Saturday, January 31, 2004

NZ Culture Part 2

I wasn't going to comment on Kim Hill's interview with Gaylene Preston, since Gaylene sounded about as understandable as a poorly written essay by a first year film studies student replete with half digested references to Lacanian and Marxist film theory, but in terms of the artist's role with respect to culture and identity in NZ its worth a visit.

The phrase of the moment is "telling our stories". When Kim asked Gaylene what "our stories" were Gaylene was somewhat flumoxed, responding that her films fell into this category since she herself is a NZer. Whale Rider, while set in NZ, has themes that are universal. Sometimes when I hear this argument put forward it just sounds like special pleading, the opening paragraph in a funding application.

Not to say that I have any problem with State support for the arts or with the notion that art plays a part in establishing cultural identity, but its worth taking what artists say about their own importance with a grain of salt.

Gaylene Preston's concept of her work as challenging conventional story telling techniques so as to protect us from George Bush is remarkably grandiose and quite frankly not based on any evidence from modern psychology. Does anyone think that that classic Hollywood-styled epic spectacular - with conventional narrative formulas, deliberately pulling on heart strings, relieving tension with humor, portraying clear cut good and evil, and is made purely to entertain - The Lord of the Rings, actually embeds itself into human consciousness in such a way as to support Bush?

I'm not sure why some people have such a problem with "genre" movies. Does anyone have a problem with genre in music - classical, rap, blues etc? And really, this idea that genre busting is something new and potentially earth shattering is absurd. The undermining and ironic use of genre has been around for a long, long time. Goddard, Tarantino, Kubrick, The Simpsons. And let's face it, for all The Battleship Potemkin's exploration of narrative technique it didn't exactly save Soviet Russia from its fate.

Another Leftie throwing off the "lying" meme

Martin Woollacott

"The rush of experts and politicians to the microphone this week to finally admit that US and British intelligence estimates of Iraqi weapons holdings were wrong underlines the fact that the invasion of Iraq was not conjured from thin air in the few months before the war began. It did not come about simply because a handful of forceful advocates found themselves in positions of influence in Washington, or merely because the US administration was looking for a course of action after the twin towers attack. It was also the consequence of a decade-long Anglo-American struggle with Saddam Hussein, one which both the Bush administration and the Blair government inherited from their predecessors."

Friday, January 30, 2004

Standards of Proof indeed

Polly Toynbee says it better than I could:

"The tragedy is that both sides are right - in quite different ways. For those who support a Labour government and support an independent BBC, this has been excruciating. Hutton was right to exonerate a prime minister who had been monstrously traduced, in a casual, flippant way. He was right because the government genuinely thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction: everyone did, French and German intelligence as well as the US. Hans Blix and David Kelly thought so, as did Dr David Kay. Why everyone was so wrong was not for Hutton to judge. That is another story for another day. But in that context, exaggeration of the wording of the evidence pales into insignificance beside the allegation that the prime minister knowingly tricked us all. In the big picture, Hutton was essentially right, even if some of his findings are bizarre. Demented "Whitewash!" headlines in papers from the Morning Star to the Spectator were predictable."

NZ Culture

I'm not sure what "...for more than half of its history modern New Zealand functionally didn't have a culture..." means exactly.

UPDATE: I wasn't actually going to publish this post, it was a bit of musing that I felt didn't go anywhere and couldn't phrase it without seeming to have a go at Russell. But because of the technicalities of blogging it was published.

But since it is in the public domain I may as well expand. I think the theme of Culture and Identity in NZ is somewhat of a middle class thing. Every immigrant community that came to NZ brought a culture with them and also the first here had one of their own. As for having a singularly NZ culture and identity I'm not sure that this relies on having a particular level of artistic achievement at a particular time in our history. We had a pioneer culture early on in the colonization process and we now have a culture, or mixture of cultures, that has evolved since then.

A lot of angst has been expressed over this by the University educated middle class but I think most people get along with their lives, with their communities of network, with their shared knowledge and understandings, without the need for the priests of high culture to determine whether or not others have a cultural identity.

But it was a musing rather than an attempt at a pot shot.

Further Update: I suppose I consider "culture" to be an abstract mass noun, there is no such thing as "culture". But there is the myriad details of human interaction which, in summation, can be described as culture.

Soros on the UN

George Soros has some good ideas on how to reform the UN:

"The formation of an influential democratic bloc of nations would change the character of the UN, making it more effective in influencing the behaviour of its members," Mr Soros writes in his book. "Repressive regimes would be excluded from active decision making; failed states could be put under protection of the UN. The currently insoluble problem of using the UN to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states could be on the way to a solution."

The stuff about "a critical lack of debate on Mr Bush's policies" is weird given the amount of critical debate taking place back here on earth. The "there is no debate" theme is one of the more pathetic excuses the anti-war crowd have for not getting their way. It's true that there is no debate here but how does one explain the polarisation in US politics (that liberals complain about) if there is "no debate"?

I suppose now that the Left in the US is financed by a billionaire finance speculator they will stop criticising the Right for being funded by big business. Not.

Utopian visions never change

I've been following the Albert/Monbiot debate which seems to have stalled. I wonder if Monbiot started to have misgivings when Albert said:

"He has to work at a balanced job complex because that's all there is. He is remunerated for effort and sacrifice at socially valuable labor or he goes hungry. There is no road to riches or even inequity there. He works in some industry or industries, participating in workers' councils where he has proportionate say, or else he is living in the forest by himself."

Sounds like North Korea.

That's the vision of the future the radical Left (Chomsky, Ali, Pilger etc) has install for us. Scary.

The Left is a spectrum

The sort of Left wing opinion you will never see in the Listener under its present editor:

A Friendly Drink in a Time of War


The Left leaning Brit media has not been slow in condemning the Hutton enquiry that they had so noisily demanded. Just goes to show how some are never satisfied unless they get exactly what they want. Reminds me of the Greens and the GM enquiry here.

The question was whether Blair lied or misled and Hutton found that to be not the case. As Blair has said it is possible to have a genuine disagreement over Iraq without getting into the "lying" thing. But the anti-war crowd found it easiest to go down that road which was very unconstructive. It enables Bush and Blair to simply respond "If we were lying then Clinton and the majority of Western intelligence agencies have been as well for the last 10 years".

We were all wrong, says ex-weapons inspector, David Kay:

"But his evidence did not support accusations that the Bush administration purposefully exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq.

"Under questioning from Edward Kennedy, a senator for Massachusetts, as to whether there had been a "greater failure than a failure of intelligence ... a manipulation of intelligence" he said that intelligence analysts in the US, France, Germany and elsewhere had all believed Saddam had WMD stockpiles."

The anti-war crowd shot themselves in the head by turning the debate into a slanging match, accusing those who supported the war of duplicity. They may have actually had some influence if they had accepted the pro-war argument at face value and responded to what people were actually saying rather than what they imagined they were saying. Instead misplaced moral outrage and conspiracy theories held sway and they had zero influence. Well done.

One of the many ironies, and in my opinion a particularly sad one, of this whole business is that both Kelly and Gilligan were cautious supporters of overthrowing Saddam. But that just goes to show how ineffectual the anti-war crowd were, the most intensive investigation into the lead-up to the war emerged not from their ranks.

HRW on Iraq

Juan Cole disagrees with HRW's argument that there was no humanitarian case to go to war with Saddam:

"In short, I believe that the United Nations Security Council was obliged
to remove Saddam Hussein from power on the basis of egregious violations
of the UN Convention on Genocide."

I agree with his point. Whether or not you agree with what Bush did it is hard not to accept that the international community has a moral obligation to intervene in circumstances of oppression. Unless you are part of the isolationist Right or radical Left.

It is an odd argument for HRW to make which is otherwise pretty sensible.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

UN election team to Iraq

Juan Cole comments on UN election team going to Iraq.

Given the ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq I think the UN can and should act as a neutral Leviathan. The US will have the muscle, the UN the trust (or lack of mistrust) of the various sides.

The last time the lid of Stalinist dictatorship was removed from an ethnically and religiously divided country we got Bosnia and Kosovo. This time Britain and the US have got there before the violence can escalate.

Strange Days

Eric gets it from the Deaniacs.

I'm not sure why it is that the Democratic activist base and the anti-globalization movement and the rest of the radical left is so ugly. They all claim to have such good intentions but display the worst attributes.

Much like the now defunct NZ Alliance Party. Supposedly a party of the working class but destroyed itself playing at University student-style politics. Hard to see how self destructing over Afghanistan or featuring Mike Treen's anti-Israel obsession was going to help the working class.

WMD or not WMD

CalPundit has quite a good round up of who thought what about WMDs in Iraq.

I suppose the Bush team may have exaggerated some aspects of the case but I think that's as far as it goes, it was not a case of lying and deliberate deception. If it was then a hell of a lot of people, including Clinton and David Kelly, were guilty of the same thing. And I find that unlikely.

The Presidential Race

I think I'll give up making any predictions about the Dem race.

But in terms of political preference I don't have much of a problem with any of the front runners. I liked Dean for his Confederate Flag thing and even though Clark has Michael Moore's support he did kick Milosevic's ass and put his main backers, the Russians, in their place. Kerry, Edwards - seem pretty much run of the mill Dems.

In terms of Iraq and foreign policy in general they will all have to follow on with what Bush has started and even though they may criticize Bush I bet they will be pleased with the US's new don't-mess-with-me reputation. None of them will dare risk having a 911 on their watch - that would be the end of the Dems.

If I was living in the US I would vote Dem, since I disagree with 75% of Bush's domestic policies. But not being a US citizen and agreeing with 75% of his foreign policy I wouldn't mind if Bush got a second term.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The Left the Left does not need

Eric Alterman on how unconstructive the radical left can be:

"I find I’m beginning to dislike Howard Dean a great deal. It’s my fault rather than his. I didn’t even have a problem with the scream. Presidents can scream every once in a while. It is—or ought to be—a hell of a lot more “presidential” than lying the country into an unnecessary, counterproductive war.

"Rather, it’s the Deaniacs -or a few of them. I suspect this is true for many other liberal journalists, and perhaps for a not insignificant number of primary and caucus voters. Undoubtedly it’s a tiny minority, but that’s all it takes. Every time I write something about Dean that is not from the Dean playbook, I receive a slew of nasty, self-righteous e-mail accusing me of “selling out,” “drinking the kool-aid,” or “taking my orders from Karl Rove,” as well lot of other unmentionable insults.

"I’m sure Dean has many idealistic supporters. And for all I know, he might make a terrific president. But my honest opinion is that he’d be a much weaker candidate against Bush than Kerry, Clark or Edwards, and since that’s the only issue that moves me, I think it would be a big mistake to give him the nomination. I’ve enumerated reasons for this in the past and I think they become more apparent every day. (And be honest, while he was brave and outspoken on the war when others were quiet and cautious, do you really think he would handle the current quagmire better than any other of his major rivals? Just what in his career as a country doctor and governor of Vermont leads you to that?)

"I suspect that some of these people did Dean more harm than good in Iowa. Moreover, it’s kind of pathetic that so many people on the left become so tied into hero worship—Nader, Dean, Chomsky, (and dare I say it, Stalin)—that they feel a need to abuse anyone who does not share their wide-eyed admiration. I expect this kind of vituperation for any kind of deviationism is what turns many leftists and liberals into conservatives. (It’s not working with me yet, but hey, I’m only 44 and Scaife hasn’t come up with an attractive enough offer.) "

If you're in NZ add Tariq Ali to the list of those worshipped.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Alternatives to Chic

David Aaronovitch has been saying some interesting things about the (human) nature of politics:

Dean's scream

In US politics, it's kids versus parents

Sure beats the mixture faux radicalism and misanthropy that passes for the liberal left in NZ.

Radical Chic

Tariq Ali is all the rage with the middle aged and middle class radicals at the Listener.

Susan Watkins , his wife and fellow New Left Review contributor says this of Blair's Labour:

"Judged against its immediate predecessors, an objective audit can only conclude that New Labour has scattered a few crumbs to the poor, while otherwise consolidating and extending Thatcher’s programme; externally, it has a far more bloodstained record. The civilians killed in Blair’s successive aggressions abroad—Iraq, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq—outnumber Thatcher’s tally by tens of thousands. Such domestic pittances as the regime has distributed count for little beside the destruction of international legality and loss of foreign lives that have been its hallmark. Like any government, Britain’s can only be judged on its record and on a rational assessment of its future trajectory. The sooner New Labour exits the better."

This section of the Left has some pretty weird ideas. Do Campbell and Macdonald know who they are supporting?

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Common Dreams, or should that be Nightmares

Common Dreams is one of those leftie sites which has for some odd reason become fashionable with NZ liberals, no degree of skepticism aimed in that direction.

This sort of thing from Michael Moore is pretty much indicative of that sites politics.

Speaking of Kosovo Moore propounds: "We know Clinton is lying to us. We know there is no "Holocaust" taking place."

Doesn't this all sound a bit too familiar, the "lying" stuff? Go through and replace "Clinton" with "Bush" in the article and this would pass for present day liberal commentary. (Typical that Moore should deny the atrocities being committed - dogma over-ruling reality).

I find it odd this new found love in NZ for the Democrats. When Clinton was helping protect Serbia and Kosovo all I can remember is going to Grey Lynn parties and hearing about US imperialism and what Chomsky had to say. And the sad thing is the same people are now saying the same things but now about Bush.

Moore again:

"Now, it is time for all of us to stop Clinton and his disgusting, hypocritical fellow democrats who support him in this war. It is amazing to watch all these "liberal" congress members line up behind the President. In a way, I'm glad it's happening, if only to show the American people there is little difference between the Democrats and the usually war-loving Republicans. Aren't you getting a kick watching the Pat Buchanans and the Henry Hydes sounding like pacifists! These politicians can change stripes at the drop of a hat (or bomb) because, ultimately, they are the same animal, participants in a one-party system that tries to fool the people by going by two names ("Democrat" and "Republican")."

Friday, January 23, 2004

Refreshingly lacking in cant

You always can count on Martin Woollacott, who opposed the war, to have a refreshingly eclectic take on things: US frailty doesn't just exist in the European imagination .

"This last is a clue to what may really be happening, which is not that the United States is compelling other societies to do things, but that these other societies are taking matters into their own hands. This is a truth that might be reflected in a different way when Condoleezza Rice claims that the axis of evil formulation "really challenged the international community to get serious about that class of states pursuing weapons of mass destruction"."

Liberal attitudes towards other people

"And such is the stupidity and denial now playing so handsomely in parts of the US electorate,..."

Liberals believe that anyone with a different opinion is stupid. Charming, so liberal.

Update: I felt this blog needed some qualification. Much of Russell's criticism of Bush's domestic policies I would agree with. On issues such as abortion, gun control, stem cell research, affirmative action and tax cuts I would not vote for Bush. But his foreign policy is a different story.


Matt Yglesias:

"Even the dichotomy between "Bush's war" and "no war" gets a bit hard to sustain, since the path to war was a fairly long and windy one. Even well before Bush came into office there was a state of quasi-war between the US and Iraq, and a lot hinges on what the alternative to Bush's war would have been."

Compare and Contrast


"I am genuinely enjoying the fact that our own Little Roy Cohn, not altogether unlike Emma Bovary, is finally, painfully waking up to the fact that the political figure to which he has betrothed himself so profoundly and abjectly during the past three years has been using him for kicks, mocking his assignations while professing his true allegiance to those who would stigmatize gays as less than human and even rewrite the U.S. Constitution to prevent their becoming—Andy’s own words—“free at last.” "


"According to many Republicans, I'm selling out to the "hard left." According to some Democrats, I've finally seen the light, ha, ha, ha. How about applying principles to changing events and circumstances? It says something about what has happened to the Republican party that supporting fiscal responsibility is now the position of the "hard left." And it says something about some Democrats that you either have to hate this president or love him unconditionally. Why can't a grown-up have a complicated position? I'm a fiscal conservative, social/cultural liberal and foreign policy hawk."


Friedman on the victory of "Blair" Democrats in Iowa.

"Democrats haven't been able to hold the Bush team accountable because their party couldn't offer a credible alternative. Well, here's hoping that the credible Democratic opposition was just reborn, re-energized and "de-intimidated" by the people of Iowa. Lord knows we need it."

BBC Panorama

Have been listening to a BBC radio discussion on the Panorama programme critical of the BBC handling of the Kelly story (its also critical of other players) - BBC castigates itself as new Kelly interview surfaces .

Its pretty impressive that the BBC can be so self critical.

Interestingly Kelly believed that Hussein had WMD and could use them within a week. He also believed only regime change would remove the WMD threat. I don't think we will be hearing much about that from the Bush haters.

Also Kelly said Iraq was immediate threat.

Now Bush actually said that Saddam was not an "immediate" threat but was not prepared to wait until he was. So Kelly, up until now the darling of the antiwar crowd, was more alarmist than Bush.

For a less predictable perspective

NZ liberals have used the SOTU to once again ostentatiously display their outrage and true commitment to Peace and have said nothing intelligent. If you are bored with the predictable try Timothy Garton Ash - Next stop Syria?

Monday, January 19, 2004

Tide Turning - but which way?

No Right Turn is welcoming Latham's plans to decrease the time available for asylum seekers to have their cases heard. Latham wants 90% of cases dealt with within 90 days.

At present, under the Liberals, the Australian asylum laws are so liberal they allow cases to drag on for years because of various rights of appeal. In the mean time, because of the mandatory detention policy - which Latham supports, the asylum seekers and their families can languish for years in camps.

Speeding up this process therefore makes sense, but it will come at a cost of decreased access to legal redress, so perhaps NRT's claim of tides turning is accurate but not in the way he intends.

Latham recognises that if Labour get into power they will still have to deal with this issue and that there is no magic wand solution.

Body Hits and Social Constructivism

The programme Body Hits on Friday night had an interesting item on body image. Initially it put forward the commonly accepted notion that what we consider to be beautiful is created by the 1000's of images we are bombarded with from advertising. The standard Social Constructivist (SC) view. The programme then went on to question the validity of this theory and posited the evolutionary psychology perspective - we have inbuilt notions of what is beautiful that are there from birth, are not the product of our environment, and evolved because they provided clues as to the reproductive potential of a prospective mate.

Needless to say the evidence supports the evolutionary point of view not that of SC.

One of the areas where SC has lead the Left astray is that of how political opinions are formed. The standard Left model is the Chomskyist "Media Propaganda" model where political opinion is constructed by the barrage of right wing, capitalist messages from establishment media sources. This conveniently explains why so many people do not have sympathy with the Left while at the same time judging people not as evil but as unwitting dupes. I'm not sure that this makes the view any less misanthropic but it is certainly wrong.

An article in Reason - Uncritical Masses Was the public too stupid to oppose the war in Iraq? - discusses this aspect.

This reliance by the Left on SC not only leads them to misanthropy but also to a point of view that cannot help spread liberal views as it does not incorporate any understanding of how people actually arrive at their political views.

Given the success of liberal views in general it is interesting to note the shift to the right in US political opinion as outlined by Gene Expression.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Friday, January 16, 2004

Dickens To Le Carré

Smiley's (Anti-American) People

"When several million G.I.'s sailed to England from 1942 to 1944, they were met with resentment. 'Before the war there was no popular anti-American feeling in this country,' George Orwell wrote. "It all dates from the arrival of the American troops," who made the British feel that their country 'was now Occupied Territory.'

"For all that, there was little evidence of popular anti-American feeling in England then, or after the war either, up to this day. This is, among other things (as so often in our damp little island) a class question. Culturally, the British masses are much more friendly to America than what passes for our literary and academic intelligentsia. It is there, from Harold Pinter on the squawking left to Le Carré on the surly right, that the more frenzied expressions of hatred tend to come."

One could say the same about NZ. Its the middle class Listener reader who is the most irrational about the US.

An Irish take on Israel

Haaretz article on the visit of Brian Cowen, Ireland's Foreign Minister, to Israel: Conflict resolution is his native climate.

Sensible, constructive, realistic, notably lacking in moral outrage. Might have some effect. There's a lesson there for some.

Liberal Hawkes

At Slate liberal hawkes are busy defending their position. From Fareed Zakaria:

"Throughout this discussion we have assumed that there was a simple, viable alternative to war with Iraq, the continuation of the status-quo, i.e., sanctions plus the almost weekly bombing of the no-fly zones. In fact, that isn't really true. America's Iraq policy was broken. You have to contrast the dangers of acting in Iraq with the dangers of not acting and ask what would things have looked like had we simply kicked this can down the road.

"I had been comfortable with the "Saddam-is-in-a-box" argument during the 1990s. But by the latter part of the decade the policy was collapsing. In 1996 Saddam invaded the Kurdish safe haven of northern Iraq, re-establishing his power in the area. In the next few years he repeatedly defied U.N. inspectors and busted sanctions. His neighbors—Jordan, Turkey, Syria—began illicitly trading with him. The French and Russians were openly working to get the sanctions lifted. Saddam adopted an increasingly bold negotiating strategy, refusing or reneging on various compromises that were offered him. In 1998 he stooped cooperating with the inspectors. In November 1999 he stopped exporting oil (under the oil for food program) so that he could send oil prices to their highest levels in a decade. On coming into office, Colin Powell, realizing how ineffective sanctions had become, tried to create a "smart sanctions" program that would target the regime and not the Iraqi people. The French and Russians scuttled it.

"So, what we had by 2001 was a policy that was leaving Saddam strong but killing thousands of Iraqi civilians—by one UNICEF estimate over 30,000 a year, of which the majority were children under 5. This was not the containment of the Soviet Union. Iraq had turned into a gangsterland, on its way to becoming a Middle Eastern Chechnya. Its humanitarian crisis was broadcast every day across the Arab world and had enormous popular appeal. That is why, having no love for Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden listed it as one of his three grievances against America in his famous declaration of jihad."

Wes Clark on Iraq

Josh Marshall has the transcript of Wes Clark's testimony to Congress during the build up to the war in Iraq:

"The problem of Iraq is not a problem that can be postponed indefinitely, and of course Saddam's current efforts themselves are violations of international law as expressed in the U.N. resolutions. Our President has emphasized the urgency of eliminating these weapons and weapons programs. I strongly support his efforts to encourage the United Nations to act on this problem and in taking this to the United Nations, the president's clear determination to act if the United States can't -- excuse me, if the United Nations can't provides strong leverage for under girding ongoing diplomatic efforts."

Read the entire thing since this quote is not fully indicative of his message - it has more nuance. But the point is that to characterise the Iraq debate, as liberals in NZ do, as stupid, aggressive Bush and neocons vs right thinking liberals is a nonsense. Dealing with Saddam was always going to be very difficult and magic wands are in short supply.

Interesting Washington Post opinion piece on Clark: Karl Rove's Nightmare

Agree with Alterman that Clark/Dean not Dean/Clark would have the best chance to beat Bush.

Blinded by Outrage

The big problem with Bush hatred is that it it effects people's ability to sit back for a moment and evaluate information.

Liberals in NZ have been caught out yet again by their over eagerness to demonize Bush with the issue of Paul O'Neill's criticism of Bush. Here is what O'Neill is saying about how what he has said is being misconstrued:

"People are trying to say that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be a regime change in Iraq."

Yet again there is the kernel of a reasonable argument here but yet again liberals have smothered it in moral outrage. They should remember that eventually the wolf did turn up but nobody was listening.

More Outrage

From the aptly titled The Daily Outrage in The Nation comes this bit of nonsensical analysis of Bush's report on health:

"Instead, the sunny new opening is: 'The overall health of Americans has improved dramatically over the last century.' After much more of this oh- hoorayism, the report reveals it will not, in fact, be focused on why minorities get poorer medical care; its new focus -- if you can call a set of generalizations "focused" -- is that all sorts of people at times get less- than-standard care, including women, children, the elderly, the sick, the low-income, and minorities."

So Bush is being castigated for not focusing "on why minorities get poorer medical care" but rather on why "all sorts of people at times get less- than-standard care, including women, children, the elderly, the sick, the low-income, and minorities."

I thought minorities included such groups as, well "minorities" and that groups which may not qualify as a "minority", such as children, the elderly, women and the low-income, are still worthy of inclusion in a report on how health care is delivered.

With much of the criticism of Bush there could be the kernel of a reasonable argument here but it is lost in the wash of outrage. Really, it is common political practice to try and put a positive gloss on things and it is unsurprising that Bush has done this in this instance - but any politician would. And what ultimately matters is what comes out of the report.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Lost in Space

I'm sympathetic to the argument that manned (personned?) space flight is an unnecessary expense as any exploration can be just as effectively carried out by robots. However there is some merit in the position that it is the drama of people in space that captures our imagination and so encourages public support for the space programme in general.

We are restless creatures who have an enormous appetite for adventure (well some us of do, I'm not that keen on extreme sports).

Something that The Nation should be considering before launching reflexively into an anti-Bush tirade - Lost in Space.

Free Trade - Dems vs Reps

Nicholas Kristof is Inviting All Democrats to visit Cambodia before going down the trade protectionist route they are currently advocating.

Remember all the fuss from NZ liberals about Bush's steel tariffs? And notice the current silence from the same quarter over the Dems position? Nothing to do with a lack of perspective I suppose.

Fat - an evolutionary issue

I find it unlikely that Garth George has any real understanding of evolution but he does stumble on the main problem with modern food availability and our evolutionary acquired taste buds - Move over Darwin, here's a new evolutionary theory .

We like fat and sugar because in the past they were in short supply and, because of their energy value, highly important for out survival. Now we are able to produce these substances with ease but still are inclined to eat them as if the supply will run out tomorrow.

Not sure if he was being serious about childhood infections. But he is definitely wrong there. We are engaged in a perpetual Red Queen standoff with microorganisms which is why we have sex.

Did you know that 80% of the biomass of the planet consists of microorganisms? They should go on a diet.

Apes of War

"They had ripped his trachea out, they had removed his testicles, they had torn off toenails and fingernails. It was clear that some of the males had held him down, while the others attacked."

A busy day at work for Saddam's henchmen? No, our closest relative - the chimpanzee.

Apes of war... is it in our genes?

The problem with the Noble Savage Myth is that it is just not true. Hunter Gatherers waged war on a scale that on a population basis was more lethal than Europe last century.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Chicken Little - come home to roost

The Chicken Little Left must be feeling very despondent that Bush has not caused the sky to fall: Moderation rising in the Mideast.

This outbreak of Sky-not-Falling is heartening to everyone else.

Saddam - creation of France, Germany and Russia

The next time some Leftie alleges that Saddam was a creation of the US refer them to this post: The U.S. Relationship With Saddam--Fantasy vs. Reality

It was those countries that opposed Bush's overthrow of Saddam who in the past gave him the most support - which makes sense. Russell Brown tries to avoid this by saying "Saddam had a free pass from the West". Well it was part of the "West" - the part the peace movement supported.

Crime and Punishment

No Right Turn argues against chemical castration of sex offenders.

At present NZ mental health laws allow the forcible (chemical) treatment of particular individuals who suffer from a mental illness and who are considered to be a risk to themselves or others. Chemical castration could be seen as an extention of this.

Also, it may be offered as a choice - spend the rest of your life behind bars or live in the community on condition that you are chemically treated.

Paedophiles generally do not respond to rehabilitation, they will remain a risk for their entire lives.

Compare and Contrast

The two opinion pieces in the New York Times by Krugman and Brooks are an example of the sophistication of political debate within the mainstream US media.

It never fails to surprise me how NZ liberals go on and on about how terrible the US media is but in reality it gives voice to a far greater range of political views than The Listener, supposedly a liberal publication.

I have respect for both Krugman and Brooks. Krugman has written on how economics can benefit from developments in the field of evolution and Brooks seems to me to be a moderate conservative.

Krugman may well turn out to be right about Bush's tax cuts but his comments about Bush already planning to overthrow Saddam at the outset of his presidency don't add up to much. Clinton was planning to overthrow Saddam and had signed a law making that objective official US policy. It was not until 9/11 that the hawkes were able to take this contingency planning and put it into action.

Brooks' analysis of US opinion and the Republican/Democrat divide rings true. My impression is that the Dems face an uphill battle to defeat Bush. The 50/50 split was there at the time Bush took office so cannot be his doing (maybe it was Clinton's - he was in office for the previous 8 years).

Friday, January 09, 2004

Those others have indeed been encouraged

Very interesting opinion piece critical of Sharon in Haaretz: Don't play with matches .

Criticism of Sharon in Haaretz is unsurprising (and generally warranted), it is the picture this particular piece paints of Bush's foreign policy in the Middle East that is worth a closer look.

"After the United States made it clear that running away from Iraq is not on the agenda, the countries in this region know that America is clutching a big stick and intends to put things in order."

"Syria's offer to make peace with Israel stems from its fear of America."

"On top of that, while America is operating in its own way to bring about the nuclear disarmament of Iran, ..."

Hindsight may prove the WMD argument for getting rid of Saddam to be flawed, but one of the other reasons - to encourage other autocratic regimes to reform or else - has not been lost on some of the Israeli Left.