelled last time because the Almighty willed it. Job is their role model. They must try again.

Hopefully, the electorate is a bit more streetwise than the Exclusive Brethern. They are a lot less likely to take mysterious leaflets at face value.

However, given that the best not ridiculous outcome for Labour at the election is a coalition dependent on the Greens, the Brethern's shenanigans might have an impact - even a couple of percentage points shaved off the Green vote could be crucial. Be wary.

1 - "Brethren leader visits NZ in secrecy," by Nicky Hager in the Sunday Star Times, 20th of July, 2008. Reproduced on (

This is good news?

Two polls (here (1) and here (2)) have shown a slight improvement in Labours fortunes.

Fairfax Media-Nielsen puts Labour on 35% and National on 51%, a gap of 16% and with National still able to govern alone. The ONE News Colmar Brunton poll puts National on 52% and Labour on 35%, a 17% gap, and again National still strong enough to go it alone.

Basically, this is not good news for Labour. It is jsut that the previous poll news has been so bad that it looks like good news. The ONE News headline, "Labour bounces back in new poll," is absurd.

To progress from here, Labour need to start moving votes back over from National to Labour. This sounds obvious, but they haven't managed to make any significant progress with the people weho are indicating support for National - consistently over half of those expressing an opinion. For all that Labour have eroded a couple of points from National, they have done the same with other parties' support as well - their likely coalition partners.

It is a mystery to me why National's support has held up above 50% for so long. Hell, this support HAS to be soft - surely more than half of the New Zealand electorate can't actually really want John Key as Prime Minister? I thought the man's appeal is all based around not being interesting enough for anyone to particularly want or not want him.

Labour have to drag National back under 50%, and they have to do it soon. Only then does coalition specualtion become semi-meaningful. Then, National will start to feel a little bit threatened - though polling 49% is still obsencely high, it is psychologically very different from 51% - especially for potential voters from either party.

Labour's main hope may be the drip-drip of National policies unsettling voters. Perhaps they only liked John Key when he was an empty canvass they could project onto. Now that they are starting to hear about what a National government might actually be thinking about doing, they are havig to consider carefully whether or not they like it. If this will discomfort enough people to give Labour much more of a lift, or National much more of a dent, remains to be seen.

As I've said before, Labour need to start laying out their vision - to Hell with National's non-vision. That might drag a few more over, and then National will be forced to respond, which might move a few more. Labour up $5, National down 4%, then there might be something to play for.
1 - "Labour closes gap to 16 points," by Tracey Watkins in The Dominion Post, 19th of July, 2008. Reproduced on
2 - "Labour bounces back in new poll," unattributed ONE News story, 20th of July, 2008. (

Better crap from an old hack

This is more like it. Rather than re-telling Tales From the Bible, or trying to remind us that he's a maverick first and foremost, unbound by the fetters of political correctness, Chris Trotter has redeemed himself by producing a splenetic column (1) describing the three core components of the National vote in the Sunday Star Times.

There is nothing remarkable or new here - the revelation that National's bedrock is a combination of the farming community, rich people and social reactionaries should startle no-one. But it is always worth thinking about these things, especially if you are dithering about who to vote for.

Underneath the froth and spittle of Trotter's column, there is an important message for swing voters - for all that Labour don't deserve your vote, there are still worse things you can do with it. New Zealand isn't a perfect place, but it is somewhat better - in the things that really matter, like the numbers of dead babies - than it was ten years ago. Key might seem bland and inoffensive, but he is at the head of a party that hungers to dismember what is left of the state.

New Zealanders, I think, still identify a strong state as a Good Thing. Of course it isn't perfect, in fact it is pretty damn imperfect in more way than you can count easily but New Zealanders, being pragmatic, recognise that is simply the way of things and there isn't much point in fussing about it.

A National government would seek to change that. While voting for National must be tempting for the central cluster of voters who aren't strongly commited to either party, it is essntial that they think about what they are voting for, rather than just enacting a visceral dislike of a tired Labour administration.
1 - "Don't ever forget who the Nats are," by Chris Trotter, in The Sunday Star Times, 20th of July, 2008. Reproduced on (

Old crap from an old hack

Contrarian impulses are all very good, but they can go too far. Sometimes factional myopia leads the contrarian to adopt a position which isn't - infact - at all contararian at all. Thus it is with Pompous Chris.

In his latest column (1), 'An old tale from an old book,' Trotter treats us to a rather clumsy bit of parabling, describing the biblical incident where Jesus comforts an adulteress and chides those thirsty for her blood, calling on "He who is without sin" to carry out the biblically ordained sentence of stoning.

The point, I suppose, is that we shouldn't be too swift to heap opprobrium on Tony Veitch. Sure, he put his girlfriend in a wheelchair, but who hasn't occasionally let the speedo creep up to sixty in a fifty mile-per-hour zone? Pretty much the same thing, if you think about it. Or sneaking a few cans of Speights from your dad's stash, that's no different from assaulting someone and then paying them off.

Trotter wrote his column (incidentally, Chris, could you not do the Tales From the Bible thing again? I recall you writing a column about Herod recently. Once was quite enough.) to place himself at odds with his fellows on the left. The condemnation of Veitch has been pretty universal, and Trotter is seeking a Unique Selling Point to distingush himself from the rest of the media pack. After all, anonimity is death for a columnist.

But Trotter isn't being contrarian at all by penning a piece critiquing the media and the people who have condemned Veitch out of hand. He's in good, generally conservative company - alongside the likes of Paul Holmes (2) and hMichelle Boag (3). There have been plenty of commentators who have passed judgement on the media's treatment of the issue. They usually start by saying "I'm not for a moment suggesting what he did was okay, but ..." and then proffer some meagre exculpation about stress, workload or the like, or round on the media for daring to carry a story with a high public interest (never of course, the public).

In the clip from close up (4), John Tamihere seems to try to excuse Veitch by pointing out that we can't expect people to behave like Jesus at all times. Fine, no-one expects people to. But there is a lot of ground between Jesus and the sort of person who puts their partners in a wheelchair, then tries to cover it up and then makes mendacious public statements. Equally, Trotter - who makes his living providing criticism, remember - seems to think that we should, infact not condemn the egregious due to whatever minor flaws we might have ourselves. Again, the same applies - simply because we aren't perfect, it does not mean we can not voice condemnation of the shocking. In fact, the fact that it Veitches behaviour is shocking is an indication of just how apalling it was.

Trotter, with his pompous ruminations, has managed a curious feat. Not only has he placed himself alongside the likes of Tamihere, Holmes and Boag, but he's forced me to line up alongside the likes of Ayn Rand and Lindsay Perigo. The concept underpinning Trotter's column is summed up in Matthew 7:1: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (5). As Rand points out (6), literal application of this idea leads to a sort of noral vacuity - the correct principle is to judge judiciously, and to be prepare dto suffer judgement yourself. Which, incidentally, is the spirit of what was attributed to Jesus - if Rand had been less interested in scoring pointsm, she would have seen that Matthew 7:2, "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again," matches 'her' formulation, only more mellifluously.

So, please, Chris, don't try to be contrary just for the sake of it. If you had truly wanted to do something different, you would have written a column about something else entirely. But he chose not to, and so became part of the mess he is pretending to deplore.
1 - "An old tale from an old book," by Chris Trotter, published in The Dominion Post, 18th of July, 2008. Reproduced on (
2 "Paul Holmes interview with Tony Veitch," by Paul Holmes, published in the NZ Herald, 14th of July, 2008. (
3 - "Close Up: Tony Veitch," Mark Sainsbury interviews Heather Henare, John Tamihere and Michelle Boag, following Veitch's statement, 10th July, 2008.(
4 - ibid.
5 - Matthew, 7:1, in the King James Version of the Bible. (;&version=9;)
6 - The idea is explained in Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness, and key quotations are available on the Ayn Rand Lexicon website. (

Saturday 19 July 2008

21,000 dead babies

[Hat-tip: No Right Turn (1)]

Reading (2) about the political manouvers of the religious right in the USA, particulalry about how issues like abortion, evolution and feminism were used to divert working- and middle-class voters' attention away from economic issues, I was sickened to read about the consequences of this rightwing hypocrisy.

This report (3) highlights on jaw dropping statistic - that 21,000 babies under one year of age die every year, needlessly. We know these are avoidable deaths because they represent the difference between the infant mortality rate in the USA, and the infant mortality rate in Sweden. If the Swedes can save those tiny lives, then there is no reason why the Americans can not.

The fact is that they choose not to. While abortion is a massive issue in American politics, one that motivates hundreds of thousands of radical Republicans and Christians, it seems that the 'Right to Life' stops at the moment of birth. Rather than provide the social care and health services these new-borns need, they imediately fall off the radar. And 21,000 - twenty one thousand - die needlessly.

The reason for this holocaust is that saving their lives would mean raising taxes, building up a welfare state and strong public institutions to protect and nurture these children. Instead, they are espendable, the youngest and most pathetic child-soldiers in the new-right's war on taxes, government and 'collectivism.'

Where-ever you go on the internet, you trip over pictures of dismembered fetuses, images of dismembered partial-birth abortions and the like. They are distressing. But the 21,000 invisible casualties of Americas culture wars do not appear. The hypocrisy and inhumanity of the American right glories in the rescuing of unborn children - and gladly sacrifices 21,000 babies under a year old.
1 - Posted on No Right Turn, by Idiot/Savant, 18th of July, 2008. (
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
3 - 'The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009 ,' published by the American Human Development Project, (
The information about infant mortality is found on page 4 of the Executive Summary (

Thank you, Owen Glenn

Hopefully, the discovery that Winston Peters did receive $100K from Own Glenn will mark the end of Peters and New Zealand First (1).

Peters is a human snake, capable of wriggling out of anything, but it is likely the perception of sleaze and dihonesty will finish whatever slim hopes he had of regaining Tauranga.

Of course, it would be nice if he had been rejected because people saw through his filthy charade and tub-thumping, and shunned him as the disingennuous, manipulative, mealy-mouthed, bauble craving sham-monger he is. But I won't weep too many tears if he's bounced out of parliament for the appearing to accept money and then lie about about, whatever the truth of the matter or whatever technicality or semantic justification he attempts.
1 - "Peters: 'I just found out Owen Glenn gave me 100k'," unattributed NZPA article, 18th of July, 2008. Published in the New Zealand Herald. (

Friday 18 July 2008

Rightwing victimhood

I'm reading Terry Frank's book, What's the Matter With America: the Resistable Rise of the American Right (1).

A couple of points he makes struck me as relevant to the New Zealand election. He describes how the ultra-right managed to seize control of the moderately conservative Republican Party by engendering a sense of rightwing victimhood, persuading American voters to vote against their own interests in the name of combating 'liberal' elitism.

I've always been bemused - in a nervous, slightly queasy sort of way - by the speed that the party of Dwight Eisenhower became the party of Reagan and Bush. Hell, even Richard Nixon would feel uncomfortable at a 21st century Republican convention - apart from the venality (a trait not limited to Republicans, of course) he'd find little in common.

Franks argues that the takeover was facilitated by focusing not on economic issues - there is no overlap of interest between blue collar conservatism and the tax cutting supply-siders/neo-cons for whom inheritance tax was abolished - but on cultural ones. The radical right of the Republican party politicised issues like abortion, opposition to teaching of evolution, race and homosexuality, which had previously been bi-partisan. This allowed them to demonise their opponents - whether Democrats or moderate Republicans - as shiftless, baby killing, unAmerican elitist liberals who didn't give a damn about ordinary Americans and their values.

For all the rhetoric and the pro-life rallying and shrilling about Darwin, hardly anything has been achieved:
Nevertheless, the leaders of the backlash ... have chosen to wage cultural battles where victory is impossible, where their followers' feelings of powerlessness wll be dramatised and their alienation aggravated. Take, for example, the backlash fury-object du jour as I write this, the Alabama Ten Commandments monumnet, which was erected deliberately to provoke an ACLU lawsuit and which could come to no other possible end than being pried loose and carted away. Or even the great abortion controversy, which mobilizes millions but which can not be put to rest without a supreme court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (2)
So it's a phoney war, and deliberately so, because the object of the leaders of the backlash isn't to achieve those cultural goals, but to create and maintain a continual sense of greaivance. In fact, their goal is to innculcate in their supporters the sense of victimhood and need for special treatment that they claim to despise in ... gosh, pretty much everyone else.

(Cue the old whinge about how white, middle class heterosexual males are the only minority it is okay to pick on. I tick all those boxes, but do not feel very oppressed. Certainly not by fruits getting hitched or Maori getting compensated for the theft of their land and the dismemberment of their culture.)

The reason for fighting this war-without-end is because it is a diversion. An uneasy truce has been struck in the Republican party betwen the religious fundamentalists and the supply-sider/neo-cons carpet-baggers, much to the detriment of the third, moderate faction. The religious faction gets to promulgate its cultural war, dreaming of longed for day when abortion, sodomy and Darwin will all be banished (religious types are, after all, good at envisioning some paradisical future that never quite arrives). Meanwhile, the supply-sider/neo-con faction has quietly taken cotrol of the actual business of changing stuff, using the indigantion generated by the cultural crusade (converted handily into Republican votes at the ballot box) to gain power and pursue their own interest. These, as pointed out earlier, are entirely contrary to the interests of the majority voters who put them there. The voters might notie this, except they are being constantly exhorted to rail against liberalism, elitism feminism, environmentalism, political correctness, the government, social security, everything, other than the stuff that really matters - the money stuff.

What has all this got to do with New Zealand? It should be pretty obvious. I think we are seeing the same sort of thing afoot here. The religious element may not be present here, which is probably why it hasn't taken an extreme form, but the pattern is very similar. The continual chorus about nanny-state, government interference, red-tape, political correctness, law and order, ciminals having 'more rights than their victims' and so on - it is all designed to create and maintain a sense of greivance in voters and swing them away from Labour, towards National. Never mind that there is no evidence that National will do anything about any of it. That isn't the point.

This is not a brand-new thing - skimming through The Hollow Men, I spotted this comment by Peter Keenan, apparently quoting Michael Horowitz:
Politics is a war of emotions. For the great mass of the public, casting a vote is not an intellectual choice, but a gut decision, based on impressions that may be superficial and premises that could be misguided. Politcal war is about evoking emotions that favour one's goals. It is the ability to manipulate the public's feelings in support of your agenda, while mobilising passions of fear and resentment against your opponent. (3)
This is ignoble stuff. At best it is trying to legitimize deception, at worst it is advocating exploiting voters fears, prejudices and resentments to gain power. And without even sharing these fears, prejudices and resentments. It reminds me of another anecdoe I readonce, many moons again, comparing BillClinton to FDR. It went something like this - FDR would go out into the country to talk to people, to find out what they thought, to tell them what he thought, and to convince them of that he was right. He usually succeeded. Clinton, on the otherhand, when out into the country to talk to people to find out what they thought and to tell them that was what he thought. He usually succeeded.

It is a cynical strategy to win power by any means - because "Being in government is worth everything" (4). But it has real world consequences beyond who sits where in the Beehive, because a sense of greivance or injustice, once provoked, can be dismissed simply by telling the proles to go home and to stop worrying about things until next time they are needed. Telling people, over and over, that they are down-trodden, ignored, victimised or forgotten will alienate them from the democratic process and weaken our already riven society.

And that isn't even considering the impact of the legislation National will seek to enact once it is secure in office. The carpte-baggers, negligent of their duty to the whole country, will focus on rewarding and enriching the small, elite group to whom they truly owe allegiance - the super-rich. Because that is who they are.

In fact, of course, it is entirely contrary to the interest of the carpet-baggers to let the sense of grievance subside. For if the proles stop feeling indignant for too long, they might notice what their elected champions are doing, and who is profiting from it. To the schisming, the fragmenting, the insularisation of society has to continue - the war on supposed privilege and special interest has to continue to be waged, lest the voters see what is really going on.
1- What's the Matter with America: the Resistable Rise of the American Right, by Terry Frank. Published by Seeker & Warburg, London, 2004.
2 - ibid, page 121.
3 - Peter Keenan, quoting Michael Horowitz, quoted in turn by Nicky Hager in The Hollow Men, published in 2006 by Craig Potton Publishing. Page 65.
4 - ibid, page 68. The quote originates with Ruth Richardson.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Minor Stupidity, Olympic Sized Hypocrisy

It looks like it isn't just New Zealand papers tthat are trying to cut costs by out-sourcing sub-editing duties to third world countries. Here is the sub-heading from an opinion piece in The Times Online, dated 14th July, 2008:

Minky Worden: China must improve its human rights record before the Beijing Olympics
Er, yeah. Like that is going to happen between now and the 8th of August. And even if it did, would three weeks of good behaviour balance out the atrocities carried out over the last sixty odd years?

Not that the actual headline, "China is losing the human rights race" is much better - China lost that race many years ago, and anyone who believed the platitudes offered up by the Bastards of Beijing in their Olympic bid is a fool. Anyone attending their evil games is complicit in their wickedness.

And the Times is far too late and far too mild with its condemnation.

1 - "China is losing the human rights race" by Minky Worden, published in The Times Online, 14th of July, 2008. (

We don't know what you will say, but you are not allowed to say it

George Orwell made a famous remark about how it is possible for pampered westerners to eschew violence only because other people are willing to do violence on their behalf:

Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf. (1)
Tim Spicer, I am sure, thinks of himself as one of those men. He has made a living fighting in various places. He is a somewhat controversial figure, and I am sure he feels he is justified in instructing libel lawyers Schillings to suppress Craig Murray's book about him, even though the contents of this as yet unpublished book can only be guessed at. As Mr Murray points out on his website, this does encourage specuulation "that Spicer has something to hide" (2).

Spicer, I am sure, would argue that he has risked his life pursuing British interests around the globe, and because he has had to operate in places where law and order and the niceties of liberal democracy do not apply, it is unfair and intrusive of Mr Murray to demonise him in a book. Well, be that as it may. It is, however, reprehensible that libel action can be threatened against someone who has not actually published anything, as this time.

George Monbiot points out (3), a propos of this incident, that Britain's libel laws are a ghastly anachronism, and are used by the rich and powerful to threaten and intimidate those whom they find disagreeable or annoying. This is a flagrant example of that - it is not know what Mr Murray's book contains. Mr Spicer, in my opinion, is intent on shutting down any discussion of his actions and involvement in Iraq and other conflicts what-so-ever. This is wrong. It is essential that peope are able to speak and publish freely, and offend the powerful by directing their attention towards them. Otherwise, the men of violence who are supposed to defend our precious rights are merely fascist goons, the jackbooted bully-boys "stamping on a human face, forever" (4).

UPDATE: Murray's new book isn't about Spicer, in fact. It is a memoir of Murray's time in Africa. Spicer features in it, as Murray crossed paths with him there. On his blog, Murray writes:
How an elegaic memoir of ten years ago can generate such heat is hard to understand ... I suspect that what Schillings are trying to block is the story of how Spicer escaped prosecution, the role of Number 10, and the origin of New Labour's love affair with mercenaries. Or maybe it's the bit about when I missed my flight to Gabon. (5)
The book is called 'Catholic Orangemen of Togo.'

1 - "Note on Nationalism," by George Orwell, published in 1945. It is interesting to note that this is often misquoted, along the lines of "People sleep easy in their beds because rough men stand ready to violence on their behalf." I have no idea where that rather camp sounding version originates, but it is not from Orwell. He might have been a public school boy, but there is no evidence he was interested in rough trade. (
2 - "Iraq Mercenary Boss Hires Schillings To Block My New Book" by Craig Murray, published 10th of July, 2008. (
3 - "A national disgrace, a global menace, and a pre-democratic anachronism," by George Monbiot, published in The Guardian, 15th of July, 2008. (
4 - 1984 by George Orwell, published in 1949. The quote about the boot and the human face occurs in part Three of Chapter Three.
5 - Murray, op. cit., from an entry titled 'Catholic Orangemen of Togo,' dated 16th July 2008.

There is no happy ending for Afghanistan

Conor Foley argues that, with the military situation a virtual stalemate, perhaps it is time to reverse Clausewitz's dictum, and pursue military goals by other means:
It was the culmination of one of Afghanistan's bloodiest weeks which, according to the Red Cross, saw 250 people killed or injured. Last month also saw a new record for the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan, 42, which surpassed that of Iraq for the first time. Clearly the repeated claims of western politicians - and credulous journalists - that we are "winning the war" in Afghanistan bear almost no relation to reality. The US suffered one of its heaviest blows on Sunday when nine troops were killed in a Taliban attack in the eastern region. Another 24 people were killed in a suicide bombing. To view this conflict solely in terms of statistics and military clashes, however, is to miss the point about what is actually happening here at the moment.

The international military presence has been expanding rapidly in Afghanistan, doubling from 10,000 to 20,000 in 2006 and trebling to almost 60,000 this year. More troops mean more targets and so, crudely put, the spike in the soldiers' death rate is not surprising. What is more significant is that this massive increase in firepower has not decisively changed the terms of the military engagement. The Taliban still effectively controls a vast swath of the south of the country where government and international forces can only venture out of their heavily reinforced bases with air support. However, the Taliban's attempts to spread the insurgency to non-Pashtu areas have largely failed. There is a stalemate which cannot be broken by military means. (1)
A quick look back over history leads to a pessimistic conclusion - the taliban were supported by the people of Afghanistan not becausre of any deep religious sympathy for their fanatical creed, but because they brough some form of stability to the country after decades of fighting. Anger at the coalition is going to grow, persistently, with every blunder. They haven't managed to obliterate the Taliban and they haven't - as Foley points out - made the parts of Afghanistan they do control safe or prosperous. Support for the Taliban will grow as bitterness towards the coalition increases.

The sorry adventure might not end with the desperation of the evacuation of Saigon, but it looks very like it will end badly for the world's unluckiest country.
1 - "Afghans want a peace deal, and force cannot provide it," by Conor Foley in The Guardian, 15th of July, 2007. (


The Telegraph devotes a leading article to bleating (1) about Labour's latest white paper on reform of the House of Lords. This is odd, since it is pointed out that "Mr Straw was forced to admit that nothing will happen this side of a general election." Why waste a column complaining about Labour wasting time on this chimera? It is noted that "We are in the grip of an economic crisis and our soldiers are fighting on two fronts" (2). Indeed. So why not write columns about that?

The article continues:

For the Government still has not made a coherent case for change. Ministers may see this as a piece of unfinished business following the spiteful removal of all but 92 hereditary peers in Labour's first term. (3)
This is the pure stuff of madness. First, the burden is on the supporters of the Lords to make the case for their retentions - the House of Lords, even in its partially reformed format, is a ghastly thing and the onus is on those who don't support its immediate demolition to explain themselves. Secondly, how on Earth is removing hereditary peers 'spiteful'? Only the truly insane would argue - with a straight face - that there is anyplace for hereditary peers in the 21st 20th 19th century. We've actully be outstandingly tolerant, allowing the spawn of a decayed aristocracy to shuffle about, hanging on to their privileges and powers for so long. These fools exercised real, meaningful power over us. Taking it away from them was not spiteful - it was sane.

Next, I suspect, the Telegraph will rail against the malicious Parliament Act of 1911. Probably, that attempt to limit the powers of the arsitocracy and their ability to defy the Commons will be described as 'malicious.' And Magna Carta written off as 'misguided and politically correct.'

Welcome to Telegraphland.
1 - "The House of Lords: leave well alone," leading article in The Telegraph, 15th of July, 2008. (
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Places worse than Easterhouse

For those of you who don't know it (most of the population of the planet), Easterhouse is a council estate in Glasgow, Scotland. Usually, it is ignored by everyone who doesn't have the misfortune to live there, because it isn't a nice place to live, rife with drugs, violence, unemployment, poverty and everything else that you can think of that you might call a negative social indicator.

It has been in the news of late, because there is gointg to be a by-election there. Though Glasgow East has been traditional Labour territory for millenia, there is a real chance now that the Scottish National Party might defeat the Labour candidate, such is the epic upopularity of PM Gordon Brown.

The Independent listed (1) some of the grisly statistics of life in Glasgow's East End, to give their (largely middle class and English) readership a frission of horror at the lot of the lumpen proletariat, inbetween gulps of cappuchino, Volvo driving and flirting with the idea of voting for the Conservatives:
  • 30 per cent of the working-age population is on unemployment or incapacity benefit,
  • Almost 40 per cent of children grow up in homes where there is no adult in paid employment,
  • 60 per cent of people have no access to a car,
  • Nearly 40 per cent of adults smoke,
  • there are 25 drug-related deaths a year on average,
  • In part of the constituency, male life expectancy is just 54, lower than Gaza, or North Korea. (2)

The last statistic is, of course, the shocker (my own little frission of middle class horror). Women get to live an extra ten years, probably because they are less likely to stab each other to death or dabble in hard drugs (though the Independent, with clumsy irony, attributes this to their tendency to "keep themselves busy and optimistic by juggling household budgets and battling to keep their children off drugs").

Here are a list (3) of countries where the average male life expectancy is LESS than 54:

Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Camaroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivorie, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanada, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

There are, apparently, 195 countries in the world, and only 40 rate worse than the East End of Glasgow. For the record, the average male life expectancy for Britain as a whole is given as 75.94 years (4).

The other noteable trend is that almost all these countries are ex-colonial and in Africa. The former European colonial powers ravaged these countries for decades and when they finally surrendered their hold on them, surrendered the long-sufferring people Africa the the misrule of a cabal of incompetents, tryrants and thugs. The glories of Europe - and the reasonably high standard of living and life expectancy of Europeans lucky enough not to live in Glasgow's east end - were based on colonial pillaging, racism, slavery and genocide. The reparations owed by Europe are incaluculable, but must be paid, anyhow.

1 - 'Struggle for survival in Labour heartland' by Andy McSmith in The Independent, 12th of July, 2008. (
2 - ibid.
3- Statistics courtesy of Yahoo! Education. Obviously, the comparison is not accurate, as it is comparing the nadir of Scottish life expectancy to average figures of nations containing massive gulfs between top and bottom life expectancy - it is probably much worse being poor in a many more countries than it is in Scotland, but this is disguised by the average. Data retreived 12th of July, 2008. (
4 - ibid.

Spot the difference

The other day, Gordon Brown hinted (1) about possible military intervention in Nigeria, to help end the sufferring of the Nigerian people maximise Nigerian oil supply because Britain's economic growth - and hence Mr Briown's electability - is being weakened by high oil prices (1).

Contrast this with the situation in Zimbabwe. Yesterday, the UN failed to vote to sanction Mugabe and his henchmen (2). This was large due to Russia and China's noble defence of a country's right to conduct their own internal affairs discomfort at the idea of their own brutality toward dissidents leading to them facing similar condemnation. The fact that China is the second largest trading partner of Zimbabwe (after South Africa, who also opposed sanctions) had nothing to do with it, either (3).

The British response? Hand wringing and a few words about what a shame it all was:

The British ambassador said the Security Council had fallen down in its duty to defend the democratic rights of ordinary Zimbabweans. Sir John Sawers said: "The people of Zimbabwe need to be given hope that there is an end in sight to their suffering. The Security Council today has failed to offer them that hope."

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said: "I am very disappointed that the UN Security Council should have failed to pass a strong and clear resolution on Zimbabwe. In particular, it will appear incomprehensible to the people of Zimbabwe that Russia, which committed itself at the G8 only a few days ago to take further steps including introducing financial and other sanctions, should today stand in the way of timely and decisive security council action. Nor will they understand the Chinese vote.

"The UN still has a key role to play in supporting African efforts to bring an end to this crisis, and we will continue to press for the appointment of a UN envoy." (4)

I am certain, of course, that the different approaches has nothing to do with the fact that Nigeria is a major oil producer, whereas any intervention in Zimbabwe would offer no economic reward? Surely, such base considerations would not enter into the heads of our leaders?
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
2 - 'China and Russia veto UN sanctions on Mugabe,' by Leonard Doyle in The INdependent, 12th of July, 2008. (
3 - China is now "the second largest trade partner of Zimbabwe, after South Africa, and China is also the biggest tobacco buyer from Zimbabwe, with the total trade volume between the two countries reaching 275 million U.S. dollars in 2006, while a few years ago, China was not even among the top ten trade partners of Zimbabwe, according to the Chinese ambassador" according to an unattributed article, 'Sino-Zimbabwe cooperation enters brand-new stage,' in The People's Daily Online, 19th of April, 2007. (
4 - Doyle, op. cit.

Friday 11 July 2008

Gordon Brown admits it is all about (Nigerian) oil

As it was in Iraq, so let it be in Nigeria. Gordon Brown has basically admitted that the prime consideration for intervention - whether it be military invasion or military 'aid' - is securing oil supply:
The Prime Minister said: "We stand ready to give help to the Nigerians to deal with lawlessness that exists in this area and to achieve the levels of production that Nigeria is capable of, but because of the law and order problems has not been able to achieve." His comments came ahead of a visit to London by the Nigerian President, Umaru Yar'Adua, next week in which he is expected to appeal for military aid to put down militant groups who have attacked oil pipelines and platforms. (1)
Never mind the quality of life or human potential that the long suffering people of Nigeria have "not been able to achieve." Who cares about them? They don't vote in our elections. They're too poor to buy our consumer goods - which aren't actually ours at all, but China's, but don't let reality get in the way, never let reality get in the way.

In fact, they are a nuisance. Some of them are blowing up pipelines and making it difficult for us to get the oil we need to keep our economy lumbering along. So maybe we shoul care about them. They're a problem. I know, lets give some of them guns and stuff to kill the others with.

Oil, you see, that's worth worrying about, particularly right now. If intervening in Nigeria (i.e. selling the government arms to continue the civil war with renewed ferocity) can improve supply, bring down prices in the west, keep oil addicted western capitalist system grinding along a little bit longer, and fend off (temporarily) or mitigate the threatening depression - then it might be worthwhile. Oh, yes. Priorities.

The misery inflicted on the people of Nigeria by the persistent lawlessness and violence doesn't figure. But maximising oil supply - when an unpopular Prime Minister is keen to convince the British voters to like him again - is. Which explains a lot, I suppose.

Ruthless, mercenary, hypocrititical scum.
1 - 'Brown blunders in pledge to secure Nigeria oil,' by Daniel Howden, Kim Sengupta, Colin Brown and Claire Soares in The Independent, 11th of July, 2008. (

Thursday 10 July 2008

Rawnsley and Veitch - a double standard to make you weep

As of right now Tony Veitch is still employed (1) by TVNZ, inspite of having potential criminal charges hanging over him and having admitted to a 2006 assault on his then girlfriend that was so extreme it left her in a wheelchair. Contrast this with the treatment (2) meted out to TVNZ security gaurd Louis Rawnsley, who had the audacity to quietly tell Chritine Rankin that he thought some of her comments on Maori were out of order. He was sacked immediately.

Astonishingly, it seems TVNZ seems a violent misogynisitc rampage less shocking or worthy of sanctioning than telling an evil minded harpy the truth about her despicable racist stirring. It couldn't be because Veitch is a 'public' figure with high recognition, where as Rawnsley seems to have been a quiet, diligent employee with 24 years service behind him? Surely not.

Veitrch is a disgusting piece of human detritus, and TVNZ's hypocrisy is also disgusting. Which isn't to say the treatment given to Rawnsley should also apply to Veitch, but the reverse - if TVNZ are willing to be so thoughtful towards trash like Veitch, then the very least a quiet-spoken, polite man like Rawnsley deserves is the same consideration.

1 - 'Statement from TVNZ Regarding Tony Veitch,' released by TVNZ, Thursday 10th July, 2008. (
2 - 'TVNZ CEO defends sacking of security guard,' unattributed 3 News article, 8th of August, 2008. (

Wednesday 9 July 2008

So what do Labour have to do?

As pointed out last night, Labour can't win the election. They have to rely on National losing it. That isn't going to happen, unless John Key is actually caught eating a baby. National are not going to do anything between now and polling day. They don't need to. The public is minded to change the government.

What negative campaigning National has done has been very effective. Within 30 seconds of any political debate, someone will start droning on about 'nanny state,' 'state control,' 'being told what to do' and 'political correctness' - all signs of a complete lack of cerebral function in the entity speaking (take a bow, Jock Anderson, on the Panel yesterday), but it is also an indication of how difficult Labour's position is. National haven't engineered this mood - it is the inevitable result of one party being in government too long. They have, however, managed to identify themselves as the sensible alternative to more of the same, rather smartly.

So Labour have to find a way to actually make people want to vote for them again. This won't win the the election, in all likelihood, because the gap is too wide. But it might force National into releasing policy, making statements and, crucially, making mistakes.

The worst thing Labour can do is try to play National's game. Attacking John Key will have a marginal effect, at best. It might make a difference if it was a handful of point seperating the parties, but when the gap is a gulf, shooting squibs at the leader will fall a long way short. Unless they have something that would destroy Key in the yees of the voters, they need to find something else. The impetus isn't with them on this one. People aren't going to vote Clark because they dislike Key - the deep seating dislike of Clark and hergovernment is ensures that only works one way.

The other part of the National strategy - be vague, vague and then vaguer still - also won't work for Labour. Given the choice between an unpopular adminsitration that is promising nothing much, and a popular opposition that is promising nothing much, it is obvious who is going to win. Labour can't damage Key enough (child eating revelations not-withstanding) and they can't simply smile and nod their way to victory - or anywhere near it - from 20 points back.

I hate the term vision, because it always makes me think about George Bush I wittering about the "Vision thing" and it also smacks of Michael Laws, but Labour need something that will actually get people a bit excited about the party - persuade enough of the defectors to come back so as to give the party a chance of getting within grabbing distance of Key's shirt tails. THEN the slow accumulation of doubts and questions about Key and National will start to be important. Do we really want to look at that smirk for another three years? Can we really trust him? Is he competent? At this stage, none of these things matter, because large parts of the electorate would vote for anything other than Labour - but if Labour can claw back enough support, it might make a difference.

The other factor is the possibility that National will have to rethink their strategy. If they see their poll lead shrinking they may risk putting policy out there to be attacked. If people start getting interested in another three years of Labour, National will have to say, "No, we're different and interesting! Vote for us!" and at that point they become vulnerable, because Labour will be able to critique their policy and there is a very strong liklihood (given the staggering uselessness of most of the National front bench) that they will cock up in some way.

Labour can't squat on the centre ground, however. National has taken it over, albeit under false pretences. Labour needs to present some real, interesting, social democratic ideas trhat will get people excited about voting for them again. Totlally off the top of my head, here are some of the things they could do that might work for me:

  • Kiwisaver for all. Every child born in New Zealand is automatically enrolled in Kiwisaver and given their thousand dollar start up - plus, perhaps, a further annual addition from the public purse. This would have some massive, positive impacts down the line - first, making all New Zealanders into good savers from birth, and giving many more people the chance to own their own home, if they decide to use their savings for that.
  • Free public transport. Encourage people to take the bus or train by making it free. People can apply for a travel card (perhaps a one off or annual fee) which allows them to use buses, trains, trams within urban areas. Perhaps each citizen is allocated a certain number of miles they are entitled to use free of charge - which would give people the motiation to use up their miles each year.
  • 'Opt out' unionisation. All employees are automatically enrolled in a union of their choice unless they specify non-membership (in which case, obviously, they will be paid less). This might conjure images of Britain's Winter of Discontent, but in fact large union membership tends to diminish radicalism, not encourage it. The anecdotal stories I've heard show that voluntary union membership doesn't work - the owners are against it, and will use all manner of dirty tricks to prevent it.
  • Free education. All these 'voluntary' fees need to go. Pay through taxation instead, which is fairer and at least does get paid. And further ...
  • Educational allowance from age 16 onwards. People leave school to get jobs because they need money. It seems treasonable, soince education is a desirable goal, thet those between 16 and (for argument's sake) 18 are compensated int he short term for doing something that will benefit us all in the long term - staying in education, building up qualifications and then going on to becoming more effective tax payers. The obvious way is simply to pay 'em for remaining in school.
  • Renationalise electricity. Just like buying back the railways makes sense in the era of climate change, it make sense to have state control over electricity generation. It is absurd to have profiteering the primary motive behind electricity supply. It should be providing clean, sustainable power. Lets not give Bolger control over it though, otherwise he'll start putting on all sorts of airs and graces and start calling himself King Jim, or something.
  • Compensation for victims of crime. A lot of crime is a symptom of social ill - it flourishes in societies that are rotting. As society has allowed or even encouraged these problems (take a bow, Richardson and Douglas), society owes something to the victims, just as employers owe something to those hurt ithrough unsafe workplace practices. We deal with the latter through ACC. There should be something similar for victims of crime to help them deal with the consequences of their misfortune.

Obviously, all of the above would not be an option, but some of it might be. And it would give people positive reasons for voting Labour - positive big government. It strikes a chord because it runs contrary to the modern, miserable individualistic trend - the idea that we are a society and we can make communal decisions like that almost has the sniff of dangerous radicalism about it.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Britain 1979 – Parallels, Part Two

The similarities between the victory of Margret Thatcher in 1979 and the situation in New Zealand in 2008 don't end with the fact that both Thatcher and Key mouthed centrist platitudes in their pursuit of power – remember, "being in government is worth everything" (1).

John Campbell's description of the election campaign that saw Thatcher oust Jim Callaghan's Labour government is also instructive (2). Politicians, after all, have always been liars. They haven't all gone on to win, however. Thatcher did, Key probably will. If Labour are to stop him, someone should examine where Callaghan went wrong, to see if any useful lessons can be drawn from it.

This is not such an analysis. It is just a loose collection of thoughts based upon my reading of the closing chapter of Simpson's book.

First of all, the general position of the parties in 1979 is similar to the current situation in New Zealand in 2008. Labour are in power. While Labour in New Zealand have been in power for a lot longer than the Callaghan administration (or the lacklustre Wilson administration that immediately succeeded it), both Labour and the Conservatives of the 1970s had pursued broadly similar policies, particularly in the key area of industrial relations. Following the Winter of Discontent , it was easy for Thatcher to take advantage of the popular frustration with the 'old way' and suggest – without ever getting very specific – that she offered a new solution to the problem that had been left to fester. National have the opportunity to present themselves in a similar light, as an alternative to a longstanding, traditional way of doing things. Rather like Lange's Labour Party in the 1980s, in fact. And we all know how that ended up.

Further, the election is National's to lose, just as it was Thatcher's to lose in '79. The National Party, like the Labour Party, has enjoyed a big lead in the polls for a long time. Realistically, Labour will struggle to overturn this, even six months out from the election. It will require some sort of monumental cock-up on National's part, or Labour revealing something truly remarkable, to turn it around. So it is likely that National will imitate the Tory strategy in 1979, which was to fight as boring a campaign as possible. Campbell describes the Conservative strategy to "Keep the campaign as low key as possible, avoiding any risks that might jeopardise their commanding lead" (3):

The electoral strategy set by Reece and Thorneycroft had three strands – neutral, negative and positive. The first priority was to protect the Tory lead by keeping the campaign as dull as possible and allowing Mrs Thatcher to say nothing that might frighten the voters. The negative strand was to keep the heat on Labour, reminding the electors in simple language of the government's record ... inflation ('prices'), unemployment ('jobs), cuts in public services (schools, homes and hospitals) and above all the strikes and picket line violence of the winter ... From this the positive appeal followed naturally – the simple electoral cry of all, "Time for a change!" (4)

This reluctance to fight Labour on issues led them to refuse an offer for Thatcher to debate Callaghan on television. It was feared that even if she won, the sight of her "Laying into Uncle Jim" would alienate voters. Key, at least, will not have that option. He will have to debate Clark. While he will probably find it a rather trying experience, he can take comfort in the fact that Clark won't be able to overturn a twenty point deficit, no matter how thoroughly she mauls him. If Labour are relying on that, they are doomed, and deserve their fate.

The negative strand of the campaign was most famously demonstrated by the Saatchi & Saatchi 'Labour isn't working' posters, which summarised perfectly what the Tories were about – attack the other party, no matter how crudely or disingenuously. Buzz words. Slogans. Powerful images. Say nothing about your own policies, because that will only give the enemy something to use against you. There was no positive reason to vote Conservative in that poster. They didn't need to give one. It was enough to remind people that they felt Labour government had let them down.

This feeling of disillusion was far more important to the Tories in 1979 than any policy they could muster of their own, which is another similarity between Then/There and the Here/Now. Or, rather, the Here/Soon. Campbell's describes how Thatcher overturned traditional voting patterns in 1979:

Academic analysis of the 1979 result suggests that the Tories did do exceptionally well among their target groups, gaining an 11 per cent swing among the skilled working class (the C2s) and 9 per cent among the unskilled. Many of these converts continued to vote Conservative throughout the 1980s. But there is also plentiful anecdotal evidence of lifelong Labour voters who were persuaded to vote Conservative for the first time, and spent the next ten years bitterly regretting it.

On who recorded his reasons at the time was the Director of the strike-ravaged National Theatre, Peter Hall. 'We had a society of greed and anarchy,' he wrote in his diary at the height of the winter chaos in terms which Mrs Thatcher herself could not have bettered. 'No honour, no responsibility, no pride. I sound like an old reactionary, which I'm not, but what we have now isn't socialism, it's fascism with those who have the power injuring those who do not.' Three months later, he shocked himself by deciding to vote Tory, having come to the conclusion that Labour was no longer the party of social justice. 'It's now the party of sectional interest; the party that protects pressure groups and bully boys.' 'It wasn't all that difficult this morning to vote Tory,' he wrote on 3 May. 'In fact it positively felt good .. we have to have change.' Hall wanted Mrs Thatcher to 'sort out' the unions. Fourteen years later he could not deny her credit for having done so, though he loathed practically everything else she did, particularly the commercialisation of the arts. 'I can understand now why I voted Tory,' he reflected in 1993. 'I very much wish I hadn't had to.' (5)

The final swig to the Tories was 5.1 per cent, lower than the swing in the traditional Labour vote – so the above average defections in the targeted working class vote were crucial to the Tory victory (6). Labour needs to watch out for its core vote – assuming it has any left come polling day – and defend it against the sick feeling of disillusion and disappointment that the Tories exploited so well in 1979.

Ultimately, it may be impossible. The British Labour party is credited with having fought a good campaign in 1979, generally out-performing the Tories. They reduced a Tory lead of between 9 and 13 per cent st the start of the campaign to between 3 and 5 percent (7). Further, they Britain's Labour party enjoyed one asset that New Zealand's does not - a popular leader who was seen as a symbol of unity, rather than division. Callaghan always beat Thatcher in the Preferred Prime Minister stakes (8), but still they lost the election.

Here in New Zealand in 2008, things are different and yet eerily the same. The government has been in power a long time, long enough to make the "Time for a change" slogans have a superficial validity regardless of any other considerations. The impetus is for change. Campbell describes Callaghan in fatalistic mood, and the wily old fixer's thoughts make grim reading for any Labour strategists:

Jim Callaghan told his senior policy adviser, Bernie Donaghue, that every thirty years or so there occurred 'a sea change in politics'.

It then does not matter what you say or do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves. I suspect there is now such a sea change – and it s for Mrs Thatcher. (9)

Turning the clock back thirty years in New Zealand takes us back – more or less – to the fall of Muldoon. There was a sea change then, alright. Since the mid-nineties, however, the tide has been running the other way, and New Zealand has been better for it. It would be strange indeed if the New Zealand electorate rejected Clarkite social democracy (you can't call it socialism with a straight face, unless you are Lindsay Perigo) in favour of the same medicine that made so many gag (with no noticeable benefits) in the 80s.

1 – Attributed to Ruth Richardson, quoted by Nicky Hager in The Hollow Men, Craig Potton Publishing, 2006. The comment occurs in an email to Brian Sincliar, and is quoted on page 68 of my edition of The Hollow Men.
2 – Margret Thatcher: The Grocer's Daughter, by John Campbell, published by Jonathan Cape in 2000.
3 – ibid, page 427.
4 – ibid,
page 429.
5 – ibid, pages 433-4.
6 – I am not suggesting that directors of theatre companies are blue collar heroes. It is a shame that Campbell didn't back up his 'anecdotal evidence' by talking to someone a bit more proletarian than Peter Hall.
7- Campbell, op. cit. Pages 427 and 444 respectively.
8 - ibid, page 427.
9 – ibid, page 443.

Sunday 6 July 2008

Britain, 1979 – parallels with NZ Labour’s current woes

History has lessons, if you look in the right places. If you ignore history, you are likely to become it, usually in an involuntary and bloody manner. Santayana said, in a famously quotable form, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (1).

Marx considered something similar, less pithily but more pungently, recalling that

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. (2)

So we must look to Hegel, perhaps, to find the source of the idea. I'm sure Marx knew precisely where in Hegel, and was simply being modest when he suggested he couldn't remember precisely where. No matter, after all, this is New Zealand, and the nearest anyone has come to forming a thought on the significance of historical precursors is Split Enz assuring us that history never repeats. Which tells you, perhaps, everything you need to know about how such rumination is regarded by Kiwis. The ponderous thought of Hegel, Marx and Santayana is dismissed, and dismissed in a three minute pop song.

Doing my own bit of historical rumination lead me to re-visit the final chapters of John Campbell's biography of Margret Thatcher, The Grocer's Daughter, which chronicle her election triumph in 1979 (3). Perhaps here are some object lessons for the New Zealand Labour party of 2008, as they face the fate of Jim Callaghan's doomed administration.

First of all, there is some similarity between the emptiness of the Tories in 1979 and the National Party of 2008. Campbell even titles one chapter, Thatcherism Under Wraps. Thatcher played cleverly, maintaining a facade of centrist reasonability. This was forced on her because her ideological position was at odds both with the electorate and with her party. Thatcher, newly elected leader, is described as lacking

... the authority to impose a thorough-going free-market agenda on the Tory Party, let alone project it unambiguously on the county ... She had to be prepared to fight on a vague prospectus that gave only the vaguest hint of her true ambition. (4)

Key, I think, is doing something very similar. He is far to the right of his public position. He is smart enough to realise that the New Zealand public don't want what he wants, so he tones it down. Occasional hints escape – there is much suggested about what might happen in a second term, once National is safely ensconced and the electorate are feeling more comfortable. It is a smart strategy, and very likely to be effective. That doesn't make it less disingenuous or less despicable, of course. Key should be honest, and tell us what he wants to do, not try and and dupe the electorate into thinking they are just voting for a different bunch of managers, who might be more competent but will do pretty much the same as the last lot. It isn't so, and he should have the decency to say so. It would cost him the election, of course, which is why he won't do anything of the kind.

Few people who voted for Margret Thatcher in 1979 voted for Thatcherism. Most of them voted against Labour, without looking to closely at the alternative. The British electorate were sick of industrial disputes and the apparent inability of either the Hethite Tories or Labour to deal with the Unions. They didn't vote for the Falklands' war, the Miner's Strike, privatisation, the Poll Tax, unemployment at 3 million, the evisceration of British industry in the name of 'efficiency' and the collapse of social cohesion. That is what they got though. New Zealand has had a taste of all this, of course, but it seems likely that the electorate has forgotten. History, after all, never repeats.

Like Thatcher, Key is convinced he is right, of course, and probably believe his free market dreams are what is best for everyone, because they served him well. He is not a Hollow Man in the sense that the term is sometimes misused – he does not lack conviction, but he is so convinced of his convictions that he will mouth any homily to be able to put his ideas into practice, in the end:

In the meantime, she could compromise, bide her time and go along with policies in which, in her heart, she fundamentally disbelieved – as she had been doing, after all, for most of her career – with no fear she would lose sight of her objective or be blown off course. (5)

Key is convinced, because he's made so much money his way, everyone else will be able to do the same. It's what logic lizards call a fallacy of composition – the idea that what works for you will work for everyone else. Most of the time, the opposite is true – what works for you only works because others are not doing it. But this is strange and incomprehensible stuff to the right – though occasionally one of them will be honest enough to say he (or she) doesn't give a damn about that and wants to make a pile anyway, to Hell with everyone else. But most of the time, the mask is held up, and the mantra is repeated, "opportunity for all, weath for all, wealth cascading down the generations ..." Campbell, is an aside raises an eyebrow at Thatcher's description of herself as a 'conviction politician.' He suggests that she was more accurately described as a "Principled opportunist" (6). I think that is a bit kind - blind or blinkered opportunist, perhaps. And the same applies to Key.

So there seems to be a parallel between the Thatcher of 1979 and the Key of 2008. Both are presented as everyday people – Thatcher went to some lengths to present herself as gentler, more feminine and less strident, paving the way for the vacuity and image obsession of the Blair years (Yes, that too can be blamed on Thatcher!. Both have a an instinctive faith in the Free market and a strong desire to open it up – but an understanding that they must bide their time before doing so. Lull the electorate into a false sense of security, convince them you are jsut going to do more of the same, only do it better, and then, once they trust you – and, of course, your opponents still tearing themselves to pieces in a an ideological civil war and too busy with it to actually do any meaningful opposition – start putting the real programme into effect.

There is something slightly farcical about Key, however, that proves Marx right. The way he fluffs his lines every other time he opens his mouth, the gaping holes that are being poken in his credibility. It's buffonish, though perhaps it only seems that way because it is happening now, in slow motion. Thatcher herself was regularly made to look stupid in the run up to her victory, both by the wily Callaghan and her own party. She still won, though, and the results weren't particularly funny. Perhaps Key won't seem so clownish once he's actually making a bollocks of everything for real. Unfortunately, I think we will very likely find out whether I am right on that one.

1 – Like most, I knew the quote without being certain whence it came from. Bartleby assures me my memory is right, It was George Santayana who said it and the quote occurs in chapter 12 of his book, Life of Reason, published in 1905, or perhaps 1906. (
2 – I am aware this is not the first time I have used this quote on lefthandpal. It is one of my favourites, and I think, very true. As for citation, I can at least be more exact than Marx. The quote is from "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, " by Karl Marx, 1852. (
3 – Margret Thatcher: The Grocer's Daughter, by John Campbell, published by Jonathan Cape in 2000.
4 – ibid. Page 364.
5 – ibid. Page 368.
6 – ibid, Page 369.


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