Thursday, October 28, 2004

Well Meaning Goats

Ta Dog Biting Men. Remind me to get a job at the Herald on Sunday so I can repay you all fittingly.

This thing here first goes out at 8 10am on 95bfm, or it would if my weak chin and I could be bothered waking up.


With the entire world’s attention focused on the American election it is pretty interesting to look at how the rest of the world views what is, in fact, purely up to the Americans.

Survey after survey shows that the rest of the world wants John Kerry, while the polls, and the smart money, say Bush is likely to squeak back in.

The problem being, of course, that the only people with any say happen to be Americans, and look how their decisions have shaped the world of late.

That little obstacle is not something to stop the Guardian though.The Guardian, through their G2 supplement, devised a cheeky way for all the concerned citizens of the world to make known their horror at the idea of four more years of a Bush-led America.


They had, in a very clever and slightly smarmy way, worked out a one-way involuntary pen-pal plan whereby our concerned citizens could join up and get the home addresses of registered independents in a place called Clark County, a small area in the incredibly important swing state of Ohio.

The conventional logic goes that whoever wins two out of the three of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania takes the election, what with that quirky and quite incomprehensible Electoral College Voting system and all.

So this plan to match up anti-Bush types with people who can actually vote really might make a difference. What hadn't been quite so well thought out was what kind of difference they would make, and if it was really their place at all to be making that difference.

Because of their strategic importance the people of Ohio have been subjected to more than sixty state visits between the two contenders, and one report states that more than 300,000 yard signs declaring allegiances have gone up.

Having ones’ State turned into an eyesore and media circus is small beer really, well at least when compared to the threat of receiving well-meaning letters from Guardian readers advising you that you shouldn't be voting for George W Bush in your election to choose your president.

Predictably, this scheme has gone the way of most paths paved with good intentions.

The backlash from America is classic, and, I'd say, deserved. Most of the correspondence back was negative to say the least with a lot of it reminding the Brits that the last time they meddled in American Politics it caused a little thing called the War of Independence. And although a wee bit of time has elapsed since 1776 they are no better inclined to English interference, thank you very much.

The other big theme was teeth, as in this very funny reply

Have you not noticed that Americans don't give two shits what Europeans think of us? Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow-toothed pansies ... I don't give a rat's ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don't. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit.
Oh, yeah - and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals.
Wading River, NY
And so on and so nastier.

It would appear that the only thing that got the Guardian to back-peddle was the fright it caused Kerry's campaign, who wisely and quickly worked out that letters from foreigners advising Americans how to vote were really not going to help.

Well, they should have known better. Sending missals into fortress America was never going to be a good idea. Perhaps they will increase the specifications for the Son of Star Wars to also include left leaning letters……..

Because really, no matter what the world wants it isn’t up to them. That is the thing with democracy, as the saying goes: people get the government they deserve. So as with Wanganui having Michael Laws as Mayor, maybe the US deserves Bush.

That last line was stolen part and parcel from David Farrar. Ta for that, perhaps I will one day grow fat on other peoples wit.

Also - I found all of the links there off aldaily - where I find near everything I enjoy and just wish I could take credit for.

Although I did feel pretty clever finding this site - I hope you like it too!!!

And if you find yourself near a TV at ungodly times on Saturday morning watch Agenda. Some funny looking guy with a brand-new chin-complex might just pop up. I love the charter - they'll employ anyone to get that local content up.





Tuesday, October 26, 2004

State of AIDS in NZ

This also first appeared in REMIX - and once again you should buy this months issue.


Aaron found out he had HIV almost by mistake. About two and a half years after contracting the disease he was being tested for a blood condition, and after they narrowed down the likely causes it turned out to be HIV. He was diagnosed in January 2001 and was in his early thirties. The initial stages of infection – which often take the form of a flu-like illness – had gone unnoticed – so at 31 Aaron suddenly had to adjust to life as an HIV positive man.

Aaron had been active and out in his city’s gay scene since the late 80s. As a gay man he was aware of the risks and assiduously practiced safe-sex. At some point in the mid-90s Aaron says that he “became complacent and stopped practicing safe-sex and that led me to become HIV positive.”

Last year over 150 people in New Zealand received the news that they were infected with HIV, the precursor illness to AIDS. This is a larger number than any other year, and of that 154, more than a third were infected heterosexually. As the numbers are rising and the statistics starting to disprove any notion that AIDS is a homosexual affliction HIV/AIDS ought to be in the news. But instead AIDS education and reporting seems to be taking a lower profile than at any time since AIDS was first recognised as a problem in New Zealand in the 1980s. But what is the situation? Have we forgotten, or have we stopped taking AIDS seriously?

AIDS is still seen by some as a predominantly gay disease, but the numbers around the world do not bear this out. Internationally AIDS is 75% heterosexually transmitted. In NZ however it has traditionally been prevalently homosexually transmitted between men. This is still the case here with the majority of new cases arising as a result of unprotected sex between men, and the majority of these occurring domestically. In the heterosexual category 90% of the new transmissions in the past year were contracted overseas. Although this shows that the highest risk group remains as it has been – men having unprotected sex with men – it also suggests that as more heterosexual people carry the disease in New Zealand the likelihood of heterosexual transmission is rapidly rising. Although it will be some time until New Zealand has anything like three-out-of-four cases originating from heterosexual contact we are getting further along that road with every year. The real danger is that the entire pool of HIV positive people in New Zealand is increasing. This year saw the highest numbers of new cases ever. Also this is only reported cases. The New Zealand AIDS Foundation estimates that up to a third more people are infected without knowing it. As the pool increases so too does the risk to all sexually active people.

Why then as things are becoming more serious does the media not seem to make AIDS an issue? Steve Attwood of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation believes it is “more difficult to get mainstream media to pick up stories on domestic AIDS these days, they just do not seem to pick up on it unless there is a heterosexual angle.” So while it is still prevalently a minority concern it appears that is where it stays in terms of media coverage. No matter that if you are sexually active you are much more likely to contract HIV in any given year than you are to be murdered by a stranger. Stranger-danger rules the news while the more real and pressing dangers stay on the fringe.

Attempting to address the inequalities in coverage and to lift understanding of the situation we face with HIV/AIDS in New Zealand is Steve Attwood’s job. He hails from the NZ AIDS Foundation, a registered charity that is funded by the Ministry of Health but is also reliant on donations to continue their work. The Foundation grew out of a gay community organisation, originating out of gay men’s response to the illness. It now provides support, testing and care to anyone living with HIV/AIDS. But interestingly, considering the changing state of AIDS, they are only funded for gay specific campaigns for the prevention side of things – advertising risks, educating about the dangers and all other ambulance at the top of the cliff stuff. They are funded to target the biggest risk group, men who have sex with men, and no one else. The reason that the advertising is so narrowly focused is a simple case of best use of limited resources. Bang for your buck as Steve says “the biggest risks are to those having unprotected sex with many partners.” And to get across the message to these men “we focus on gay media because we are able to say things that we might not be able to say otherwise to people we might not otherwise reach.” Even considering what is a small pool population-wise a number of strategies are employed; packages at saunas or cruising clubs, print advertising, editorial contributions and brochure distribution. But on top of this Steve maintains that “it is important to be responsive – we are now coming up with ways to target Internet cruising and to get messages about safe sex out there in what is a relatively new high-risk activity”.Although no one is disputing the efficacy of targeting the most high-risk sector through these outlets it is also important not to leave the rest of the population without campaigns to publicise risks. “There is a role for mainstream media in this, and we are working towards this.”

But when this happens will depend on funding. Dr Doug Lush, Acting Director of Public Health is the man who oversees this funding. He is entirely supportive of the work the NZ AIDS Foundation is doing. “They are very effectively targeting where the burden of disease is.” But he also sees the importance of wider campaigns targeting other at-risk groups provided by specialist organisations. To this extent the Ministry of Health funds “the Prostitutes Collective, Migrant and Refugee Services and Family Planning among others.” The 13-18 year old group is also about to be addressed with a large campaign to try to cut down the overall rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS of course is targeted as part of this education and prevention campaign. Dr Lush and the Ministry are not taking AIDS lightly and reject any suggestion that HIV/AIDS are any less of a priority “it is of great concern, it is becoming of increasing priority and this is one of the reasons for the safe sex campaign that is coming up.” His concern especially rests with the increase of cases amongst older men who appear to be disregarding the safe sex message. He warns against a relaxing of vigilance against infection. “We have to be careful to retain these messages and avoid things like condom fatigue and viewing this as a less dread disease.”

The dread associated with AIDS in the 1980s has left the issue to a large extent. This benefits people living with the illness by reducing prejudice and stigma. But a lessening of the fear must not lead to a lessening in care taken regarding sexual activity. New Zealand has some of the worst rates of STIs like Chlamydia and Gonorrhea in the world and an increase in care taken needs to be seen across the board if we do not want to see AIDS become a more serious problem. Steve Attwood has noticed this relaxation in attitudes and his organisation has found that advertising risks in a way to capitalise on anxiety does not work. “We can not run fear based campaigns as fear can not be faced by people for long before it becomes normalised.”

Everyday is difficult when living with HIV. “It affects your whole life in many areas, mentally and physically.” For Aaron it involves taking 22 large pills a day. The added danger is that you have to take your medication on time every day or else your body can build a resistance and the medicine becomes useless. Even if you follow the proper regime you will develop a resistance over time. In New Zealand 13 medications are funded. And not all of these may be compatible with patients. If you run out of medicines you run out of options. Side-effects and toxicity of dosage are further concerns. Nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting are standard, diabetes is a common side-effect. “But there is no choice, you have to take the tablets if you want to remain well.”

New Zealand is lucky to be where it is. By dint of its geographical isolation we have managed to keep our overall numbers low. But as more and more cases come in from overseas we will see increasing rates of infection in all communities unless safe-sex messages get across. Steve Attwood sounds this warning “thanks to medical advances there may not be so many people dying of AIDS as there used to be but we haven’t cured this virus, we’re never likely to. It still is a very serious life length and life quality reducing illness. People live under the constant threat of discrimination, prejudice and the death threat of the medicine not working. People must not forget that.”

Aaron, in his early thirties, has no idea how the illness is going to affect him next, how many more medications he may go through or what science might turn up. One thing, however, is certain “my life is not the same as it was. My life is not as good as it was. I am not as well, I sometimes struggle to get around, I often feel weak. It is hard to live with every day.”

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Buena Vista Tinted Glasses

If you are quite so stubbornly ill-read that you enjoyed the Motorcycle Dairies film read this.

On seeing the film I felt sick at the sentimentality, and left bruised after having been beaten over the head with blunt messages and supremely simplistic characterization.

The only thing the film had going for it was the scenery.

I vaguely thought that I'd run through and compare the film with the actual diaries and Che's later accomplishments - then again few publications in New Zealand would be interested.

Now I don't have to, this is fantastic, so read it. Especially if you have reservations about the cult of Che. But more so if you are a fan.

I would go slightly further than the author and also point out that Guevara died taking the Bolivians a revolution they did not want and dwell more on the murderous crimes and extracts from Che's writing. I might also have observed that every thing they gave Che to run in newly Communist Cuba he did such an abysmal job that even Castro realised he was incapable - quite a feat in the kind of 'utopia' with no accountability.


Friday, October 22, 2004

REMIX pieces

There is a new REMIX out that has an excellent bfm co-presented Indie Rock CD for free with it, also it contains 6 stories by me in there so I reckon you should all buy it and help keep me in employment.

These pieces below appeared in last months issue.
In My Father's Den comes highly recommended - an actually excellent NZ film that is not tourism calender writ large or sentimental pap (sorry Whale Rider - you suck)
The Moore thing, although not bad, is now hopelessly out of date - but I post it here because, well, I can.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore is a man who has made a career out of being the guy people cannot ignore. With his ample girth, ever-present cap and scruffy average-Joe persona he has become an unlikely counter-cultural hero, forever jamming himself and public debate where the powers that be would rather they weren’t.

And far from being the voice of dissent out in the cold Moore has succeeded in bringing the world-according-to-Michael mainstream.Moore’s latest offering, the political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, has broken all of the records his last documentary, Bowling for Columbine, set. The film has cleared US$100 Million just within America, picked up the Palme D’Or at Cannes and is going a long way toward setting the agenda for the upcoming American Presidential election. All unprecedented stuff for a documentary, especially in a country where only half the population bother voting.

Michael Moore has emerged as a new kind of patriot for an America weary of seeing their boys come home in body bags and disheartened by the cost in blood and money of occupying Iraq. At least that is the image that he has carefully constructed for himself. More and more people are questioning his motives and even his honesty. Although there have always been critics of Michael Moore’s style and politics the severity of the current anti-Moore backlash is something new.

Michael Moore’s last film, Bowling for Columbine, won the best documentary Oscar at the Academy Awards. Soon after it was the focus of a campaign to have that award stripped. It turned out that Mr Moore had played hard and fast with the truth in certain parts of the film. Even the title, which referred to the belief that the Columbine High School killers went bowling prior to their massacre, turned out to be based on a falsehood. In spite of, or perhaps because of this controversy Bowling for Columbine went on to gross more than any other documentary ever had at the box-office, and helped make docos cool again.

But while it was accumulating receipts, Michael Moore was accumulating detractors. Nowadays for every standing ovation he receives at Cannes there are articles and entire web communities dedicated to discrediting him. But how did it all get to this? Can we trust the guy?
As a response to the debacle over detail in Bowling for Columbine Moore has set out to make sure this isn’t about to happen to his latest offering. Moore has gone so far as to claim: "Fahrenheit 9/11 is the absolute and irrefutable truth. This movie is perhaps the most thoroughly researched and vetted documentary of our time.” All the same a database of 59 deceits has been compiled by David Kopel, research director at the pro-market Independence Institute. Michael Moore’s war room has responded to many of these claims but, regardless of which side has more points in this slugging match, the question remains: with all this smoke around are people missing what Moore is actually saying?

The criticisms Moore levels at the Bush administration in Farenheit 9/11 are in many cases the same as those he makes in his two recent bestselling books Dude Where’s My Country and Stupid White Men. In the main the material may not be new but the power of the big screen and the attendant media circus certainly is. Often, however, the reporting only focuses on the associated hoop-la, the wars of ego and the claims and counter-claims that follow the film. Mike’s messages are lost amongst all this white noise. And he does have some powerful, and some, by now, well canvassed messages.

Some you’ve heard often – Bush stole the election with a rigged Supreme Court, claiming to go to war in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction was dishonest, that big business has close ties to military spending and the Republican Party. These reasonably well known points are artfully made, and rarely is political propaganda this entertaining. The parts Moore excels in are those where he uses his selective editing to make very funny character assassinations – he rips into Bush for his manner, work-ethic, business acumen, eloquence and overall ability to run the show.
The best sections are those that show the extent of Saudi Arabian influence in Washington. Although this section is riddled with factual errors the overall points stand absolute. Saudi Arabia’s powerful families, Osama bin Ladens included, have long and deep links to Washington’s elite, especially the Bush family, and this needs scrutiny. And scrutiny is exactly what Moore delivers. Not air-tight, not masterfully- exposed-for-the-first-time, but brought to the public eye in a way you can be assured Bush would rather it wasn’t.

The film never purports to be objective or balanced, and in reality it need not be. It is a political polemic. Point-of-View filmmaking writ large. As long as it is not treated as gospel or picture-made-truth, then it is a valuable and necessary addition to the political landscape. Although, of course, it helps if you have a balanced diet. In the film Moore presents mainstream media as incompetent and cowed, unable to bring the truth as he can. And this is really the whole root of the Michael Moore conundrum. If you look at the mainstream media as junk food then Michael Moore would be like cashews – delicious, natural, more-ish. But you have to remember that a diet of junk food and cashews will make you just as sick, or just as ill-informed in this sense, as a diet of only junk food.

In My Father's Den

Emily Barclay looks at once excited, drained and surprisingly different to her character Celia. Last night, lit-up two stories high in Auckland’s Civic Theatre, Emily enchanted the audience for the New Zealand premiere of In My Fathers Den.
In a film laden with heavy intensity, dealing in the way dark histories seek people out, Emily provided, through Celia, a moving shaft of light, innocence and hope. And last nights premiere had gone very well indeed. Prime Minister Helen Clark helped introduce the film and every creative trough-keeper and drawer was in rapturous attendance.

Not bad all in all for a film full of firsts. In My Fathers Den was the first New Zealand film chosen to open the Sydney film festival. It was an honour that is of special note as it is the first feature film from director Brad McGann. The film, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Maurice Gee, is also the first major film lead for Emily Barclay.

Not that this is a case of overnight success for the 19 yr old Aucklander. Emily has always wanted to be an actor. In learning and honing her craft Emily has run the normal gamut of New Zealand TV work with parts in Spin Doctors, and Mercy Peak and also, in what is fast becoming the other mainstay of New Zealand’s acting community - bad American TV work.

So although comparisons can be drawn between recent kiwi success Whale Rider and In My Fathers Den - both are adaptations of books by iconic New Zealand authors and both rest largely on the performances of their young female leads - they are different in that Emily was not plucked from obscurity like Kiesha Castle-Hughes. In fact she has been working towards a role like this for years. “I fell in love with acting when I was thirteen and have wanted to be an actor since” although the roles aren’t always as good as the one writer/director Brad McGann wrote for this film “I’d rather people don’t see some of the early stuff, if they’d like to think I’m an unknown that’s fine by me.”

The scale of the film snuck up on Emily. “At the time of the first audition we were not told it was a joint New Zealand/British production” but she did know she wanted to be involved, “I was really impressed from the start with how well written and fully constructed the characters were.” Work ended up involving extensive auditioning, rehearsals, a semester away from University study, two months filming outside of Otago, a trip to Sydney for the festival there and now the publicity gauntlet.

But it was the character that drew her in “I loved the fact that she wasn’t your typical on screen 16 year old girl - she was strong, interesting, intelligent - it was really important to do her justice.” Emily plays Celia, an outward-looking, yet isolated girl with a number of secrets to be discovered. Celia and the den of the title are central elements in a movie full of mystery; they bind everyone, and the film itself, together. To say how would be to say too much, and in playing the role Emily never gives anything away. It is a controlled, tight performance - similar in a way to the small town setting and mindset that informs so much of the film.Emily was able to bring an understanding of this constriction - even being a very free and open person herself. “Living in New Zealand many people have the idea that they want to get away, see the world, just living in NZ, in a small country, gives you an insight into a small town mentality.”

And were there similarities between you and Celia? “She had a strong sense of who she was, Celia is a character that it is easy to empathise with because her situations are real and the things she deals with are prominent issues in our society” further than empathy though, Emily was “attracted to the brightness, but the darkness underneath, the thinking about things deeply and the frustration of trying to break out and understand the world.” There aren’t many roles that want all this from a 16-year-old female character, and there aren’t many actors pulling them off.

To a large degree the movie depends on the relationship between Celia and Paul Prior (Matthew McFadyen), an international war photographer and one time boyfriend to Celia’s mother. Paul, back in New Zealand for his father’s funeral, accepts a request to teach at the local school and has Celia in his class. Their friendship, while seemingly familiar - with the male older teacher/younger female student - steers clear of cliché or easy categorisation and is the richest element of the film. “With the relationship with Paul it was important to avoid the Lolita type relationship - we needed to show the complexities of her character, being a 16yr old girl in a small town of course she will be drawn to him but it was more than a girl’s crush on a man of the world. That might be there but more importantly it was an intellectual connection and an intellectual escape route.”

Being able to tap into a rich acting tradition via this cast of accomplished international players was one of the highlights of working on In My Fathers Den. Matthew McFadyen comes in for special praise and is a pick for big things to come: “ Matthew was so supportive and inspiring. The ability of very well trained actors to keep so much going, and to carry the whole film with them, but to stay natural take after take was an inspiration.” Look out for Matthew in future, word is that is “he has been cast as D’arcy in a remake of Pride and Prejudice” and with the general predilection for D’arcy among women he is sure to go far “I mean how else do you explain Colin Firth?”

In a way, and without giving anything away, Celia in the film embodies many of New Zealand’s guilty secrets. The film is a beautifully rendered nightmare, a picture-perfect recrimination. It manages to be populated with things rather ignored but stays well clear of being prying, sentimental or sensationalist And much of this is because, according to Director Brad McGann “Emily brought a whole lease of life to Celia, although they are different Emily managed to make them one and the same.”

And finally, what next for Emily Barclay? Having loved acting for 7 years are you still going strong? “Yes, basically I want to keep being involved in the creation of films - jesus I hope that doesn’t sound wanky - but I figure I’m lucky to have found something I love doing”

- thanks to REMIX Media - where these first appeared.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Academia, painful academia. Just one letter off a nut.

I received an e-mail from a student, here is my reply, all mixed in with the original. Seeing Derrida has just died it seemed appropriate to get all Sociologist on it, so read this as a polysemic text, or something equally incoherent. I wonder if this little hobby warrants all this attention. My bits are are in italics

Hi there,

Sorry to take so long to get back, I didn't think I could be bothered, but then I figure what kind of a cock takes that attitude. I also never figured that my random purges were worthy of the title blog, or of any particular interest. But anyway, I hope this is some help


Hi,

I'm a Honours student in Mass Communications at the University of Canterbury.I'm currently researching blogs for an essay. I've been following your site and I would appreciate it if you could answer some short questions related to my research. The questions are:


Questions
1.Do you feel you are part of a wider public debate through putting your views on your blog?

Not really. More of a narrower, yet more aware, community. Things you do can come to the attention of the 'agenda setters' or whatever other awful mass comm terms you want to use, like editors, journalists etc. So sometimes there is the possibility and othertimes it feels like some form of endless self-reflexitivity.

2. Do you believe your blog is more personal than other media, such as newspaper or television
journalism?

Yes in that the responses can be immediately attached to the primary material, errors can be
quickly altered, and the community (awful fucking term) is small

3. How would you describe your writing style? Is it entirely your own voice or do find yourself adopting a persona?

Pretty difficult that. Some of the pieces I post are written to be delivered on the radio so are written to that style, some have appeared in other media, and have the commensurate restrictions, some are meant to be well put together, and some are simply short observations. So I'd say that I adopt many voices, but hopefully a consistent persona, I'd rather lose track of myself if I didn't

4. What are the most important sources from which you draw material and topics?

Scoop, Herald site, other blog-keepers, radio,

5. Bloggers discuss a wide range of topics including issues of public importance. How do you explain your right to discuss a topic in a forum where others can read it?

Why on earth would I have to explain it? Someone would have to do some very serious explaining if I couldn't. This is not Communist China, though I'm well aware that post-graduate students in communications-y things perhaps wish it were.

6.Are there any features or criteria that make a good blog?

being able to write is a plus. A lot of time on your hands. And a sense of humour and or indignation helps.

And because I sympathise for anyone in a media class, how about I post all this so you can write something about the postmodern hall of mirrors? And the immediacy of the medium or some other painful contortion.

Regards
Simon

Poor bastard. Catching that kind of rubbish back. As if he hasn't enough problems, what with living in Christchurch and doing Honours in Mass Communication.
John, I'm sorry.

Who Ate All The Pies?

Brilliant, I thought very much the same myself, but wasn't pithy enough to sum it up like sagenz - 'I guess he had a dump'
That news of course is that, so far, Horomia has only lost 3kg on his slim-down.
I worried back in August that Horomia was dreaming when he decided to lose 30kg. Best of luck to him.
Apparently half the problem is that he spends too much time at huis. Remember those figures that came up about how much was being spent feeding participants of huis on prisons and the foreshore and seabed bill.
$20 goes on Horomia having tucked into a fair bit of those thousands or millions or whatever it cost. Oh hang on, $20 of my cash probably already has.


Anyhow, how funny are these three. This is from 12 May 2004

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Deputy Prime Minister considered putting some funds and resources aside so that certain members of Parliament, who are running around the country misleading—

Gerry Brownlee: Here we go. The white knight.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the member say the “wide” one?

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I have warned members. Mr Brownlee does happen to be in a certain privileged position in this place, and he knows he should not have interjected at that point. On this occasion I will ask him to stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Please start again.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he has given consideration to setting aside resources and finances to enable certain members of Parliament, who are running around this country, misinforming the public, to be properly educated on the provisions of this bill, which is clearly not the case now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, but in just over 2 weeks I will be presenting a Budget that is both prudent and is spending significant sums on assistance for low to middle income families. Unfortunately I do not have any money left over for the impossible task of trying to educate members of the National Party.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Best Website Ever

Thanks to NZ Pundit for pointing out this.

It is a brilliant piece of writing, that has one of the strongest voices I've read (think Hitch before he disappeared up his own righteousness and still had fun with language, instead of wielding it as a defense mechanism) cleverly and in a way few would attempt today. A refreshing lack of PC from an anthropologist with a finely attuned sense of humour.

The website it is from, that of Roger Sandall, is one of the most endlessly engaging sites I've stumbled across. The best discovery since The Atlantic Monthly stopped being free, and I'm still waiting for my long promised subscription to it.
This site made my week. It features an article comparing Lawrence of Arabia (my pet obsession, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is, as Churchill had it, one of the finest works in the English language) and Mohammed Atta. Exploring his failings and dangerous fatalism exquisitely.

Damn. I feel like a dirty fetishist stumbling upon something that rings all my bells quite so.

In other news, how funny is the intellectual ping-pong between Cohen, Nippert, and the ice skating rink?

Barbs flying like a battle on the Nation's letters page, except none of the writers involved are wet and sanctimonious. It is almost like a freestyle battle, not too distant from the breakdancing that may have sparked it all....

It keeps getting wittier at each turn, I thought Matt was hilarious, and then the rink came back hard. All in jest though?

Apologies for the pompous Iraq post the other day. I had a half-hearted desire to write something worthy, with half-hearted results.

On the plus side my flippancy on the drug policy, in a piece written to be read out on attention-deficit breakfast radio (an indictment of my writing, not the station or the listeners, before I raise any more heckles) has managed to rile up some Greens.

Glad to see someone is out there. Although no-one has disagreed with calling Kedgley a relentless I-know-better-than-you-type. Funny that.

I like the Greens, especially Nandor. The last thing I'd ever want to do is give them a country to run, as they are McGilliguddy Serious Party in drag, in that they also want to reverse everything to some form of pre-industrial paradise that never existed, but they call it protectionism. But I like them. They have very sensible ideas on things like drugs and justice, if you are sufficiently broad-minded to accommodate them. Their worrying love for regulation and prescription means I couldn't vote for them, but it is lovely to have them there. Sue Bradford is brilliant - one of the few in Parliament who actually is there too serve rather than push barrows.

Perhaps, like all of ACT and NZ First's formerly rubbished policies (remember the scorn Labour and National used to pour on Treaty time limits, ending Race-Based funding, longer sentences.....et al) now becoming the legislative timetable, well perhaps like that we might see restorative justice and harm assessment health based drug policies come back on the upswing in a couple 0f years.

If only there was a way to make them appeal to the New Zealand version of the Soccer Mum, and all those other big unaddressed constituencies pollsters do so enjoy discovering. That for us, just quietly, is the Inner Redneck. You could call it the "none of that Maaaaaaarri bullshit" vote. Just a thought.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Progressive Review Findings

This is fascinating stuff. And I'm sorry - it is all a bit serious today.
See I found this report that is at the bottom of this post. And there is nothing funny about it.

I have reprinted it in full because every sentence is worth reading. Then check out the link, and the Progressive Review in general for more black and white evidence that this whole endevour has been a disaster across every known measure.

Then again, if Saddam was about to kickstart the change of the oil-dealing currency to the euro and I was President, I would have had to have done the same thing. But I would have been a bit more upfront. This is not some X-files type conspiracy, it is incredibly dry economics. Check out that link. So simple.

The most powerful country on earth was not about to let its power slip. It is the pure politics of power. It is not pretty but both simple and sensible. Anyone who pretends power has morality is a fool, if it was not the States doing this then it would be China or Russia or whoever could.
It has all been nothing more complicated than strict competition for scarce resources. Any economist or historian would see that this war in Iraq has been nothing more than that, and that it was the only course the most powerful nation on earth could take if it wanted to stay at the top.

And I, even with this colossal mess, would prefer a Western-Values dominated world. Not exactly like America, well, perhaps if it were without the religiousity and failure to subscribe to their own principles, and corporate double standards, and PATRIOT ACTS etc.............. we can all dream.


Sure. But it is disgusting. Look at these costs.



UNDERNEWS SPECIAL:COSTS OF THE IRAQ WAR OCT 4, 2004
FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW EDITED BY SAM SMITH Since 1964, Washington's most unofficial source1312 18th St. NW #502,
COSTS OF THE IRAQ WARhttp://www.fpif.org/pdf/reports/IPStransition.pdf

Prepared by the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy InFocus
KEY FINDINGS

1. U.S. Military Casualties Have Been Highest During the "Transition":U.S. military casualties (wounded and killed) stand at a monthly average of 747 since the so-called "transition" to Iraqi rule on June 28, 2004. This contrasts with a monthly average of 482 U.S. military casualties during the invasion (March 20-May 1, 2003) and a monthly average of 415 during the occupation (May 2, 2003- June 28, 2004).

2. Non-Iraqi Contractor Deaths Have Also Been Highest During the"Transition": There has also been a huge increase in the average monthly deaths of U.S. and other non-Iraqi contractors since the "transition."On average, 17.5 contractors have died each month since the June 28"transition," versus 7.6 contractor deaths per month during the previous14 months of occupation.

3. Estimated Strength of Iraqi Resistance Skyrockets: Because the U.S.military occupation remains in place, the "transition" has failed to win Iraqi support or diminish Iraqi resistance to the occupation. Accordingto Pentagon estimates, the number of Iraqi resistance fighters has quadrupled between November of 2003 and early September 2004, from 5,000 to 20,000. The Deputy Commander of Coalition forces in Iraq, British Major General Andrew Graham, indicated to Time magazine in early September that he thinks the 20,000 estimate is too low; he estimates Iraqi resistance strength at 40,000-50,000. This rise is even starker when juxtaposed to Brookings Institution estimates that an additional 24,000 Iraqi resistance fighters have been detained or killed between May 2003 and August 2004.

4. U.S.- led Coalition Shrinks Further After "Transition": The number of countries identified as members of the Coalition backing the U.S.-led war started with 30 on March 18, 2003, then grew in the early months of the war. Since then, eight countries have withdrawn their troops and Costa Rica has demanded to be taken off the coalition list. At the war's start, coalition countries represented 19.1 percent of the world's population; today, the remaining countries with forces in Iraq represent only 13.6 percent of the world's population.

HUMAN COSTS TO THE U.S. AND ALLIES

U.S. Military Deaths: Between the start of war on March 19, 2003 and September 22, 2004, 1,175 coalition forces were killed, including 1,040 U.S. military. Of the total, 925 were killed after President Bush declared the end of combat operations on May 1, 2003. Over 7,413 U.S. troops have been wounded since the war began, 6,953 (94 percent) since May 1, 2003.

Contractor Deaths: As of September 22, 2004, there has been an estimated154 civilian contractors, missionaries, and civilian worker deaths since May 1, 2004. Of these, 52 have been identified as Americans.

Journalist Deaths: Forty-four international media workers have been killed in Iraq as of September 22, 2004, including 33 since President Bush declared the end of combat operations. Eight of the dead worked forU.S. companies.

SECURITY COSTS

Terrorist Recruitment and Action: According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, al Qaeda's membership is now at 18,000, with 1,000 active in Iraq. The State Department's 2003"Patterns of Global Terrorism," documented 625 deaths and 3,646 injuries due to terrorist attacks in 2003. The report acknowledged that"significant incidents," increased from 60 percent of total attacks in2002 to 84 percent in 2003.

Low U.S. Credibility: Polls reveal that the war has damaged the U.S. government's standing and credibility in the world. Surveys in eight European and Arab countries demonstrated broad public agreement that the war has hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism. At home, 52 percent of Americans polled by the Annenberg Election Survey disapproveof Bush's handling of Iraq.

Military Mistakes: A number of former military officials have criticized the war, including retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who has charged that by manufacturing a false rationale for war, abandoning traditional allies, propping up and trusting Iraqi exiles, and failing to plan for post-war Iraq, the Bush Administration made the United States less secure.

Low Troop Morale and Lack of Equipment: A March 2004 army survey found 52 percent of soldiers reporting low morale, and three-fourths reporting they were poorly led by their officers. Lack of equipment has been an ongoing problem. The Army did not fully equip soldiers with bullet-proof vests until June 2004, forcing many families to purchase them out of their own pockets.

Loss of First Responders: National Guard troops make up almost one-third of the U.S. Army troops now in Iraq. Their deployment puts a particularly heavy burden on their home communities because many are "first responders," including police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel. For example, 44 percent of the country's police forces have lost officers to Iraq. In some states, the absence of so many Guard troops has raised concerns about the ability to handle natural disasters.

Use of Private Contractors: An estimated 20,000 private contractors are carrying out work in Iraq traditionally done by the military, despite the fact that they often lack sufficient training and are not accountable to the same guidelines and reviews as military personnel.

ECONOMIC COSTS

The Bill So Far: Congress has approved of $151.1 billion for Iraq. Congressional leaders anticipate an additional supplemental appropriation of $60 billion after the election.

Long-term Impact on U.S. Economy: Economist Doug Henwood has estimated that the war bill will add up to an average of at least $3,415 for everyU.S. household.

Oil Prices: U.S. crude oil prices spiked at $48 per barrel on August 19, 2004, the highest level since 1983, a development that most analysts attribute at least in part to the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

Economic Impact on Military Families: Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 364,000 reserve troops and National Guard soldiers have been called for military service, serving tours of duty that often last 20 months. Studies show that between 30 and 40 percent of reservists and National Guard members earn a lower salary when they leave civilian employment for military deployment. Army Emergency Relief has reported that requests from military families for food stamps and subsidized meals increased "several hundred percent" between 2002 and2003.

SOCIAL COSTS

U.S. Budget and Social Programs: The Bush administration's combination of massive spending on the war and tax cuts for the wealthy means less money for social spending. The $151.1 billion expenditure for the war through this year could have paid for: close to 23 million housing vouchers; health care for over 27 million uninsured Americans; salaries for nearly 3 million elementary school teachers; 678,200 new fire engines; over 20 million Head Start slots for children; or health care coverage for 82 million children. A leaked memo from the White House to domestic agencies outlines major cuts following the election, including funding for education, Head Start, home ownership, job training, medical research and homeland security.

Social Costs to the Military: In order to meet troop requirements in Iraq, the Army has extended the tours of duty for soldiers. These extensions have been particularly difficult for reservists, many of whom never expected to face such long separations from their jobs and families. According to military policy, reservists are not supposed to be on assignment for more than 12 months every 5-6 years. To date, the average tour of duty for all soldiers in Iraq has been 320 days. A recent Army survey revealed that more than half of soldiers said they would not re-enlist.

Costs to Veteran Health Care: About 64 percent of the more than 7,000 U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq received wounds that prevented them from returning to duty. One trend has been an increase in amputees, the result of improved body armor that protects vital organs but not extremities. As in previous wars, many soldiers are likely to have received ailments that will not be detected for years to come. The Veterans Administration healthcare system is not prepared for the swelling number of claims. In May, the House of Representatives approved funding for FY 2005 that is $2.6 billion less than needed, according to veterans' groups.

Mental Health Costs: The New England Journal of Medicine reported inJuly 2004 that 1 in 6 soldiers returning from war in Iraq showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, or severe anxiety. Only 23 to 40 percent of respondents in the study who showed signs of amental disorder had sought mental health care.

COSTS TO IRAQ

HUMAN COSTS

Iraqi Deaths and Injuries: As of September 22, 2004, between 12,800 and 14,843 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion and ensuing occupation, while an estimated 40,000 Iraqis have been injured. During "major combat" operations, between 4,895 and 6,370 Iraqi soldiers and insurgents were killed.

Effects of Depleted Uranium: The health impacts of the use of depleted uranium weaponry in Iraq are yet to be known. The Pentagon estimates that U.S. and British forces used 1,100 to 2,200 tons of weaponry made from the toxic and radioactive metal during the March 2003 bombing campaign. Many scientists blame the far smaller amount of DU weapons used in the Persian Gulf War for illnesses among U.S. soldiers, as well as a sevenfold increase in child birth defects in Basra in southern Iraq.

Rise in Crime: Murder, rape, and kidnapping have skyrocketed since March 2003, forcing Iraqi children to stay home from school and women to stay off the streets at night. Violent deaths rose from an average of 14 per month in 2002 to 357 per month in 2003.

Psychological Impact: Living under occupation without the most basic security has devastated the Iraqi population. A poll conducted by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in June 2004 found that 80 percent of Iraqis believe that coalition forces should leave either immediately or directly after the election.

ECONOMIC COSTS

Unemployment: Iraqi joblessness doubled from 30 percent before the war to 60 percent in the summer of 2003. While the Bush administration now claims that unemployment has dropped, the U.S. is only employing 120,000 Iraqis, of a workforce of 7 million, in reconstruction projects.

Corporate War Profiteering: Most of Iraq's reconstruction has been contracted out to U.S. companies, rather than experienced Iraqi firms. Top contractor Halliburton is being investigated for charging $160 million for meals that were never served to troops and $61 million in cost overruns on fuel deliveries. Halliburton employees also took $6 million in kickbacks from subcontractors, while other employees have reported extensive waste, including the abandonment of $85,000 trucks because they had flat tires.

Iraq's Oil Economy: Anti-occupation violence has prevented Iraq from capitalizing on its oil assets. There have been an estimated 118 attacks on Iraq's oil infrastructure since June 2003. By September 2004, oil production still had not reached pre-war levels and major attacks caused oil exports to plummet to a ten- month low in August 2004.

SOCIAL COSTS

Health Infrastructure: After more than a decade of crippling sanctions, Iraq's health facilities were further damaged during the war and post-invasion looting. Iraq's hospitals continue to suffer from lack of supplies and an overwhelming number of patients.

Education: UNICEF estimates that more than 200 schools were destroyed in the conflict and thousands more were looted in the chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Environment: The U.S-led attack damaged water and sewage systems and the country's fragile desert ecosystem. It also resulted in oil well fires that spewed smoke across the country and left unexploded ordnance that continues to endanger the Iraqi people and environment. Mines and unexploded ordnance cause an estimated 20 casualties per month.

HUMAN RIGHTS COSTS

Even with Saddam Hussein overthrown, Iraqis continue to face human rights violations from occupying forces. In addition to the widely publicized humiliation and torture of prisoners, abuse has been widespread throughout the post-9-11 military operations, with over 300 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo. As of mid-August 2004, only 155 investigations into the existing 300 allegations had been completed.

SOVEREIGNTY COSTS

Despite the proclaimed "transfer of sovereignty" to Iraq, the country continues to be occupied by U.S. and coalition troops and has severely limited political and economic independence. The interim government does not have the authority to reverse the nearly 100 orders by former CPA head Paul Bremer that, among other things, allow for the privatization of Iraq's state-owned enterprises and prohibit preferences for domestic firms in reconstruction.

COSTS TO THE WORLD

HUMAN COSTS

While Americans make up the vast majority of military and contractor personnel in Iraq, other U.S.-allied "coalition" troops have suffered 135 war casualties in Iraq. In addition, the focus on Iraq has diverted international resources and attention away from humanitarian crises such as in Sudan.

DISABLING INTERNATIONAL LAW

The unilateral U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq violated the United Nations Charter, setting a dangerous precedent for other countries to seize any opportunity to respond militarily to claimed threats, whether real or contrived, that must be "pre-empted." The U.S. military has also violated the Geneva Convention, making it more likely that in the future, other nations will ignore these protections in their treatment of civilian populations and detainees.

UNDERMINING THE UNITED NATIONS

At every turn, the Bush Administration has attacked the legitimacy and credibility of the UN, undermining the institution's capacity to act in the future as the centerpiece of global disarmament and conflict resolution. The efforts of the Bush administration to gain UN acceptance of an Iraqi government that was not elected but rather installed by occupying forces undermines the entire notion of national sovereignty as the basis for the UN Charter. It was on this basis that Secretary General Annan referred specifically to the vantage point of the UN Charter in his September 2004 finding that the war was illegal.

ENFORCING COALITIONS

Faced with opposition in the UN Security Council, the U.S. government attempted to create the illusion of multilateral support for the war by pressuring other governments to join a so-called "Coalition of the Willing." This not only circumvented UN authority, but also undermined democracy in many coalition countries, where public opposition to the war was as high as 90 percent. As of the middle of September, only 29 members of the "Coalition of the Willing" had forces in Iraq, in addition to the United States. These countries, combined with UnitedStates, make up less than 14 percent of the world's population.

COSTS TO THE GLOBAL ECONOMY

The $151.1 billion spent by the U.S. government on the war could have cut world hunger in half and covered HIV/AIDS medicine, childhood immunization and clean water and sanitation needs of the developing world for more than two years. As a factor in the oil price hike, the war has created concerns of a return to the "stagflation" of the 1970s. Already, the world's major airlines are expecting an increase in costs of $1 billion or more per month.

UNDERMINING GLOBAL SECURITY AND DISARMAMENT

The U.S.-led war and occupation have galvanized international terrorist organizations, placing people not only in Iraq but around the world at greater risk of attack. The State Department's annual report on international terrorism reported that in 2003 there was the highest level of terror-related incidents deemed "significant" than at any time since the U.S. began issuing these figures.

GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS

U.S.-fired depleted uranium weapons have contributed to pollution ofIraq's land and water, with inevitable spillover effects in other countries. The heavily polluted Tigris River, for example, flows throughIraq, Iran and Kuwait.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The Justice Department memo assuring the White House that torture was legal stands in stark violation of the International Convention AgainstTorture (of which the United States is a signatory). This, combined with the widely publicized mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military and intelligence officials, gave new license for torture andmistreatment by governments around the world.

Absolutely astounding. Every single thing you ever needed to know about what this reliance on oil is costing us. I hope they aren't the type to sue, those good people who prepared this report at the Progressive Review.

Friday, October 01, 2004

News Digest - Drug Policies are Bad, hmmmm 'kay

This first goes out on 95bfm on a Friday Morning - around 8 10am


Remember Nandor? You know that alternative guy with the dreadlocks and the hemp suit. The one who blazed into parliament on publicity overload. Who fearlessly fought for dope decriminalisation?

Well he is back in the public eye. But those long years of select committees and bank bench sitting have taken their toll on the radical of old.

Because now Nandor, who, I reckon, is a thoroughly good bloke and a very intelligent advocate who, incidentally, is embarrassed at being seen as a voice for youth seeing that these days he is closer to fifty then twenty, anyhow, now Nandor has come out co-fronting the new Green Party drug policy. And what once would have been pretty sexy news has been a fizzer. Because where once Nandor would be saying free the weed, man, he is now saying lets build an integrated framework where harm management and risk assessment allow us to monitor more effectively the consumption of psychoactive substances.
Well, not such good copy is it. And it’ll harm the Greens too. Because there are a number of things in this policy that will ensure that it never gets made law, even by dressing it up in such boring Jim Anderton speak.

In real English, the kind the Green Party supporters would have liked to have heard, the major change this approach seeks is to bring all the things you take to get wasted, well, those that aren’t currently B Class or higher, and sticks them under one umbrella, law-wise. And instead of always locking people up for possessing, using or abusing these things we get them medical help if they need it, don’t let kids get hold of the stash and pretty much let everyone else alone, to have at it.

But they couldn’t put it this way because they are trying to appear responsible, serious and reasonable. And it probably has a bit to do with the fact that he is co-fronting it with relentless busy-body and I-Know-what-is-best-for-you type Sue Kedgley. But, anyway, even if they did manage to sneak cannabis in under the radar by hiding it in such a dull sounding proposition, this thing would still fail.

Because they picked the wrong fight. They want to make booze one of these harm-monitored psychoactive substances.
There is, of course, a mountain of irrefutable proof that alcohol is the most dangerous drug to our society. And it would be better for all of us if we treated it with more care, thought of it as a drug, like.
But alcohol, which is so much worse for people than things like pot, is also resolutely ingrained in the culture. We just love drinking too much and we don’t want to see it regulated any more heavily than it is now. And we certainly don’t want to be chucked in rehab if we get caught with more beer on us than can be explained away as for our own personal use.
Picking a fight with the national pastime is bad politicking. Not to mention that you are also picking a fight with some of the largest and most well entrenched lobby groups to boot.

There is a lot to this law that is timely, clever and necessary. An actual attempt to acknowledge something that isn’t going away by criminalizing it. A real effort to remove gang strangleholds on cannabis supply. An approach that treats substance abuse as a health problem. A lot of stuff that will probably never see the light of day. Because the Greens are coming at this with good intentions, with, unfortunately, the normal destination that implies.

So, cruelly really, this policy will disappoint everyone. Not radical enough for the pro-liberalisation crowd, of which I am one, and too radical for all the rugby clubs in the country who might otherwise have had a bit of sympathy for a little ease-up on the illegality of the old wacky-backy.


And, by stripping new ideas about drugs of excitement they are getting pretty grim coverage relating to their efforts. Normally Nandor talking about ganga makes good news - seeing that TV and radio and newspapers love setting the conservative types alight by having this out-there looking dude talk drugs – but no-one is being set alight when it is a polite earnest guy in dreadlocks who jumps up and says lets build an integrated framework where harm management and risk assessment allow us to monitor more effectively the consumption of psychoactive substances. They don’t even follow.

But, just maybe, this is the plan. Say they purposefully made it sound tedious and worthy, which, to be fair, is exactly what good ‘well-being-minded’ law must be, say they purposefully did this in order to lull the public into thinking it is a reasonable idea at heart. Then they wave a big red flag that says booze to distract everyone’s attention. Then, again just maybe, they might magnamaniously offer to remove booze from the ambit of the act and then see if it will wash. Aye? Aye? That would be a cunning plan, probably still wouldn’t work but it is heartening to think that this isn’t the best they’ve got. Looks like we’d better not hold our breath for more realistic drug laws any time soon.