Monday, February 28, 2005

It's time to go

For the Dutch, it's more like a brick with a note attached coming through the window than handwriting on the wall:
Paul Hiltemann had already noticed a darkening mood in the Netherlands. He runs an agency for people wanting to emigrate and his client list had surged.

But he was still taken aback in November when a Dutch filmmaker was shot and his throat was slit, execution style, on an Amsterdam street.

In the weeks that followed, Mr. Hiltemann was inundated by e-mail messages and telephone calls. "There was a big panic," he said, "a flood of people saying they wanted to leave the country."

Leave this stable and prosperous corner of Europe? Leave this land with its generous social benefits and ample salaries, a place of fine schools, museums, sports grounds and bicycle paths, all set in a lively democracy?

The answer, increasingly, is yes. This small nation is a magnet for immigrants, but statistics suggest there is a quickening flight of the white middle class. Dutch people pulling up roots said they felt a general pessimism about their small and crowded country and about the social tensions that had grown along with the waves of newcomers, most of them Muslims."The Dutch are living in a kind of pressure cooker atmosphere," Mr. Hiltemann said.

In 1999, nearly 30,000 native Dutch moved elsewhere, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. For 2004, the provisional figure is close to 40,000. "It's definitely been picking up in the past five years," said Cor Kooijmans, a demographer at the bureau.

Ruud Konings, an accountant, has just sold his comfortable home in the small town of Hilvarenbeek. In March, after a year's worth of paperwork, the family will leave for Australia. The couple said the main reason was their fear for the welfare and security of their two teenage children.

"When I grew up, this place was spontaneous and free, but my kids cannot safely cycle home at night," said Mr. Konings, 49. "My son just had his fifth bicycle stolen." At school, his children and their friends feel uneasy, he added. "They're afraid of being roughed up by the gangs of foreign kids."

Foreign kids?

Was Chimpy right after all?

Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post:
As thousands of Arabs demonstrated for freedom and democracy in Beirut and Cairo last week, and the desperate dictators of Syria and Egypt squirmed under domestic and international pressure, it was hard not to wonder whether the regional transformation that the Bush administration hoped would be touched off by its invasion of Iraq is, however tentatively, beginning to happen.

Those who have declared the war an irretrievable catastrophe have been gloating for at least a year over the supposed puncturing of what they portray as President Bush's fanciful illusion that democracy would take root in Iraq and spread through the region. They may yet be proved right. But how, then, to explain the tens of thousands who marched through Beirut last Monday carrying red and white roses and scarves -- the colors of what they call the "independence intifada" -- and calling for "freedom, independence and sovereignty" from neighboring Syria? Or the hundreds of Egyptian protesters who gathered that same day at Cairo University, in defiance of thousands of police officers, to chant the slogan of "kifaya," or "enough," at 76-year-old President Hosni Mubarak?

Virtually no one in Washington expected such a snowballing of events following Iraq's elections. Not many yet believe that they will lead to real democracy in Egypt, Lebanon or Syria anytime soon. But it is a fact of history that the collapse of a rotted political order usually happens quickly, and takes most of the experts by surprise. In early 1989 I surveyed a panoply of West German analysts about the chances that the then-incipient and barely noticed unrest in Eastern Europe could lead to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. None thought it possible; most laughed at me for asking the question.

If a Middle East transformation begins to gather momentum, it probably will be more messy, and the results more ambiguous, than those European revolutions. It also won't be entirely Bush's creation: The tinder for ignition has been gathering around the stagnant and corrupt autocracies of the Middle East for years. Still, less than two years after Saddam Hussein was deposed, the fact is that Arabs are marching for freedom and shouting slogans against tyrants in the streets of Beirut and Cairo -- and regimes that have endured for decades are visibly tottering. Those who claimed that U.S. intervention could never produce such events have reason to reconsider.

If the old regimes of the Middle East do collapse quickly, will the MSM backpedal quickly enough to keep pace?

Update: Here's more, from Michael Barone:

Nearly two years ago, I wrote that the liberation of Iraq was changing minds in the Middle East. Before March 2003, the authoritarian regimes and media elites of the Middle East focused the discontents of their people on the United States and Israel. I thought the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime was directing their minds to a different question -- how to build a decent government and a decent society.

I think I overestimated how much progress was being made at the time. But the spectacle of 8 million Iraqis braving terrorists to vote on Jan. 30 seems to have moved things up to be changing minds now at breakneck speed.

Evidence abounds. Consider what is happening in Lebanon, long under Syrian control, in response to the assassination, almost certainly by Syrian agents, of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Protesters have taken to the streets day after day, demanding Syrian withdrawal.

The Washington Post's David Ignatius, who covered Lebanon in the 1980s and has kept in touch since, has been skeptical that the Bush administration's policy would change things for the better. But reporting from Beirut last week, he wrote movingly of "the movement for political change that has suddenly coalesced in Lebanon and is slowly gathering force elsewhere in the Arab world."

It's not party time just yet but things are looking up.

Hillary to "run" in '08?

With these legs, unlikely.

Pity the poor smoker

It's going to get harder to keep smoking:

A global anti-tobacco treaty came into force Sunday, but a leading expert said it needs strengthening fast if it is to be effective in curbing the killer habit that claims 5 million lives a year.

Dr. Derek Yach, the World Health Organization's former anti-tobacco chief who oversaw the drafting of the treaty, hailed the accord, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as a first step.

The treaty, known as the FCTC, requires its ratifiers to restrict tobacco advertising and sponsorship, put tougher health warnings on cigarettes and limit use of language such as "low-tar" and "light." They are to enact price and tax hikes, create controls on secondhand smoke and sales of cigarettes to youngsters, and clamp down on smuggling.

Why not charge $20 and include a chunk of freeze-dried cancerous lung in every pack? Scary. Or maybe have one explosive cigarette hidden amongst the contents of a carton. Kapow, there goes a finger or the tip of your nose. Feel like quitting now, before your second hand smoke kills every living thing within a three kilometre radius?

Ah, not to worry, if the UN's running the anti-smoking show the number of smokers is bound to sky-rocket.

Feeling stressed

Pressure gets results:
The government was expected to give details later on Monday of the capture of Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, a top-level Baathist accused of directing the Iraqi insurgency from Syria.

Ibrahim, an intelligence chief and one-time adviser to Saddam, was number 36 on the U.S. military's list of the 55 most-wanted people in Iraq. His arrest was announced on Sunday.

A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Syria, under pressure due to accusations it was behind recent attacks in Israel and Lebanon, had played a role in giving Ibrahim up.

Half-brother, all prick.

Secretary Strangelove, the 800 pound gorilla and The Committee that Runs the World

In this interesting and entertaining article David J. Rothkopf takes us inside the National Security Council. Rothkopf confirms much of what the MSM has led us to believe. Cheney, the 800 pound gorilla, provides the power and ideological drive of the administration. As Strangelove, Rumsfeld is of questionable competence and the “most ruthless man” around. But the pecking order isn't always clear:
But the obstacle that most frustrated Powell was one that was 30 years in the making: the Cheney-Rumsfeld partnership. As Cheney reportedly jokes, “When I look at Don Rumsfeld, I see a great secretary of defense. When Rumsfeld looks at me, he sees a former assistant to Don Rumsfeld.” Or, as another close friend of Cheney’s observed, “Sometimes when you see them together at a party, you’re not sure who is working for whom.”

The article lacks depth because it's meant as a teaser - the title, The Committee that Runs the World, is an obvious attention seeking ploy - for Rothkopf's upcoming book, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, from which it is drawn. He teases well, managing to refer to all of the major NSC contemporaries, without burdening us with detail. (It does seem however that he makes too much of Bush's faith: does Bush really think he's infallible? His claims that the NSC is dysfunctional are also less than persuasive.)

Nonetheless, well worth a look if for no reason other than its colourful quotes.

Life on hold

An Australian tourist is in a bit of a bind in Spain:
A Melbourne man kept in custody in Spain for seven months says he is no closer to knowing the reason for his detention.

Adam Dalton was holidaying in Barcelona last year, when he was arrested for allegedly pushing another man in a minor street incident.

Mr Dalton says he has been told to wait while Spanish police finish their investigations.

"I have not been charged," he said.

"But the public prosecutors have put forward a minor charge of - I couldn't tell you the name off the top of my head, it's fairly complicated word and it's in Spanish - but it carries a penalty of a 300 euro fine."

"In custody" makes it seem he's in jail. If so, why would he have been told to "wait". This just doesn't make sense.

It also seems odd that the ABC reports that Dalton doesn't know why he's being detained but in the next sentence says he was involved in an incident where he pushed another man and several sentences later says authorities have "put forward a minor charge". Rounding out the oddness is the fact that, even though Dalton has been detained for seven months, he isn't concerned enough to learn the complicated Spanish word for the charge he claims not to have been charged with.

What the Hell's going on here? An earlier article in The Age clears things up a bit:

Prime Minister John Howard said today he would make further inquiries about an Australian tourist being held in Spain for an alleged assault.

Traveller Adam Dalton has called on the federal government for help after he was arrested in Barcelona last year over an alleged assault on an American tourist.

He was held for six weeks in a jail cell with a murderer and drug dealers and was released only after his family paid almost $80,000 in bail and legal fees.

He is not allowed to leave the country.

So, Dalton was arrested for an alleged assault. He was held and later released on bail. He is not allowed to leave the country.

Why does the ABC do such a poor job of reporting such an apparently straightforward story? Did ABC staff do their homework? Did Dalton mislead the ABC? Or could it be Dalton's story has gotten confused because he's not too bright.

I suspect Dalton might be a bit thick. If so, he won't be the odd man out -- remember how the Spanish voted in their last national election.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


I'm a working class type living in an out-of-the-way, older part of a sprawling, predominantly working class suburb. The area is attractive to the less than affluent because land relatively close to the ocean is relatively cheap. Naturally, waterfront land is very expensive, and even land with ocean glimpses is beyond the means of most. Many of the older, run down but very valuable beach shacks are rented to lowlifes, ne'erdowells, white trash, whatever you want to call them, you must stay alert.

One day at the small local shopping centre, while waiting for a prescription to be filled, I noticed a scruffy looking type at the prescription counter drinking a small cup of pink liquid. When she had left I asked the pharmacist about the liquid; it turned out to be methadone, which the pharmacist said he dispenses to about 20 regulars.

What, 20 former heroin addicts in my neighbourhood? Jesus, if there are 20 former addicts in the area, how many current addicts are there? Wait a minute, this explains lots: the near-nightly burglar alarms; the dog barking in the middle of the night; trampled flowerbed plants; and the guy with his face pressed against a window in the middle of the night - he claimed to be on the way home from the pub and looking for a place to pee. Yep, keep the doors and windows locked and eyes and ears open. Stay alert.

If a visit to the local shops is exciting, the regional shopping centre can be an adventure. Hell, just getting there can be an adventure. The locals seem to have their own road rules, number one being to tailgate when possible. Rule number two is, damn the speed cameras, full speed ahead. Number three applies to yellow lights, which mean floor it. Number four applies to the horn, with variations for males and females: a female honkee simply responds with the "finger" and exaggerated mouthed swearing; male honkees respond as do females but with the option to tailgate the honker to his destination for a bit of one-on-one verbal abuse - the level of male response depending on how well that day's visit to Centrelink went.

Okay, we've made it to the parking lot, the challenge now is to find a spot between two cars that are parked between the lines. Oops, almost forgot, make sure the window is up when you pull into the parking lot; the little kiddies roaming about think it's hilarious to douse drivers with whatever liquid they have to hand. And, never, ever tempt the kiddies by leaving loose change in the car where it can be seen.

On Saturday, my shopping day, the shopping centre is always busy. It's a sea of paunchy skin, tattoos and piercings. Far too many women are wearing not nearly enough clothing. If they were toned and attractive it would be Okay but most of these women are showing me stuff I don't want to see. Is it my imagination or are most of these people overweight?

With tattoos, apparently the bigger the better. The elaborate large tattoo on the small of the back, half-peeking out above hip hugging jeans is very popular with females at the moment, as is the circular shoulder-blade tattoo. Other than the leg-tattoo, which seems to be popular mostly with naval personnel, most male tattoos are not so obvious. How do these people afford their tattoos?

Piercing are very in, with the mutiple upper-ear earring very popular with females. Tongue studs are also very popular with females of all ages, with a twelve year old once explaining to me, "they're for giving head, my mother has one". But, piercings aren't cheap, how can they afford them?

Then there are all of the scruffy young women pushing kiddies in prams. Hey wait a minute, I thought the birthrate was down. How can all of these young women afford all of these kids? Can they afford them?

It's much quieter in Woolies. That's because for unsupervised kids Woolies is a food and entertainment smorgasbord. Feeling peckish, rip open a pack of whatever strikes your fancy, fill up on $19.00 a kilo grapes or have a handful of sweets from the bulk food section. Bored?, amuse yourself by making that little popping sound that goes with a finger punching through the plastic wrap on a package of prepacked meat.

At the checkout - how can they afford that trolley load of junk? - the kids have returned to their mothers but are still unsupervised. They jump and fidget and make demands for sweets, more sweets. They try to attract the attention of nearby shoppers by climbing on the counters and fiddling with the till's keypad. The cashier and I make furtive but knowing eye contact, both of us giving a little smile: we'd both like to grab one of the little monsters and slap some sense into him but both of us know that sloppy, nasty mummy-skank would kill us if we so much as reprimand. It's strictly grin and bear it. (On my last visit to the shops I stood and watched silently as an unsupervised child stood on the counter pounding on the theft detector, which kept letting off an ear-piercing shriek. Mummy-skank and granny-skank stood there in silence throughout. Wouldn't want to harm the little bastard's – and I do mean that literally – self-esteem now would we?)

Okay, make sure the carton of smokes is at the bottom of the trolley where it can't be easly lifted by a passerby and head for the car. Another Saturday's shopping adventure is done.

Oh come on folks, we all know who's bankrolling this crew: us. Many of these people - alcoholics and drug addicts included - are getting a government benefit of some sort. They know exactly what they're entitled to and what thier rights are. They should know, they have plenty of spare time in which to figure things out.

Surely to keep handing these people money is counterproductive. They're going to raise a brood as unproductive as they are. Also, it just doesn't seem right to hand these people AU$470.70 a fortnight when our military could use that money for something constructive, like killing jihadis. Nope, it just ain't right.

I feel better now.

Mom is full of surprises

Every Saturday I do the weekly shopping for my mother and then drop it off to her at the retirement home. She's going great guns especially considering she's 89.

The retirement home was a bit of shock for her because she had until then lived in a spacious three bedroom unit. She needed the space because, having grown up dirt poor, she's an accumulator: bits of string, magazines, broken bits and pieces, you name it, she had it. Other than stuff she should have thrown out but hadn't, she had also accumlated lots of old clothes she'd come across while working for a charity op-shop. Most of this stuff went out when she vacated her unit. Most, but not all.

Yesterday, at the end of our nice little visit, she gave me a shopping bag containing miscellaneous bits and pieces she wanted my daughter to go through: anything she wanted, my daughter could have. Today my daughter went through the bag to find it contained mostly costume jewellery. But, at the bottom of the bag was a surprise, a tooled leather belt divided into twelve panels, each showing a couple in a different sexual position.

Obviously she's not the typical 89 year old mother.

Update: According to my daughter, her grandmother often remarked on the weird stuff donated to the charity op-shop. She apparently brought a lot of the stuff home to show her cronies for a laugh. One item they found especially amusing was a leather cat-o'-nine-tails. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall as the old ladies considered the possibilites ...

Crow eaten

In a comment to my earlier post Revolution vs evolution, and in behind the scenes emails, reader John at Crossroads Arabia has pointed out that my view of change in Saudi Arabia is simplistic at best. Having given the matter much thought, I must agree that I erred in writing:
There's no hiding the fact that the Saudi government doesn't want women to participate in the political process and is dragging its feet.

This is a gross over-simplification of the complex political dynamics within Saudi Arabia, where the government is engaged in a tricky balancing act, attempting to cater to the desires of both those who want political liberalization and those who do not. It will be interesting to watch as the Saudi government tries to pick its way through the political minefield it created over many years, without suffering significant casualties along the way.

For those wanting to be better informed about Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations I strongly suggest a visit to Crossroads Arabia.

On the road to reform

This sounds good:
More than one candidate will be able to stand in presidential elections in Egypt under a constitutional change proposed by President Hosni Mubarak, a step welcomed by several opposition groups.

The move, announced by Mr Mubarak in a televised address, would allow the first multi-candidate presidential elections since the 1952 revolution and follows pressure from the United States for political change.

Analysts say the step is both a response to calls from Washington for political reform and an increasingly vocal opposition inside Egypt, which they say has been emboldened by US pressure.

It's not much but it's a start.

Weasel in the house

Not really, it's a ferret. I've been baby sitting it for a few weeks with adoption likely.

It's like a hyper-kinetic cat with extra attitude and personality. A small furry chainsaw on legs. An ankle attacking stealth predator.

Hopefully I'll be able to keep it out of the dishwasher.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Quota not good

Juan Cole on the insignificance of females in government in Iraq (scroll down):
Amnesty International reports that the women of Iraq have suffered substantial setbacks in their rights since the US invasion, and live in a condition of dire insecurity.

The suggestion by some that the guarantee of 1/3 of seats in the Iraqi parliament to women might make up for the situation described by Amnesty is of course absurd. Iraq is not the first country to have such a quota. It was put into effect in Pakistan by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The move was meant to weaken Muslim fundamentalists, on the theory that women members of parliament would object to extreme patriarchy on the Khomeini or Taliban model. In fact, the Jama'at-i Islami, the main fundamentalist party in Pakistan, was perfectly capable of finding women to represent it in parliament. (US readers should remember Phyllis Schlafly!) Moreover, the 1/3 of MPs who are women can fairly easily be outvoted by the men.

If the Republican Party in the US is so proud of putting in such a quota for Iraq, they should think seriously about applying it in the United States Congress.

Might not the US be a better country if there were 33 women senators and more like 120 congresswomen? If your answer is that it wouldn't matter, then you cannot very well insist that it does matter in Iraq. If you think it would be important, then if you support it in Iraq you should support it in the United States.

Professor Cole should be able to see the importance – symbolic, if nothing else – of the election of women in a overwhelmingly Muslim country. If democracy ever gets up and running properly in Iraq they can then drop any quotas and make voting and standing for election as it is in the US, strictly a matter of personal choice.

With professors like Cole it's a wonder kids don't come out of university dumber than they went in. Come to think of it ...

A simple man

A financial scandal has prompted the resignation of France's finance minister:

Herve Gaymard said he had made a "serious error of judgement" and his resignation was accepted by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The minister, his wife Clara and eight children had been living in the luxury Paris flat at a cost to the taxpayer of 14,000 euros (£9,000) a month.

In an earlier interview with Paris Match magazine, Mr Gaymard said he always lived humbly.

"I don't have money," he said.

"Obviously, if I weren't the son of a shoemaker and shoe salesman but a 'grand bourgeois', I wouldn't have a housing problem. I would own my own apartment and there wouldn't be this affair."

However, a report published in the centre-left daily newspaper Liberation revealed that he owns two houses, two flats and a garage outside Paris, as well as a luxury flat in the capital which he rents out for 2,300 euros ($3,032, £1,584) a month.

Eight kids, now there's a "serious error of judgement".

It's mine and I want it back

From the truth is stranger than fiction file:
A man who says his former lover deceived him by getting pregnant using semen obtained through oral sex can sue for emotional distress - but not theft, an appeals court has ruled.

Dr. Richard O. Phillips accuses Dr. Sharon Irons of a "calculated, profound personal betrayal" six years ago, but she says they had the baby through sexual intercourse.

The Illinois Appeals Court said Wednesday that Phillips can press a claim for emotional distress after alleging Irons had used his sperm to have a baby, but agreed that however the baby was conceived, Irons didn't steal the sperm.

"She asserts that when plaintiff 'delivered' his sperm, it was a gift," the decision said. "There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request."

I assume a turkey baster was involved.

Wish list

I'll have the CSR 260 in Caterham yellow, thanks. First I better figure out how to get the tip box up.

Blame allocated

From ABC Australia this little bit of responsibility shirking:

The Pilbara's peak Aboriginal organisation is urging political leaders to step up to the challenge of Aboriginal education in the Pilbara, in north-west Western Australia, which it says is in a catastrophic state.

The Ngarda Ngarli Yarndu Regional Council says truancy and suspension rates among Aboriginal school students are appalling and educational outcomes are shameful.

Central zone commissioner Terry Whitby says the Department of Education is failing to listen to Indigenous people, there is a lack of adequate funding and associated social problems are not being addressed.

He says the issue has been virtually ignored in the state election campaign.

"There's got to be some politician brave enough in this state in this day and age to recognise that there's a failure in education here and to now step up to the plate and say, 'okay, let's start doing something about this instead of just worrying about the economy, the economy all the time'," he said.

"Not everybody lives in an economy, some people do live in a society."

The Department of Education did not respond to the ABC's request for a response to the claims.

Aboriginal children, their parents and the Aboriginal community should take responsibility for students' attendance and performance at school. There isn't much the education system can do if the kiddies don't want to attend or learn.

In reality, many Aborigines are, by choice, not participating members of the broader Australian society, which has taught them they are its victims. They also see no need to be part of the broader Australian economy, relying on handouts rather than creating wealth. As someone no doubt much smarter than me once said, you can't eliminate poverty by throwing money at it.

Friday, February 25, 2005

UN Congo peace-keepers killed

Reuters reports that at least eight UN peace-keepers have been killed in the Congo's Ituri province. Details are limited at this stage.

The Reuters report also notes:
About one third of the world's biggest U.N. peacekeeping mission is based in Ituri but attacks on civilians remain frequent. Clashes between militia during the last two months alone have displaced some 70,000 civilians, aid workers say.

Hmm, sounds like things aren't going too well. I wonder if the UN had an exit strategy when it went in?

Why I blog (part three)

It's my hobby, combining two things I really enjoy: current events and being an arse-hole.

The Howard-Bush-Abbott-Rove-Fundamentalist Christian-abortion nexus

Because so much has been written on them, there are two topics I meant to steer clear of: abortion and Karl Rove. Well, Greg Barns's column in the Seattle Post Intelligencer is so nutty, drawing together Rove and abortion in an Australian context, I just can't resist bringing it to the attention of my readers.

According to Barns:
It's been 25 years since Australia tore itself apart debating the rights and wrongs of abortion. But the issue has resurfaced courtesy of the preparedness of Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his advisers to take a leaf out of Karl Rove's tactics textbook and the successful export of U.S. fundamentalist churches to Australia over the past five years.

Come on, I've lived in Australia for almost 30 years and wasn't a youngster when I got here but can't remember the abortion debate tearing the country apart. Granted, abortion isn't exactly an important issue for me but I think I would have noticed.

We're all aware of the influence – control? – Bush has over Howard when it comes to Iraq, now we have to worry about the indirect control over domestic issues being exercised by Rove and U.S.-style fundamentalist Christians. It's a veritable invasion of influence with Howard succumbing early on:
Howard is an unashamed admirer of Rove, President Bush's political tactics mastermind. When Howard introduced his own political strategist, Lynton Crosby, to Bush in 2001, he called him the "Karl Rove of Australian politics."

Realistically, I doubt Howard knew much more about Rove than that he was a political strategist, the political strategist behind Bush's successful presidential campaign.

Barns, through some outside political analysis, then let's us in on Howard's simple yet sinister secret message to Australia's red-necks:
According to Australian political commentator Dennis Glover, Howard is allowing and encouraging the abortion debate to send a political message that would sound eerily familiar to followers of the Bush campaign strategy. The message is simple -- "morally conservative working-class Australians will know that, secretly, if only those rotten elites would let him, John Howard would love to move against abortion."

Of course, Barns doesn't tell his readers Dennis Glover is more than a political commentator, he's a former Labor speech writer. (And, since this column is in an American newspaper, the readers really should have been told.) There's also the little matter of Glover's use of the term "morally conservative", the meaning and relevance of which are questionable.

Barns continues:
In 1979, Australia's national Parliament decided to allow the government-funded medical insurance scheme to cover abortion. And until last year, the issue was off the political and community radar screen. But when Australia's minister for health, Tony Abbott, a practicing Catholic, said in July last year that the community needed to debate the issue again, the anti-abortion groups and many churches quickly swung into action with a new U.S.-style aggressive campaign.

Are Tony Abbott's religious convictions relevant? I honestly don't know. But, I do know that the community's not likely to be stampeded into a debate it doesn't want to have. I'm beginning to get the idea Barns doesn't want abortion to be discussed because he's afraid the community might want change.

To liven things up Barns now tries to convince his readers the Australian anti-abortionists, like their American counterparts, are engaged in scare mongering:
As is the case in the United States, the Australian anti-abortion campaign is focusing on late-term abortions, arguing that any woman who has an abortion is "running a high risk" of long-term psychological damage and that the rate of abortion in society constitutes an "epidemic."

Like their U.S. counterparts, the Australian anti-abortionists know that their aim of a near total ban on abortion is a long-term goal that will be achieved incrementally. So they are focusing on the emotive topic of late-term abortions and urging Australian politicians, as "an initial measure," to follow Bush's lead to ban any abortion performed after 20 weeks gestation.

Yet such abortions are extremely rare in Australia. The total number of reported abortions in Australia is about 73,000 per year -- hardly an epidemic in a nation that has a population of 20 million. In 2003, the number of late-term abortions in Australia's two largest states, New South Wales and Victoria, was around 360.

As the husband of a woman who lost a child seven months into a preganancy and never fully recovered psychologically I can confirm the damage that can be done. 73,000 abortions might not be an epidemic but it's a big number nontheless.

Barns continues with the allegations of anti-abortion scare mongering and then concludes his column by recapping the Rove – Bush – fundamentalist Christian connection:
In the past five years, the U.S. fundamentalist Christian churches have successfully exported their brand of religion and politics to Australia. These churches are funding and fueling the current abortion debate and the Australian anti-abortionists, emboldened by the success of their U.S. counterparts, are embracing the same emotive tactics to win political support. Given John Howard's respect for the ideas and political strategy of George W. Bush and Karl Rove, the hour of the long-dormant Australian anti-abortion movement might be just around the corner.

I'm not emotionally involved in either the abortion or Karl Rove hysterias but do think it interesting that an Australian political commentator has written this column in an American newspaper. The only purpose I can see for him doing so is to try to energise the liberal base in America. If anyone can come up with a better reason, I'd love to hear it.

My thoughts on abortion: such matters are best left to the parties concerned, that is, the woman, her significant other and the medical practitioner. In any event, abortion should not be a form of birth control: women should be responsible for their bodies while they're getting pregnant, not just after they're pregnant. Late term abortions should be allowed only in dire circumstances.

As for Karl Rove, he's a nerdy little guy who's good at political strategy. A Svengali he ain't.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Cool it

The great Western Australia canal brouhaha continues in the lead-up to the state election. (For those not aware of state politics, the Liberal [conservative] opposition has proposed building a canal to carry water from the state's seasonally wet north to Perth. See Robert Corr's Kick and Scream for more information and links.) Over the years various water production and transportation schemes, including the towing of Antarctic icebergs, have been proposed for Australia's densely populated but dryish regions.

Irish artist Rita Duffy has proposed an equally grand scheme of her own, to tow a Norwegian iceberg to Northern Ireland. The perfectly sensible objective of such a mammoth undertaking being to cool decades old tensions between Protestants and Catholics.

Iceberg ... cool tensions ... fucking idiot.

Revolution vs evolution

The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland on the political revolution in Iraq:
Look beyond the jockeying for jobs in Iraq's embryonic transitional government. Focus instead on the final results in that Arab country's matrix-breaking election. They reveal a little-publicized result that President Bush, feminist organizations and democracy advocates should be shouting from the rooftops.

Nearly one-third of the 140 winning candidates on the Shiite parliamentary list are women. Moreover, those 45 women from the list supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tend to be more educated, better informed and more committed to change than are their male counterparts, who include a number of political hacks.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal in the keynote address at the “Two Kingdoms: Facing the Challenges Ahead" conference in London:
Our educational reforms have created a new generation of highly educated and professionally trained Saudi women who are acquiring their rightful position in Saudi society. I am proud to mention here that this year we shall have women working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the first time.

Referring to political reform, the Saudi minister said the Kingdom believed that it must be evolutionary and must fulfill the requirements of its people. “This month, we have commenced the process of electing municipal council members as a step in testing the water. The Saudi minister of Islamic affairs has recently declared that there is nothing in Islam that prohibits women from participating in elections...I would not be surprised if they take part in the next round of elections.”

There's no hiding the fact that the Saudi government doesn't want women to participate in the political process and is dragging its feet. What sort of democracy will evolve? I'm guessing it will be neither pretty nor popular.

And, why aren't feminists celebrating the victory for women in Iraq? The answer's obvious so I won't bother.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Darfur fault found

Nicholas Kristof has enclosed photos of Darfur victims in today's opinion piece in which he's looking to lay the blame:

Photos don't normally appear on this page. But it's time for all of us to look squarely at the victims of our indifference.

So what can stop this genocide? At one level the answer is technical: sanctions against Sudan, a no-fly zone, a freeze of Sudanese officials' assets, prosecution of the killers by the International Criminal Court, a team effort by African and Arab countries to pressure Sudan, and an international force of African troops with financing and logistical support from the West.

But that's the narrow answer. What will really stop this genocide is indignation. Senator Paul Simon, who died in 2003, said after the Rwandan genocide, "If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different."

Why doesn't the UN get a mention, not even in passing? You know, the world organization set up to handle just such situations? Hasn't it been the US rocking the boat on Darfur?, the UN responding with an investigation that concluded genocidal intent but no genocide. And now the responsibility has been passed to the American public.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for napalming – or whatever - the government and its thugs back to the stone age - or beyond - but if the events in Darfur can't even make it onto the Sercurity Council agenda, why should the problem be passed to the American public? I mean really, what are the chances the simpletons who elected Bush have ever even heard of Sudan, much less want to get all indignant about the deaths of some black Africans. Or, was that really the point Kristof was trying to make?


Australian academic John Quiggin is upset that additional Australian soldiers will be sent to Iraq:

Just as US soldiers and National Guards who’ve completed their tours in Iraq are being conscripted by stop-loss orders, recalls and the like, then sent back for a second round, Australia has received new orders. The New Europeans (Spain, Poland, Netherlands and so on) are all pulling out, and its up to us to fill the gap.

Afraid not John, 450 Aussies being sent to Iraq is nothing close to, much less just like, the American commitment and recommitment of forces. And while Aussie forces are surely some of the world's best, there aren't enough of them to fill the gap. But, there's more:

Of course, there’s no mention of the US in Howard’s announcement. Supposedly, this is a response to personal requests from the British and Japanese Prime Ministers. Older readers will recall that exactly the same farce was played out with our commitment of troops to Vietnam. Anyone who believes the government’s line might reflect on what kind of response Blair and Koizumi would get if they requested from Howard something the Bush Administration didn’t like, such as ratification of Kyoto.

Yep, it's Vietnam redux alright: we're fighting a ruthless enemy and you'd prefer we did it with one hand tied behind our back. And our PM, he doesn't care if a few - maybe lots - of his countrymen get killed, not so long as he can do Bush's bidding.

Regardless, the gratuitous linkage to Kyoto is a sure sign of desperation.


Just visited the newish United Nations Foundation sponsored blog, UN Dispatch. The content is pretty much as expected. But, at the top of the page is a photo of a group of what appears to be UN field workers doing what UN staffers do best, nothing in particular. What's odd is their vehicles: two old four wheel drives, with nary a Landcruiser or Mercedes in sight. Actually, I reckon these guys are, like their employer, lost.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Get them young and you've got them forever

A bunch of Margo "Heil Howard" Kingston wanna-bes at JHS 51 in New York City have sent nasty letters to American Pfc. Rob Jacobs as part of a class project:

One girl wrote that she believes Jacobs is "being forced to kill innocent people" and challenged him to name an Iraqi terrorist, concluding, "I know I can't."

Another girl wrote, "I strongly feel this war is pointless," while a classmate predicted that because Bush was re-elected, "only 50 or 100 [soldiers] will survive."

A boy accused soldiers of "destroying holy places like mosques."

Even one kid smitten with soldiers couldn't keep politics out of the picture, writing, "I find that many extreme liberals are disrespectful to you."

Their teacher has – shock, horror – yet to explain himself and hasn't even confirmed he read the letters before they were sent.

Why I blog (part two)

I'm going to be rich and famous.

Wait a minute, I've made 10 good, solid – if a bit amateurish: cut me some slack, I'm new at this – posts up to now without a single link from Instapundit. What's the God-damn deal?

Conspiracy theory

Not everyone is impressed with an American scientist's claim that children must eat at least some meat:
Sir Paul McCartney, whose first wife Linda put her name to a meat-free range of food, telephoned the BBC yesterday to dismiss Prof Allen's claims as "rubbish". He told the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show that he had been a vegetarian for 20 years and raised his children the same with no ill-effects. "I really do think this is rubbish. I suspect these things are engineered by livestock people who have seen sales fall off. It has been a good thing for me and my children who are no shorter than other children."

Linda didn't seem to benefit all that much, she died at the ripe old age of 55.


Hans von Storch and Nico Stehr, writing in Spiegel Online, question the tactics of the Global Warming doom-mongers. As the following edited excerpt shows, many within the scientific community want to scare us into believing:

The assumption is made that fear compels people to act ... to ensure that the entire system continues to function in the long term, each new claim about the future of our climate and of the planet must be just a little more dramatic than the last.

All of this leads to a spiral of exaggeration. Each individual step in this process may seem harmless, but on the whole, the knowledge imparted to the public about climate, climatic fluctuations, climate shift and climatic effects is dramatically distorted.

Unfortunately, the corrective mechanisms in science are failing. Public reservations with regard to the standard evidence of climate catastrophe are often viewed as unfortunate within the scientific community, since they harm the "worthy cause," especially because, as scientists claim, they could be "misused by skeptics." Dramatization on a small scale is considered acceptable, whereas correcting exaggeration is viewed as dangerous because it is politically inopportune. This means that doubts are not voiced publicly. Instead, the scientific community creates the impression that the scientific underpinnings of climate change research are solid and only require minor additions and adjustments.

Other scientists are succumbing to a form of fanaticism almost reminiscent of the McCarthy era. In their minds, criticism of methodology is nothing but the monstrous product of "conservative think-tanks and misinformation campaigns by the oil and coal lobby," which they believe is their duty to expose. In contrast, dramatization of climate shift is defended as being useful from the standpoint of educating the public.

If anyone from the evil oil and gas lobby happens to read this – a long-shot considering the size of my readership – I'm a bit short of funds at the moment and, being a conservative, have no scruples. Hint, hint.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Food for thought

Those of us with sense didn't have to be told:

"I would go so far as to say it's unethical for parents not to provide their children, their growing children, whether it be in the uterus or after they're born with animal source foods that are so clearly required for their normal development," she said.

Local farmers beware, I've armed the kids and sent them out to forage.

Dr Gonzo pulls the plug ... err, trigger

Hunter S, Thompson is headed to that fortified compound in the sky:

"Dr. Hunter S. Thompson took his life with a gunshot to the head.

He was a talented writer and larger than life character:

"A lot of people really loved Hunter, and despised him at the same time," longtime friend and Rolling Stone photographer Lynn Goldsmith said."I know, having been a celebrity portrait photographer, that there are individuals who aren't like other people. That's because they're geniuses. So you can't expect them to act like a normal person."

Back in my university days I really enjoyed his writing but enjoyed him less and less as I matured. Along the way I also lost a young man's often fatal interest in guns, drugs and booze. Couple those three with writing and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Actually, I'm amazed he lived as long as he did without killing someone.


In an article in the LA Times, David Shaw doesn't defend Eason Jordan, he attacks the "angry" bloggers who created a "firestorm of criticism", and Jordan's CNN bosses who "caved in" and eventually "gave him a not-so-gentle push toward the door". Okay, Shaw doesn't actually attack anyone, he fires off a few unaimed shots from his journalistic scattergun but fails to draw any blood.

Some 21 paragraphs into the article Shaw arrives at a conclusion that makes all the waffle preceding it irrelevant:
What I don't understand is why they — and he — caved in so quickly. I wish he'd asked — begged, demanded — that the organizers of the Davos forum release the videotape of his panel. I can only assume that he said what he's accused of saying and that he doesn't want those remarks in the public domain, even if they were followed by his quick backtracking.

So what really happened was Jordan said something indefensible and decided to do the honourable thing and fall on his sword. It was the only dignified thing he could do.

Unfortunately, Shaw just can't drop it, he has to fire off a parting shot at bloggers:
But bloggers appear to have achieved almost mythical power these days.

Bloggers can be useful. They did a good job, for example, in bringing the Rather/CBS screw-up to public attention. But some bloggers are just self-important ranters who seem to wake up every morning convinced that the entire Free World awaits their opinions on any subject that's popped into their heads since their last fevered post.

Unfortunately, when these bloggers rise up in arms, grown men weep — and news executives cave in. That's much more alarming than anything Jordan said.

Sure, some bloggers are insignificant – self-important – nobodies. Others deserve to be listened to. I take it Jordan and his CNN bosses listened to the latter, not the former.

Via Tim Blair, who links to Instapundit's round-up.

Why I blog (part one)

It can be really frustrating being a right wing death beast in a workplace brimming with moderately well educated but poorly informed, generally pleasant and good intentioned – road-to-hell – lefties. At work I keep my political views to myself unless I’m feeling devilish and want to see the horrified faces of my colleagues after I’ve said something good about Bush or Howard, or something bad about Michael Moore or one of his “documentaries”. (My bouyant reactions to the reelections of Howard and Bush and their gangs of thugs were not much appreciated.)

Also, it wouldn’t be appropriate to expose my political and social views to my clients – I could be fired – so I keep my mouth shut and do my job. I'm sure there are lots of conservatives who'd like to be more open with their views but are intimidated into silence.

So, I have a need to vent.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Dirty commie

From an ABC report on the changing art scene in Russia:
The Lenin Museum is just a skip away from Red Square where the man himself lies in his mausoleum. Right now specialists are washing his body and giving him a new set of clothes, just regular maintenance work for the embalmed revolutionary.

How did he get dirty?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Daily News Review (Sunday 20 February)

Sydney Morning Herald

Bush the elder and Clinton arrive in Thailand for the start of their tsunami devastation tour.

Mike Carlton is determined to convince his readers he is unable to use a dictionary. Carlton also attempts to justify his fondness for environment destroying, small import crushing, 4X4 road beasts.

The interrogation versus interview brouhaha carriers over from Carlton to today's lead editorial. (Apparently no-one at the SMH knows how to use a dictionary.)

Just doing a test run here folks, to sort out the formatting. Hopefully a review of eastern states' morning news will become a regular feature.

Servant problem

Pity the poor Saudi confronting this wicked dilemma:

You need a maid and a driver, but you only have one room for servant’s quarters. What to do?

How about a dual purpose employee? After all, it's not like these are highly skilled jobs; surely it would be easy to find a male or female that could both. Oops, that isn't going to work, you can't have a male in the house with the missus unless she's chaperoned and females aren't allowed to drive because ... damn, there must be some reason. This is a difficult problem; time for some lateral thinking:

Many Saudi families these days are paying the wedding expenses of their maids and drivers, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported. Some families do this either for fear that the driver and maid might engage in a relationship that goes against Saudi culture and religion. Some families do this because there is not enough space to house both a maid and a driver.

Fair enough, wouldn't want any of those non-Saudis violating Saudi cultural or religious norms, like arranged marriage:

The rather unusual circumstances sometimes lead to a little confusion. Nura, a 20-year-old Saudi woman, was happy when her family phoned to tell her a groom was coming to visit the house. She was dreaming of family life with husband and children when the groom arrived, and she learned the groom was a neighbor’s driver asking for the maid’s hand in marriage.

Nura must have been devastated, not to mention confused. But what's a Saudi to do if the maid and driver don't hit it off. Simple:

Not all these weddings take place based on servants’ desires to get married. Sometimes there’re forced marriages.

Um Khaled told Asharq Al-Awsat that her need of a driver forced her to put pressure on her Indian driver and Indonesian maid to get married. Despite the repeated pleas from the maid and driver against her decision, Um Khaled managed in the end to make them husband and wife.

Naturally, such goings on have not gone unnoticed:

Muhammad Al-Yaeesh, a marriage official and mosque Imam, told Asharq Al-Awsat that maids and drivers should never be forced to get married, and such a marriage is invalid.

“Most cases in which maids and drivers are married are based on emotional decisions, and those fail most of the time,” Al-Yaeesh said. “Their marriages sometimes don’t solve problems but create problems instead.”

At least the authorities are aware of the situation and are taking steps to discourage or outlaw forced marriage, right? Not exactly:

Right or wrong, the marriage officials still help couples get married.

“We try to facilitate the marriage of maids and drivers based on requests from their sponsors, either through us or through their embassies,” Al-Yaeesh said.

The modern world is just so ... complicated, especially when you're determined to live in the 8th century.

Friday, February 18, 2005

US half-blinds Omar

The Guantanamo atrocities continue:

A British permanent resident detained at the US camp for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay was blinded in one eye following an assault by guards, his lawyer said yesterday.

“They brought their pepper spray and held him down,” he said.

“They held both of his eyes open and sprayed it into his eyes and later took a towel soaked in pepper spray and rubbed it in his eyes. Omar could not see from either eye for two weeks but he gradually got sight back in one eye.

“He’s totally blind in the right eye. I can report that his right eye is all white and milky — he can’t see out of it because he has been blinded by the US in Guantanamo.”

So, lets see, it would probably take four or more guards to hold this guy down, hold his eyes open and then flood them with pepper spray. It's pretty hard to imagine all this happening in a cell the size of a large mattress.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


The opposition continues to pressure the government on the involvement of Australians in the interrogation of prisoners, with the government continuing to insist that Australian personnel did nothing more than interview. According to David Kay, an interview and an interrogation are the same:

David Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group that searched for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), believes Australians did interrogate detainees.

"Anyone that was in a room with a prisoner was engaged in interrogation," he said. "You weren't playing bridge."

He has told ABC TV's Lateline he does not think there is any difference between an interview and an interrogation.

"If I was talking to someone [I] would have said I've had an interview, I've had a discussion.

"I didn't often use the word interrogation but that's what it was."

Mr Kay says he did not see any evidence that prisoners were mistreated.

Labor's spokesman on defence, Robert McClelland, says Mr Kay's comments discredit the Government's argument that there is a difference between an interrogation and an interview.

"The Government is absolutely playing with semantics," he said.

"Anyone can pick up any dictionary and look at a definition of interrogation if they want.

"In circumstances where someone is brought before the interviewer, if you like, to use the Government's language, in prison overalls, shackled, someone behind them holding a gun, that is for all intents and purposes an interrogation."

Some observations: an interview is not an interrogation; David Kay should fade into oblivion; isn't it the oppostion who's playing the semantics game?; if none of the prisoners are known to have been mistreated in any meaningful way, why should anyone care?; and shouldn't we expect that some of these nasty bastards would have received a bit of rough handling?

Kissing cousins

Everyone knows that pairing fucked-up relations will likely produce fucked-up offspring.

Iran and Syria heightened tension across the Middle East and directly confronted the Bush administration yesterday by declaring they had formed a mutual self-defence pact to confront the "threats" now facing them.

The move, which took the Foreign Office by surprise, was announced after a meeting in Tehran between the Iranian vice-president, Mohammed Reza Aref, and the Syrian prime minister, Naji al-Otari.

Syria and Iran do not have a natural affinity but are alleged by western governments to have engaged in covert military cooperation in the past.

The British official said the pact could just be rhetoric, "a marriage of convenience" for two countries feeling a need to bolster one another.

This little love affair will undoubtedly produce something ugly (and very furry).

Habib's shrink sacked

What was expert witness psychiatrist, Sydney University Professor Christopher Tennant, thinking when he went public to "substantiate" Mamdouh Habib's claims of torture?

CHRISTOPHER TENNANT: Well, he has evidence of having been, you know, exposed to very significant and unpleasant events, probably torture in that he was significantly depressed and had post traumatic stress disorder.

JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: Professor Tennant says he then asked a colleague, a physician, to examine Mr Habib for physical indications of torture. He says the doctor confirmed the presence of cigarette burns along with old bruising on one thigh.

The Professor says it was the Government's rejection of that notion that prompted his decision to reveal what he'd found. He says he knew by speaking out, he was breaching doctor-patient confidentiality, but says he had good reasons for doing so.

CHRISTOPHER TENNANT: In technical terms, yes I did, but I did try to contact, you know, Mr Hopper and through him, Mr Habib and was unable to do so. And you know, after, like, considerable deliberation I thought at this point in time Mr Habib's version of events warranted at least some substantiation.

So, Mr Habib was in such a state – sad, suffering PTSD, with cigarette burns (exactly how the hell it was worked out that the burns were from cigarettes or who was wielding the butts at the time I don't know) and had an old bruise on his thigh - that Professor Tennant felt obliged to disregard the sanctity of doctor-patient confidentiality. Don't make me laugh, this is a professor with a political axe to grind. He saw a chance to score some points against the Howard government and took it, Habib's fragile mental state be damned.

But, it's always possible there might be more to Habib's abduction and torture claims than the more skeptical amongst us are willing to admit. After all, he's not the first to claim to have been abducted and probed by the yellow uniformed. These abductees have suffered horribly, if not silently.