« February 2008 | Main | April 2008 »

March 12, 2008



COMING SOON>> http://www.helenclarkbook.com

Posted by Ian Wishart at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2008

Deborah Coddington pinged


Evidence of a political and financial spider's web involving Cabinet Ministers, millionaire businessmen, senior journalists and newspaper editors in a plan to manipulate public opinion has emerged in a pile of explosive documents leaked to Investigate magazine.

The documents, pictured on the following pages, show tentacles of influence spreading out from New Zealand Business Roundtable CEO Roger Kerr across virtually all the main sectors of NZ society.

A source with access to the Roundtable's confidential files dumped a number of them in the hands of this magazine that show:

~A National Cabinet Minister apparently seeking money from Fay Richwhite in 1993 for personal reasons

~A list of policy demands being delivered by David Richwhite, Lion Nathan boss Doug Myers, Air New Zealand chairman Bob Matthew and Roger Kerr to Minister of Labour Bill Birch

~A summoning of National Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Bill Birch to a meeting with Myers, Matthew, Kerr and Telecom boss Rod Deane at Brierley's head office in Wellington

~An apparent close working relationship betweenDominion editor Richard Long and the Business Roundtable

~That the Business Roundtable offered to bribe — in Investigate 's opinion - journalists and columnists in newspapers to write articles showing Roundtable policies in a favourable light

~That a journalist who is now a senior writer for North & South magazine was secretly paid by the Business Roundtable to write a book under her own name that portrayed Roundtable policies in a favourable light

~That speeches and articles allegedly written by top business leaders may not have been written by those business leaders at all, but by the Business Roundtable as part of a cynical attempt to manipulate public, business and political opinion


North & South's Editor-at-large, Warwick Roger, who has publicly accused Investigate journalists of wallowing in conspiracy theories, may like to publicly explain the relationship between his magazine's senior writer, Deborah Coddington, and the New Zealand Business Roundtable, in the wake of the publication of these documents.

Not only do the papers obtained by Investigate show Coddington failed to reveal a conflict of interest regarding her authorship of the book Turning Pain Into Gain, but that she looked forward to continuing her close relationship with the Business Roundtable while supplying "business/economy articles" to North & South and other news media as well.

Coddington decided to hide from the public the fact that she was secretly drawing a salary from the Business Roundtable because she worried that readers would doubt her journalistic credibility if they knew.

Other prominent New Zealanders to emerge as mouthpieces of the Business Roundtable include authors Karl Stead and Alan Duff.

A letter from Stead to the Roundtable's Michael Irwin in March 1994 begins:

"I would like to write the piece you suggest for the Dominion, accepting NZBRT's offer to make up payment to one day's work at the agreed rate."

The article was about education.

Another document shows Roger Kerr offering to top up another columnist's usual payment from the Dominion by a further $500 "to make it worth the trouble" to write an article where the "thinking is in line with that in our study".

Investigate has no knowledge whether Dominion editor Richard Long knew that the Business Roundtable was secretly payingDominion columnists extra money to write pro-freemarket articles, and the magazine makes no allegations in this regard. But the documents on the following pages do show a very close relationship between Roger Kerr and Richard Long.

Investigate is also aware that Long ordered alterations to some of the news coverage of the Winebox Inquiry by Dominion correspondents, allegedly because it showed New Zealand First leader Winston Peters in too positive a light.

Ironically, it is in an article published by the Dominion attacking Peters that the Business Roundtable's hypocrisy is best illustrated.

The article, allegedly written by Business Roundtable chairman Doug Myers but apparently penned by Roger Kerr, is headlined "Importance of Being Honest" but could more accurately have been slugged "The Pot Calling The Kettle Black".

"The importance of the judgement of the District Court in the defamation case taken by Selwyn Cushing against New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, from the Business Roundtable's perspective, is that the accusation that it had sought to exercise improper political influence was found to be totally baseless," crowed Myers [Kerr] in the opening paragraph.

"Winston Peters should, as a minimum first step, make a full and unequivocal apology forthwith to all parties wrongfully accused.

"From a national perspective, the sequence of events has highlighted the lack of substance underlying the claims about corruption in New Zealand made in the AustralianFour Corners programme and the earlier TVNZ programme For The Public Good.

"There have been other instances in recent years of false and exaggerated claims by politicians, regulators and journalists about alleged inadequacies in our laws, regulations or codes of behaviour as they affect commerce.

"Contrary to such claims, the general reputation ofbusiness in this country for honesty and integrity is deservedly high. New Zealand has come out in first place in international surveys by Transparency International as the country which is freest from corruption in business and politics.

"The Business Roundtable supports demands for the highest standards of honesty and integrity in politics and business. It is up to individuals and firms to set such standards and to promote them in the wider community.

"As an organisation, the Business Roundtable believes that there is no place for improper influence in any sphere of public life. It operates on the basis of open and transparent research and analysis and on the principle that public policies should be determined on the merits of the relevant arguments.

"When the disreputable television programme For The Public Good was found to have made blatantly untrue allegations about improper business influence on Government decisions, Television New Zealand received the stiffest penalty ever handed down by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

"Similarly," concludes Myers [Kerr], "Michael Laws resigned from Parliament after accusations of improper conduct. At a time when New Zealand is facing important choices in the coming election, it is vital that public debate should focus on the merits of policies, that high standards of integrity in politics should be upheld, and that those who fall short of them should be held accountable."

Investigate has not sought comment in advance from any of the parties mentioned in the documents on the next few pages because of the high likelihood of an expensive gagging writ. Instead it will be up to other news media to seek reactions to this major story and the leaked documents.

However, Investigate did invite the Justice spokespeople from each main political party, and an expert on journalism ethics, to comment on a hypothetical case we put to them. Their responses follow after the documents: (read the original article, with documents, online here)

a question of journalistic ethics?

The events detailed in these documents happened several years ago. We asked journalism ethics expert Jim Tully, and a group of senior politicians, to answer what they understood to be a series of hypothetical questions. Their answers should not be construed as informed comment on what you have just read, but their answers are indicative of current attitudes to such practices in general terms:

1.Please comment on the ethics/professionalism of the following scenario: If any journalist was to write an article for a newspaper on an important matter and received money from an interested lobby group for doing so...

Journalists must be seen to be independent in their information gathering. They should avoid affiliations and incentives which compromise their independence and create, or indeed appear to create, conflicts of interest.

A journalist employed by a news organisation, or freelancing, who receives money from a source or an individual/organisation which has an interest in the material published or broadcast is compromising their independence and is, arguably, performing the role of a public relations person not an independent journalist if that is what they are purporting to be. If they were commissioned to write the article, the conflict of interest is clear-cut.

It would be appropriate for any financial relationship to be declared to the publisher and to be acknowledged on publication. Readers are entitled to know the an article was written on this basis just as we would expect articles on, say, the travel pages to acknowledge any provision of free travel and accommodation etc and by whom.

2. And a book?

If the book was commissioned by the lobby group, one would expect this to be acknowledged.

3.If a newspaper editor were to run a feature article on a political topic, written by an allegedly independent academic but the person was known to the editor to be working at the behest of influential lobby groups, would that be a breach of ethics?

Affiliations that reflect upon the independence of a writer should be disclosed.

- Jim Tully, Lecturer in Journalism

the questions to politicians

Firstly, if an ordinary MP were found to have substantial direct private business dealings with an influential individual or organisation, should such an interest be required to publicly declared?

Secondly, if a Cabinet Minister or Prime Minister were found to have substantial direct private business dealings with an influential individual or organisation, should such an interest be required to be publicly declared?

Thirdly, if a Cabinet Minister were found to have accepted money from an influential individual or organisation, in return for which such an individual or organisation wanted top level access to the Minister to provide advice on policy matters, should such an incident be disclosed to an authority? If so, which authority?


Conflict of interest rules for Cabinet Ministers are designed to reduce the risks of corruption. I was
interviewed by Al Morrison in North & South several months ago on the topic of corrupt influence.

Interests registers for Cabinet Ministers are a crude form of prophylactic. They signal to the Minister that any use of executive powers to favour his or her personal or family interests is likely to be evident. Executive power is important, because Ministers have all kinds of discretions to exercise, and our law and constitution assume that they will be exercised in the best interests of New Zealanders generally. As the Parliamentary commencement prayer puts it "Putting aside all private and personal interests".

On the other hand, expecting disclosure to deal with most concerns about undue influence is simply puerile. The influences that affect politicians are largely political, but that covers a broad range. For example lobby groups implicitly threaten the political future of MPs by the influence they have with their members and with other media in affecting the politician's reputation. The best lobby groups achieve the most by providing persuasive argument and information which the political decision maker would otherwise not have.

Your questions identify a particular source or potential source of influence, namely the personal profit that might be derived from or disguised in a private business dealing. It is not the fact that the dealing is with an influential individual or organisation that matters, it is whether the dealing is with people who have some interest in a matter in which the politician also has power. Voting in caucus without disclosure of a conflicting interest should be considered completely unethical. Votes on select committees and in Parliament are open, and debated. This differs from the position for Ministers. Many of their exercises of discretion will never attract public attention. The short answer to your questions is then:

1.Ministers should disclose material private business dealings with bodies where any conflict of interest might reasonably be anticipated. To the extent that is feasible the disclosure should be public and prior, and recorded in a register.

2. The argument is much less powerful in relation to ordinary MPs. There are relatively few occasions in which an ordinary MP can secretly procure advantages for "influential individuals or organisations" who might want to "pay off" the MP. I think the rule should be that MPs must disclosure their connection if and when there is some matter on which they are involved, that concerns the individual or organisation.

I favour strong sanctions for failure to make an informative disclosure of any potential conflict of interest.

But to try to require routine registration of dealings would be likely to have four effects:

(a) Involve a numbing recitation of irrelevant detail by law abiding careful folk.

(b) Catch some "innocents" sooner or later with inadvertent non-disclosure, particularly where a connection or interest arises after the specified filing times.

(c) Non-disclosure by crooks. They will just route the "dealings" through family members or some other disguise.

(d) Inevitably the rules grow in an attempt to block perceived loop holes. If they become a cumbersome set of obligations active business people will be further dissuaded from getting involved in politics. They could not be bothered with the trivia and the prurient and envious use to which the register would be put, when it should really be aimed at corruption.

My approach to most of these corruption matters is to have proper enforcement of real penalties when corruption is uncovered rather than potentially futile procedural fences at the tops of cliffs.

REPLY, Wayne Mapp, Nat.

1. Yes, in fact this is a current requirement where an MP is considering legislation in which it could be said that there is a conflict of interest, or a benefit to the MP as a result of the legislation.

2. Yes, the current rules requires full disclosure of interests given the wide range of issues that Ministers consider.

3.Resignation should be the automatic result of "purchasing access".

REPLY, Phil Goff, Lab.

Very clear and stringent rules about Minister's conduct and conflict of interest exist and are spelled out in the Cabinet Office Manual. The Manual is available at:

www.dpmc.govt.nz/cabinet/ manual/index.html

The Government proposes to introduce disclosure of interest rules for all MPs.

REPLY, Rod Donald, Green

1. Yes, and once the register of interests of members of parliament is established then any such interest will be publicly declared. Such a register already operates for cabinet ministers and all members of parliament are already required under Standing orders (165) to declare any pecuniary interests i.e. direct financial benefit that might accrue as a result of the outcome of parliament's consideration of a particular item of business to either the member personally or any trust, company or other business entity in which the member holds an appreciable interest.

2. Yes. In addition to the requirements under standing Order No. 165, any such interest is already required to be publicly declared under the registration of interests for Cabinet Ministers which requires disclosure of remunerated directorships or employment and substantial minority or controlling interests in a business enterprise or professional practice (with a description of the business activity unless the business concerned is listed as a public company), minority ownership of company shares or beneficial interests in a trust (excluding a registered superannuation scheme), ownership of all real property, holding of mortgage or debt instruments, liabilities indicating the nature of the liability and the identity of the creditor, overseas travel or accommodation (unless paid for personally or by immediate family members or from NZ public funds or by another Government as an adjunct to an official parliament visit), gifts received that have an estimated value of over NZ$500 per gift, payments received from any outside activities and liabilities of the member discharged by a third party.

3. Yes. The rules on non compliance in relation to disclosure of interests are well established. Non compliance is addressed by way of publicity and political sanction, a report by the controller and auditor general and contempt of the House. Failure to declare a pecuniary interest in relation to parliament's consideration of a particular item of business also results in contempt of the House. The Clerk of the House is the authority to which any such incidences should be reported.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2008

TRAVEL: May 05, AU Edition


Gary A. Warner says that if you look beyond the sleaze, Amsterdam is full of treasures

Forget the canals. Forget the coffeehouses. Forget the acres of Rembrandts and Van Goghs. Forget all that wooden shoes and tulips and silly Hans Brinker and his silver skates stuff you ever heard, read or saw.

Before you go to Amsterdam, get your brain around the other Amsterdam. The in-your-face Amsterdam.

The CBD shops that sell postcards of genitals painted to look like Santa Claus. Where delivery boys on pink bicycles deliver marijuana seeds. Where porn and prostitution flourish in the most picturesque red-light district in the world.

Get ready for it, all of it, because it is going to smack you right in the head whether you like it or not.

How you react will determine whether you see Amsterdam as the most liberal, liberating metropolis in Europe or a beautiful old jewel wrapped in an oily envelope of sleaze.

For the better part of two decades, I fell in the latter category. Four times Amsterdam was penciled in on my itinerary, and four times I found reason to get out the eraser.

But when I realized I’d been to nearly every major European city – I had been to Brussels twice – I decided it was time to give Amsterdam a shot.

I’ve always had a long list of reasons not to go. But I came away with more reasons potential visitors shouldn’t repeat my mistake of waiting so long to experience the Dutch metropolis.

Amsterdam has a great airport. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Amsterdam gets off on the right foot.

With its one terminal that has just two levels, Schiphol is the easiest, most modern airport in Europe, a dream to navigate compared with the creaking facilities of London, Paris and Rome. A high-speed train leaves every 15 minutes for the 20-minute ride from the airport to the city center.

I don’t go to a city for its airport (if I did, I’d never go back to New York City). But Amsterdam’s is nonetheless a big plus.

The morning after I arrived in Amsterdam, I was fighting jet lag. I stepped out of my canal-side hotel and wandered the quays for hours.
The trees had lost their leaves, revealing glimpses through the bare branches of old houses that line the waterways. Homes were hung with Christmas lights and garlands – even many of the 2,500 houseboats along the canals were decked out in yuletide finery.

The heart of the city is the Grachtengordel, the three concentric canals that half-ring the city center. Viewing the mansions of the Herengracht, the bridges over the Keizergracht and the houseboats fronting the artists’ lofts of the Prisengracht is one of the most popular strolls for visitors.

In all, there are 47 miles of canals in Amsterdam, and each mile seemed to offer a postcard image: A woman carrying a cello on her back as she pedaled her bicycle toward the city center. A mother singing “Jingle Bells” to her kindergartner as they skipped by. Pre-teen boys bundled up against the cold playing soccer on a canal-side strip, making moves that would fool most Australian high school teams.

When you get thirsty, watch your language. Ask for a ‘coffee shop’, and you’ll get more than a caffeine buzz – it’s the popular term for places that legally sell marijuana and hashish. If you ask for a ‘café’, you’ll likely be sent to one of the 1,000-plus bars in the city. (Do go. Drinking is a wonderful pastime in Amsterdam. Try a light-tasting Hoegaarden or a dark De Koninck beer. Or better yet, a traditional jenever, a gin-like drink often infused with fruit or herbs.)

There are the grand cafés whose luxurious interiors will seem familiar to anyone who has walked into a fancy café in Paris, Vienna or Budapest.

I prefer the old, small taverns called “brown cafés” for their stained-wood interiors and dark, drapery-blocked doorways. Press past the curtain at Hoppe near the Spui Square, and you’ll go back three centuries in time. It’s a cramped but cozy place that’s especially good in the off-season, when the hordes of summer tourists aren’t trying to elbow in for a seat.

Another good choice is ‘t Doktertje, which means ‘the little doctor’, another timeworn spot where for less than $10 you can get a drink and sit for as long as you like. I brought along my journal and enjoyed wasting a couple of hours in the corner.

Amsterdam1.jpgMy favorite of all was In De Waag, a bistro and bar inside the last remaining gatehouse of the old city. This imposing brick pile was once the weighing house for goods, and later the site of the city’s executions. I had a bowl of spliter wtensoep, the traditional stick-to-your-gut pea soup with duck rillettes, washed down with two haze-reducing cappuccinos. Between bouts of reading the International Herald Tribune, I perused my e-mail and watched a Webcast of the surf at Pipeline in Hawaii from one of the café’s computers. The total of a bill is called a ‘rekening’. I smiled at the apocalyptic-sounding word for a tab so small.

Go ahead and make your pilgrimage to the Rijksmuseum to see Vermeer’s ‘The Kitchen Maid’. Take in ‘The Sunflowers’ and ‘Wheatfield With Crows’ at the Van Gogh Museum. Just save time for some of the smaller museums around town.

I enjoyed my visit to the Amsterdams Centrum voor Fotografie on a narrow street just off Dam Square. The collections change constantly at the modernist glass-and-steel show space. One day it may be large-format photos juxtaposing cuts of meat or raw animal parts with flowers. Another day it might feature military-installation still lifes from around Europe.

If there is a must-see museum in Amsterdam, it’s Anne Frank Huis, where the young Dutch Jewish girl wrote her famous diary while hiding from the Nazi occupiers during World War II. She and her family were turned in to the police and she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just two months before the war’s end. Her diary describing her hopes while hiding has become one of the most widely translated books in the world.

One of the great charms of Amsterdam – albeit a sometimes dangerous one – is the sea of bicyclists making their way around the city. People wheel wildly around the cobblestone and brick streets as if they are invincible. There’s no headgear, and even at night there are young men and women wearing black on bicycles without lights. Lights and reflectors are just one more thing to get ripped off – Amsterdam logs more than 100,000 stolen bicycles a year.

With bikes parked outside where they are pelted by inclement weather and preyed upon by thieves, there’s little incentive to ride a fancy 10-speed or gizmo-laden mountain bike. Most are your simple one-speed models that you brake by backpedaling – not very different from what most Amsterdamers’ ancestors would have ridden.

It’s possible to rent a bicycle and make your way around the city as locals do. Just be prepared for some kidney-jarring old streets and maniac wheelers – especially during the morning and evening rush hours – who will be more than happy to run you right off the road.

Until World War II, the Dutch ruled Indonesia, and one of the great treats of a trip to Amsterdam is to enjoy a rijsttafel – “rice table” – which is made up of up to two dozen small plates presented at the same time, including fried rice with pork called nasi goreng, and satay – skewers of chicken, pork and beef with peanut dipping sauce.

Beware the spicy sambal chili sauce. Two of the best places to experience the rijsttafel are Tempo Doeloe on Utrechtsestraat and Kantjil & De Tijger on Spuistraat.

For a more domesticated taste, try patat, the local version of what we call chips. The crisp, fresh, fried potato strands are only a distant culinary cousin to the greasy slabs served up in fast-food joints. They’re served from outdoor stands scattered all around town. One of the best is Vleminckx on Voetboogstraat. Locals have it with mayonnaise – so speak up when you order unless you want your order drowned in the white stuff.

There are a number of big baroque barracks on the main plazas and a few design-oriented boutique hotels like Blakes, the local branch of Anouska Hempel’s London-based temple of trendiness. But part of the charm of a stay in Amsterdam is cozying into a canal-side hotel that’s been sewn together from neighboring town houses.

I stayed at the Pulitzer Hotel, with its sparkling gold lights outlining the roofs of the 17th-century homes that form its facade. Though it’s affiliated with the Sheraton chain, there’s none of the artificial feel of a business hotel.

A perennial favorite among travelers is the Ambassade Hotel, a small hotel made from a string of canal houses not far from Spui Square. One that’s not in a lot of the guidebooks, but that I found charming, is Hotel van Onna, a nice canal-side budget hotel. The rooms are small and Spartan, but I loved its pretty Christmas ornamentation inside and out.

Another small hotel enjoying a lot of buzz these days is ‘t Hotel, an eight-room mansion turned hotel built in 1690 that houses its own antique shop. Rooms look out either on a canal or over the pretty gardens.

I’ve already got a list of what to explore next time. Yes, there will be a next time. First, a return in the spring – I’ll put up with the crowds to experience the flowers. I’ll wander the pretty Leidsegracht canal and go see the Poezenboot – a barge filled with cats – that’s moored on the Singel. I’ll drop into the Amsterdams Historisch Museum to see if it offers better insight into how the 17th-century stolid commercial town became the free wheeling place of today.

After so long avoiding Amsterdam, I want to go back. It doesn’t intrigue like Berlin or warm like Rome. It doesn’t have the treats of Paris or the ease of London. But it deserves better than the just-passing-through Brussels treatment.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: July 05, AU Edition

cat.jpgCOPY CATS
Entrepreneurial American scientists are destined for the dog house, says Susanne Quick

It’s just another brown brick building in a suburban American business park. But Suite J at the Waunakee Business Center in Wisconsin is about to turn into the animal cloning debate’s ground zero. Genetic Savings & Clone Inc. – the entrepreneurial outfit that introduced the first cloned pet cat to the world in December – is opening its doors in this small Madison, Wis., suburb this month. The company’s CEO, Lou Hawthorne, has promised that by year’s end, a dog will be born here.
In the eight years since Dolly the Sheep’s birth was announced to the world, research into animal cloning has progressed in ways few dreamed possible a decade ago.

Scientists have now cloned barnyard animals and endangered species. They’ve created cloned cows from frozen steaks and cloned mice from cancer cells. They’ve talked about resurrecting extinct creatures such as woolly mammoths and Tasmanian tigers. And with the news on Thursday that soft tissue from dinosaurs had been discovered, re-creating these giant lizards does not seem so farfetched. Despite the scientific excitement, creativity and ingenuity that have inspired and driven this research, cloning remains uncomfortable – even freakish – for many people.

Who and what are the clones? Are they healthy animals or deformed monsters? How many animals are sacrificed in the pursuit of one healthy clone? And, in the end, what will it lead to?

As ethicists and scientists weigh the motivations for animal cloning – improving the food supply, fighting disease, saving endangered animals – the arguments for and against cloning mutate and evolve along with the research advances.

That debate is now moving to the backyard.

In December, Genetic Savings & Clone announced the birth of Little Nicky, the first cloned cat to be sold as a pet. The recipient, a Texas woman known only as Julie, paid $50,000 to have her beloved – but dead – kitty cloned. While some say she was swindled, Hawthorne believes she was given an incredible, if expensive, gift.

‘Our product is based on love’, Hawthorne said.

David Magnus, director of Stanford University’s Center for Biomedical Ethics, scoffed at this claim. He said the high death rates and possible cruelty that go into cloning make Genetic Savings & Clone’s product anything but ‘loving’.

Also, he and other critics said consumers are being duped: The animals they think they are getting – their original pets – cannot be reproduced.

And finally, they think Genetic Savings & Clone’s product is grossly frivolous in light of the number of animals in shelters who need homes.

‘Everything about this is objectionable’, Magnus said.
But Autumn Fiester, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said there isn’t evidence to show that animals are suffering – at least any more than commercially bred dogs or cats.

She added that the claim that pet owners are being duped is condescending. As for the frivolous argument, she says, ‘Then you’re arguing against buying any luxury good.’ Among those involved in cloning, she is in the minority.

Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology – a Worcester, Mass., company at the forefront of cloning technology – called it ‘troubling.’

Rudolf Jaenisch, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, called pet cloning ‘ridiculous’ and ‘preposterous.’

Somatic cell nuclear transfer – the shop name for cloning – is conceptually a pretty easy process.

A cell – such as a skin cell – is taken from an adult animal. The nucleus, and the DNA it houses, is sucked out and placed next to an empty egg cell that’s had its nucleus removed. The new egg-nucleus combo is then jolted with electricity or bathed in a chemical cocktail.

‘What you want to do is basically trick the egg into thinking it’s been fertilized by a sperm’, said Neal First, a retired professor of animal sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the first researcher to clone cattle.

If all goes well, the duped egg starts to divide, eventually creating an incipient embryo, which researchers implant into a surrogate animal.

While this may sound pretty straightforward, it’s actually a messy, hit-or-miss process that yields few successful clones.

Depending on whom you talk to, the number of successful clones – i.e., those which survive beyond birth – can run as low as one-in-1,000 to as many as 15 percent.

Researchers believe this is the result of a host of molecular issues, some they can pinpoint, others they can’t.

The mystery is in the egg. ‘There are molecules in the egg that allow the DNA to reprogram’ and start anew so that it’s read as the blueprint for an embryo, not an old skin cell, Lanza said.

But what those molecules are and how they work remains elusive.
There is also an issue of extra DNA in the egg. Even though the egg’s nuclear DNA is removed, other genetic material remains floating around the egg cell in a form known as mitochondrial DNA.

No one knows for sure what effects this might have on a developing clone embryo, but it does mean that the clone, despite its name, is not an exact genetic duplicate of the donor. It has some other DNA that may or may not affect its development.

Then there’s the issue of imprinting. Mammals carry two copies of each gene: one set from their mother, the other from their father. But only one of these copies is active at any one time.

In a clone, ‘the normal battle between mom and dad’ is not taking place, Lanza said. The end result: critical messages from the genes are being lost during an embryo’s development, potentially leading to cardiac problems, respiratory ailments and ‘a messed up placenta.’
The hurdles don’t end here.

When DNA is in a quiescent state, it looks like spaghetti noodles with proteins attached to it. This means that when the skin cell DNA is sucked out, it’s carrying a lot of protein baggage. It is possible these proteins may get in the way of the egg-skin cell DNA fusion.
Researchers at Genetic Savings & Clone say they have solved this problem by using a new technique called chromatin transfer that cleans the DNA. The result, according to Hawthorne, is higher efficiency.
‘Our losses are well under 50 percent’, he said, adding that such losses are typical in commercial breeding.

Magnus and others question these claims; scientists at Genetic Savings & Clone have not published their results. But Jim Robl, president of a South Dakota biotech company called Hematech and one of the developers of chromatin transfer, said he, too, had gotten good results using this method to clone cows.

Yet, the battle over pet clones only partially hinges on technical and molecular hurdles.

These animals are behaviorally complex. They are not just products of a strict genetic blueprint, but of the multicolored and textured tapestry of their environment and experiences.

This means that a consumer who’s paying thousands of dollars in hopes of getting the same dog or cat will be getting an animal that behaves differently than the original. That, said Magnus, is ‘a rip-off.’
Finally, critics of pet cloning said there’s the issue of the millions of animals who don’t have homes that are living on the streets or housed in shelters.

Magnus and Spiegel-Miller believe Hawthorne’s business is minimizing the plight of these animals.

They charge that the money Hawthorne’s clients are willing to spend on a clone would be better used on these other animals, that Genetic Savings & Clone clients should head to a local shelter, pay $50 for a cat or dog that needs a home and donate the rest to the shelter.
That would be a more ethical way to spend their money, they say.
Fiester and Hawthorne dismiss the criticism as baseless.

‘Why should someone who loves their cat be more obligated
to donate money or help shelter animals than someone else?’ Fiester said.

He also threw back the notion that cloning for agricultural or medical purposes is somehow more ethical.

In the end, he said, the future of the pet cloning business will depend upon the quality of the product.

If Genetic Savings & Clone can create animals that pet owners are happy with – animals that aren’t sick or compromised and behave in ways similar to the original – the business will succeed, Hawthorne said.

His scientists also are looking into how to enhance pets and make them live longer and healthier.

‘Our clones will be better than normal,’ he said. ‘Clones are going to become the preferred pets.’

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

LINE ONE: Mar 05

A state-sponsored frontal lobotomy

How do you finally discover that you have crossed the threshold as it were and become, irrevocably, a grizzly old bastard? Could some of the signs, for instance, be somehow linked to the old chestnut theories that the Coppers now seem indecently young, that Americans rejoicing in names like Snoop Dogg, Eminem and the like who wail frequently obscene or incredibly violent doggerel to a sort of ghetto-like primeval beat is now akin to the prophesied effect that Rock and Roll would have on my generation, (a notably accurate prophesy when you come to think of it.) That women and wimps have taken over our world. That we now live in times where the number one objective of every good person must be, at all costs, to avoid ever letting a word or a phrase cross your lips that may give offense to a fellow human being, or for that matter any living thing that could be thought to have an IQ higher than that of a common amoeba.

Having studied at some length our society since the beginnings of the new millennium, the term dinosaur I have now discovered is no longer a strong enough description to accurately portray the likes of such as I.

Indeed so decrepit have become my mental processes and general inability to accept change, that together with my plainly unacceptable desire to hold on to such antediluvian principles regarding such matters as the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, truth versus lies etc, this should, without any doubt at all, make me an instant candidate for a state-sponsored frontal lobotomy. Worst of all, and this is a terrible admission to make I’m sure you will agree, I don’t personally give a big rat’s bottom as to either my supposed mental decay, current thought processes or – worse – frequently rabid utterances.

Since liberal socialism and all of its mind numbing, institutionalised gray-matter-destroying rubbish infiltrated our previously very well balanced and indeed pleasant little country, you may be absolutely assured that anything at all that you may say, do, or even think, will be contrary to this brave new world where euphemism, spin, and downright deception is not only the norm, but where advanced practitioners of these new age black arts are rewarded almost beyond measure.

Of course, should you retain, even after some years now of social re-engineering, some small vestige of morality, a lingering perception of what is genuinely right or wrong, even worse the temerity to voice in a public place an opinion or an idea based on these now officially discredited ageist/sexist/racist/homophobic/ etc thoughts or ideas, (and believe me such is the lexicon of the liberal abuse vocabulary that every time you say anything you will be bound to fall foul of one or perhaps all of these catch-all labels), then very quickly you will see the sense in simply joining the mainstream, saying nothing, and indeed most probably earning social promotion to the ranks of the “Metro sexual”, a term that as I understand it describes fairly accurately, anyone at all who has cast aside such unhealthy notions of being either male or female with a normally operating brain and adopting instead the thought patterns and world view probably best described as being that of an earthworm.

Having achieved, well certainly from our metro sexual politicians’ point of view in any case, this most desirous state of near social nirvana, we may then be almost completely relied upon to vote in the expected fashion, although should a last little nudge be required to maintain the sisterhood’s largely undeserved position of power and influence, then common voter bribery using the peoples’ own tax monies you can absolutely guarantee will retain St Helen’s place in this odd-ball political firmament. All of this, even as a self-confessed grizzly old social dinosaur, scares the hell out of me, not so much on my own behalf, but even casting my mind back just a couple of decades, this quickly accelerating decline in just about everything that we all once held to be an integral part of our national character appears to be all just going down the toilet, right under the very noses of people who, like me have had kids, yet appear to have no conception at all as to how we, as parents, should be guarding, if necessary with our very lives, what little that now remains untouched by a series of politicians, who if there was ever any justice at all, would be behind bars for the common good.

Good God, we voters really do have a lot to answer for do we not? In fact, I really do believe that before anyone is allowed to cast a vote at any upcoming elections that it should be made law that each individual voter should have to prove that they have spent at least several hours watching and listening to the people that collectively we have recently chosen to represent us.

It is fair to say that amongst the Members of Parliament there plainly are some good people, but sadly these folk are working in an environment that more commonly resembles a Victorian mad house. The standard of debate is at best puerile and frequently descends to a level where an onlooker might seriously believe that they had stumbled upon an episode of Animal House, where various wild-eyed actors are competing with one another to amuse the watching audience with feats of studied idiocy that – if not genetically based – at least call into severe question the current state of our mental health service.

Ever watched the Rocky Horror Picture Show? The parallels are “astounding,” from the Speaker playing the part of commentator, to the various MPs braying their own particular interpretations of everyone from Odjob to Frankenfurter. I tell you, rent and watch the movie, then sit down and watch Parliament in action, and I’ll guarantee you that apart from the sycophants in the Press Gallery, no one will ever take our current Parliament seriously, ever again.

Which point, one must observe, is in fact no laughing matter at all, because, quite plainly, it is from this appallingly dysfunctional organisation that the very laws that increasingly control our lives are formulated and then enacted, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why it is that the much better organised Government Departments have increasingly taken over the role of Ministers and the MPs by simply being forced to fill the vacuum that their supposed masters have provided by their collective ineptitude.

Our democracy now appears to have devolved to the point where Parliament simply applies itself to the task of prying enormous amounts of tax monies from the people at large, at which point unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucrats spend up large, usually in the time-honoured manner of increasing the size of their staff levels and therefore power structure, consolidating their increasing grip on the throats of the citizens that they are meant to serve and be working for.

Certainly we still have elections, indeed we all are looking forward to one at the end of this year, but have little doubt at all that when our votes have been cast, little of any worth will have changed, Justice, Health, Education, the Police and various other Departments and Ministries are now, quite clearly self-sufficient unelected entities and most certainly well beyond either censure or the control of the common herd, which I might add is self evident in the cavalier fashion in which they effectively carry on their own sweet ways regardless of which Government we choose to elect. All of which thoughts and observations I freely admit can only really come from a Grizzly old curmudgeon, the younger more liberal freethinkers amongst us continuing to largely believe that Democracy, like Freedom, is simply a word ... perhaps they are right.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: July 05, AU Edition

From cough syrups to eyeglasses for cows, Martha McKay takes a peek into a very tiny future

At the nanotechnology show in New York City recently, companies touted the state-of-the-art, from quantum dots to microscopes powerful enough to see atoms.And then there were two guys from Cleveland hawking cough syrup.If you follow the nanotechnology industry closely, this sort of thing isn’t surprising.

But if you don’t, such seemingly humdrum technology on display alongside the advances at the fourth annual NanoBusiness conference might seem unusual.

Spend time with nano-experts and one thing becomes clear: nanotechnology is more commonplace than you might think – from nano-engineered eyeglass coatings used on one in five pairs of eyeglasses, to sunscreens and stain-resistant fabrics.

One of the most hyped areas of technology since the Internet, nanotechno- logy is the study and engineering of really small things – particles and gizmos from 1 to 100 nanometres, or a billionth of a metre, in size to be specific. The paper you are reading this on is about 100,000 nanometres thick.

As you might expect, there are hundreds of ways of using nano-sized particles and devices, with new ideas popping up all the time.
The U.S. government will pour an estimated $1.3 billion into nano-based R&D with a particular emphasis on such areas as cancer research. Here in Australia, governments are putting up $100 million for domestic nanotechnology research this year.

Jeffrey M. Jaffe, president of research and advanced technologies for Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs, told conferees how telecommunications networks could be transformed by nano-sized devices. Tiny power supplies working together with nano-sized microphones, tiny sensors and video displays could one day give us a communications ‘wallpaper’.
Even the ability to have ‘several microphones inside a phone would be a tremendous (sound quality) improvement’, he said.

Out at the New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium, university researchers have 60 to 80 nano-based projects under way.They include building a stress gauge to strap on the back of a fruit fly. The tiny device will enable scientists to tell if the drosophila is asleep (they don’t have eyelids, in case you wondered). Researchers, who
study fruit flies because they are well-suited to genetic studies, want to be able to test whether their modifications to the fruit fly’s sleeping patterns work.

They are also looking into ways to build an electronic nose that can smell, a real-time DNA analyzer, and what they call a ‘rubber mirror’, which would map the imperfections of your eye and allow the creation of perfect corrective lenses.

‘We could fit a cow with glasses’, says David Bishop, vice president of nanotech-nology research at the labs.

But along with purely scientific uses for nano-devices, many companies hope to turn a profit – the motivation behind Cleveland-based Five Star Technologies and its cough formula. Nano-emulsions and dispersions made using a patented technique called controlled-flow cavitation make the cough syrup adhere to the throat better.
Gerry Weimann, Five Star’s CEO, doesn’t think consumers really care about the ‘nano’ aspect of the syrup, which is made by another company called Improvita Health Products.

‘Most people are just looking for a good experience – not a lot of people wonder about the technology behind it’, says Weimann.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Sep 05, AU Edition

After a whirlwind trip through India’s sights, smells and sounds, Robert Cross vows to return

AIPUR, India – ‘I was told that the first thing you’ll notice is the smell,’ said my friend Dave with a faint leer. Just a friendly word of warning to get me going on the wrong foot.

My wife, Juju, and I had been hearing a lot of secondhand and even firsthand tidbits like Dave’s almost every time we told anyone about our travel plans. Visiting India? Get ready for a shock: Pollution. Dirt. Poverty. Stifling heat. Noise. Weird behaviour. Those odors.
I’m here to testify that any negatives were far outweighed by the beauty, culture, architectural grandeur and spirituality we were privileged to sample during a brief visit to a few cities in the north.

After we cleared the jetway in New Delhi at 5:30 a.m. on an autumn Saturday, the only smell came from the universal airport brew of electric-light ozone, air conditioning and passenger scents no different from those at Sydney or Heathrow.

Instead, the first thing we noticed was the wallpaper on immigration officers’ cubicles, a darling blue-and-pink-flowered pattern of the sort that might decorate a little girl’s nursery.

The officers’ faces remained properly stern, of course, and they worked deliberately. We heard a constant thumping of rubber stamps and piped-in native music that sounded like the whining of a thousand mosquitoes, and after about 45 minutes, a man in uniform summoned Juju and me to his posy-splashed quarters, examined our documents and pounded on them with his stamps.

Still no smell when we finally carted our luggage to the parking lot. Obviously, Dave had been misinformed.

Our driver, Remish, helped with the bags, and we set off on the five-hour drive to Jaipur and the beginning of our seven-day India adventure. Dawn greeted New Delhi with a gray haze of pollution, and my chest felt heavy. Our little white van seemed to be the only passenger vehicle on a highway filled with trucks and bicycles. Huge cows, some gray, others black, lolled on the median strip.

Those trucks provided some color in the otherwise drab outskirts of the big city. Each one had been professionally painted with garlands of flowers, soaring birds, cartoonish tigers, lovable bovines and complex geometric patterns. Some bore neatly scripted slogans on their sides, like ‘I Love My India’ or ‘The Great Indian Spirit’. On the rear end of each lorry, the artists had painted a fervent plea: ‘PLEASE HONK YOUR HORN’. Remish hit the horn incessantly, sticking to the right-hand lane and passing the endless parade of freighters – India is a left-hand-drive country – while deftly avoiding wayward bikes and meandering cows.

Two hours later, as we drove into the state of Rajasthan, the roadside scene abruptly changed. Our divided highway became a two-laner, adding to our excitement the real possibility of head-on collisions.

In downtown Jaipur, Juju and I felt as if we had been dropped into the middle of a Bollywood epic. Film buffs use the term to describe Bombay’s prolific movie industry, and here we had subcontinental action in three dimensions. We entered Jaipur during rush hour, so some of the streets leading to our hotel had been temporarily declared one-way in the wrong direction, apparently an effort – largely futile – to prevent gridlock. While Remish circled the city at a crawl, trying to find a route, we suddenly were interacting with the people. A few tapped on the windows to beg for money or sell us things. But most were in cars or riding mopeds – intent on honking their way through thickets of traffic, but still taking a moment to smile and wave at Juju’s video camera.

LocalMan.jpgWe found ourselves in the middle of an enchanting old city, alive with markets and the brilliant colors of the dresses and turbans worn by residents going about their business. Pedestrians skittered between vehicles, which slowed down only when a cow or two decided to lounge in the middle of the street.

Remish at last found the hotel entrance, a discrete opening in a wall and a long driveway leading to the magnificent, cream-colored Jai Mahal Palace. The 250-year-old building had once served as a palace for one of Jaipur’s many royals. Rajasthan has had a bewildering lineup of rulers and high-ranking court figures through its long history, and we soon lost track of the lineage, despite the best efforts of our local guides. But the maharajas sure had good taste in housing.

We felt entitled to a few hours of leisure. The lawns, pools and statuary of the Jai Mahal Palace invited meditation and brought a welcome element of tranquility to soften the jet lag. A pantalooned and turbaned house musician entertained two children with an old stringed instrument while they frolicked on the grass near a pavilion where we and a few other guests ate lunch. Juju and I still felt dragged down by travel overload. A visitor to India should schedule a day of retreat every so often to avoid becoming overwhelmed by exotica and to think about the meaning of it all. Our tight schedule denied us that luxury.

The next morning, our guide, who introduced himself as G.S. Arora, joined us and Remish in the van for a tour of Jaipur. His eyes sparkled mischievously behind his glasses. We would have other guides in the days ahead – a scholarly gentleman in Agra and at the Taj Mahal; a religion expert amid the Hindu temple carvings (some quite erotic) in Khajuraho; the harried scout who showed us the sights in Delhi.

Even so, Arora was the first, and this is a story about first impressions, so the task of satisfying our basic curiosity about the Indian way of doing things fell to him.

We headed for the heart of Old Jaipur, the walled and picturesque enclave known as the Pink City. Arora explained that in 1876 the reigning maharaja, Ram Singh, ordered all buildings near the palace painted pink to celebrate a state visit from the Prince of Wales, who later would ascend to the English throne as King Edward VII. ‘Pink is the color of warmth and welcome,’ Arora informed us, and pink the old city has remained. The buildings within the wall are repainted every couple of years. ‘People can use different shades of pink, but the basic color has to be pink,’ Arora said. ‘The authorities take care of the painting.’

We paused at Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, for what Arora termed ‘a Japanese stop.’ He said that meant a stop for photographs. Although Juju is Asian, she laughed at the stereotype, one that I thought the world and its technology had obliterated. For a second, the guide’s little joke made India seem even more deliciously anachronistic.

The Palace of the Winds was pink, naturally, a beautiful 204-year-old facade about 5 stories high and dotted with tiny windows. From rooms and balconies on the other side, ladies of the court at the adjoining City Palace could discreetly peek down at the street scene.

On Tripolia Bazaar and other streets of the Pink City, merchants with open-air shops were selling everything imaginable. Although we felt the urge to get out and look at the displays of produce, spices, clothing, tools, toys and all the rest, we had a schedule to meet.
Arora did pause long enough to point out a milk market, where farmers had lined up canisters containing the morning’s output from their goats, cows, sheep and buffaloes.

The guide called our attention to a potential customer dipping his hand into a can. ‘To make the milk more profitable, a lot of water is added to this milk’, Arora said. ‘When the buyer comes in, he will put his hand in the milk, shake it out, rub the milk on his fingertips and see how much fat is in it. So the more hands that go into this can of milk, the better the milk becomes because of this added flavor. Thankfully, this is not the milk supplied to your hotel.’

That led to the subject of cows. ‘Every morning people would milk their cows and then leave them in the street to be fed by people,’ he told us. ‘The cow being a sacred animal, every household would try to feed them. After eating, they stand in the middle of the road or sit in the middle of the road and chew cud. This is good, because it slows and controls the traffic. And the cows like it, because the fumes make them feel high. In India, every animal except the husband is sacred.’

‘How do the cows know how to get home?’ Juju asked.

‘They always know. They are like homing pigeons.’

Khajuraho-India-s-Temples-o.jpgAt the Amber Palace, our next stop, we found it easy to avoid eye contact with the hawkers because the palace itself commanded our full attention. The pinkish-beige structure sprawls across the crest of an imposing, rocky hill about 7 miles north of Jaipur. Begun in 1592 and completed in 1639, it served for more than 100 years as the capital of Rajasthan. In 1727, the reigning maharaja, Jai Singh, moved the capital to Jaipur, but the royal family continues to take up residence in the Amber Palace from time to time, even though the government now owns it.

We decided to ride an elephant up the hill to the palace entrance, a popular if somewhat hokey way to get there. Jeeps were also available, and visitors can hike up the steep ramp if they wish. Juju and I climbed onto a little seat behind our elephant driver. It swayed and tilted, while the driver engaged in a long, loud argument with his supervisor. Evidently, the driver wanted two more passengers for his mount, because the seat can hold four. Juju said, ‘I don’t like this at all. It’s scary. I want to get off.’ But before we could figure out how to do that, the elephant started up the ramp.

Arora, not being a tourist, preferred the Jeep. He met us in the palace courtyard, which was crowded with visitors and the elephants they came in on. He showed us around the wonderfully carved and pearl-inlaid areas where rulers held their audiences. We peeked into the artistically decorated private chambers that housed the maharajas and their concubines. A sandstone garrison stood grimly at a higher level, and both buildings spread their ramparts far along the mountainside like a truncated version of China’s Great Wall. Such a display of power and wealth must have intimidated enemies and subjects alike.

In the days that followed, we moved on to Agra and India’s absolute must-see, the Taj Mahal. After taking in the sights of Agra, we flew to Khajuraho, a relatively tranquil village famous for its beautiful Hindu temples dating back to the Chandela dynasty, which ruled for 500 years until overrun by the Moguls early in the 16th Century. The structures were a pleasant contrast to the palaces, tombs, fortifications and congestion of Rajasthan and Agra. We beheld an array of temple towers surrounded by lawns laced with uncrowded pathways.

Our guide that afternoon introduced himself as Mr. Singh. Immediately, he began to explain at great length the Hindu religion and how the carvings on those temples – built within a 100-year period, starting in AD 950 – illustrated the complexities of Hinduism and honored its divinities in all of their forms. He said the towers had been constructed in this out-of-the-way place to protect the sandstone images from frequent rains and floods that hit the Chandela capitals.
The masterful carvings encircled the towers in rows all the way to the top. They depicted gods and goddesses, of course, but also aspects of everyday life. Animals hauled farm goods, musicians played, soldiers fought, hunters stalked, and beautiful, exaggeratedly proportioned female dancers swayed. Animals both real and figments of artisans’ imaginations cavorted – leopards, elephants, horses, boars and combinations thereof.

Most famously, human couples were shown locked in carnal embrace, striking many of the positions detailed in the Kama Sutra.
‘You know about yoga?’ Mr. Singh asked. ‘There are a hundred kinds of yoga These are the way to reach the ultimate goal of life that is the next incarnation. These poses are a part of it, specific positions. Even sex could be a part of yoga.’

We were still pondering the complexities of the Hindu religion that night, as we dined at the rooftop Blue Sky Restaurant. Below us, merchants sold souvenirs, fabrics, saris, books and miniature copies of temple carvings. Across the street, the actual temples glowed with golden light and a voice boomed in Hindi – a sound and light show. We filled up on helpings of a dish very much like fried rice but punctuated with masala, a mixture of spices that provided a delicious mosaic of flavors.

Up there on the Blue Sky, we met a young couple from France who had been traveling through India for several weeks. They described wonders we would miss, experiences we wouldn’t have. At least not now. They were merchants, buying materials for their shop in Brittany. ‘We did make a short visit one time’, the man said, ‘and it was very difficult and frustrating. Doing it this way can still be difficult and sometimes frustrating, but there is so much to see.’

Intrepid INDIA

Classic Rajasthan
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, Ranthambhore National Park, Pushkar camel safari, Keoladeo Bird Park, Jaipur, castles
Brief: Rajasthan is home to all the colours of India. On our classic Rajasthan adventure we discover hidden forts, majestic palaces, colourful bazaars and of course enjoy a camel safari. This is the essence of Rajasthan.
Departure: Departs every Sunday from September to April and selected dates in July and August.
Price: AU$1020, plus Local Payment of US$200 per

Unforgettable India
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Delhi, Khajuraho’s erotic temples, the River Ganges, Orchha, Chitrakoot, markets, Varanasi, Taj Mahal
Brief: India is vibrant, intoxicating, inspiring, dramatic and above all, unforgettable. From the Mughal splendour of Delhi and Agra, to the reminders of the Hindu epics in Chitrakoot and memories of prehistoric man in Chanderi, this trip offers it all. Join pilgrims as they undertake their daily rituals on the banks of the Great Mother Ganges.
Departure: Departs every Saturday from September
to April.
Price: AU$920, plus Local Payment of US$200 per person

India Unplugged
22 days Delhi to Kolkata
Trip Style: Intrepid Basix
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, desert scenery, towns lost in time, palaces, Kolkata
Brief: Chaotic and inspiring, this is the real India. India Unplugged is a far-flung adventure to one of the planet’s most exotic destinations. See towering fortresses and holy rivers, cosy up with camels, try your hand bargaining in bazaars and still have time to check out the Taj Mahal.
Departure: Departs on a Sunday.
Price: AU$1080, plus Local Payment of US$150 per person

India Family Adventure
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Family
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, Ranthambhore National Park, Bundi, Pushkar, camel safari, Jaipur
Brief: Come and meet India’s people and let them show you their homeland. This itinerary is designed for adults and children alike. Explore some of India’s most famous sights and experience an overnight camel trip into the desert, seek wildlife at Ranthambhore and learn local crafts around Jaipur.
Departure: Departs on a Saturday.
Price: AU$1270, plus Local Payment of US$200 per person
For more information on traveling in India with Intrepid Travel, please visit www.intrepidtravel.com, free call 1300 360 887 or come and see us at 360 Bourke Street, Melbourne.


Best time of year to travel? India’s climate varies enormously from region to region and from season to season. While southern India basks in a reasonably constant tropical climate, the temperatures in the Rajasthan desert can vary from 50 degrees Celsius in July to 0 degrees Celsius at night in January. Monsoons bring torrential rain to most areas between June and August.
Religion: 81% Hindu, 12% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Sikh, 3% other
Language: Hindi (official) plus 12 other official languages and over 1600 dialects
Currency: Rupee (INR)
Visas: India does not offer visas on arrival - they must be applied for prior to travel. Conditions vary with country of origin and they usually take 1-2 weeks to process. In Australia, most travellers will apply for a 6 month multiple entry visa.
Electricity: 220-240V, 50 Hz
Times to avoid: Because climate changes so much within India, times to avoid certain areas will vary according to season. In addition, India is a land of festivals – best to check whether there is a festival going on in the area you want to travel to and book well in advance!

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)


Killing us softly with their song

Cellphones kill 17 in road crashes”, screamed the newspaper headline, or something like it. I almost choked on the latte (come on, I live in Auckland). Seventeen people a year being killed because drivers are using cellphones, I thought to myself. Almost enough to warrant reconsidering my “yeah, right” attitude to the problem. And then I read on. It was actually 17 deaths over seven years. And on the strength of that, the Nanny-State brigade are calling for a blanket ban on the use of cellphones in vehicles, including a ban on the use of hands-free kits.

“It’s not the cellphone that’s the worst problem,” they wail to sympathetic, liberal, control-freak journalistic lap-puppies, “it’s the conversation. People can’t drive and talk at the same time. It’s not safe!” No. Apparently not. Not with a rampaging death rate of two and a half people per year. What’s next, a lead story in the Herald telling us, shock horror, “100% increase in cellphone-related fatalities prompts call for Government to introduce emergency regulations…”?

Ah, they’re a right little bunch of comedians, these.

It’s almost enough to make me think Darwin might actually have been right. Perhaps a segment of our population, mainly in the left-wing liberal camp, really are the natural descendants of apes and that’s why we’re fast becoming a banana republic. Buried, a week later, in a much smaller story in the paper was Matthew Dearnaley’s brave attempt to provide some much needed balance. He reported that the biggest distractions for drivers in road smashes were passengers talking and/or drivers reaching for or looking for something while they drove.

Add to that the third-largest factor in road smashes – fiddling with those pesky, all-the-bells-and-whistles-you-can-afford car stereos with the really really really small buttons and even tinier writing on the knobs – and you’ve got a whole heap of bigger causes of road fatalities than cellphones.

You are actually more at risk, in Auckland anyway because I’ve seen it happen, of being pinged in a cellphone drive-by where - either as pedestrian or fellow passing motorist – you’re clouted around the head as a result of another enraged driver throwing their malfunctioning phone with the fiddly buttons out the window.

Cellphones are a distraction for drivers, don’t get me wrong. They can, in some cases, lead to road accidents. But how many more accidents are caused by three year old twins Amanda and Timothy in the back screeching like proverbial banshees because one bit the other or you didn’t go the route they wanted or you just passed an icecream shop without stopping – need I go on?

Then there’s autocide – suicide by car. It’s a fair bet that a large chunk of our road fatalities each year are people who’d had enough of the screaming in the back seat, or anywhere else for that matter.

Frankly, I can’t see why the Government is even bothering with this half-baked plan to ban cellphones and headsets when Frau Clark could simply wave her dictatorial finger and get the thought police in Labour’s Cabinet to adopt the full-baked version and simply ban road accidents. Fullstop.

We could have the police officers currently manning speed traps reassigned to ride shotgun in ambulances, where they could sternly admonish and occasionally administer a jolly good kicking to victims of roadcrashes, and slap ‘em with an instant $500 fine before they even reach the hospital.

Because let’s face it: if the logic behind banning cellphones is to ensure drivers don’t get distracted by conversations, then we may as well ban passenger seats in vehicles. Only then could you reduce the likelihood of a conversation breaking out. Governments introduce stupid laws by first creating a climate of fear and then milking those fears for all they’re worth. And the biggest tragedy is that New Zealand’s Fourth Estate is complicit in the crime.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)

THE WATCHER: Dec 05, AU Edition


The year of the monkey…

It was an annus horribilis for an increasingly isolated and beleaguered Republican president under attack from a scathing media and irresolute Democrats in Congress. Each day’s news appeared more dreadful than the last; a constant stream of casualties and poor generalship and setbacks.

Even the president’s attempts to honour the nation’s war dead was sharply condemned. The Chicago Times said he ‘misstated the cause for which they had died’. In other words, he had lied. And, they added, ‘the cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States’.

Pretty harsh words. They were to be expected, though, from pundits and cartoonists who frequently questioned the president’s intelligence and who had regularly drawn him as a chimpanzee. Abraham Lincoln would have been happy to give 1863 a miss entirely. But then 1862 hadn’t been a banner year, either. At Antietam, Union forces suffered over twelve thousand casualties, the South nearly fourteen thousand; many more would fall in the year ahead at Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.

One of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim political landscape was that Congressional Democrats were severely split. The so-called ‘War Democrats’ were all for it, but squabbled over every battlefield disaster, of which there was no shortage. If that wasn’t enough, the War Dems also accused Lincoln of being a tyrant – packing the Supreme Court with cronies that would do his bidding to destroy civil liberties.

On the other side of the Democratic divide were the ‘Peace Democrats’, who had bitterly attacked Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration on job protection and racist grounds – proof, they wailed, that he had lied all along about the real aims of the war he had foisted upon the nation. They demanded that the war, which was being ‘fought on a lie’, be ended at once, even if the Confederacy was allowed to secede.
Even some Republicans voiced their doubts. Covetous European powers were encouraged.

Simian sophistry
Today, the Democratic and media chorus sings the same tune: ‘Chimpy lied and thousands died’. George Bush, from the beginning of his presidency portrayed as having apelike characteristics, has been accused of lying the nation into war the war in Iraq.

While the Big Lie charge has always focused on WMD, it has morphed through three distinct ‘lies’, each charge itself a lie. The first version of the lie, in the immediate aftermath of the war, went something like this: Bush lied when he claimed that Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the national security of the United States.

Of course, Bush had never argued that Iraq posed an imminent threat. He had clearly argued that in a post-September 11 world, preventative action was justified to prevent gathering threats from metastasizing to the point where it was too late to act.

In a major pre-war speech, Bush said: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.”

Bush argued, in accordance with international law that threatened nations need not wait for an “armed attack” or even an “imminent” threat before responding with force. Rather, as the distinguished diplomat, presidential adviser, and Yale Law School Dean, the late Eugene Rostow, maintained: ‘the target of an illegal use of force need not wait before defending itself until it is too late to do so. International law, after all, is not a suicide pact’.

It is past ironic that Bush – who was and still is scolded for his doctrine of early preemption (i.e., preventive or anticipatory self-defence) against gathering threats – was attacked for not meeting a standard which he explicitly rejected.

The second Big Lie invention that has been peddled is that Bush argued that the war in Iraq was, in the words of California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, ‘all about WMD, full stop’. Boxer made this outburst during Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice’s confirmation hearing earlier this year. It would be generous to accept that Boxer simply forgot what she had voted for in authorising military force against Iraq:

“Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolution of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait...

“The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to:

“(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and

“(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq”.

Or as Bush stated in October 2002:

“America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi’a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin”.

The third Big Lie furphy, re-heated lately by Chimpler critics the New York Times and Democratic Chairman Howard (‘Yeeeeeaaaahhhh!’) Dean, is that the Bush Administration twisted and lied about pre-war WMD intelligence. Congress and every other intelligence service in the world, including those of nations which were against enforcing the UN Security Council’s resolutions – chiefly France and Russia –had access to the same intelligence and agreed the threat that Saddam posed was real. The Mesopotamian miscreant’s record spoke well enough for itself: four wars, genocide, WMD use and support for terrorists.
To this Dean et al now claim bizarrely that Bush had a secret stash of heretofore uncovered intelligence that showed Saddam had uncovered all of his WMD. Again, it would be charitable to suggest that such charges are based on an innocent overlooking of extensive bipartisan and independent investigations in the US and Britain that showed intelligence had not been cooked up to stage a war.

If the Bush administration could be criticised for anything, it would be for indulging the doubters in the first place. It was never for the UN or the US to prove that Saddam still had WMD; rather, it was always for him to prove that he did not. This he failed to do, or even attempt in good faith to do, and the message and precedent was made clear by Bush’s response.

Nevertheless, Bush has hit back at his critics:

While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.

Bush was up-front about his war aims. While Lincoln planned the Emancipation Declaration in secret, after the war had begun, Bush at least outlined all of his goals before the first shot was fired. But like the Civil War, the war in Iraq was always about much more than the primary stated aim.

While the Civil War was fought, initially, to save the Union, in the end it was and had to be about freedom. The denial of freedom was, after all, what had led to secession and war. Likewise, the absence of freedom in Iraq, and in the Middle East generally, was the proximate cause for terrorism and the spread and use of WMD. For it is a simple fact of the modern world that democracies not only do not repress and terrorise their own people, they do not terrorise or otherwise attack other democracies. It is why, so long ago, the Great Emancipator’s work remained unfinished.

Lest it descend into the Planet of the Apes.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: May 05, AU Edition

When the weather’s cold and the sun sets mid-afternoon, Eli Jameson finds brightness in the kitchen

It has always amazed me that when T.S. Eliot wrote the line, ‘April is the cruelest month’, he wasn’t talking about the onset of winter. Of course, this is hardly surprising given that he lived in the northern hemisphere. But for myself, April, with all its attendant rituals – the changing of the clocks, the airing of the jumpers – has always been a grim affair.

Somehow, it’s hard to be cheery when the sky turns black at what always feels like four o’clock.

To cope with this seasonal black dog, I’ve tended to take refuge in good food and cooking: after all, much better to stick a roast in the oven than your head in one. Not only does keeping the cooker on full-bore help heat at least one end of my drafty circa-1890s terrace house, but it also provides something in the neighbourhood of an acceptable substitute to that favourite summer pastime – namely, standing in front of the barbeque searing off ribeyes and drinking shiraz at 8:30pm, when it’s still bright and sunny.

Another advantage is that winter comfort food (for lack of a better, and less hackneyed, phrase) can be as simple or as complicated as one likes. For the home chef with a busy work schedule who still likes to muck about in the kitchen a few nights a week, this is a great advantage: if I’ve knocked off a bit early and am home by six or seven, then I might happily bread and fry some eggplants, knock up a red sauce, grate a few cheeses, and boil some spaghetti (perhaps even making the noodles myself, if the mood strikes) to wind up with a ridiculously huge platter of eggplant parmagiana that will keep me in lunches through the week. (Fill a good bread roll with a few rounds of the leftovers, wrap in foil and bake until gooey). Otherwise, tossing a tray of veggies in the oven to roast for an hour or so while pottering around the house tidying or simply watching the 7:30 Report over a quiet drink pays a myriad of dividends. Out of a concession to age and arteries, I don’t do this very often, but lately I’ve taken to tossing the results of this together with some pasta, cream, and good freshly-grated cheese (see recipe).

Another old standby for when people come by the house is a lamb-and-pasta dish I picked up when I lived in New York (and yes, I realize that complaining about a Sydney winter after spending one particularly bleak December-through-February living next to the East River does show a lack of perspective, but bear with me). This involves getting some lamb steaks, flattening them out, rolling and tying and them up into little parcels with mint, rosemary, and cheese.

I then brown the packets, set them aside, and make a rich red sauce in the same pan – deglazing, of course, with some hearty red wine. That done (and here’s the beauty: all this fiddly work can be done in the afternoon), I boil up some orichiette pasta, and serve it in bowls with some of the sauce and a couple of lamb rolls. If you’re out to impress, cut the lamb on a bias and arrange artfully on top of the pasta.

Whether simple or complicated, there is something restorative about the whole cooking process that shuts off the white noise of the previous twelve hours and makes for a welcome distraction from a bout of winter blues. As American novelist Nora Ephron once put it, ‘what I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles.’

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

This a great winter soup that’s not too complicated for a weeknight and packs a spectacular payoff. Plus, with the exception of the optional truffle oil, it costs virtually pennies a bowl to make. My family eats vats of this over winter.

You’ll need:
• Approx. 250g Great Northern beans, soaked overnight
• 2 litres vegetable stock
• 2-3 peeled garlic cloves
• Dried mint, oregano and/or other dried herbs
• Olive oil
• 3-4 diced onions
• 2 starchy potatoes, peeled and diced
• Leaves of one silverbeet or one head rocket, thinly shredded
• Fresh parsley
• Salt and pepper
• Good extra-virgin olive oil (or, for something really special, truffle oil)

1. In a biggish, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the stock and the beans to the boil. Skim off the froth that comes to the surface, and add the garlic and dried herbs. Give it a good stir and simmer, loosely covered, for up to an hour or until the beans are tender. At this point, crush the garlic cloves against the side of the pan.
2. In a second, bigger pot, bring some olive oil up to a medium-high heat and add the onions and potatoes, stirring so that nothing sticks and everything picks up a bit of colour (about five minutes), with a shot of salt and pepper. Add the silverbeet or rocket, stir until just wilted, and pour the other pot with the beans over the whole affair. Bring it all to a boil, then simmer and stir occasionally for about half an hour.
3. Just before serving, toast some thick slices of good crusty country bread and set aside. Using a wooden spoon, mash some of the potatoes and beans against the side of the pot – this nicely thickens the broth. Check seasoning and ladle into bowls, and drizzle a little good extra-virgin olive or truffle oil over each dish. Serve with toasted bread.
Serves: an army.

roastveg-pasta.jpgROAST VEGETABLE PASTA

Even though it takes a little while to roast the veggies, the actual work time involved in this pasta is virtually nil. And all the cream and cheese makes the healthy bits of the dish much more palatable.

You’ll need:
• 250g dried pasta, such as fettucini, papardelle, or rigatoni
• An assortment of baby eggplants, fennel bulbs, zucchini, onions, et cetera – whatever looks good at the market that day, roughly chopped
• 200ml whipping cream
• 1 cup (or more) freshly-grated grana padano cheese
• Fresh parsley, for garnish
• Olive oil

1. Place the chopped vegetables in a roasting tray with a good glug of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the lot around to coat, and place in a reasonably hot pre-heated oven. Meanwhile, place a pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
2. After about 45 minutes or so, check the vegetables – when they are good and soft and roasted, throw the pasta in the water.
3. Warm some cream in a wide saucepan, bringing just to the boil. When the pasta is a few minutes away from being al dente, remove the vegetables from the oven and toss with the cream. Add a good handful of the cheese.
4. Drain the pasta, and toss with the cream, vegetables, and cheese. Serve in warmed pasta bowls and sprinkle on some more cheese and fresh parsley.
Serves four

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:41 PM | Comments (0)



The problem of fruitbat university lecturers…

University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill has written that “unquestionably, America has earned” the attack of 9/11. He calls the attack itself a result of “gallant sacrifices of the combat teams.” That the “combat teams” killed only 3,000 Americans, he says, shows they were not “unreasonable or vindictive.” He says that in order to even the score with America, Muslim terrorists “would, at a minimum, have to blow up about 300,000 more buildings and kill something on the order of 7.5 million people.”

To grasp the current state of higher education in America, consider that if Churchill is at any risk at all of being fired, it is only because he smokes.

Churchill poses as a radical living on the edge, supremely confident that he is protected by tenure from being fired. College professors are the only people in America who assume they can’t be fired for what they say.

Tenure was supposed to create an atmosphere of open debate and
inquiry, but instead has created havens for talentless cowards who want to be insulated from life. Rather than fostering a climate of open inquiry, college campuses have become fascist colonies of anti-American hate speech, hypersensitivity, speech codes, banned words and prohibited scientific inquiry.

Even liberals don’t try to defend Churchill on grounds that he is Galileo pursuing an abstract search for the truth. They simply invoke “free speech,” like a deus ex machina to end all discussion. Like the words “diverse” and “tolerance,” “free speech” means nothing but: “Shut up, we win.” It’s free speech (for liberals), diversity (of liberals) and tolerance (toward liberals).

Ironically, it is precisely because Churchill is paid by the taxpayers that “free speech” is implicated at all. The Constitution has nothing to say about the private sector firing employees for their speech. That’s why you don’t see Bill Maher on ABC anymore. Other well-known people who have been punished by their employers for their “free speech” include Al Campanis, Jimmy Breslin, Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy the Greek and Andy Rooney.

In fact, the Constitution says nothing about state governments firing employees for their speech: The First Amendment clearly says, “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.”

Firing Ward Churchill is a pseudo-problem caused by modern constitutional law, which willy-nilly applies the Bill of Rights to the states – including the one amendment that clearly refers only to “Congress.” (Liberals love to go around blustering “‘no law’ means ‘no law’!” But apparently “Congress” doesn’t mean “Congress.”)

Even accepting the modern notion that the First Amendment applies to state governments, the Supreme Court has distinguished between the government as sovereign and the government as employer. The government is extremely limited in its ability to regulate the speech of private citizens, but not so limited in regulating the speech of its own employees.

So the First Amendment and “free speech” are really red herrings when it comes to whether Ward Churchill can be fired. Even state universities will not run afoul of the Constitution for firing a professor who is incapable of doing his job because he is a lunatic, an incompetent or an idiot – and those determinations would obviously turn on the professor’s “speech.”

If a math professor’s “speech” consisted of insisting that 2 plus 2 equals 5, or an astrophysicist’s “speech” was to claim that the moon is made of Swiss cheese, or a history professor’s “speech” consisted of rants about the racial inferiority of the n....s, each one of them could be fired by a state university without running afoul of the constitution. Just because we don’t have bright lines for determining what speech can constitute a firing offense, doesn’t mean there are no lines at all. If Churchill hasn’t crossed them, we are admitting that almost nothing will debase and disgrace the office of professor (except, you know, suggesting that there might be innate differences in the mathematical abilities of men and women).

In addition to calling Americans murdered on 9/11 “little Eichmanns,” Churchill has said:

1. The U.S. Army gave blankets infected with smallpox to the Indians specifically intending to spread the disease.

Not only are the diseased-blanket stories cited by Churchill denied by his alleged sources, but the very idea is contradicted by the facts of scientific discovery. The settlers didn’t understand the mechanism of how disease was transmitted. Until Louis Pasteur’s experiments in the second half of the 19th century, the idea that disease could be caused by living organisms was as scientifically accepted as crystal reading is today. Even after Pasteur, many scientists continued to believe disease was spontaneously generated from within. Churchill is imbuing the settlers with knowledge that in most cases wouldn’t be accepted for another hundred years.

2. Indian reservations are the equivalent of Nazi concentration camps.
I forgot Auschwitz had a casino.

If Ward Churchill can be a college professor, what’s David Duke waiting for?

The whole idea behind free speech is that in a marketplace of ideas, the truth will prevail. But liberals believe there is no such thing as truth and no idea can ever be false (unless it makes feminists cry, such as the idea that there are innate differences between men and women). Liberals are so enamored with the process of free speech that they have forgotten about the goal.

Faced with a professor who is a screaming lunatic, they retreat to, “Yes, but academic freedom, tenure, free speech, blah, blah,” and their little liberal minds go into autopilot with all the slogans.

Why is it, again, that we are so committed to never, ever firing professors for their speech? Because we can’t trust state officials to draw any lines at all here? Because ... because ... because they might start with crackpots like Ward Churchill — but soon liberals would be endangered? Liberals don’t think there is any conceivable line between them and Churchill? Ipse dixit.
Universal Press Syndicate

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

THE ARENA: Dec 05, AU Edition


Get ready for a long, hot summer…

Anyone who has ever taken a holiday in a beach community knows that such places can be fairly insular places. When so much time is spent looking out to sea, it’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s a whole land-based world behind you. And with a little bit of paradise on their doorstep, it’s no wonder that locals get possessive and resentful when outsiders roll in and start violating all the little informal and unwritten rules that make a place where everyone enjoys a common piece of property – the beach – function properly. Just ask fish-kisser Rex Hunt, who was accosted with his teenage son by a group of toughs in Byron Bay recently.

But the riots which swept over Sydney’s eastern beaches recently in the wake of the bashing of a lifeguard by young “men of Middle Eastern appearance” (as the popular press so gingerly puts it; it’s amazing that they don’t use the abbreviation MoMA to save column inches, though perhaps a certain museum in New York might not be so happy about it) were something else entirely.

It is no secret, to anyone who has cared to look for it, that there have long been simmering tensions between packs of youthful “MoMAs” and not just beachside locals but about anyone else who is unfortunate enough to cross their path. In places like Cronulla, the only Sydney beach with its own train stop, this simmer has been on the verge of boiling over for months if not years, as locals share stories of disrespect, abuse and attacks by young Lebanese males pouring in from the western suburbs and causing trouble and charging around the place with a disrespectful swagger.

(Apparently one of the favourite lines of these thugs, cited by the Daily Telegraph’s Anita Quigley, to women and girls who reject their advances is to turn to their mates and say, “She’s not worth doing 55 years for” – a reference to the sentence handed down to gang rapist Bilal Skaf. Combine this with the statements of a Pakistani recently convicted of rape to the effect of “my culture made me do it”, and it’s not hard to see why people get nervous).

But the sad thing about the recent riots is that in many ways they were completely preventable. Although the popular press has been quick to cry “racism” and cite the riots as another example of just what an uncouth bunch of bogans we are in Australia, race ultimately had precious little to do with it. (Just ask the infamous Bra Boys gang of Maroubra, which had a starring role in the riots and which over the years has become a fairly multicultural operation, united in defence of former NSW Premier Bob Carr’s postcode). Instead, John Howard had it right when he said that the “behaviour was completely unacceptable but I’m not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community … I think it’s a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I’m simply not going to do so.”

The problem could have been headed off at the pass years ago had police in NSW – ironically enough, largely under the leadership of Bob Carr – not been systematically stripped of their powers to deal with trouble before it gets out of hand. And while in a free society the presumption of innocence lies with the individual, there’s also a noble tradition of what might be called informal “hidden law”, which says that cops know when a group of kids are up to no good, and should have the power to move them on, arrest them, or break them up accordingly.

Instead, Cronulla residents tell hair-raising stories of offensive and threatening conduct by Lebanese youth, and being told by the police that they can only do something if matters get violent – by which point, of course, the damage is already done.

Nature and criminals abhor a vacuum, and if criminals see that police have, by their absence, created a space where bad behaviour is permissible, they will rush in to fill the gap. That’s been happening for years at Cronulla, and locals finally got sick of it – and of trusting the police to deal fairly with their complaints (hence the violence). But unlike Macquarie Fields, where cops hung back after the riot began at the behest of a politically-timid leadership that kept front-line officers from doing their job, in Cronulla and at other beaches, the failing has been going on for ages, leading many to believe that there is one law for the testosterone-charged MoMAs and one for everyone else.

NSW Police could learn a lot from the example of New York, where an aggressive police campaign against the sort of anti-social behaviour committed regularly not just by ethnic gangs but all sorts of people ended years of “long hot summers” of riots and slashed the crime rate to previously-unimaginable levels.

Or, closer to home, they could look at New Zealand, where a few years back Auckland cops employed a change in the unlawful assembly laws to tackle similar problems of race riots and thuggery.

There’s an old cliché in politics that goes something along the lines of, “the first person to call their opponent ‘Hitler’ loses”. There’s something similar when gangs go at each other: the first group to pelt an ambulance with bottles loses, at least in the eyes of the media. And certainly the thugs of Cronulla who went on a rampage against anyone with too dark a tan are no better than the thugs of Bankstown or Lakemba who, fighting massive internal cultural conflicts, treat beachgoing women as objects of both desire and scorn. But it’s amazing to think how much of this could have been prevented if the provocation – community concern at the thuggery on the part of visiting gangs – was dealt with by the cops at a much earlier stage. It’s time to empower cops to crack down on yobbos and crims – no matter what their ethnicity.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Sep 05, AU Edition

Want a fun challenge in the kitchen? Make your own pasta, says Eli Jameson

Ah, the pasta aisle of the supermarket. Fettucini, cavatelli, oricchiette, rigatoni, penne rigate...just reading off the names on the different boxes and bags is enough to make one feel Italian. And so many of these shapes have names that sound cool even in English: Does a plate of priest’s caps (agnolotti) appeal? No? Well, perhaps a steaming bowl of strozzapretti – or ‘priest stranglers’ – will sate your appetite as well as your anti-clerical urges.

But almost every packet of pasta for sale in the supermarket has one thing in common, regardless of shape: it is dried. Which means that it is made by combining water and hard semolina flour and extruded in factories through various shaped dies. Some of these pastas are very good, and indeed gourmet dried pastas are showing up on the shelves of more and more suburban markets (tip: look for noodles that have a particularly rough sauce-holding surface as a sure tip-off of quality), but they lack a certain something. Now, I keep a five kilogram sack of penne rigate in the cabinet because it’s an incredibly economical and convenient base for a huge number of dinners. But there are times that some occasions, and some recipes, that call for more than just a couple of scoops of Barilla tossed into boiling water.

That alternative is, of course, fresh pasta. Contrary to what one might think, fresh pasta is not simply the pre-dried version of what comes in a rectangular blue box with instructions to ‘cottura 11 minuti’. Instead it is made from eggs and flour – which is why the stuff has a pretty firm use-by date – and unlike dried, only takes a few minutes to cook.

So where to get the stuff? Some fresh pasta is available from gourmet Italian delis and even supermarkets, but it is ridiculously expensive considering what goes in to it. Instead, I say, make your own.

I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy out there in the world of TV chefs and cookbook authors to keep certain ideas and techniques just vague and complicated enough so that the average punter remains mystified and unable to fully recreate certain end-products – or at least not regularly enough to become adept at them. I have a fantastic cookbook by the American chef Charlie Palmer which is almost like a detective hunt: every photograph of a finished dish has some extra touch or flourish not included in the printed recipe, and the reader has to study it closely to discern the hidden item. Call it The DaVinci Cookbook school of food writing. The end result is it convinces ordinary home chefs that fresh pasta can only be made with two kinds of imported artisinal flour and lots of kneading, followed by ample time for both chef and dough to have a good rest.

This is, of course, completely untrue, and there is no reason why fresh homemade pasta can’t become part of any home chef’s regular – i.e., at least weekly – routine. The advantages are numerous: though it takes a little longer to prepare on the front end (and we’re only talking about twenty minutes, with a little practice), it takes only moments to cook. One need only be up from the table for five minutes, tops, to knock up a pasta course before rejoining the rest of the party.

Furthermore, the texture is night-and-day to that of dried pasta. It holds sauce much more effectively – one might even say intimately – and as a result, one needs less to coat it. This is where the old adage that pasta is not about the sauce but the pasta comes from, and it’s impossible to understand unless one has experienced the difference. Fresh pasta absorbs sauce in a way dried simply can’t.

To make fresh pasta, one really only needs to get a hand-cranked pasta machine, costing between $60 and $90, depending on brand, at decent homewares stores. Word to the wise: spend the money on the more expensive Italian model if you can. The cheaper look-alike made in Korea will do the job just as well, but doesn’t stand up to regular use over the years, and will need to be replaced far sooner. Beyond that, the only ingredients are flour (I prefer Italian strong, or ‘00’ flour, but the basic house-brand stuff will do just as well) and eggs (see last month’s column on the virtues of fresh eggs – they make a difference here as well). Ready? Let’s begin.

To make a simple pasta like, say, fettucini for two, just place two cups of flour in a bowl, make a well in the middle, and crack the eggs into it. (Rule of thumb: one plate = one egg = one cup of flour). With a fork, begin to combine the eggs with the flour until you have a mass of dough. On a well-floured work surface, knead this well until it becomes a ball, and it starts to get stretchy when worked with the meat of your hand.

Now comes the fun part. Take about a third of the dough, flatten it, and run it through the machine on its widest setting (1). It may take a few goes at this stage to get it fully formed and looking like a square of pasta, but once that is achieved, keep running it through until you reach the second-thinnest setting (generally number 8). Give this sheet a dusting of flour, and repeat with the remaining dough. And when it’s all done, run it through the wide noodle cutters that come with the machine. Presto! You’ve just made fettucini!

So what now? Well, for one thing, it should be lightly dusted with flour and laid out on a sheet so that it doesn’t stick together, and allowed to dry out a bit. One can also make this at lunchtime for an evening’s dinner party without worrying a bit. When cooking time comes, plunge it into a pot of boiling, well-salted water, and let cook for just 2-3 minutes before tossing it into a pan of sauce. Make an alfredo by frying off some finely-diced onion in a large whack (100 grams) of butter, and adding a good slug of cream, a handful of parma cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. (Healthy it up with some greens, asparagus, or mushrooms if you like).

Or make a ravioli – those same sheets can be cut into circles and pressed together around a filling of your own invention, sealed by an egg wash. Use the flat edge of your chefs knife to press them shut so they don’t pop in the water. A favourite stuffing in our house is beetroot, sage, and goat cheese, served in a brown butter sauce jazzed up with beetroot greens.

Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated, and don’t let yourself be constrained by your imagination. Once you’ve got the technique down, you can knock up sheets of the stuff in all of twenty minutes. Your guests – and your palate – will thank you.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, AU Edition

may05sexart1.jpgTRAFFICKING IN TEARS
Slavery was supposed to be a thing of the past. But in the dark corners of Australia, it is still flourishing – and as SHAUN DAVIES reports, despite recent efforts the government is losing the fight against the devastating trade in human property

It’s a story that’s guaranteed to break your heart. A 22-year-old law student from Thailand, promised a job in a restaurant where she can legitimately earn millions of baht (the Thai currency), flies into Australia in late November 2002 with high hopes of saving up enough money to buy a car.

But within 24 hours, the student’s situation takes a nightmarish turn. Instead of starting work in a restaurant, she is taken to a house in Surry Hills, handed a g-string and informed that she owes her new employers $200,000.

She has been bought to work as a prostitute – and she can’t leave until she pays the money back.

Shipped from brothel to brothel, she is forced to have sex with up to 20 men each day. If clients refuse to use condoms she can’t turn them down. At night she is locked in a house with fourteen other girls. She begs clients for help – and exchanges phone numbers with some of them – but no-one comes to her aid.

So on the afternoon of January 5, 2003, the student makes a decisive move. She convinces her manager to let her use the brothel’s telephone, telling him she wants to order a pizza. Locking herself in a bathroom, she dials the number she found in the ‘big yellow book’: 000.

‘I want police help me, understand?’ she tells the operator. ‘People come here, lie on me, work in store... Help me, I want to go home, OK?’

The manager bursts into the cubicle and ends the call abruptly, but police raid the brothel later that day and take the student away to a woman’s refuge.

The student’s disturbing allegations, heard recently in open court in Sydney, led to the arrest of two women alleged to own the brothel, and another man alleged to have managed it. All three have pleaded not guilty two charges including exercising ownership over a slave, knowingly conducting a business involving sexual servitude and causing a person to remain in sexual servitude. They are facing jail terms of up to 25 years.

In some ways the case is a landmark – the first of its kind since current legislation against human trafficking was introduced in 1999. It is also the first since the Federal Government allocated $20 million over four years to combat sex slavery in 2003, following public pressure after the death of a trafficked woman named Puontong Simaplee in Villawood detention centre.

This substantial package funded a new federal police task force, as well as education programs for police and immigration officers. The Government also placed an official in Thailand with a brief to combat sex slavery and created new visas that allow trafficked women to stay in Australia. (See sidebar.)

A spokesman for the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, told Investigate that the government has been ‘doing its utmost to fight this crime through concerted domestic, bilateral, regional and international efforts’.
But those who work closely with trafficked women believe much more still needs to be done. And it seems that the crooks are getting smarter – finding methods to avoid detection and legal loopholes to escape prosecution.

So are we winning the fight against sexual servitude and slavery? And if not, what more can we do?

sexart4.jpgBesides weapons and drugs, international crime syndicates are increasingly trading in a less risky commodity: human beings. International estimates of total trafficking levels (which includes trafficking for the labour market as well as the sex industry) vary wildly, but the US government believes the total figure is somewhere in the vicinity of 600,000 to 800,000 persons ever year. Interpol and the United Nations both rate the issue as a top priority.

Some experts say that the rise in trafficking for sexual servitude to developed nations has been brought about by demand. Women from rich countries don’t want to work in the sex industry, but at the same time more men are using sex workers, so demand is outstripping supply – and organised crime is filling the gap.

Others say the push is coming from the supply side. Sex workers from poor countries want to migrate to developed nations but cannot do so legally. So they look to traffickers to sneak them into a country of choice.

While we know for certain that Australia is a destination market for trafficking, it is impossible to know exactly how many women are brought here each year, says University of New England academic Kerry Carrington.

‘For a start it’s difficult to quantify any form of crime – it’s always going to be hidden. But an added issue here is that it’s not only the criminals. The victims may also hide the crime because of other consequences,’ she says.

A recent Government report claimed there were probably less than 100 trafficked women in Australia. However, Carrington is more inclined to agree with groups who put the figure much higher – around 1000 women every year.

Carrington has one major gripe with the Government’s policy on trafficking - criminal justice visas are only granted to women when there’s a strong chance their evidence will lead to a successful prosecution. Otherwise they are repatriated to their home countries and back into danger when the syndicates that trafficked them seek revenge.

‘I think it’s dubious to say that this meets our obligations under human rights laws,’ she says.

‘As there is no guaranteed migration outcome for assisting a prosecution, there is still little incentive (for the women) to assist prosecutions. Those victims unable to assist the prosecution of traffickers for fear of reprisal, either against themselves or their families abroad, or other reasons, remain unprotected.’

Senator Ellison’s spokesman told Investigate that the visa regulations were fair and ‘provide support to people in genuine need
of protection and who are assisting law enforcement agencies with their investigations’.

But in an interview with the ABC in 2004, the Senator was more direct: ‘We don’t want to make it too attractive for people to come here because they’ll think that they’ll get very good benefits and
so they can come here and then claim to be a victim and enjoy
those benefits.’

But Carrington says that each woman’s case should be critically assessed while she is on a bridging visa. If her case meets a civil level of proof (that is, it seems true on the balance of probability), they should get a longer-term visa.

Shirley Woods, an outreach worker for Australian NGO Project Respect, works with trafficked women on a daily basis. She believes that the approach of police and immigration officers has come a long way since the days of kicking down brothel doors and shipping illegal workers out as soon as possible, though Investigate was supposed to meet with an allegedly trafficked woman from Thailand for this article who was picked up by DIMIA and deported before we could speak with her.
However, Woods says there’s some way to go before officers can handle cases of trafficking with the deft sensitivity that would make trafficked women trust them.

‘I think it’s a matter of more people knowing the right questions: “Do you have your passport?”, “Where do you live?”. A lot of women are shipped from brothel to brothel and don’t know their address,’ she says. ‘There are a lot of questions you can ask.’

In October 2003, the AFP delivered an intensive four-week course in dealing with trafficking to senior investigators from DIMIA, state police agencies, customs and the tax department. Woods believes these education programs will eventually have an impact.

‘It’s very difficult because it’s almost an instinctive thing. So I think that as more immigration and police officers work with trafficked women the situation will get better.’

may05sexart3.jpgThe jewel in the crown of the Government’s trafficking package is the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team (TSETT) – a kind of sex-slave commando force which the AFP says is ‘modelled on the successful narcotics strike team approach, with intelligence-driven investigations and the flexibility and capacity to respond quickly to the highest priority cases.’

It’s difficult to quantify how effective this task force has been. We do know that the AFP has conducted 38 investigations into sexual servitude and slavery-related offences since 2003, and that a total of 15 people are currently facing charges for these crimes.

The AFP has not responded to queries about the current level of trafficking in Australia. But Project Respect’s Shirley Woods says she has come across more trafficked women since the taskforce was established (which, she points out, may just be chance). She believes traffickers are getting smarter.

‘There’s been a huge shift away from Thai women and towards Korean women recently because they can get student visas here. The whole payment system and everything has changed,’ she says.
In one recent case, Woods says, trafficked women in a Melbourne brothel were actually given one-third of the money they earned. But of this third, an extra portion went to the brothel owner to service the woman’s debt, and another portion was given to an ‘interpreter’ who couldn’t speak Korean. All up, the women still only kept one-ninth of the money they earned.

‘I think the traffickers have sat down and had a think about what the legislation means and how they can get around it,’ says Woods. ‘I’m interested in how they’re getting around the education issues associated with student visas - maybe they’re paying off [English language] schools.’
Kerry Carrington also believes that the traffickers have changed tactics. ‘I’ve heard anecdotally that the modus operandi of the traffickers is now to circulate the women and move them along, so that they can avoid being detected,’ she says.
Some advocates believe a radical approach is needed to defeat trafficking - issuing temporary visas to sex workers so that they can legally work in Australian brothels.

Fiona Patten, spokeswoman for the Eros Foundation, says giving sex workers temporary visas would completely undercut the trafficking market. She points out that many Thais pay huge amounts of money to legitimate employment agencies to organise a job and a visa in Australia – at least as much as trafficked women pay to brothel owners. The problem, Patten says, is that sex workers can’t go to a legitimate employment agency.

‘From the industry’s point of view, we see sex work as valid work. By enabling women to come out here and work legally in a system where you can ensure that they’re working in safe conditions, where you can ensure that they’re not being exploited, is that not a better thing?’
However, Patten admits that any political party who took up this idea would be committing electoral suicide.

Ranged against Patten and other sex industry groups (such as the Scarlet Alliance and SWOP) are abolitionists who say that cutting demand by outlawing prostitution is the only way to stop trafficking. Project Respect president Kathleen Maltzahn is a careful advocate of this position.

‘We’ve got to go back to asking who prostitution works for – and it’s not the women who do it,’ she said in a 2004 lecture. ‘Prostitution is set up for men. That’s what trafficking tells us so clearly. When there are enough women who agree to do prostitution the industry will use them, but if there aren’t... the industry brings women in, with absolute disregard for their choices, desires, hopes.’

‘We need to stop talking about prostitution as if women’s choices make it happen and start asking about men’s choices. Without this work trafficking will continue unabated.’

may05sexart2.jpgIn the US, a different group of abolitionists are dominating the trafficking debate – the Christian right. Groups such as the International Justice Mission have the ear of President Bush, who has pledged $150 million to eradicating sex slavery over two years. But sex industry lobbyists are vehemently opposed to the abolitionist approach. It’s supply, they say, not demand, which is driving the trafficking market.

‘I think when you consider (the abolitionist) argument in a global context it doesn’t make sense,’ Scarlet Alliance president Janelle Fawkes says. ‘Many people travel for work, often to another country where the earning potential is greater.’

She gives the example of Burmese women who migrate to Thailand to do sex work, which she says does not make sense in terms of demand.
‘Trafficking happens not because of an unmet demand by clients, but a demand by sex workers who seek to enter Australia to work in the sex industry. It’s a worker’s market, not a client’s market.’

As Investigate goes to print, the trial of Tran, Qi and Xu is still in progress. Another slavery-related trial has just begun in Melbourne and three further matters are ready to go before the courts.

Compare this to 2003, when only one person had ever been convicted of sexual servitude offences in Australia: Melbourne brothel owner Gary Glazner, who made an estimated $1.2 million peddling women to the sex industry. For his crimes, Glazner (who was tried under the Victorian Prostitution Control Act 1994) received a pathetic $30,000
fine and a 30-month suspended sentence.

Although the situation has improved, trafficking will never be completely stamped out unless there is a major shift in our approach to the sex industry as a whole. If there is a market for trafficking (whether supply or demand-driven), criminals will always find ways to exploit this – no matter how well-trained the AFP’s special taskforce is.

While a controversial idea, a legitimate working scheme for foreign prostitutes might cut the market from beneath the trafficker’s feet, and give these women a chance to come to the country for a short time and provide a regulated working environment. But realistically, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that Australia will embrace the idea of visas to foreign prostitutes. For now we’ll have to rely on more basic initiatives and the experts agree that the Government is heading down the right track. It just needs to walk a little further and a little faster.

The Government’s $20 million package attempts to deal with attempts deal with trafficking through a number of initiatives, including:

* The establishment of the AFP’s Transnational Sexual
Exploitation and Trafficking Team – there have been AFP 38 investigations into trafficking since 1 January 2004.

* The creation of a new position to combat trafficking - Senior Migration Officer Compliance (SMOC). This position is based in Thailand, which has until now been the source country for most women trafficked into Australia.

* Changes to visa regulations. Women who may have been involved in trafficking are now granted a bridging F visa which allows the AFP to assess their case. If a woman can assist the AFP in a prosecution she is granted a criminal justice visa. Women deemed to be in some kind of danger if they return to their home country may be granted a witness protection visa (trafficking).

* Education of immigration and police officers to ensure that trafficking is recognised and that women are not deported before they can give evidence.

* Proposed amendments to legislation that will bring Australian law more closely into line with UN trafficking protocol. These have been tabled in the senate and are under consideration.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:34 PM | Comments (0)


A burning question

A millennium dawns, and a power and environmental crisis beckons. Or does it? The globe is warming, oil is running out, and it’s all our fault, apparently. Mankind’s fondness for fossil fuels spells doom for us all, or so we are told. The earth will warm, the seas will rise, crops will fail, coastal lowlands will be inundated, polar bears will die out, and yada yada yada. This is partly true. The climate is changing. Temperatures worldwide are increasing. It is happening; it just isn’t happening for the reasons that that Greenies tell us it is.

I was raised as an environmentalist. I love the earth. Like most farmers, and most hunters, I’m a true Green, and proud of it. But unlike the ultra-far-red-leftists of the party which bears the same name, Greenies like me prefer to base our opinions on fact, rather than on dogma, ideology, and bad science.

We are in good company. British botanist, Professor David Bellamy, has published a paper outlining how it is that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing because of global warming, and not, as the flat-earth zealots of the Kyoto Cult claim, the other way round. His findings are based on thirteen thousand years’ worth of archaeological data since the last ice age.

Bellamy refers to the Milankovitch cycles, which measure changes in the earth’s climate brought about by variations in the tilt of our planet’s axis and her orbit around the sun. These changes occur gradually over long periods – up to 100,000 years – and their effects, along with those of the known 300-year and 22-year weather cycles generated by sunspot activity, have been inscribed not only in the fossil record, but also in human history. 1000 years ago, the Vikings grazed cattle on the lush green pastures of what are now the frozen icy wastes of Greenland, and Britain had a wine industry. 750 years later, the climate had cooled to such a degree that people could ice-skate on the River Thames in London.

Bellamy also quotes from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, whose petition against the Kyoto Protocol has been signed by some 18,000 scientists worldwide. Its central claim is simple; “Predictions of harmful climatic effects due to future increases in minor greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide are in error, and do not conform to experimental knowledge.”

Kyoto proponents would do well to acquaint themselves with a little of that experimental knowledge. We are told that melting ice caps will cause sea levels to rise. This is patently untrue, and easily demonstrated. Fill a glass to about three-quarters with water. Drop in a few ice cubes. Mark the water level with a felt-tipped pen.

In an hour or so, when the ice has melted, come back and check the level. You will discover that it hasn’t changed.The science behind this is very, very, third-form simple. Ice is less dense than water, which is why it floats. Because it floats, it displaces water, pushing the water level up. As the ice melts, the displacing ice is replaced by water, of increasing density, at lower volume, meaning that the overall level remains the same. Melting ice caps will have no effect at all on sea levels.

For the record, the Northern ice cap has no land mass under it. It is all floating sea ice. Most of the icebergs released by the Antarctic, are also sea ice, from such reservoirs as the Ross Ice Shelf. Such land-based ice as is released, by retreating glaciers and continental ice masses, is utterly insignificant relative to the volume of the oceans. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sit down with a map of the world and a pocket calculator to work that one out.

Sea levels will, however, rise with increasing global temperatures. This is because a warming of the oceans causes their waters to expand. Low-lying countries are at risk, unfortunately, and this is a great tragedy of our time; but a greater tragedy still, is the unfettered willingness with which so many otherwise ostensibly intelligent people leap blindly onto a popular bandwagon founded on theory and science which is, plainly and simply, wrong. The burning of fossil fuels by Western nations is not causing the rise in global temperatures, and their cessation in so doing will not halt it, nor will it save those nations which are at risk.

We are also led to believe that methane emissions from New Zealand’s three-odd million cows are irrevocably harming the atmosphere, and that we must purchase “carbon credits” from some other country in order to overcome this.

The authors of this particular chapter of the Kyoto fantasy have obviously not thought far enough outside the box to give consideration to the effects which must, by their logic, have been caused by the up-to-75 million bison which roamed North America until the 1830s, or the huge African wildlife herds that existed up until modern human predation. One would presume, in keeping with their argument, that the globe should now be in credit from that period.

The fantasists also appear to ignore the fact that the atmospheres of the northern and southern hemispheres mix only at the equator, and even then, by only a minute percentage every year. Even if the “carbon credit” theory were anything other than simplistic misinformation, several centuries would have to pass before the effects of carbon emissions “saved” in one hemisphere, had any measurable effect on those “spent” in the other.

And as an aside, forests are not the “carbon sinks” which the Protocolers claim them to be; living plants emit almost as much CO2 as they take in. The only effective way to turn a forest into a carbon sink, is to cut it down for timber, or mill it into paper.

As I write this, on the evening of Wednesday 16th February 2005, the Government of New Zealand is committing the latest in its long litany of ill-informed, incompetent, or deliberate and ideologically-driven blunders. It is ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

Even as it does, professional activists, from the internationally-franchised business Greenpeace, are occupying the site of this New Zealand Government’s single most intelligent and sensible action – the commissioning of the mothballed Marsden-B power station, as a coal-fired electricity generating plant.

They are doing so because they, and the Greens, and any number of other highly-opinionated yet poorly informed protesters, are opposed to the use of coal as a fuel for electricity generation. It is their claim that the burning of coal, or any other fossil fuel for that matter, in spite of a wealth of informed scientific opinion to the contrary, is a contributing factor to the current cycle of natural climate change. I do beg to differ. Mankind, for all his faults, is just not that significant. We are not affecting our planet’s climate. It is changing all by itself, without our help, as it has done since time immemorial, not just in the couple of hundred years since modern record-keeping began.

A single volcanic eruption on the scale of Taupo, or Krakatoa, or Mount St Helens, or Pinatubo, releases more particulate and oxidative matter into the atmosphere, than has been created by the whole of mankind since the discovery of fire, modern wars included. Sorry, Kyotoers, but once again, this is verifiable fact.

Ice ages come and go. After them, indeed between them, the climate warms again. Greenhouse fanatics choose to ignore this natural phenomenon, because they have no pseudo-scientific way of explaining it.

Though generally short on alternative solutions, in this case, as an alternative to coal, the protestors make some timid noises in favour of natural gas. This is a curious position. The exhaust products from the burning of natural gas (primarily a mix of propane and butane, with some methane, a little ethane, a smattering of pentane, and a dash of carbon monoxide), are mostly water vapour (the single most effective greenhouse gas, which also sustains life on our planet, and staves off ice-ages), and carbon dioxide.

Strangely enough, the exhaust products from a modern coal-fired thermal power station are also, primarily, water vapour and carbon dioxide.

The reality of black gold today, is a long way from the grim memory of its industrial past. Fly ash is caught by filters. Sulphur dioxide is neutralised with lime, and the resultant calcium sulphate is extracted to be used as a fertiliser. After these processes, there is very little left.

Their other preferred alternatives appear to be the continued destruction and flooding of South Island rivers and wilderlands, and the proliferation of ugly, noise-polluting wind farms – which Europe, incidentally, having had much experience of, is now in the process of dismantling.

Nobody wants pollution. There are very good reasons for mankind to pursue an alternative to oil as a source for transport fuels. But just for the record, oil is never going to run out. Contrary to popular myth, it isn’t fermented dinosaur juice. Oil is one of the products which the earth produces all the time, albeit slowly. When we tap into an oil strike, some of the oil comes out under its own pressure, and the next fraction is displaced with water, either sea water or fresh water, depending on whether the find is on land or offshore.

But oil isn’t so much pumped, as collected. Oil companies prefer not to spend unnecessary money on extracting this free and plentiful product; when the easy stuff runs out, the well is capped, declared “dry”, and the company moves on to the next find. At that stage, the reservoir usually still contains around 80% of its original oil.
Oil is handy and versatile stuff, providing us with plastics, artificial fibres, and a host of other products, from cosmetics, to agrichemicals, to road-building materials.

That said, it isn’t the cleanest thing we can put into our fuel tanks; but neither is it, nor coal, the cause of global warming.

Worldwide, a commercially-driven and media supported campaign of mass hysteria over climate change is using fraudulent science and bogus evidence to convince foolish Greenies and ignorant politicians to spend vast amounts of money on solving a problem which doesn’t exist. It is reminiscent of those other great bogeyman stories, about Y2K, SARS, Nuclear War, werewolves, vampires, and Asian Bird Flu.

I end as I began, by quoting Professor Bellamy: “The link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming is a myth. It is time the world’s leaders, their scientific advisers and many environmental pressure groups woke up to the fact.”

(With acknowledgement to David Bellamy, and special thanks to Allen Cookson for some additional information.)

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

FIRST DRAFT: May 05, AU Edition

Even Kofi Annan’s got his own weblog now…

MARCH 21 2005
Man, this investigation into Kojo and me is a real drag. It’s total pressure, 24-7! I thought having this position meant I wouldn’t have to put up with this kind of thing. Like, dude, where’s my diplomatic

But no, they have to investigate everything. Everything, going back aaages. Like, hello! Cotecna? Who are they? I don’t remember.
Cotecna, Coshmecna.

And that Paul Volcker guy. Man, he is such a wingnut.
The worst thing is that I appointed him. Sheesh. What was I thinking?
Hey, Volcker! Investigate this.

posted by GenSec at 12:26 PM
Permalink Comments (124) Trackback

MARCH 24 2005
Man, this Cotecna thing is really ruining my reputation. Like, I just ran a Google ego search. I’m a pariah! Not so long ago I was a superstar on the world stage. I was pretty fly (for a black guy). Not any longer. I’ve gone from hero to zero in, like, days. This is sooo not happening.

Not that I’m in this just for the glory, mind. I just want to do my job. And it’s one helluva tough job. No, really! It’s not all receptions and champers and canapes, you know. There are medals of honor to receive; genocide reports to quash. (Like, words are important, dude. There really is a difference between mass murder and genocide, okay? Trust me.) Still, when all the drudgery is done I can enjoy the best part: I get to be concerned. I just love that ... Being concerned – it’s a buzz, man!

That’s why I hate all this controversy. I want to be concerned about the world. I don’t want the world being so concerned about me. You dig?

posted by GenSec at 4.34 PM
Permalink Comments (67) Trackback

APRIL 1 2005
It’s April Fool’s Day, alright. Now the World Bank is headed by a neo-con.

I had to put up with sniping from that guy and his cronies for, like, years man! “You’re too weak with dictators ... Act on Iraq ... Do something, for God’s sake” ... Etc.

But the UN couldn’t win, could it? When I did nothing, the Yanks had a field day. But if I’d said go in and kick butt, the member states would have gone all medieval on my ass. As I posted at the time: Saddamned if you do. Saddamned if you don’t.

Why won’t they shut up about “oil-for-food” ...
Hey, Wolfie and Co., read my lips: I did not have financial relations with that man Saddam Hussein!

But now I’ve got to have financial relations with Wolfie?
Jeebus, what a drag. I might just quit after all.

posted by GenSec at 9.40 AM
Permalink Comments (57) Trackback

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Dec 05, AU Edition

SJ-tshirtsales.jpg‘NAM PLUSSED
Patricia Rodriguez discovers the joys (and hassles) of Vietnam, but falls in love with it anyway

LAU CAI, Vietnam – After sleeping fitfully on the night train from Hanoi – note to self: Drink fewer liquids prior to a 10-hour journey on a train where the bathroom is a hole in the floor two cars down – we are herded onto a waiting minibus for the drive to Sa Pa.

The highlands village of Sa Pa, a 90-minute ride from Lau Cai, a trade centre on the Vietnam – China border, has been billed as a bucolic paradise, green, peaceful and mostly unspoiled by modern commerce. But the morning is hazy and foggy and still a bit dark, and as our van struggles through traffic-choked streets, I can’t see much of anything. We drive past long stretches of small, faded buildings with their metal security doors rolled shut, advertising “pho com” (soup/restaurant), “bia hoi” (fresh beer) and “karaoke” (no translation necessary). Kids in Nike warm-up jackets and baseball caps drive scooters loaded with trays of cut-up chickens or boxes bursting with vegetables; other mopeds carry entire families, two adults and two or three kids, so tightly packed together they don’t even have to hang on. It looks like bustling Ho Chi Minh City, except on a smaller, dingier scale.

Then, suddenly, the bus turns a corner and begins to struggle uphill, and the sun burns through, the fog lifting like a film being peeled from a piece of glass. Revealed is the lush landscape we’d been promised. Low, mist-covered mountains, their sides precisely terraced with rice paddies. Rises covered with fir trees and endless beds of lavender-flowering indigo plants. A clear, rocky stream, crossed by a rudimentary wooden bridge. It’s “National Geographic” – beautiful. Worth every second of last night’s discomfort.

And that, for me, is Vietnam: Just when I’m about to give up on this place, something happens that makes me fall just a little bit in love with it.

At times, Vietnam can be an easy place to love: When you’re walking undisturbed through thousand-year-old palace ruins in the imperial city of Hue. When you’re eating a huge bowl of “pho,” beef noodle soup scented with cilantro, mint and lemon grass, that costs less than 50 cents from a sidewalk vendor in Hanoi. When you’re being fussed over in a tailor’s shop in the ancient fishing port of Hoi An, being fitted for custom-made silk clothing that will be delivered to your hotel within 24 hours.

But at other times, it feels like trying to travel with a toddler, one who’s loud, messy, frantic, constantly changing his mind and demanding all your attention, right this minute.

My husband and I had hit bottom in Ho Chi Minh City, only a few hours after arriving in Vietnam and finding our way to a $15-a-night hotel in the area of the city that caters to backpackers. Trying to walk to the nearby public market, we couldn’t take two steps without being asked to buy something. Postcards? Cyclo ride? Taxi? Chewing gum? Spring rolls? Cigarettes? Beer? Hotel room? Guidebook? Guide?
Hot and frustrated, we retreated to a touristy cafe – crowded with dreadlocked and tattooed Western backpackers, smoking and drinking Vietnamese-brewed 333 beer – and wondered whether coming to Vietnam had been a good idea.

SJ-halongbay_mug.jpgWe’d planned to spend a few days based here, seeing some of the nearby sights, like the Mekong Delta’s floating markets, huge flotillas of small boats moored together so closely you can step from one to another, buying lychee and bananas from one boat, plasticware from another, conical straw hats from the next. But the smog, the heat and the relentless commercialism got to us. On only our second day, we hopped on a flight to Hanoi, the northern capital. The center of the country’s ruling Communist Party, it also has a reputation as a gracious, reserved city, older and quieter than Ho Chi Minh, retaining a bit more of its French-colonial heritage and architecture. Also, roughly a thousand miles to the north, it would be cooler. We thought we might like it better.

“Mademoiselle”, the cook says, waving my husband and me into her tiny restaurant, just a bare room that opens directly onto the street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Her daughter smiles and propels us toward a low table in the corner, where we sit on tiny plastic footstools. Around us, several other diners, mostly older men, eat their pho, or soup, and read local newspapers.

We don’t have to order; the proprietress simply starts cooking. Squatting in front of a few pots on portable burners, she takes a couple of large handfuls of very long noodles, cutting them with scissors and eyeballing them until the two portions seem equal. These she places in a bowl, ladling hot broth from a giant kettle over the top. Next, she plucks pieces of meat, hard-cooked eggs and dumplings from other pans and adds these to each bowl, finishing with a handful of fresh herbs. She hands the bowls to a young boy, who delivers them to our table, and then watches attentively as we dig in, giggling as my chopsticks keep dropping the long, slippery noodles. I laugh, too, but I keep trying; the pho is too delicious to leave in the bowl.
The cost for breakfast and entertainment? Less than $1. We head out into the early-morning streets, well-fed and happy. It’s our third day in-country, and Vietnam is growing on us.

Hanoi is jammed with traditional tourist sites, including ancient temples and pagodas, French cathedrals, scenic lakes and parks, and a gaggle of buildings dedicated to the late Vietnamese ruler Ho Chi Minh himself, including a museum, the stilt house where he lived in the ‘60s, and the mausoleum where his remains are on display. We’ll eventually see some of these, but mostly, we spend our time in Hanoi getting a feel for the city – walking, shopping, eating and just sitting.

Hanoi is perfect for this type of touring because it’s compact, walkable and, somewhat surprisingly for such a large urban center, quite beautiful.

Tourists spend much of their time in the Old Quarter, which has been the city’s commercial district for more than 1,000 years. The district begins at the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake, edged by weeping-willow trees and a small park where young and old gather to exercise at dawn, and complete with a small pagoda built in the middle of the lake.
At one time, each of the narrow, twisted streets in the quarter was named for the type of goods you could buy there – silk, bamboo, copper. Today, the old names are still used, but the streets have become less specialized; stores sell merchandise of all sorts, from traditional water puppets, carved wooden boxes and silk clothing to fake designer sunglasses, boomboxes and T-shirts printed with the image of Ho Chi Minh, four for $10.

The exception is the meat and produce market, with sections still dedicated exclusively to astoundingly fresh displays of fish, flowers, live chickens, vegetables, herbs and fruits, and filled with buyers and sellers haggling over prices and quality. It becomes our favorite place for lunch. At one stall, we buy fritters of sliced bananas and sweet potatoes, dipped in a sweet rice-flour batter and fried crispy.

At another, a crusty French baguette filled with pat’ and cucumber slices, garnished with cilantro and fish sauce, the national Vietnamese condiment. At a third, giant prawns, cooked over a tiny charcoal grill, served with French bread and cold Vietnamese beer.
The Old Quarter has also been an area of growth for hotels, restaurants and coffee bars. We linger over sweet iced coffees and spring rolls at a second-story cafe overlooking the traffic circle across from Hoan Kiem Lake, watching the cat-and-mouse game that is city traffic here.

Traffic in Hanoi, like in the other large Vietnamese cities, is dominated by motor scooters, traveling six or eight or more abreast. There seem to be few lanes, few traffic lights and only one rule – if you’re driving, don’t hit anyone. Crossing the street is like playing the old video game of “Frogger.” There’s no such thing as a “walk” sign; to cross a busy street, you simply take a breath, make sure you’re not stepping out directly in front of anyone, and start walking slowly and deliberately, keeping your eyes on the traffic, so they know you see them. Miraculously, they’ll swerve around pedestrians every time. Watching it from above, it’s like a beautiful ballet, except with lots of honking horns and traffic fumes.

SJ-cycling.jpgStill, after a couple of days, Hanoi’s charms wear a bit thin; it’s still a city of people trying to make up for lost time economically. Some of our fellow tourists have developed strategies for spurning the persistent vendors and cyclo drivers – ignoring them, frowning, pretending not to understand English. (Practically all young Vietnamese speak at least a bit of English, though some older people still speak French.) I, however, must look like an easy mark; I can’t help but speak to every vendor, often with a smile, even when I’m saying no.

Sa Pa is as far from the city as you can get in Vietnam, we’re assured. It’s not a short trip – at least 10 hours overnight on the train both ways – but we figure to see another side of this diverse country, it’s worth it.

Sa Pa was built as a hill station by the French in the early 1920s, a scenic retreat where they could escape the heat and humidity of the lowlands and the coast. When the French withdrew, it fell into a period of decline, hotels and cafes getting shuttered and many people moving to larger cities in search of work.

But over the past decade it has been discovered by tourists who are eager to see the lovely mountain vistas and experience the culture of the hill people. Hotels have been restored or built from scratch, new restaurants have opened, tour guides have multiplied. There’s even an Internet cafe. Now the market in Sa Pa is flooded with tourists every day, and there are frequent organized tours to smaller markets in the surrounding villages.

At arrival, Sa Pa seems like the Vietnamese version of a Colorado ski town; a couple of the new hotels are even built in the style of a mountain chalet, complete with flower-filled window boxes. But it’s still somewhat rustic, with dusty, steeply angled streets and little traffic. Our simple guesthouse has a terrific view of the town and surrounding valley – but requires a hike of six flights of stairs to get to our room.

Yet some complain that the influx of outsiders – still only a tiny proportion of those who visit Vietnam – is having an adverse effect on the culture of the tribal peoples, essentially Westernizing them.
True, the Hmong and Dao women in particular have taken well to capitalism. The women have learned that their craft work – pressed-tin and silver jewelry, and beautifully dyed and embroidered pillows, tablecloths, purses, vests and dresses – were coveted by the Western visitors. Now small groups of women and larger bands of girls, as young as 7 or 8, congregate on the main tourist streets and near the market, wearing gorgeous traditional dress and trolling for customers.

“You’re pretty!” one calls out.

“I like your hat!” says another, emboldened by the first.

“Where are you from?” asks a third, and they all collapse into giggles. But they keep their mind on business. Pause for even a second and risk being engulfed by a sea of smiling, chattering little saleswomen, each begging that “you buy from me, from me.”

The tactics work. I end up with far more tin bracelets and indigo garments than I can possibly use, and many new, small friends, all of whom remember us the next day when we wander through the market.

“Are you ready?” asks a tiny, beautiful girl, dressed in the traditional clothing of the Black Hmong tribe – a skirt, vest and leggings dyed in indigo, a blue-black so deep it’s almost shiny, and embellished with rows of colorful embroidery, and a conical hat, her long black hair pinned within it and the ends spilling from the opening at the top. She also wears huge loop earrings, an armful of bracelets, and in a nod to the changes that have arrived in her world, a pink ribbed turtleneck, a nylon backpack and flat plastic-soled sandals.

Her name is Zei, and she will be our guide for the next two days. She looks about 12, but she says she is 16 and has been leading tours for almost three months. Today we’ll have an easy hike – a couple of hours round-trip to a waterfall that was once harnessed for electrical power by the French, with a leisurely side trip over a wooden footbridge and through fields of indigo.

But the next morning, when Zei comes to collect us after breakfast, is a different story. Today we will visit three ethnic villages – one settled by the Hmong, Zei’s tribe; another by the Tay, known for their wooden stilt houses; and the last by the Dao, recognized by their bright red, puffy turbans, edged with large silver beads.

“We will walk for 14 kilometers (about 8.5 miles) today. Mostly down, though,” says Zei, whose English is very good, from talking with tourists.

(She didn’t study English in school – in fact, she says she hasn’t been to school regularly in years, apparently a sadly common occurrence among the hill-tribe children. Her first language is Hmong, which somewhat resembles Chinese, but she says her English is better than her Vietnamese.)
“You’ll be OK?” she asks, shouldering her backpack, containing lunch and water for all three of us, and assuring us we can catch a ride back to Sa Pa rather than repeat the 14-kilometer route. We promise her we can handle it, and we head out of town.

For a while, we keep to the main road, where the lovely overlooks of forests, rice paddies, indigo fields and the occasional small house must compete with a constant passing stream of minibuses, motorscooters and small trucks. After about a mile, we evidently pass some sort of test, for Zei leads us off the main road and its parade of tourists and onto a barely discernible footpath, descending steeply into the wooded valley.

“This is a better way,” she says.

“Shortcut?” I ask.

“No, just better,” she says.

This, apparently, is a local route. We no longer see tourists, but we pass water buffalo, which make a show of ignoring us, and Hmong women and girls, on their way to market, who smile and offer to sell us yet more indigo clothing. At one point, we’re passed by a group of eight or nine young teen-agers, each carrying a piece or two of corrugated metal on his head and walking about twice as fast as us on the rocky path.

“Someone is getting a new roof,” Zei observes.

SJ-traveller.jpgSometimes, we can see a small house or two, tin or thatched roofs nearly obscured by the greenery. Most often, we see an endless expanse of green. Though the villages have been billed as the tour’s highlight, we find ourselves more thrilled by the landscape. It changes from thick forest to a more open valley; we cross rocky streams on rickety-looking wooden footbridges and clamber up staircases rudely fashioned from flat stones. Eventually, the path seems to disappear. We pick our way through rice paddies, carefully balancing on the earthen dikes that are built into the hillsides.
Zei, at first shy, begins talking more the farther we walk. She lives with her mother and little sister; we get the sense she is their main source of income. She used to sell trinkets to the tourists, but when her English was deemed good enough, she was hired as a guide, an occurrence she seems to regard as a striking bit of good luck. She makes better money – a few dollars per trip, plus tips – and the work is steadier. To her, being a tour guide is easy – just walking along paths she’d be using anyway. And usually, she says, the people are nice.

At the last village, little more than a half-dozen huts in a loosely arranged group, we run into another guide, a friend of Zei’s, and her charge for the day, an Australian army officer named Flo whom we’d met on the train. Flo has taken a longer excursion yet, and she’ll be spending the night in one of the villager’s homes. They invite Zei and us into the home to look around; it’s cozy and comfortable, with wooden benches, a small kitchen and several platforms piled with bright blankets for sleeping. The guide offers us cool water and snacks, but we still have a long way to hike; we have to be on our way.

“Isn’t this the greatest?” Flo stage-whispers to me as we leave her to head back to Sa Pa. “Don’t you love that you’re seeing this?”

Flo is talking about the villages and the day’s hike, and I agree with her. But as we make our way back to the main road, where local entrepreneurs will offer us rides on their mo-peds back to Sa Pa, I realize that I’ve come to feel that way about Vietnam. Ten years from now, as the economy continues to explode and ever more Western tourists discover it, it will be a different country. For better and for worse, I love that I am seeing it now.


The Reunification Express
15 days, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City
Brief: Traverse the length of vibrant Vietnam by train. The Reunification Express is a vital lifeline between north and south Vietnam. Along its path we experience the many scenic, historical, cultural and culinary highlights of this marvellous country. All aboard for a ride you’ll never forget!
Departure: Departs every Sunday & Thursday
Price: AU$885 plus a Local Payment of US$200

Vietnam Basix
21 days, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Trip Style: Intrepid Basix
Highlights: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island, Sapa hilltribes, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City
Brief: There is a lot more to Vietnam than rice paddies and noodle soup! See Vietnam from top to bottom, witness its ancient and modern history and explore the tiny villages and teeming cities. From commercial centres to spiritual havens, this stunningly beautiful country has something exciting to offer around every corner.
Departure: Departs every Monday
Price: AU$895 plus a Local Payment of US$300

Vietnam Family Adventure
15 days, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Trip Style: Intrepid Family
Highlights: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City
Brief: Diverse, beautiful and lots of fun – Vietnam is a great place for a family adventure. Journey together from Hanoi to historical Hue and Hoi An, the beautiful beaches of Nha Trang and the modern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. On this trip, the whole family is set to be entertained and educated by the people, history, colour and culture of this ancient and amazing country.
Departure: Departs on a Saturday. Dates available online at www.intrepidtravel.com/vfa
Price: AU$1165 plus a Local Payment of US$200

Vietnam Experience
15 days, Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi
Trip Style: Intrepid Comfort
Highlights: Ho Chi Minh City, Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta homestay, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, water puppets, Halong Bay, Hanoi.
Brief: From south to north, Vietnam is a kaleidoscope of wonderful people and picturesque landscapes. Imagine exploring the beautiful lakes and boulevards of Hanoi and shopping to your heart’s content. What better way to get to know the locals than to be their guests in a Mekong Delta homestay! Experience historical temples, spectacular scenery, delicious banquets and lively cities all with a touch of comfort.
Departure: Departs on a Sunday. Dates available online at www.intrepidtravel.com/vkt
Price: AU$1625 plus a Local Payment of US$200


When is the best time of year to travel?
Generally, there is no “best” time for travelling in Vietnam. The seasons are a little vague and vary considerably from north to south and within regions. Flooding can sometimes cause minor alterations to our itineraries. THE SOUTH: The dry season is from December to June with March to May being particularly hot and humid. Temperature range from 27°C to 36°C. The wet season with short, heavy rain showers is from July to November. Temperatures average between 22°C and 27°C. THE NORTH: With four seasons, winter is from December to February – it can be extremely cold in Hanoi and the mountainous regions, with overnight temperatures of 4°C and daytime highs between 10°C and 20°C. Thermal clothing is a good idea if trekking in winter. Summer is June to August – expect hot and humid conditions at this time. Temperatures average 27°C to 30°C with high humidity.
Religion: Predominantly Buddhist, with Confucianism, Taoism & other minorities
Language: Vietnamese
Currency: Dong (VND)
Visas: It is necessary to apply for a one month travel visa prior to travel as they cannot be obtained on arrival. This visa takes about 5 days to process and must state the date of arrival and departure in order to be valid.
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz AC (some 110V, 50 Hz AC)
Times to avoid: Best to avoid the Vietnamese New Year, Tet. Dates are based on the Chinese New Year lunar calendar and therefore vary from year to year. Scheduled TET dates for 2006 are January 29th and for 2007 it is planned for the 18th of February. Vietnam effectively shuts down for at least 3 days over this period and it is virtually impossible to travel anywhere as 60 million Vietnamese are also travelling to see their families.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)


zaouiphone.jpgLAURA WILSON
Identifying and eradicating unwanted pests

New Zealand Customs officers are among the world’s most rigorously protective. We love to keep things out of our remote little country. I quite frequently fly around the world carting some odd items that barely raise an eyebrow until I land here, whereupon I am funnelled toward MAF and Customs scrutineers who treat me as if I am very odd indeed.

“Why would I want to bring such things into the country? Does the country need such things? They have never heard of items like these, so surely I am hiding some ulterior motive?” I have an interest in different healing techniques and pick up the odd foreign implement and herbal remedy. At first the insinuation that this made me a suspicious oddity upset me. How dare they make such judgements? I found it very small-minded indeed.

Often my goods are taken for further testing and I receive them weeks or even months later, purged of every possible evil. This simply does not happen elsewhere, unless you have a firearm. But ask most New Zealanders about Customs and they will back up this mentality of exclusion. We want the right to shape our country the way we want, not have it shaped by outside influences flooding in at the will of foreigners whose alliance lies not with the heart of this nation.

We are quite clear when it comes to excluding undesirable substances, but not so undesirable attitudes. This becomes an issue of human rights, as if we do not have the right as a country to judge an attitude or a behaviour undesirable and keep it out. We will protect our flora and fauna from contamination with the greatest of measures, but not our culture.

A few countries have the shoe on the other foot. Bhutan, for example, allows only tourism, no immigration. Tourists pay US$250 a day to visit, allowed only two weeks in a guided tour of designated areas. While Bhutan is an extreme example, it is by no means unique. Many countries have almost no immigration allowance – it is simply something they do not want. Nepal, for example has a few foreign residents, but all are there on shonky student visas that require constant renewal. Try to even find an Immigration Department, and then try to ask for a residency application form, and you will be laughed back to your country.

I estimate that in approximately two-thirds of the world’s countries, immigration is nigh impossible. The countries that do allow it are predominantly Western. In Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand the attitude to giving foreigners entitlement to dwell and even become nationals, is entirely different. Even countries that are over-full to bursting still take in thousands of immigrants. Why the differences?

Obviously, more people want to get out of a poor country and into a comparatively rich one, than the reverse. But there is another reason, one which Western nations scorned long ago. Protectivism. Even the poorest of countries like Nepal and Bhutan are passionate about their identity and protect it at great cost. They want tourism and they want money, but they do not want outside customs taking root and potentially taking over their sovereign ways.

Try similarly to immigrate to a Muslim nation. Even marrying a national does not afford you residency or citizenship. They are absolutely protective, and unashamedly proud of it. But observe the outcry if any Western country attempts in even the meekest way to protect itself by suggesting for example that it is overcrowded and needs a break from the tide of immigrants. This country will be in the headlines, whichever politician dared to voice this opinion labelled a racist, conservative bigot, or as in the case of Pym Fortuyn, Dutch Opposition Leader, simply shot to death.

I have never been a part of any organisation, be it religious, political or philosophical. I have no criminal history, no world-changing goals, and no particular axe to grind yet immigration to a non-Western country would be no easy task as most simply do not want me. They most certainly feel no kind of moral obligation to take me in simply because I ask nicely! Even if I had fled New Zealand, pursued by the IRD or the Mongrel Mob I would find they have no such thing as ‘claiming refugee status’ because I fear for my livelihood or life.

The very fact that New Zealand is taking its time to consider whether to grant residency to a foreign man with a strongly political-religious-activist past who entered the country illegally under false pretences, is causing moral outrage. Not moral outrage that New Zealand is being taken advantage of, but outrage that it dares to harbour doubts about this man and even greater outrage that it dares to suggest it has the right as a nation to protect itself from individuals, ideas or situations that could harm the way of life here.

What on earth is all this about? How dare Amnesty International lambast the government in full page Herald ads for crimes against humanity? Have we not a right to even consider protecting ourselves?
If New Zealanders don’t want Nukes, they are kept out. We don’t like snakes, even if they are at risk of becoming extinct in their own land we would not consider harbouring them. Customs have every right to treat me, a New Zealander with suspicion, to detain me, test me, question me for as long as they like because their business is protecting the country. Why is it not equally important to protect this country’s culture, as its nature?

When Bhutan wants to protect itself from unwanted influence it is seen as a charming, endearing quality and a bold move by a proud people who have something worth protecting. Bhutanese do not lack compassion, but had some of New Zealand’s high-profile refugee claimants gone to them for refuge, they would have politely declined. The world media would not have berated the Bhutanese government for this. In fact no one would have seen it as other than their personal right to choose. Why on the one hand would people uphold Bhutan’s right to self-determination through protection and exclusion, and not New Zealand’s? Why are we bigots for excluding an Algerian whilst Bhutanese are heroes for excluding an American? Clearly our attitude towards protection and preservation is two-faced, confused and heavily coloured by the unconscious prejudice that Westerners owe something to the rest of the world.

I have spent much of my life travelling, often involved in voluntary schemes to alleviate suffering, to bring health and education to people whose governments either can’t or don’t care to provide for. I do not lack compassion but one thing I have learned about the world is that poverty, disease, and most forms of suffering I have witnessed stem from attitude, culture, belief and behaviour, not by an accident of nature, and not by Western greed.

New Zealand is a safe, healthy and caring place to live because of a culture we have carefully cultivated, argued over and altered over generations. Now we take this culture for granted, as if it is not a creation, a possession of ours. Rather, we see only a land that we possess by dubious rights, that we have little right to restrict others from.

In Bhutan culture is seen as their greatest asset, coming before land, before wealth. Part of treasuring this is in saying the word no.

If it is New Zealand’s choice to become multi-cultural then I support that. This also is our right. But let us not think it is our obligation. Unwise immigration schemes are crippling countries and diminishing cultures that seem to have no right to protect themselves. We must be able to do both; celebrate and protect our way of life as well as invite other cultures and expand our boundaries. To do this we inevitably have to say no along the way, in between the yes’s.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

Simply Devine: Mar 05

Wolfe howls at loose moon units of the Left

After thoroughly enjoying Tom Wolfe’s latest novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, it came as some surprise to read review after review that panned the book. Wolfe has had negative critiques of his earlier work, the smash hit Bonfire Of The Vanities and the more recent A Man In Full; during a celebrated literary bitchfight with a jealous Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, Wolfe wrote an essay titled “My Three Stooges”.

But there was nothing like this near-universal condemnation by the literary establishment, so spiteful and so personal.

Wolfe “has become an old fart, and the worst kind of old fart, too: a right-wing scold, a moralising antique”, wrote Henry Kisor of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wolfe “has grown into an unremitting scold, excoriating perceived depravity”, wrote The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda. The book is, “a (slightly disguised) hellfire tirade, a vision of students who belong in the hands of an angry God”.

Wolfe is “irredeemably, programmatically super-ficial” wrote Theo Tait in the once-great magazine The Spectator.

Many reviewers sneered about Wolfe’s age, 73, as if it somehow disqualified him from writing about young people.

“What can be expected when a novelist in his 70s takes on the subject of undergraduate life? Mainly voyeurism,” wrote Princeton professor Elaine Showalter in the Chronicle Of Higher Education. Wolfe was “titillated by the sexual revolution that has arrived on campus since his own student days”. There must be a reason for such spite which goes beyond the pages of Wolfe’s new book. And, of course, it is politics. The day before the US presidential election last November, Wolfe was quoted in The Guardian as saying he might vote for George Bush. Social death!

What’s more, he poked fun at the Bush-hating New York liberal dinner party set, to which he belonged.

“Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing ...what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And ... Tina’s reaction is: ‘How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?’ I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election. I have never come across a candidate who is so reviled.”

Wolfe’s book is about a high-minded 18-year-old virgin, Charlotte Simmons, from a conservative hillbilly family, the first to go away to a prestigious college. But instead of an intellectual Shangri-la she found a shallow, status-obsessed world of rampant sex, crudity and drunkenness, where her virginity was a joke and being “cool” was everything.

It explores social status and the primal human need to belong to a group. How ironic, then, that the book was the trigger for Wolfe to become a pariah within his own group, the New York liberal elite.
“I cannot stand the lockstep among everyone in my particular world,” he told The Guardian. “They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not one of them.”

Wolfe also accepted an invitation from Laura Bush to the White House last year to speak at a literary function.

But the final affront to his peers was when The New York Times discovered President Bush loved I Am Charlotte Simmons.

“It is unclear exactly what Mr Bush liked so much about the book,” wrote the newspaper’s Elizabeth Bumiller. Shock horror, the President was even, “enthusiastically recommending it to friends”.

“Does Mr Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg nights at Deke (his jock fraternity at Yale), or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his daughters’ generation?” Miaow.

Then, to make matters worse, another British paper, The Sunday Times, revealed Wolfe’s daughter, Alexandra, 24, had confessed that she, too, was intending to vote for Bush. “If I say it out loud, it’s death,” she whispered to writer Sarah Baxter at a Manhattan black tie arts party. “In a place like this, people look at you like you are a freak.
I believe in abortion and I totally believe Kerry is right on some social issues, but I just don’t trust him on terrorism.”

Maybe this determination to escape intellectual lockstep and think for oneself is hereditary. Or, scary thought, for Wolfe’s detractors, maybe it is contagious.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

Sep 05, AU edition

She was a Russian dancer. He was a suburban psychopath. IAN WISHART has the story of a paedophile’s manipulation of the law to gain access to children, and a trail of wrecked lives he’s left behind him

Teardrops well, glistening in the soft evening light, but they never fall. ‘I can’t cry anymore,’ she says after a moment, gathering herself again. ‘I don’t cry’, she repeats, softly, more to herself than anyone else. Her name is Elena Reznikova*, and on a cold August night she’s a long way from home, back in the Ukraine. The story of a journey from her life as a Russian ballerina to being surrounded by semi-stacked boxes of files in a tatty suburban law office after hours, is a long and, like many Russian stories, tragic one.

Daughter of a Soviet Air Force pilot, her mother a nurse, Elena Reznikova had a relatively normal childhood in communist Russia. Born in the remote province of Khazakstan – a legacy that would return to haunt her Down Under – Elena’s parents shifted to a home in rural Ukraine, not far from a local nuclear power station named Chernobyl. She draws back the collar of her turtleneck sweater: ‘See, I still have scar from cancer’, she notes, touching her throat. Her voice is hoarse and barely there.

As if sensing the unspoken question, she adds: ‘I have lost my voice, all year. Stress. It will kill me eventually, I think.’
Stress. Now there’s an understatement.

It was back in February 2001 that Elena met Paul Copeland – originally from Australia, now transplanted to New Zealand – courtesy of a Russian bride internet agency.

‘I wanted to get out of Ukraine, out of Russia’, she reflects. ‘I met a person on internet line. He look good. He promised me beautiful life, I would “bloom like a flower”. I fell in love with his photos, I was ready to take care of his children. He said he needs a woman who will look after his children, who will cook, who will clean – and I was the best – and I was ready to be a stepmother, to be friendly with his other partners. Because he was like me, he had three different children from three different relationships. Can you imagine this madness?’

Elena had been married and divorced. Like thousands of Russian women, she was deserted by the men in her life because of appalling economic conditions over there.

‘My friends told me, ‘don’t give up, you can find a good man’. Because it is impossible to find in Ukraine, with children, it is economic, men are unable to provide.’

Copeland, she says, was everything she thought she wanted in a man. ‘All my girlfriends were crazy about him because he was good looking, charming, gentleman, just a little bit drunk, but we just thought he liked his beer, as we do in the Ukraine.’

But Elena had no idea Copeland had a very dark past, despite an incident that ever so slightly foreshadowed what she would later discover.

‘My neighbours came over. We have a tradition in Russia to make a person drunk because we want to know how he acts when he is drunk, because people are different when they are drunk. Paul was drinking and drinking, and he started to try and jump off the second floor balcony, because he said he was trying to escape being locked up.’
In 1989, Paul Copeland hit the headlines throughout New Zealand for trying to murder his first wife with a crossbow in Tauranga. It was a well-publicised court case, with testimony of terror.

A report from his trial in May 1990 recounts the facts: ‘A 32 year old Tauranga man tried to kill his estranged wife by shooting her with a hunting bow and arrow…from only a foot away…the broadhead spear arrow penetrated part of the woman’s liver, stomach and one of her lungs, poking out the other side of her body.

‘She managed to make her way to the kitchen where she tried to use the phone but was prevented by Copeland, who forced her up against a wall in the hallway opposite the kitchen.

‘Feeling dizzy, she had slid down the wall but managed to get up again to make her way downstairs and to her car where her young daughter was waiting for her. She had collapsed beside the car and neighbours who saw her had rushed to her aid,’ the Crown Prosecutor was recorded as telling the High Court at Rotorua.

‘Copeland, from an upstairs window, had asked several times if she was dead yet.’

He was found not guilty by reason of ‘temporary’ insanity. Copeland, you see, had always been troubled. His father was named in investigations as a violent alcoholic paedophile who had allegedly sodomised his young son. In his early teenage years, Paul Copeland allegedly returned the favour by raping one of his younger sisters. There were burglaries, drug use, car thefts and fraud charges. Violence towards animals was also a Copeland trademark – executing cats and other small animals by bludgeoning them, revelling in the gore.

russ4.jpgLittle surprise that the teenager ended up in the Tokanui mental institution as a result of his behaviour. Family members would later talk of assault incidents in Australia with drink driving and firearms convictions added into the mix.

None of this, however, was contained in the internet dating agency files as Copeland linked up with Reznikova in far off Ukraine. Instead, the New Zealander turned on the charm, promising marriage and more to the former ballerina and mother of two boys.

‘He said he wanted to make me pregnant, that this was beautiful because I need a baby girl, so we need to do it immediately because it would be easier to get visas.’

By August 2001, Elena was pregnant with their child – her third.
‘Paul was very good for about two weeks after I got pregnant, then he started to drink, he said he’d spent all the money for tickets, nearly, and I said, “Listen, we have to have money for tickets to go to your country”.’

In September that year, the couple and Elena’s youngest son, Yuri, landed in Auckland.

‘I couldn’t speak English. None. I couldn’t put sentence together. I couldn’t make myself understood. I left behind my eldest son because the immigration people in Moscow said it would be hard to get him out here, because Paul didn’t have enough money to pay. But he promised me he would bring him out later.

‘I’d always wanted to speak English well, like I do now. I wanted my children to speak English, and I wanted to have a good job and be happy. So New Zealand looked to me like a countryside that I liked, because my family came from the countryside. We had 100 turkeys. My family grows vegetables, we have lots of food, very hard working people.’

Clean and green the countryside in her new home might have been, but behind the four walls of Copeland’s house she began to discover his demons.

‘When I arrived in September I used to clean the house because I was a good cleaner…and I found some photos of other women with children, in Spain, Africa and elsewhere. So I asked him, ‘was this your previous girlfriend?’ He said ‘no, I just used to live with her for a while’. I said ‘why didn’t you bring her to New Zealand?’. He said ‘she wasn’t good, but her children were good’.’

Elena wasn’t quite sure what he meant.

‘When we first arrived, we had sex all weekend, every day, but when his other children arrived he wasn’t interested in me, he doesn’t have sex with me. I’m asking him, ‘Paul, I’m waiting for you upstairs’, but he never came up. I’m four months pregnant but I’m a woman who is still healthy, you know.’

Over the weeks and months of her pregnancy that followed over the summer of 2001, Elena claims Copeland became more and more distant, more focused on the children, including Elena’s six year old Yuri.
‘On the beach I noticed that he was putting his fingers in between the children’s legs every time he picked them up. His children always used to scream in the bath. I said to him, you bath boy, I bath girl. He was always present in the bath when the children were there. I don’t leave babies in the bath alone, but when children are five or older it is a different thing.

‘I often heard the children sobbing, and once [his daughter Amanda, from his second wife] came out crying and I asked “who hurt you”, and she pointed at Paul saying “him”.

‘He used to call me worthless, and good-for-nothing whore. On the few times we had sex after that he became violent, even though I was pregnant. He never kissed me, and turned my face away during the act of intercourse. He was cold and brutal. Then, at the end, he got worse. He had so much sex with me at the end that I had premature baby.’

Their child, Nicholai, was born in March 2002, with complications.
‘When he was born the baby didn’t breathe, and he said “I don’t know why I should have to buy expensive medicine just to keep the baby alive”. He refused to buy medicine, so I used to go to the church, and there was a very good woman there and she gave me $20.’

When the baby had to be rushed to hospital, Paul Copeland allegedly took his time.

‘He wanted the child to die. He told me. He didn’t want to take me to hospital. He went so slow. As a mother, I’m lucky I have medical skills to keep this child healthy and alive, so when he got better – it was four months later – I moved out of the house.

‘There was a neighbour across the road, and everybody knew about his background, nobody told me, it was a huge secret from me. And when I used to speak to people in the church, everywhere, people used to be so nice, they understood my problem and thought they would encourage him to marry me, so I would get residence. But I wanted to go back to Ukraine because I left my son behind and he told me I will never see him. Then he said if I went back he would keep my two other children with him, so I used to carry on in the home, being with him together, and no one could help.’

When she tried to get Copeland to sign their baby’s birth certificate, he spat the dummy.

russ2b.jpg‘He screamed at me about a former wife who had taken his money. He called her ‘a bitch, a whore and a lesbian’, and swore that no woman would ever get anything from him, although he did eventually sign the certificate.’

During this time, she says, Copeland would often threaten to have her deported back to Ukraine without her children. ‘I’ll keep them, and you won’t be able to go to court because I’ll make you leave the country.’

Copeland also took the unusual step of publishing a photograph of his fiancée onto an internet porn site, along with a story about their sexual exploits when he first met her in Russia: ‘My Elena didn’t like to drink, that was a problem! Still, I had my two beers and the offer of SEX was on, it was the Russian wash down now with no hot water from the tap. So Elena would fill a basin with hot water, and I would sit in the bath. Elena would wet me then with soap wash my body down, then rinse me. Now, guys who haven’t experienced this, it is good, very good to receive this care. So we are clean now, and it’s time to get dirty, so it’s off to the bed again for a lesson in Russian! The sex was good, very good…as will be revealed soon.’

The revelations are too graphic to reprint in a family magazine.
Elena could see no way out. Although her understanding of English was growing, she still found it hard to speak it, and many people simply wrote her off as ‘an over-emotional Russian’. But the woman from the church who’d paid for the medicine to save Nicholai’s life turned out to be a guardian angel.

‘So that woman, she said “I will help you go to a Women’s Refuge”. I said “what is that?” Because we don’t have that in our country. Can you imagine how crazy it seemed for me to leave for Women’s Refuge with four-months-old baby, and leave the man whom I loved, believe me. Later on I realised it was only about that he wants children to abuse.’

Elena fled on a Friday afternoon with baby and older son in tow. She asked the Women’s Refuge to help get her deported back to the Ukraine on the grounds that her immigration status was now void because of the relationship break-up. And she didn’t have the money herself for airfares. But on Monday morning, Paul Copeland had already obtained a court ruling preventing Elena from taking baby Nicholai out of New Zealand.

The Russian mother was trapped. Her own immigration status meant she now had to leave New Zealand; the court order meant her four month old baby son could not go with her. Paul taunted her by threatening to keep Yuri as well.

‘He always told me that he would send me back to Ukraine but he was keeping Yuri with him.’

Even so, Elena Reznikova still had no idea just what her fiancé had done in his past. It wasn’t until Paul’s sister picked her up from the refuge that the missing pieces of the jigsaw began to tumble into place.

‘She told me her brother is a paedophile, and he raped her and two others. And their father was a paedophile. It was like a dream for me because she got my Russian dictionary and she showed me the words. I hadn’t realised then that he had tried to kill his ex-wife. I was more shocked when I found that out.’

It was at this point that Elena was introduced to Copeland’s third wife, a woman named Elizabeth who’s still living in hiding, 11 years after first meeting Copeland. Elena had found a contact number for her and rang her from the Women’s Refuge. Elizabeth says she could barely understand the distressed Russian woman with the thick accent, but she took down bottles so she could feed baby Nicholai. When she heard Elena’s suspicions that the children had been sexually abused, this former Copeland bride heard the penny drop. Elizabeth immediately phoned Copeland’s sister when she got home, who explained that Paul had also sexually abused her when she was a child. ‘You should believe Elena,’ Copeland’s sister told Elizabeth.

It turned out Elizabeth was another foreign woman lured into Copeland’s orbit in 1994, just four years after his trial for trying to murder his first wife. Elizabeth’s own marriage was in difficulty, and she says Copeland was ‘very romantic’ and charming, and convinced her to leave her husband. She says he acted like a father to her two daughters, and ‘got me pregnant two months after we met’.
Sound familiar? Copeland told Elizabeth it would be easier to get residency if she was pregnant.

Once his victim was trapped, Copeland moved from suave suitor to Hannibal Lecter, catching the neighbour’s cat, gassing it, and then burning it in front of his wife despite her pleas to spare the creature.

A recent study suggested people who torture animals are more likely to be sexual abusers. On the Richter scale of deviance, Paul Copeland was already an 11.

After Elizabeth and Paul’s son, Timothy, was born in 1995, he again turned his attention to Elizabeth’s two older daughters, often watching them shower, poking them frequently with a toilet brush while they were naked, assaulting them, verbally abusing them, making one of the girls pick up excrement in the garden using only her bare hands.
Elizabeth worked nights, leaving her husband to babysit six-month-old Timothy and her two daughters. The children’s grandmother would often pop in and find the girls weeping and distressed. He teased one of the older girls about her weight, calling her Moby Dick, and suggested to a family friend the other ‘would be a slut and pregnant’ by the time she was 14.

It was around this time that Elizabeth, wife number three, discovered a box under the stairwell containing files relating to Copeland’s childhood and the fates of wives one and two.

She read of the bow and arrow attack on wife one, the declaration of temporary insanity and the very brief spell in Tokanui Hospital before the psychopathic Copeland had convinced the cuckoo-keepers he was sane enough to fly the nest. She read of how Paul had allegedly been raped by his own father, and the history of sex abuse in his family. She discovered how he’d met wife number two, a German woman (mother of Amanda), and burned her passport and all her papers. How he’d smashed all the windows in his house on one occasion, and psychiatric reports detailing the horrific tortures he’d practiced on animals as a child.
Naturally, after reading all this, Elizabeth became absolutely terrified about what might happen to her and her children.

When she tried to leave, and she did so half a dozen times, Copeland would invariably track her down, stalk her and terrify her until she returned. In the end, however, he booted her out along with her two daughters. Elizabeth says he physically threw them out the door, locked it and stayed inside with Timothy and Amanda. By the time Elizabeth returned with help, Copeland had barricaded both of his biological children in an upstairs bedroom.

Elizabeth staked out the local supermarket and tried to grab Timothy from the shopping trolley while Copeland’s back was turned, but he foiled the rescue by screaming ‘Help, this woman is stealing my son!’ He put Timothy in hiding. Police eventually found the two year old at Copeland’s sister’s house.

The stalking and terror got worse, however, and eventually Copeland managed to convince Elizabeth that he would leave her alone if she’d just give him access on alternative weeks to Timothy.

Mindful of the crossbow attack, Elizabeth signed the custody form.
It was after that, she says, that she noticed her little boy’s behaviour change markedly on his return from access visits; it was, she says unusually aggressive and strange.

This, then, was the story of wife number three.

The woman who would have been number four, Elena, is deeply saddened at the fate of Copeland’s first two children.

russ7.jpg‘Last time I saw Timothy and Amanda they put their heads down, they know that I know their problem but I can’t help them. They don’t talk, they’re very embarrassed to tell anybody what’s happening to them because they’re scared that their father will kill them. He told them, “I will kill you if you tell anyone”. He told it to my son but my son is Russian and Russians are very strong. We have a, how do you say, self, self-preservation, as a child when you’re young. You learn to save yourself in a difficult situation, even losing your life.’

In the past year, Elena’s older son Yuri has told of being made to watch naked children on Copeland’s computer during the months that Copeland has had Nicholai in his care, and Elena’s family friends say Nicholai has complained of a “sore bottom”, and “dad touching me in the bottom”.

‘I have three boys,’ says Elena. ‘I have a lot of experience as a mother of boys. When they are small their penises never stand up, they don’t have hormones for sex, but my little boy, his penis is so sensitive. I think it has been massaged. He wakes up at night and says “it hurts”. I am so scared what will happen to him if he goes back to his father. This child has already been damaged.’

Yuri says he and the other children witnessed Paul Copeland interfering with Nicholai’s genitals and bottom – in fact, all the children were made to watch it.

Elena obtained a psychologist’s report on Yuri two years ago, and she says the psychologist was convinced Yuri had also been abused.
She says one of the most frightening things about Copeland is his psychopathic aloofness.

He’s absolutely normal in public, but he’s not normal. His body language is absolutely absent. He doesn’t move, there’s no body language. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a former criminal anymore because I was scared that one day I would have to protect myself and the lives of my children. He told me I would never see my eldest son again, and I haven’t seen him in four years, his threat came true.

‘When I go to bed I feel that I’m already dead or am unable to leave, or help my children to be happy, to be together. The man is killing me psychologically, emotionally. He would like to kill me physically. He has already tried to kill his ex-wife.

‘My second relationship, my partner said “Elena, I can’t pay these bills for lawyers, this is crazy, just give the child away”. I said, “Peter, this is sexual abuse”. He said, “I know”. He said, “sorry Elena, I do love you but with all these problems I don’t want you. I don’t want your children”.’

Nor has the New Zealand Government come to the rescue of the children. The Immigration Service has cancelled Elena’s right to stay in New Zealand, and wants to deport her, if necessary without her children who would be left in the care of Paul Copeland.

‘My application for residence was cancelled because I was born in Khazakstan. It’s another nonsense. Khazakstan is part of Russia and it appears on my birth certificate, but my parents took me out of Khazakstan when I was two months old, so Immigration Service asked me for a police certificate from Khazakstan, and it’s impossible to get! It’s so stupid.’

It wouldn’t be the first time New Zealand’s bureaucrats have been called stupid.

With Copeland continuing to stalk her and harass the men helping her, Elena found herself increasingly isolated. No money to keep up her fight to stay in New Zealand long enough to get the non-removal order lifted, no money to buy groceries. No work permit. She turned, reluctantly, to prostitution to pay the bills.
‘I hated it. I did not want to do. But how else could I survive? How else could I provide?’

Today, she sells other services.

‘My flatmates discover my cooking and cleaning is so good, they pay me to do all of it.’

With the help of a Russian-speaking lawyer, she’s launched a renewed bid to secure New Zealand residency and, as at the time of writing, she has temporarily wrested back control of her children from Paul Copeland and is helping heal their scars.

‘I got Nicholai back two weeks ago,’ she murmurs. ‘He wakes at night, but I think he will get better. I love him. Once I didn’t want to stay in New Zealand. Now I do.’

The most stunning aspect of the whole story, however, is why on earth a man with Paul Copeland’s psychiatric history, a sexual predator who raped his own sister and tried to murder his wife with a bow and arrow, a man who enjoyed killing cats in the cruellest ways he could find – why such a man would be allowed anywhere near a child by New Zealand’s social workers and psychologists.

For Elena, that is the biggest mystery of all.

*All names except those of Elena Reznikova and Paul Copeland have been changed for privacy purposes

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

MOVIES: Feb 05

Great acting belies the controversy over “Kinsey”, while Kim Basinger’s latest is just plain creepy.

jon.jpgDoor In The Floor
Released: February 3, 2005
Rated: M
2 stars

Sure, Door In The Floor is a sad story. A couple’s two boys are killed in an accident and their parents, children’s writer Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and wife Marion (Kim Basinger), are torn apart with grief. So much so they have another child to make up for the loss (as if that’s going to work). Next they decide to separate and sleep around (okay…). Then they invite a 16-year-old intern who looks like one of their dead sons to work for them.

Can anyone else see trouble brewing here?

One could understand this amount of destructive behavior had the accident occurred a month or a year ago, but we meet the characters a full five years after the fact. Somewhere along the five stages of grief these two got stuck on the step known as, “numbingly vacant yet destructive and willing to leave human carnage in their wake”.Yet for such an un-likeable story the cast is top notch.

As the adulterous artist and grieving father Ted, Jeff Bridges’ is superb – but his acting is wasted on such an obnoxious character. He’s supposed to be free and creative but he’s really just selfish and uncaring.

Kim Basinger plays Marion, the sexy yet emotionally numbed mother. And I have to admit, she can pull off a stone carving impression very well. But things get creepy when she decides to take a page out of
Mrs. Robinson’s playbook and pursue their teenage intern, Eddie (Jon Foster), who looks like one of her dead sons.

The director, Tod Williams, has adapted the movie from John Irving’s novel A Widow for One Year. It’s beautifully and artistically filmed – or, to put it another way, pretentious. Without a doubt, Williams wanted to make a “deep” film, and every lingering shot and every line screams not just “look at how deep this is”, but, “but wait this makes it deeper still!”

This film exaggerates the weight of grief without ever bothering to realistically confront the unavoidable process of healing. For me it was as entertaining as watching an open wound. If you want to watch two hours of a marriage falling apart, child neglect and pseudo-incest, be my guest, but Door In The Floor wasn’t my cup of tea.

Released: January 27, 2005
Rated: M
4 stars

For all the controversy surrounding it, Kinsey is not much more than a bio-pic of Alfred Kinsey who, in 1948, published the controversial book Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male. It sold like gangbusters, and shocked society with its detailed scientific evidence about our rude bits and what we do with them.

Originally a zoologist studying wasps, Kinsey was drawn to exploring sex when one of his biology students asked him, “If a husband gives his wife oral sex will that make her infertile?” and “Does masturbating make you lose a pint of blood? ” Kinsey decided to put a stop to this nonsense by finding out the facts, helped by a team of young researchers to help him carry out in-depth sex surveys. Lo and behold, it turned out Americans in the 1940s were having much more sex and in more ways than anyone ever imagined! Who woulda thunk it?

I’m putting my neck out early here but I think Liam Neeson has an Oscar smell about him. He has a captivating take on the nutty, sex-obsessed professor. Laura Linney plays Kinsey’s free-thinking wife with just the right amount of enthusiasm and fragility. Together they pull off one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes ever filmed as they portray two virgins fumbling on their wedding night with embarrassing realism. I was squirming in my seat. Neeson is well supported by Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard and Timothy Hutton as his research assistants. They quickly become cult followers of their awe-inspiring boss, shaking off Victorian sexual constraints and exploring everything from same-sex relationships to wife-swapping — all, of course, in the name of science. Such forward thinking wasn’t exactly welcomed in the ‘40s and by the time his book on women arrived in 1953, the sexual revolution was getting underway and Kinsey being blamed for the whole kinky mess.John Lithgow is impressive as Kinsey’s conservative father and Lynn Redgrave shows why she’s an Oscar nominee with her show-stealing and thought-provoking cameo as one of Kinsey’s patients.Writer/Director Bill Condon has created another champion script to follow up on his mesmerizing screenplay for Gods & Monsters, a gentle handling of the story of James Whale (most famous for
directing “Frankenstein”), which won him an Academy Award.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Dec 05, AU Edition

iStock_000000700250Large.jpgSEEING RED
Eli Jameson celebrates summer and separates the ripe tomatoes from the hoary chestnuts

Hear the word ‘tomatoes’, and what do you think of? Spaghetti piled high and swimming in marinara sauce? Garden vines hanging heavy with ripe, red fruit? Or perhaps something less pleasant – childhood memories of supermarket tomatoes as tasteless as their plastic packaging, sliced into a salad of sweaty iceberg lettuce and gloppy dressing the colour of jaundice?

To me, tomatoes always mean one thing: summer. Regular readers of this column are familiar with my fierce dislike of the colder months, and so the arrival of abundant and cheap tomatoes in the markets is always a cause for celebration. For the foreseeable future, there will always be a truss of tomatoes, still on the vine, on the kitchen bench ready to go on sandwiches, be tossed into some dish or other, or simply sliced on a plate and sprinkled with sea salt and a little extra-virgin olive oil – the ultimate simple summer salad – perhaps with basil and a torn-up ball of buffalo mozzarella.

But what’s the story with tomatoes? Are they fruits or vegetables? Were they really once thought to be poisonous, until someone ate a bucket of them on the steps of a small-town U.S. courthouse? There are a lot of strange stories that have grown up around tomatoes, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve fallen for some of them (the courthouse steps one, especially) myself over the years.

Tomatoes, according to the invaluable Wikipedia, are a fruit, at least scientifically speaking: they are the ovary, together with the seeds, of a flowering plant. However, because tomatoes are generally served as a main dish and not as desert, they are legally classified – at least in the United States – as a vegetable. The issue even went so far as the US Supreme Court, which in the 1893 case of Nix v. Hedden declared tomatoes as vegetables because of their popular use (along with cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas), a decision which had huge tariff implications at the time. For a good time, invite a botanist and a lawyer along to your local’s next trivia night, and make sure the emcee asks the fruit-or-vegetable question.

And then there is the tale of the brave Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, who is said to have eaten of a basket of tomatoes on the steps of the Salem, New Jersey, courthouse in 1820 to turn the tide of public opinion and show that the fruit was not the least bit dangerous to anyone who didn’t suffer severe hearburn. Alas, the much-loved Johnson tale is not true: the American television network CBS popularized the story in a 1949 episode of You Are There, in which an actor playing the colonel declared to an assembled throng of two thousand, “What are you afraid of? Being poisoned? Well I’m not, and I’ll show you fools that these things are good to eat!”

As it turns out, tomatoes were grown and eaten in North America since at least 1710; not only were they not thought of as poisonous, but Puritans of the time even eschewed the things, fearing their alleged aphrodisiac properties! That great gourmand and man of the world Thomas Jefferson himself purchased the fruit (not yet classified a veggie by the courts) to serve at state dinners in 1806, and from 1809 onwards planted them at his estate, Monticello. Jefferson’s cousin Mary Randolph, author of the extremely influential 19th century cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, contained some 17 tomato recipes for such exotic dishes including gazpacho and gumbo.

Today, tomatoes are not only not considered dangerous, but downright healthful, especially as they are rich in the cancer-preventing antioxidant lycopene. Bloody Mary, anyone?

160.jpgChilled Tomato Soup

This is one of my favourite mid-summer soups, adapted from Charlie Palmer’s excellent cookbook, Great American Food. He suggests serving with toasted croutons with warm goat cheese and basil; I think that can get in the way of the clean tomatoey goodness of the soup. But try it – you may like it. In any case, this is a great dinner party starter course for the height of summer.

You’ll need:

About 8 large, ripe vine-ripened or truss
Some good extra-virgin olive oil;
1 finely chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Fresh basil leaves
500 ml sparkling mineral water
1 sachet
2 teaspoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Good sea salt, like Maldon
Fresh-ground pepper

1. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes; set aside. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, heavy pan and sauté the onion, celery, garlic, and about 8 basil leaves – which should be torn in half as you toss them in. Lower the heat and continue to cook gently for about four minutes (you want the vegetables to soften but not pick up any colour), and add the tomatoes, sparkling water and sachet. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off heat and let rest for 30 minutes, then remove and discard the sachet.

2. Puree the mixture in a blender, working in batches if necessary, until the soup is quite smooth. Pour through a fine sieve and strain into a non-reactive bowl – giving the solids a push if need be to extract liquid. Add a couple of teaspoons of Lea & Perrins (just enough to bring out the tomato flavour; not enough to make it obvious) and your salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until icy cold – at least four hours.

3. Serve in chilled, flat soup bowls, with a spring of basil for garnish.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

CAN GRANT HACKETT?: Apr 05, AU Edition

art for hackett.jpg

Fully recovered from the health woes that plagued him during last year’s Olympics, and now breathing down the neck of the world’s fastest man, Grant Hackett speaks to JENI PAYNE about motivation in the pool, the challenges ahead of him and the people this sporting icon most admires

A chronic chest infection would have most of us under the covers, sipping lemony drinks, begging leave of work and looking for sympathy. But Grant Hackett competed with one in the most grueling race of the swimming schedule at the pinnacle of athletic achievement, and won. In fact, last European summer, Hackett defended his Olympic 1500m freestyle title and also won silver medals in the 400m freestyle and the 4x200m freestyle relay.

He has now won the 2000 and 2004 Olympic titles, the 1998, 2001, and 2003 world championships, the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games titles, and the 1997, 1999, and 2002 Pan Pacific Championships.

With the Athens win under his belt, Hackett has joined an elite group of just five Aussies to have defended an Olympic title: Dawn Fraser (1956-60-64), Murray Rose (1956-60), Kieren Perkins (1992-96), and Ian Thorpe (2000-04).

He currently owns the world record, and now sits alongside Perkins and Salnikov as one of the best 1500m swimmers in history.

The two weeks in Athens might have taken a tremendous toll on his health, but the 24-year old doesn’t want to dwell on it.

“I didn’t feel fantastic, but I just pushed myself to the absolute limit. I wanted to win so badly. That’s part of what we do. It’s a test of character. Sometimes you’ve just got to do the job regardless of the situation or how you feel, and I did that.”

Mentally recovered from the hype and heroism of the Games, Hackett says he is “just taking it easy over the next few months”, concentrating on mending his health and spending the time pre-World Championships (Montreal, July 2005) on the promotional circuit, speaking at sponsor events, lunches and charity functions – as well as catching up with friends and family and watching DVDs.

Then there’s the Law degree at Bond University. (Most 20-somethings would find that enough in itself!)

“It has to be flexible, since I miss a lot of weeks with training and travel and I’m probably teaching myself about 50% of the time, but I think it’s important to be educated. The brain has to be as fit as the body. Plus it’s my dose of normality to go to uni.”

When swimming is no longer first on his list of priorities, Hackett says he would be keen to open the other doors afforded him by his high profile and dedication to studies.

“I don’t want to be a lawyer, but I wouldn’t mind getting into business, property development and the media.” But for now, it’s home and family. “My family is everything to me. I tend to travel in small chunks of between one and five weeks, but I miss them a lot. Even if they come with me, I’d be lucky to see them once, since the team is locked off for security. But it helps to know they’re there.”

For a busy man, Hackett is generous with his time. One of the first places this Miami Dolphins Swim Club member visited on his return was the pool. In all likelihood still jet-lagged, and partied-out from the celebrations, he popped in to show the kids his medals.

“It was weird. I swim with these kids every single day of my life, then, suddenly after the Games, I was a different person. It won’t be long though when I’m back in the pool and it’s all back to normal.”
Loving the Gold Coast climate and lifestyle, Hackett says there’s nowhere else he’d rather live and train and surmises that the environment could have something to do with the success of
local athletes.

“We have so much sunshine. It’s sunny and warm for about eight months of the year so mentally and physically it’s a lot easier to train compared to the pool at the AIS in Canberra, where it can be minus-six in the mornings.

“We have great facilities and, logistically, it’s easy to get around.”
To unwind, Hackett likes nothing better than to jet ski with mates, watch movies and just hang out. Does public attention ever get in the way of just hanging out?

“People do come up to me and say ‘congratulations’ or whatever, but that’s part of the package and you accept that.”

What’s harder to accept is the intrusion by the media.

SPORTS-OLY-SWIMMING-26-KRT.jpg“Being in the public eye, your relationships come under scrutiny as does your behaviour. Your private life is under pressure and magazines are constantly speculating . . . but the positives, enjoying what I do and the rewards of swimming, far outweigh the negatives. Sometimes you’re in a bad mood and the attention gets a bit much, but you just have to be courteous.”

Regular folk, and even the majority of athletes, would be envious of the streamlined Hackett. Not only does he have no worries about losing form over his rest period, he actually has to eat more to make sure he doesn’t lose too much weight.

“Yeah, I have to try and put on some pounds. I guess when you’re training hard you eat a lot. When I stop, I don’t feel as hungry.”
A return to the rigours of training looms and, at his peak, Hackett will put in around five to seven hours per day, six days a week.

Most people would marvel at the fortitude required to “chase the black line” day in, day out but, Hackett says, the motivation never ceases. “I’m always looking for new challenges. There are small stepping stones along the way to major events and milestones and, because I’m passionate about it, every day I can take it to a new level.
“When you’ve finished training, there’s a great sense of achievement. It takes discipline and that gives you a certain pride. Then there’s the fitness, which feels good too.”

Heralded as the second-fastest man in history by commentators at the Telstra World Championships, Hackett mounted the blocks at Sydney Olympic Park two weeks ago without the threat of his rival, team-mate and fastest man, Ian Thorpe, who’s on a one year break in the lead up to Beijing. “Whether Ian is here or not, there is certainly interest in the sport, he said to media at the event. “There’s a lot of talented athletes on the team. The team is respected as a whole, not a one-man band.”

In 100% health, and content with his 11 weeks of preparation after the Athens Games, Hackett swam the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m at the titles over the eight days of competition, claiming first-place in Thorpe’s pet event, the 400m, and guaranteeing a berth in the team for the World Championships in Montreal in July. The next three years in the lead up to China’s Olympic Games, Hackett is looking forward to minimal travel: “The Commonwealth Games are in Melbourne in 2006, then the World Championships in 2007 are there too. I’m glad there won’t be so much travel. ”Like most athletes, other than a few precious days off during events, even in the most exotic of locations, Hackett’s time is spent between the hotel and the pool. He describes travel for competition in terms of “being a waiter in a fabulous restaurant”. “One day I’ll be able to eat there and enjoy it, but for now . . .”

Acknowledged as an Australian icon, even at such a young age, Hackett is quick to nominate his own list of those he admires most. “My mum and dad, and coach Dennis Cottrell,” he says without hesitation. “You can look up to other sportspeople and high profile people for their achievements, but I don’t really know them. “We are all products of our environments. My family is where I look to for my strength. Their values and attitudes have contributed most to my success. They’re the people that have influenced me most.”As for Beijing, will he be there? “Definitely!” Will he contest the 400m against Thorpe? “Wait and see. I’m going to take it as it comes. My priority is the 1500m.” It’s likely he’s thinking ahead to 2008 when he has the chance to become the first man in history to win three successive 1500m Olympic titles. No doubt, the entire country will rise before dawn to watch him try.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: Dec 05, AU Edition

Sleep is still barely understood; sleepwalking, even less so.
A look into the bizarre world of people who go bump in the night

So I sleepwalked the other night. I didn’t go far, just down the hall to the boys’ room and lay down on the floor and continued my snooze in the more traditional, horizontal manner. Obviously, I don’t recall this, nor do I recall my confused husband coming in to fetch me. Why should I? After all, I was asleep. Sleepwalking is a common form of parasomnia, which one sufferer described as “things that go bump in the night.” Sleep, as we all know, can be tricky.

More than 15% of children are thought to suffer from parasomnias of some sort, and this is considered normal childhood behavior. Most young children will occasionally talk or call out in their sleep (“no...I won’t share her…she’s mine!” being my favorite overheard phrase, confirming that a sleeping toddler is, indeed, a toddler).

In adults, parasomnias are less common, affecting something around 6% of the population. They are sometimes a sign that there is something more seriously wrong with the sufferer, and therefore should be investigated. In adults, parasomnias are most commonly linked to drinking, taking drugs, stress and sleep deprivation. I may have been under the influence of at least one of the above when I took my sleepwalk – I’ll leave it to you to guess which.

A parasomnia, according to the psychiatric bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or as it is known in the business, “DSM – IV”), is a “disorder of arousal, partial arousal, or sleep stage transition. It represents an episodic disorder in sleep (such as sleepwalking) rather than a disorder of sleep or wakefulness per se. May be induced or exacerbated by sleep; not a dyssomnia.” The dysomnias, by way of contrast, are a separate category of sleep ddisorder and are difficulties sleeping or waking up: sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, and that old chestnut, insomnia.

Parasomnias are things like teeth grinding, sleep talking, sleep terrors and REM sleep behaviour disorder (RSBD). This lattermost disorder is particularly scary as it is characterized by twitching and other violent movements in the sufferer’s sleep that can cause injury. And researchers have been discovering that parasomnias are in fact more common than previously thought.

As I said, sleep is tricky; it is complex and poorly understood. It’s tough to define sleep, for which reason most definitions of sleep become ridiculous. It’s some kind of important state that all animals go into where we loose consciousness to varying degrees and undergo characteristic changes to our brain waves. Dreaming is undertaken, although not always remembered, and is widely thought to be the brains system for going through junk it has picked up or is sorting through and making sense of it. A good analogy is a computer hard drive, which needs its old junk and temporary files it accumulates with use cleared out from time to time. The interpretation of dreams (paging Dr Freud) is a fun parlour game, but is like any form of insight; you need to have some in order to have more. If you keep dreaming of suitcases and hats and the cigar chompers keep telling you it’s about sex, this means you are spending too much time with the cigar chompers. The exception, obviously, is if while you are awake you believe that a dream of ripe fruit heralds a pregnancy. If everyone in your culture believes this, such a dream is a likely sign you are thinking about this. Even your own private subconscious is sociologically programmed and subject to peer pressure.

Sleepwalking can of course be incredibly dangerous: The person is not awake but they can take in some information. They can see their coffee table and walk around it, even if the sleeping brain “sees” a lake or a dragon or what have you in the place of the real object. For this reason, if you lock a sleepwalker in the house, their sleeping brain can find still find the keys if their awake brain can. Sadly, sleepwalkers have been killed walking on highways, and even behind the wheels of their cars. The latter has occurred on only a few documented occasions, and tended to lead to sleep studies being carried out, largely for medico-legal reasons.

“Sexomnia” has been studied in recent years, and looks set to be officially listed as a disorder. Last year the first and only mass-market book on the phenomena was published (Sleepsex: Uncovered by Dr. Michael Mangan, available from Amazon.com or as an e-book from www.clickbank.net). Unlike sleepwalking, sufferers are unlikely to wake up in a strange place if they have had sex in their sleep, and it occurs at a different stage of sleep to sleep walking. “Sexsomnia” is not necessarily a problem for all people who have it, although it can cause serious relationship problems, and in some cases the person may be violent. Consent therefore becomes an issue if only one party is awake. The awake person may be assaulted by the sleeper, or conversely, may believe the sleeper to be awake, and take advantage of the situation. It’s a medico-legal minefield, and raises difficult situations: if you were raped by someone who was asleep would you want them to be punished? How does one prove that someone with a sleep disorder that can be scientifically established was, nonetheless, asleep at the time?

Sleepwalking was first raised as a defense to murder in the United States in 1846, and the killer, Albert Tirrell, got off, after nearly decapitating a high-class prostitute he was obsessed with and wanted to marry. (She refused; after killing her, he then set fire to the brothel in which she worked). But he had a known history of sleepwalking, and denied all knowledge of the murder and was acquitted. Today, 150 years later, the science would not have been able to help shed much more light on things: while Tirrell could have been sent to a sleep lab to see if he had a parasomnia, there would still be know way of knowing whether he was asleep at the time of the murder and arson.

Sleep is imbued with meaning in our culture – probably in all cultures. It’s a pretty weird thing that we animals do; the only evolutionary advantage sleep is thought to confer is that perhaps there are times that being out cold is safer than running around hunting. Perhaps. It’s not the best theory, really. Just another pitiful dumb human attempt to understand why we need to sleep. We don’t understand much about sleep, except that we do need it; we get very messed up without it, and rats who are prevented from sleeping get sick and die.

For which reason, of course, we need to sleep. Practical advice: Don’t go to bed until you’re tired; face the alarm clock to the wall; if you can’t sleep get up until you are really tired; and if you read before bed don’t do it in bed. Bed is only for activities you can do with the light off. Yawn. I think I’m done.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

THE DEATH OF TAXES: Apr 05, AU Edition


As pressure builds on the Howard Government to cut taxes, IAN WISHART reports on moves in the United States that go one giant leap further, and which may yet impact on Australians: the possible abolition of income tax

There is nothing as certain, so the old joke goes, as death and taxes. But by the end of this decade, it could be income tax itself lying dead and buried in the graveyard of bright ideas that outlived their use-by dates. If it seems like a bold, even ludicrous, idea, that may be more reflective of the way we’ve been conditioned to think about income tax than the merits of the prediction.

At the heart of it all lies a “rolling thunder”-style tax revolt that’s been quietly sweeping across America since the 1990s. In places as diverse as local community halls, Washington, D.C. thinktanks, and plush resort hotels in offshore tropical tax havens, people have been quietly gathering to discuss ways of removing America’s cumbersome Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from their lives. Many of those meetings were instigated by so-called tax rebels who argued that the US Tax Code was invalid, and that people had a constitutional right, backed up by old Supreme Court judgments, not to pay the federal income tax.

Significantly, these tax rebels also took their arguments to Australians and New Zealanders in the late 1990s with a series of offshore “tax seminars” held in exotic locations like Vanuatu and Fiji. While the legal niceties of the Australasian tax codes were different to those in the US, the principles were the same and a tax revolt briefly flowered here in Australia as a result. But in America it actually took root.

Whether the arguments were right or wrong turns out to be immaterial, because as of 2005 the tax revolt has placed so much pressure on the US tax system that it’s cracking at the seams.

Just a few short weeks ago, President George W. Bush put the abolition of income tax firmly on his domestic agenda this term, with a special advisory panel due to report its recommendations by July 31st. And later in March, US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan added his voice to what is now a cacophony of calls for income tax to go, saying that individuals should be taxed on what they consume rather than what they earn.

You heard it right.

It is an issue that has barely touched the radar of most media in Australia or New Zealand, but the implications for Australasia if the United States abolishes income tax are huge. And the federal government in Canberra knows it.

Investigate understands Treasurer Peter Costello and his officials are keeping a close eye on developments in the US because – just like the old Vietnam War red peril theory – if one domino falls then other Western democracies may have no choice but to follow suit.

Most Australians born here probably cannot remember a time when income tax was not part of their lives, yet income tax is actually a very modern invention. While kings had the power to levy special taxes on ordinary citizens to pay the bills during times of war, income taxes were not permitted – and in fact had been expressly outlawed from the time of the Magna Carta. Contrary to popular belief, taxes on commoners were extremely uncommon throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Britain was the first major nation to impose an income tax, between 1799 and 1816, to fund the Napoleonic Wars with France. The US Government imposed a special income tax in 1864 to fund the Civil War effort, but under the US Constitution the tax had to be repealed in 1872.

Having seen the benefits of a national tax on citizens, however, the governments of both Britain and America realised they could do so much more if they could find a way to permanently collect income taxes. In 1874, just two years after the US tax was repealed after the Civil War, Britain introduced sweeping legislation, including a partial repeal of aspects of the Magna Carta, and gave itself the power to impose a permanent income tax.

New Zealand and Australia followed soon after. News headlines from the time disclose considerable public disquiet about the idea, and warnings it would be “the thin end of the wedge”. But in pioneer lands like Australia and New Zealand where roads and infrastructure needed building, the income tax pill was largely swallowed whole by the public. Still, there were many who felt the tax burden, at one and a half pennies in the pound (a tax rate of about 0.75% in today’s terms), was onerous. Just what those first Australians would make of today’s 50 per cent tax rates is unclear, but history appears to have borne out the warnings that giving a government the power to levy income taxes – even at 0.75% – was indeed the thin end of the wedge.

Not to be outdone by the Mother Country and the Antipodes, US officials reintroduced a federal income tax in 1894, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. So in 1913, amid much lobbying from merchant bankers who saw the chance to make lots of money, the US reintroduced income tax by way of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It is this document that lies at the heart of the US tax revolt after revelations in the past ten years that the Sixteenth appears never to have been properly ratified by the required number of state governments. Therefore, argue the protestors, income tax remains illegal under the US Constitution.

Either way, the protests over the past five years have seen hundreds of thousands – some commentators say it is into the millions – of American individuals and small businesses refusing to file their tax returns, and tying the IRS up in red tape and court challenges every step of the way. Adding insult to injury for the IRS, it has lost some cases in front of unsympathetic juries – fueling the perception that income tax might indeed be “voluntary” in the US.

In August 2001, Investigate was the first media organization in the southern hemisphere to report that the recently-elected President Bush was taking on board the protests and considering abolishing the federal income tax:

“The growing rebellion against income tax that’s sweeping New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada has just taken a major step towards achieving its goal: US President George Bush has confirmed he is considering the complete abolition of income tax in the United States.

“In a front page story in The New York Times on July 16, Bush’s chief economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey confirmed that the White House has adopted a Ground Zero approach to tax reform, and that all issues, including the scrapping of income and company tax altogether, are “in the discussion stage.”

“ ‘The facts are that one needs a broad consensus before moving on fundamental tax reform,’ Lindsey said. ‘The process of building that consensus takes time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the process’.

“If the White House does push ahead with ditching the century-old income tax, the newspaper reports a likely replacement is either a flat sales tax of between 20 and 30 percent, or an Australasian-style GST.

“Pressure’s been building in the United States for nearly a decade for the US Government to come clean on the constitutional status of the income tax. Lawyers, congress researchers and even former Internal Revenue Service agents are now saying the income tax is illegal - that its introduction in 1913 was not properly ratified by the states of the Union, and that ordinary Americans cannot be forced to pay it.
“The White House has also been sandwiched in a pincer movement between competing groups of tax rebels. One of them, the FairTax organisation, has congressional, bipartisan support and its cause is being championed by Congressman John Linder (R-Georgia) and Congressman Collin Peterson, (D-Minnesota).

“The two men, with a number of other politicians behind them, have introduced legislation to Congress clearing the way for the abolition of income tax in favour of the so-called FairTax.”

That was August 2001. A month later, the attacks on the World Trade Center took Bush’s attention away from domestic issues and agendas like the FairTax. But the Linder/Peterson proposal to totally reform America’s, and possibly the West’s, taxation system didn’t disappear.

Over the past four years, largely through an email blitz fired out from their website fairtax.org, the Congressmen have marshaled the support of more than half a million Americans and a large number of current and former politicians and business leaders. And, fresh from introducing democracy to the Middle East, George W. Bush now has the chance for a domestic legacy as well: becoming known to future historians as the President who killed income tax.

Bush can’t stand for re-election in 2008, so this term he’s largely unfettered by political considerations. And Bush has shown he’s a man who likes to pursue big visions.

Which is why the FairTax may return to centrestage this year.
In the form now being proposed in the US Congress, the FairTax would see the federal income tax abolished, the IRS disestablished, and the introduction of a 23% flat-rate sales tax imposed at the final point of sale to end users. Nothing particularly new in the idea of a sales tax, you might say. And critics of sales taxes are usually quick to suggest they are unfair to the low paid, because people on low incomes spend most if not all of their income on the necessities of life and have no way of avoiding a sales tax, while the wealthy can save their money or invest it and not be taxed.

It’s a simplistic argument at the best of times – the low paid haven’t generally been able to avoid income tax either – but in the case of the FairTax the argument fails at an even more basic level.

Recognising the need to ease the burden on the poor, the FairTax provides for regular tax rebates to every single household in America, so that a family of four on the poverty line, with a household income of just US$23,000 a year, will effectively pay zero tax. Under that $23,000 threshold, the tax system actually works in reverse, so that families under the poverty line will not only get all their tax back, they’ll get as much as 23% more of their income back on top of that. In real terms, say the FairTax proponents, for a family of four on a household income of US$45,000, the effective tax rate will be only 11.5%, and at $90,000 it is still only 17.2%, rising to 20% by the time you’re earning $180,000.

Compare that to Australia.

According to the ATO, a family of four in Sydney with a household income of $45,000 will be pinged almost 24% income tax on that sum, more than double the amount of tax an American family will be likely to pay under the FairTax. And over here, Australians still pay consumption taxes on top of the income tax.

President Bush has instructed a nine-member panel of
experts to conduct a series of public hearings on the idea of abolishing income tax, and they’re due to report back to the White House this coming July.

At one of the hearings in March, US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan threw his not-inconsiderable influence behind the idea of scrapping income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax. “As you know, many economists believe that a consumption tax would be best from the perspective of promoting economic growth – particularly if one were designing a tax system from scratch,” argues Greenspan, “because a consumption tax is likely to encourage saving and capital formation.”

A recent OECD report noted Australia’s marginal income tax rates are among the highest in the world. If America does indeed get rid of income tax less than a hundred years after it was introduced, it will undermine the philosophical foundations of income tax in other western democracies like Australia and New Zealand, where it has crept from 0.75 cents in the dollar when it was introduced to 48 cents in the dollar today.

Not only are the US, Australian and New Zealand tax codes huge and unwieldy – running to thousands of pages and requiring teams of Queens Counsel to interpret – the wastage in the collection system is also massive.

Most tax money taken from private citizens gets eaten by the large government bureaucracies set up to administer the system. In the US, the people behind the FairTax are quietly confident their proposal will get the green light from the White House, though it will still have to get through a string of congressional and senate committees and public hearings.

“Can you imagine,” writes one advocate, “what Joe Public will think when he wakes up one morning, five years from now, opens his paycheck and finds the government has taken nothing in tax? Suddenly, Joe is in charge of his own financial destiny.”

For Australians who, like Treasurer Peter Costello, will be watching how this plays out in the next few months, it won’t be too hard to do the math: simply punch your gross annual salary into a calculator, divide it by 52, and that’s how much take home cash you’d get every week. How much tax you’d pay would be determined entirely by how much you bought that week.

Is this kind of tax reform possible in Australia? Maybe. Just ask the people who questioned the possibility of democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)

Money: Apr 05, AU Edition

money1_shopping mall.jpgTHE CREDIT CARD TRAP
They’ve done it again, says Peter Higgins: banks have figured out a new set of tricks to turn your plastic into their gold

You’ve just finished paying off the overseas holiday and the Christmas presents but the credit card bills don’t quite add up. Why? The answer is simple, but the rationale is complex. The burgeoning credit card debt that we Australians are accumulating is due not just to interest rates but also to fees.

You see, the banks have divided us into two groups of credit card users. If you are the sort that pays off your credit card in stages – possibly even just paying the minimum amount each month – then you have been the bank’s friend for a long time. After all, you’ve been using your credit card as one of the most expensive forms of bank loan allowed by law.

On the other hand, there are those of us who pay off our credit cards in full each month and, until recently, we have evaded the clutches of our “service provider”. Up until recently using a credit card this way has been smart because it effectively used someone else’s money for cash flow while avoiding compound interest rates of 18.5% or more.
It did not take our financial institutions and credit providers long to work all this out, and now there are a number of new fees that are designed to catch we ‘cash flow card’ users. A good way to illustrate this is to recount a real-life story that occurred to someone I know who went on holiday over Christmas.

Mr J had not purchased a ‘good’ camera for around twenty years and decided that he wanted one to suit his needs for the next twenty. He researched many cameras and eventually decided on a state-of-the-art modern digital camera. Mr J spent three months doing his homework – not just on the technology, but also on prices. On an overseas trip in Japan he haggled, negotiated, and did lots of walking. Indeed, he spent almost a full day figuring out where to buy a camera for the best price. Finally, after all this time and effort he purchased his dream camera. Mr J was pleased with all this effort because, at the end of the day, he calculated that he saved about $500.

But he paid for his purchase using a credit card, and his decision on which card to use was based on loyalty: loyalty to his bank, NAB, which he has been with for many years. Feeling pleased with himself he goes off and takes many memorable photographs with his new toy.

Yet a few weeks later when he receives his statement, he sees that the camera cost him almost $500 more than he expected. There is nothing on the statement to explain this – not even an exchange rate listed. Not even the original amount in local currency is stated, just the Australian dollar equivalent. He quickly emails his bank asking, “Why is this so?” The answer comes in a fashion that is becoming increasingly more common these days, a mixture of bureaucracy and arrogance mingled with a tincture of attitude that says,“This would be a great job if it weren’t for the customers”.

The bank’s response is that Mr J should have read his 52-page booklet of terms and conditions. If he had, he would have known that the bank chooses when to exchange currencies, and therefore what
exchange rate is used. And of course there is that fee of 1.5% (soon to rise to 2.5%) on the full Australian dollar equivalent.

Mr J sends more emails asking what all this means in normal language and could he have a breakdown of the figures that relate to his specific case. At time of writing, these exchanges have been continuing for over three months and he still does not have his answer. He does have more quotes from the corporate complaint manual about ‘escalating this to the next level’, but no real answers.

There are three lessons in Mr J’s story for all of us. The first is: Don’t choose a credit card on loyalty: it is misguided and not reciprocated. Choose a card that has the lowest fees, or no fees, and ask them before you go overseas when they will exchange currencies.
Secondly, force yourself to read the voluminous pages of legal gobbledygook that are sent to you. Whilst they may not make
immediate sense, these documents are what your financial institution uses to make all their decisions, and these decisions are not always in your best interests.

Finally, if you do have a legitimate complaint, do not expect a response that places customer service as the motivating drive of your credit provider. In fact, you will need to be persistent and have a hide as thick as a Credit Card Terms and Conditions Manual.

When I look at Mr J’s story, it seems to me that fees for international transactions come awfully close to double or even triple dipping. There is a fee for the privilege of using their credit card and buying something with it. On top of that, the credit provider chooses the most advantageous rate of exchange for them. Then, finally, they charge interest on everything.

So are financial institutions punishing loyalty? Have the financial institutions that we have stuck with and stood by for years traded customer service for profits? It’s an old chestnut I know, but it seems more relevant to ask the question now than ever before. Let’s look at a list of fees that are being charged by some financial institutions:

* Annual card fee from $25 to $99 per year.
* Late payment fee from $10 to $35 per month, and in some case per fortnight as well as interest repayments.
* International transaction fees – 1.5% (most banks will soon raise this to 2.5%) of the purchase amount.
* Cash advance fees by some banks including Westpac and ANZ 1.5% of amount of cash advance.
* Annual reward scheme fee - $15 up to $69 per year.
* Exceeding your credit limit - $4 to $25.
* Issuing a secondary card - $4 to $40.
* Refusal of periodical payment - $4 to $10.
* Replacing a lost card - $4 to $30.
* Duplicate statements – $4 to $10.

All in all, you could be up for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees each year if you don’t manage your credit card correctly.

We are all in the hands of credit providers but credit card usage can still be a smart way to buy goods and services. The playing field has changed dramatically over the past twelve months – and it is still changing – but as long as you know the rules you can still benefit financially. When you finish reading this magazine do an audit on your current credit card situation. How many do you have? What types? What financial institutions are providing you with credit cards? What rates are you being charged? What fees? Do you have an interest-free period? When you have completed your audit do some research on the Web. It should take no longer than thirty minutes. What available cards are better than yours? Which ones have the best rates or no fees? After your audit and research cut up your existing cards and send them back to your credit provider. If nothing else, it will empower you and make you feel great. Apply for no more than three credit cards from the providers that you have researched. Within three months, you will be in a better position than you are now. Remember that you are in control of your finances; our financial institutions are not in control of what we do. You will not only be better off financially if you regain or improve your control, but you will also feel empowered and revitalised. Go for it, you have nothing to lose except your Terms and Conditions Manuals. See you around the traps.


1. If you want to avoid paying interest on your credit purchases you must pay the full outstanding balance on your statement by the due date. If you don’t, you will be charged interest right back to the date of purchase on each item – this means you will forfeit the interest-free period on those purchases. What’s worse is that you must pay the balance off in full before you will get another interest-free period on any purchases. And if you don’t pay your balance off in full you will be charged interest on your full balance for that month and not what is left after your payment.

2. Say no to cash advances! Why? I am a bit surprised to hear that people still don’t realise that interest-free periods do not apply to cash advances. In fact, with the majority of credit providers you pay interest from the time you withdraw the money regardless of when you pay it off.

3. See if you are entitled to relationship partner discounts. If you have multiple accounts at your financial institution they may discount your credit card fees because of your other
accounts. If you have a mortgage and your bank secures all its accounts against your house, why are you still paying an interest rate as if your credit card is an unsecured high-risk loan for the bank? It is worth the ask.

4. Don’t be conned by marketing tricks. These are developed to appeal to your emotions. Reduced introductory interest rates and reward programs may not suit your financial situation or your spending pattens. Decide on a card based on logic and understand you purchase behaviours.

5. Know what you want.

6. Do you really want a reward program? These may seem attractive, but most institutions charge a hefty fee to be a member of their reward program. Have you also noticed that you now need more points to claim the same reward compared to a few years ago. In many cases you have to spend more to accumulate the same number of points compared to a few years ago. In most circumstances people are better off using a credit card with a low rate and little or no fees rather than joining a ‘loyalty’ program that sometimes costs more than it rewards.

7. Always pay off more than the minimum. Many credit providers are only asking for payments of 1.5% per month, which can be a trap because it is likely that you will take 2 years or more to pay off your purchase and accumulated interest bill.

8. Consolidate debt. If you owe large amounts on many cards it is in your best interest to consolidate debt and put all outstanding monies onto one loan, preferably a personal loan rather than a credit card, because the rates will be almost half that of most credit cards.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:48 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: Dec 05, AU Edition

What makes a storm a killer? Scientists are searching for the early warning signs, say Jeremy Manier and E.A. Torrier

The two hurricanes that roared into the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year were identical in nearly every way. Born in the same region near Haiti, the storms called Katrina and Rita reached monster status in the warm waters off Florida and swirled toward major cities along the coast.

But before they struck, the two hurricanes underwent subtly different yet fateful changes deep within them that resulted in Katrina reaching land with considerably more destructive power – and a far greater death toll – than Rita would nearly four weeks later.

That divergence is stirring ardent debate among experts eager to build better theories of what separates less intense storms from those that become historic killers. The battle of ideas will help shape how experts study hurricanes and prepare for the next big one.

One explanation in this case may be the movement of deep, warm currents in the Gulf that fed Katrina but slipped to the side of Rita days before that storm reached land. Some researchers believe a Gulf system called the loop current played a major role in the evolution of Katrina and Rita.

During both hurricanes, government scientists deployed a battery of experimental tools to measure deep ocean temperatures and currents where the storms passed through the Gulf. Experts hope the new information will improve forecasters’ ability to predict the intensity of future hurricanes.

“We’re looking at what we did with these storms as a poster child for techniques we might use in the future to get better observations on the interaction between hurricanes and the ocean”, said Peter Black, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Research Division of the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hurricanes are among the most complex weather systems that bedevil meteorologists, in part because of the peculiar way the storms can change their nearby ocean environment, which in turn can affect the power of the hurricane.

One way to think of a hurricane is as a vast engine that converts ocean heat – its fuel – into high winds. A shortage of fuel or other glitches in the engine can reduce the storm’s strength.

An example of this is when a hurricane’s winds churn up cold water from the ocean depths, robbing the storm of the warm water it needs to sustain high winds. Deep, warm currents such as the loop current in the Gulf can reduce that effect. They provide more fuel for the storm to rage without picking up colder water from below.

Both Katrina and Rita strengthened as they passed over the loop current, experts said. Katrina headed straight from the current to the shore, where it unleashed destruction across a heavily populated region. Rita was just as powerful at its peak, but it took longer to reach shore after it moved off the deep current, losing energy along the way.

“Rita peaked early”, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It was on its way out when it hit the coast.”

Researchers have recognized the importance of that interaction between hurricanes and the ocean only in the last 10 years or so, Emanuel said. In fact, some experts at the National Hurricane Center in Miami still doubt that deep temperatures played a decisive role in building up the two storms.

“That stuff about the loop current – it doesn’t hold water, so to speak”, said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane specialist at the Hurricane Center. “You have to have a lot of other conditions right to allow the storm to extract energy from the water.”

She pointed out that other factors also affected Rita’s decline, including a lack of moisture in the hurricane’s middle levels. As it hit land, the storm also was undergoing eye wall replacement, a poorly understood phenomenon that happens in cycles with the most powerful hurricanes and often saps their strength.

Katrina and Rita were unusual from the start, in that they were “Bahama busters” that took shape in the Caribbean rather than off the coast of Africa, which spawns most of the storms that become hurricanes. Hugh Willoughby, a hurricane researcher at Florida International University, said the wind shear – a change in wind speed at different altitudes – was too great for large storms to develop near Africa.

That wasn’t the case in the Caribbean, where Katrina and Rita formed within a few hundred miles of each other.

“They were almost like twins,” Willoughby said.

At 11 a.m. on Aug. 24, the National Hurricane Center announced the formation of Tropical Depression 12, the storm that became Katrina, about 200 miles southeast of Miami.

Actually, it was an energizing small squall that started off the coast of Africa but never formed into a storm because of the wind shear. Some of the formation came from a different tropical depression that ran out of gas.

Tropical Depression 14 was spotted on Sept. 17 at 11 p.m., about 500 miles southeast of Miami. This was the birth of Rita.

The storms were nourished by the exceptionally warm waters of the Atlantic, a pattern since 1995. But in both cases, high pressure across much of the United States blocked the storms from turning northward, a trend for much of the last two years. Instead, they headed west over the open ocean.

“Both would have turned otherwise,” said Keith Blackwell, a hurricane researcher at the University of South Alabama, “and we would have heard from them no more.”

In the Gulf of Mexico, both hurricanes moved over the loop current, which moves around the Gulf and exits south of Florida into the Atlantic, becoming part of the Gulf Stream current.

Black of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division said the data his team gathered this year should help improve computer models used to predict hurricane intensity. Forecasting intensity remains a glaring weak spot in hurricane models, experts say, even as the ability to anticipate where a hurricane will go has improved greatly.

The workhorses of Black’s research are small, disposable probes called AXBT devices, which are dropped from planes and measure the temperature of the ocean at depths up to 1,000 feet. Black got his probes as Navy surplus, leftover from Cold War efforts to track enemy submarines using sonar.

He said it would help attempts to gauge hurricane intensity if the US government would buy more temperature probes and make their deployment a routine part of hurricane tracking.

“We’re just about out of these hand-me-downs,” Black said.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: Dec 05, AU Edition

scienceart.jpgTO HELL AND BACK
Was life on early Earth as bad as all that? And what does
that mean for life on other planets? Robert S. Boyd reports

A scientific quest called “Mission to Really Early Earth” has unearthed evidence that our planet had an ocean, a continent and an atmosphere suitable for life half a billion years earlier than previously thought.

Since the requirements for life – land, water and air – were established so soon on Earth, some scientists say the finding makes it more likely that living creatures could also have arisen on other worlds.

“If it happened so early on Earth, why couldn’t it happen elsewhere in the universe as well?” said Stephen Mojzsis, a geoscientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

According to the traditional view of its infancy, Earth formed between 4.5 and 4.6 billion years ago from a disk of dust, rocks and gas circling the sun.

It then took 700 million years for the young planet to settle down and cool off enough for the first microscopic organisms to appear around 3.8 billion years ago, paleontologists believed.

This early period was named the Hadean (“hellish”) Eon, because it was presumed to be totally hostile to life. During much of that time, the planet was bombarded by giant meteorites like those that blasted the craters on the moon. Any early life would have been wiped out.

Now, however, researchers report evidence that conditions were much more benign when the Earth was only 150 million to 200 million years old – three to four per cent of its present age.

“The stage was set 4.3 billion years ago for life to emerge on Earth”, Mojzsis told a conference on astrobiology – the study of life on other worlds – here last month.

“There was probably already in place an atmosphere, an ocean and a stable crust within about 200 million years of the Earth’s formation”, said Mojzsis, chairman of the conference. “Water was gushing out of the Earth.”

This picture of a comfortably warm, wet young world “contrasts with the hot, violent environment envisioned for our young planet by most researchers”, Bruce Watson, a geochemist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., declared in a recent online edition of the journal Science. “It opens up the possibility that life got a very early foothold.”

“If there was surface water, then life presumably could exist”, said Don Brownlee, an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“We don’t know when life began on Earth,” cautioned Mark Harrison, an Australian geoscientist who was at the astrobiology conference. “But it could have emerged as early as 4.3 billion years ago. Within 200 million years of the Earth’s formation, all of the conditions for life on Earth appear to have been met.”

Two hundred million years sounds like an awfully long time, but it’s relatively brief on the geologic scale.

For comparison, suppose Earth’s 4.5 billion-year-old lifespan ws shrunk to one year, with 1 January marking the beginning and 31 December representing today. By that yardstick, life could have begun on Earth as early as 12 January. Under the older, traditional view, it would have taken until 26 February to get started.

The evidence for a very young habitable Earth consists of a collection of tiny crystals called zircons dug up in the Jack Hills of Western Australia over the last 20 years. New technology pioneered by Mojzsis and John Valley, a geochemist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has made it possible to determine how and when they formed.

For example, zircons contain uranium, which decays at a known rate. The Jack Hills zircons also enclose bits of shale, a sedimentary rock that must have previously been created by erosion by liquid water. In addition, the zircons contain a rare type of “heavy” oxygen that forms only in the presence of water.

“These zircons tell us that they melted from an earlier rock that had been to the Earth’s surface and interacted with cold water”, Mojzsis said. “There is no other known way to account for that heavy oxygen.”

Sonia Esperanca, an earth scientist at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., called the Jack Hills zircons “time capsules of processes happening in the earliest times in Earth’s history.”

“The estimated ages for the oldest evidence of an early crust have been getting progressively older as geologists seek out and analyze new samples”, said Douglas Erwin, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who isn’t involved in the Mission to Really Early Earth. Erwin agreed that primitive microorganisms could have existed that long ago. “But I expect it will be very difficult to get any real evidence on the matter”, he said in an e-mail message.

“It’s certainly possible that life arose before the great bombardment, then was extinguished and arose again afterward, but we have no evidence either way”, said University of Washington geochemist Roger Buick in an e-mail message.

Another note of skepticism comes from Samuel Bowring, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “It’s a bit of a leap from a few grains of zircon to continents and oceans,” Bowring said, but he acknowledged that “it is consistent with most people’s view of early planetary evolution.”

The Mission to Really Early Earth is supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, which studies the origin of life on our planet and its possible existence on other heavenly bodies.

“We’re beginning to get the tools to test the Hadean world”, said Mojzsis. “Hell wasn’t as bad as we thought.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:21 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE : Nov 05, AU Edition

Women, alcohol, and friends who don’t look outfor each other are a potentially tragic mix

The other night an all-too-rare thing happened in the cab: two young women separated from their group of girlfriends near Darling Harbour and climbed in the back, and by the time we reached the Harbour Bridge one passenger received a text message from another of their group.

Nothing unique about that, except that the passenger then called her friend back, quizzing her: ‘Did you get a cab? Are you in it now? Who with? Why? Well, I’m not hanging up until you get home. Why? You’re drunk in a taxi by yourself, stupid – I don’t care if it’s a short trip…’ And so on.

This was a commendable example of drinking companions looking out for each other; all too often cabbies are shanghaied to act as chaperones by default to vulnerable and intoxicated young women. My passenger continued: ‘Are you paying the fare now? Okay, I’ll hang up when you’re inside...No, only when I hear Jeremy’s voice’.

After she had hung up I quizzed the women over the phone call. ‘Do you guys often receive unwanted advances from cabbies?’, I asked.

‘Yes, all the time’, they responded. I wondered if they were exaggerating. ‘Then why don’t we hear more of it in the press or from police reports?’ Without hesitation they said, ‘Probably because the girls are so drunk they don’t recall it next morning’.

‘Where did you learn to use that phone technique – at school or from your parents?’. ‘Neither’, they said, ‘it’s just common sense’. Unfortunately, their ‘common sense’ is all too often uncommon.

Earlier this year, I carried three young women from King Street Wharf to Surry Hills, via Potts Point. It was early morning as the Potts Point resident decided to grab a kebab in Kings Cross, then walk home. As I pulled over by the famous Coke sign, my headlights illuminated a tough looking bloke standing on the kerb, nonchalantly urinating against a barrier.

Yet seeing this, my passengers allowed their drunken friend to alight the cab alone. She staggered off into the strung-out, drunken throng to make her own way home. That she wore what a Sydney Muslim cleric recently deemed ‘rape attire’ only made my alarm bells ring louder.
Before departing I instinctively hesitated, questioning her friends, ‘Are you sure she’s going to be alright? She’s really pissed.’ ‘Yes’, they replied, ‘it’s only a short walk to her apartment – she does it all the time’.

Last Friday, just before midnight, a drunken school-aged girl dressed as a high-class hooker in fishnets, stiletto heels, and miniskirt was poured into the back seat by two thirty-something female companions.
The two older women gave me the girl’s address, then deserted her. She was now effectively my problem. Sure enough, within two blocks she was barfing into a plastic bag, and after stopping to allow her to finish vomiting into the gutter, she recovered enough to direct me to her suburb. Barely.

On arrival, she had me stop in a street lined on one side by a park. She flicked me a $20 note and before I could thank her for the $5 tip, she had disappeared into the dark and deserted park. At this point I could do nothing for her, and I reluctantly pulled away.

I’m almost certain a day will come when on commencing work, I’ll be responding to a common taxi broadcast: ANY DRIVER CARRY FEMALE – 2AM TODAY, OXFORD STREET TO (SUBURB) – CONTACT SGT. JONES, POLICE H.Q.
Some girls just don’t get it.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at www.cablog.com.au

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

FINANCE: Dec 05, AU Edition

New breeds of community banks are getting customers out of queues and into high interest, says Todd Parker

Australians love to hate their banks. It’s a constant staple of talk-back radio; one of the most popular Aussie films of all time was a ludicrous piece of work about a bank that drives small businesses under and (it is implied) kills their children for sport; and who hasn’t seen a battered ute with a kelpie cross in the back and a bumper sticker reading, “Which bank? They’re all bastards!”

Of course, one of the golden rules of capitalism is that when the big guys aren’t able to get it done any more, smaller and more nimble competitors, using new technology, are able to step into the service gap, win over new customers, and make the old establishment institutions take notice. That sort of revolution is quietly taking place in Australia’s banking sector, where a new breed of entrepreneur is taking advantage of the widespread dissatisfaction created when the Australia’s big four banks closed local branches – in some cases leaving whole suburbs and towns without a physical branch office. One new banking network has, in partnership with local communities, set up over a hundred “community banks” across the country, and as part of that has pledged to plow money and profits back into local areas – something that the big banks, with their eyes on maximizing yield for shareholders, pay lip service to in principle but in practice are loathe to do.
But in the Internet age, there is no reason why one even needs to go into a physical branch to do one’s banking. Australia is more advanced than many other countries when it comes to electronic payments, and on-line banks are able to compete on both fees and interest rates by avoiding the expense of brick-and-mortar operations all together. One bank that is making great strides in this area is Community First Credit Union, which is powering a new online financial services operation called Easy Street Financial Services (http://www.easystreet.com.au). Based in Sydney, Easy Street has over $500 million in assets and some 57,000 members – and because it doesn’t need to pay dividends to shareholders, that means that it can offer higher rates of interest and better service.

The company’s EasySavings plan, for example, offers a 5.65% interest rate, 24/7 internet banking, and (unlike the big guys) no fixed terms, minimum deposit, or bank fees. In fact, the EasySavings account has been awarded “Best paying E-account” by Money magazine three years in a row.

Account holders can also take out personal loans up to $35,000 simply by applying online, with no application fee or early repayment penalties and convenient redraw facilities.

And for those looking to invest long term, or just have a little flutter on the share market, their EasyBroking service provides flat-fee $26 trades on the ASX and a full suite of on-line trading tools. So far, Easy Street’s business model seems to be working. Unlike big banks that have to entice customers with “bonus interest” schemes and other incentives to stay with them, Easy Street “feels loyalty is built by providing our customers with consistently good returns on their at call savings.

“What consumers will need to be aware of with a bonus interest offer is that at the conclusion, they could end up with an interest rate that is below what’s on offer in the marketplace”, says spokesperson Kerry McMorrow.

“We have found our funds to be sticky and enjoy a retention rate of approximately 95%”.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

THE ROUGH LIFE: Nov 05, AU Edition

At Pacific Dunes, Eli Jameson plays a round – and pulls out his sand wedge

Port Stephens, NSW – Getting a chance to drive up the coast and play a round of golf is always a special treat. And it’s a double treat if it takes place on a weekday. And if the golf is to be played not on a well-worn public course but a top-flight resort facility, well, that’s just the icing on the cake.

Pacific Dunes Golf Club, just outside Newcastle on the New South Wales coast (a two-and-a-half hour drive from the Sydney CBD), is a brand-new course and residential development managed by Troon Golf, the world’s premier golf management company. The centerpiece of the facility, of course, is its 18 championship holes, but there is plenty more on offer, including clubhouse facilities and, for those who don’t want to go home, an eventual 450 homes – many lining the rich, green fairways.

My playing partner and I arrived from Sydney at around lunchtime, and were immediately greeted by helpful attendants who had us sitting in a buggy with our bags strapped on the back in a matter of moments. From there, it was off to the first tee: a confidence-building 329-metre par 4.

Now here’s something you should know: I am not one of those golfers who confidently whips out his driver and hammers a Titleist 280 metres straight down the fairway from every teebox. My drives are a bit more, shall we say, anemic, and I don’t get to play anywhere near as often as I’d like to keep my handicap in fighting trim. So I was pleased to see that the course opens gently, even if there was water snaking through the middle of this fairway (as it does on many, if not most, holes here). Even better, I cleared this water hazard – my balls normally head for the drink faster than Ted Kennedy at last call – with my shot landing comfortably on the happy side of the river, just a short iron into the green.

‘Great’, I thought. ‘Not playing for the past two months obviously hasn’t hurt my game any’.

Oh, there is one more thing to keep in mind. There are dozens and dozens of bunkers scattered around this course, both along fairways and ‘protecting’ the greens. (I’ve always loved that turn of phrase) And even if I never found water once, I think I found the sand on just about every hole, which led my playing partner to give me the new, rather undignified nickname of ‘Sandy’.

That’s the thing about Pacific Dunes: it’s a challenging course that doesn’t reward sheer brute force, but rather clever and careful shotmaking ability and course management. To really play the course well, one should have a really strong idea of how far every iron in his or her bag will fly, and be able to judge distances with precision. Like a game of chess, players have to think not just about the shot they are playing, but their next move or two down the track, with a close eye on what the course is looking to throw up in response.

(This more cerebral sort of game is also more democratic; since it doesn’t need to be overpowered, but rather out-thought, it can be enjoyed by just about anyone with a good knowledge of their own individual game).

Taking an easy bogey on the first hole, we moved on to the second, and the third, which was a particularly sneaky, 297-metre par 4: again, not daunting in terms of length, but with fairway bunkers and a false-fronted green, a serious challenge.

Moving through the front nine, my playing partner and I began to get the sense of the course, and the architects behind it have definitely given it a real personality, like an intellectual friend who one doesn’t always understand, but who is never short of challenging ideas.

Rounding the clubhouse turn we stopped for lunch, and had a pair of hot gourmet sandwiches washed down with a couple of beers, and headed off to attack the rest of the course. Along the back nine, we saw what will be much of the heart of this new facility, the properties that line the course and will form the basis of the Pacific Dunes community, and mused about what fun it would be to get out of our inner-city Victorian shotgun shacks and adopt a live-to-play, play-to-live lifestyle, though we quickly came back to Earth when we realized that our non-golfing wives might take an exception to this.
Having gotten the rhythm of the course over the front nine, the back end of the course is a real challenge – as if the landscaping itself is saying, ‘you think you know me, but you don’t’. The 10th features a creek that runs all the way along the left side of the hole; the 11th has water that cruelly runs around the front of the green, making what would normally be a simple approach shot a fraught and tense gamble.

If one is short, one is wet; otherwise, you’re in the woods.

Again: risk and reward, and the requirement to be disciplined.
Another striking thing about Pacific Dunes, at least for the city-dweller, is the way in which it is designed in such close sympathy with nature. The sheer number and variety of birds on the course had me wishing I had brought my field guide, and by the time we hit the 14th, we had to be careful not of hitting other golfers, but the kangaroo families that suddenly emerged out of no where for their afternoon tea.

As we pulled in from our round, twilight was approaching and about a dozen locals were sitting around a couple of picnic tables, finishing their wines after a long day out on the course. It wasn’t clear whether they were all old friends, or just comrades thrown together by their love of the crazy game of golf. They were having a great time, though, and one thing was for sure: they’ll be back.
As will I.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: Nov 05, AU Edition

An old dog learns new tricks. Plus: deep in the heart of Texas (and England)

MusicCatalog_P_Paul Anka - Rock Swings_Paul Anka - Rock Swings.jpgPaul Anka
‘Rock Swings’, Verve
3 stars

Paul Anka is another pop cat seeking new life in jazz. Known for such hits as ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’, the 63-year-old creates a curious amalgam, performing rock and pop songs of the 1980s and 1990s with big-band backing.

The effect is kind of cool. Anka shows a decent high range that conjures up Bobby Darin and generates some dramatic heat on Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin.’ He manages to swing through Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ with reasonable sass and elan.

But brassy horns get tiring. Also, it’s odd to hear a tune like Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ done as a Vegas revue number. Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ is interminable, and the dark world of Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is better left untouched by the Anka treatment.
Reviewed by Karl Stark

GeorgeStrait-SomewhereDownInTexas.jpgGeorge Strait
‘Somewhere Down in Texas’, MCA
3 stars

When you think of Texas, you think big, bold and freewheeling. Leave it to George Strait to deliver ‘Texas’, a tribute to his home state, and make it restrained and reflective. But that’s Strait: always tasteful and classy.

Mr. Consistency’s new album is typically solid, but not in the top rank of his considerable ouevre. ‘Somewhere Down in Texas’ has excellent moments, including the ‘Good News, Bad News’ duet with Lee Ann Womack and the on-the-verge-of-a-breakup lament ‘Ready for the End of the World.’ But the ballad-heavy set could use some of the energy Strait usually provides with shuffles and western swing – in other words, some of the feel he rhapsodizes about in the opening cut, ‘If the Whole World Was a Honky Tonk.’
Reviewed by Nick Cristiano

10979016_155_155.jpegEliza Carthy & The Ratcatchers
‘Rough Music’, Topic Records
4 stars

Carthy is a revelation for the verve with which she is reinvigorating traditional English folk music. Fiddles, violas, guitars, melodeons and hurdy-gurdies swirl and rise. The lyrics sing of dashing highwaymen and gallant hussars. But there’s nothing somber or fussy about ‘Rough Music.’

Lovers of Celtic music will savor deft instrumentals such as ‘Upside Down.’ But Carthy’s voice, a combination of Judy Collins and Alison Moyet, continues to improve. Her signal accomplishment is that she manages to make a quaintly old-fashioned style sound so fresh.
Reviewed by David Hiltbrand

wrap-greencards.jpgThe Greencards
‘Weather and Water’, Dualtone
3 stars

The Greencards are an Austin, Texas, bluegrass trio of immigrants – not from Mexico, but west and east. Singer and bassist Carol Young (who’s got a bit of Alison Krauss in her cool, clear voice) and mandolin/bouzouki player Kym Warner are Aussies; fiddler Eamon McLoughlin is a Brit.

‘Weather and Water’ shows that the trio (which just finished a trek opening for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson) is up to speed on dexterous, quick-picking instrumental breakdowns such as ‘Marty’s Kitchen.’ But it the lovely, soul-searching ballads, including ‘Who You Are,’ and the depressive, Warner-sung ‘Long Way Down’ that mark them as real comers.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:00 PM | Comments (0)

MOVIES: Nov 05, AU Edition

Skip the fairy tales this month – the best flicks on offer this summer are all about nitty-gritty reality

IDT.jpgInside Deep Throat
Released: Nov 10, 2005
Rated: R
5 stars

Deep Throat cost $25,000 to film and grossed over $600 million worldwide, making it the most profitable movie of all time. Inside Deep Throat is an amazing documentary about the impact the original porno film had on society then and now.

I’m not much of a porno girl so I’d never seen Deep Throat, but I must admit I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. And I was pleased I could watch it without having to don a trench coat or furtively avoid eye contact with my local video store employee.

The doco shows a small amount of the original skin flick – including the infamous scene from which the film takes its name. Sure I was shocked (Linda Lovelace obviously had no gag reflex), but what shocked me more was how the film became such a social and political football.
Released in America in 1972, it hit a social nerve. Sex, culture, morality and politics all collided – to explosive effect. This doco uses new and old interviews and newsreel footage to show the protests, arrests and general hoo-ha.

So I was keen to meet the main players and see what they made of all the fuss thirty years on. My favourite scene is when you see footage of the director, Gerard Damiano, as his younger self, a former hairdresser and sleazy swinger. Then it cuts to him now, a shuffling “Harry Highpants” retiree in Florida.

There is a sad side of this doco. Its star Linda Lovelace became an anti-porn crusader and died in a car accident in 2002, broke and bitter. Her co-star Harry Reems, who nearly went to jail on a trumped-up obscenity charge for taking part in the film, is now a recovering alcoholic and born-again Christian who sells real estate.

Why weren’t they all rolling in cash? Damiano made the film with mob money, so when it became a hit the mob threatened to break his legs if he didn’t sign over royalty rights. So basically no-one who worked on, or starred in, Deep Throat ever saw the rewards of the most successful movie in box office history.

Now that’s shocking.

C105-26.jpgKiss Kiss Bang Bang
Released: Nov 17, 2005
Rated: MA
5 stars

She opened the door with nothing on but the radio.’ I love that cool gumshoe detective speak. And Kiss Kiss Bang Bang oozes with it. From the opening titles you know this is going to be a sassy, pop-culture romp of a film. And it doesn’t disappoint. It stars Robert Downey Jr (who despite all his drug problems is a very talented actor) as Harry Lockhart, a crook who escapes the cops by pretending he’s an actor auditioning for a role of a detective. Stick with me, it’s worth it.

Needless to say he’s a hit with the film producers, gets the job and is whisked off to Hollywood. There the producers hook him up with private eye ‘Gay’ Perry (played by a fat and hilariously camp Val Kilmer) to tutor Harry in the ways of actual detective work. So Harry becomes a crook-playing-an-actor-impersonating-a-detective. Gay Perry sums it up: ‘This isn’t good cop, bad cop. This is New Yorker and fag.’

Add a sub-plot of an aspiring actress Harmony Faith Lane (played by the vixen-like Michelle Monaghan) who’s obsessed with pulp fiction detective novels and whose sister has been murdered. You know you’re in for a high action, schlocky, fun time.

Downey is suitably jaded as the film’s narrator and often speaks to camera with a snarky aside: ‘Look I’m not going to end this film 17 times… I saw Lord of the Rings.’ And rather than fight for screen time, Downey and Kilmer work perfectly together.

And with lines like this how can you lose? ‘She poured herself into a seamless dress. From the look of it she spilled some.’

bg1.jpgThe Brothers Grimm
Released: Nov 24, 2005
Rated: M
1 star

Once upon a time there was a movie about fairytales. It was really, really bad. The end. I wish that was all I had to write about this dog’s breakfast. You see, The Brothers Grimm is not actually about the Grimm fairytales but elements of the fairytales are in it. Confused? Wait it, gets worse.

In The Brothers Grimm, Will and Jake, (played equally appallingly by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) are travelling con artists. They journey from village to village in Germany, staging phony magic and claiming it is real. But then they come across a clichéd village where the woods are indeed magic; the cursed trees move and a sinister tower sits in the middle of it. Inside is the Mirror Queen (the breath-takingly beautiful but under-utilized Monica Bellucci). A hideous witch who needs to sacrifice twelve maidens to restore her beauty during an eclipse (a beauty routine I’m thinking of adopting!)
So even though they don’t believe in magic the brothers have to save the maidens and break the spell. Whatever! And to make things more confusing, there are fairytale references and characters, like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and even the Gingerbread Man. They all seem shoe-horned into an already dodgy script.

It was a mess. Very Grimm indeed.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:48 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Nov 05, AU Edition

James Fletcher on all the latest options for the small-screen cinema

JL.jpgDeath of a Beatle – Collector’s Edition DVD
4 stars

On December 8 this year it will have been 25 years since former Beatle John Lennon was maliciously shot and killed outside New York’s Dakota apartment block. While Lennon lay bleeding to death on the pavement at the feet of his wife Yoko Ono, his assassin Mark David Chapman simply stood watching, oddly fascinated by what he had done and with no comprehension of the global shockwave his actions had created.

The special edition DVD, Death of a Beatle, chronicles Lennon’s rise to fame from his early days in Liverpool to his time in New York City – and at the same time contrasts this ascent with Chapman’s eventual surrender to the delusional schizophrenia which drove his hatred and jealousy of celebrities.

Drawing heavily on the work of journalist Jack Jones, best known as the author of the Lennon/Chapman biography Take Me Down, the film utilizes audio from an interview between Jones and Chapman recorded in 2000. Much of Chapman’s dialogue, delivered in a reflective monosyllabic monologue is captivating, revealing the simplistic and tragic individual behind a façade of insanity.

However, any sympathy for Chapman is quickly diffused as the producers begin a chain of interviews, ranging from the police officers who attended the crime scene to Lennon’s friends and colleagues – including early Beatles member Pete Best, Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith, and assorted media personalities who effectively reinforce the shock and void that was felt in the wake of Chapman’s crime.
Released as a two-disc set complete with limited edition packaging, the DVD features additional interview footage with police detectives.

Also included is an extensive conversation with Andy Peebles who recalls his time spent with Lennon in his final days and Jack Jones who, having extensively interviewed Chapman over the space of 20 years, offers his own unique insight into the motivations and mentality of Chapman on the night of the shooting. An image gallery comprised of Chapman’s bizarre hotel possessions, biographies and a trailer gallery complete a DVD release that will appeal to both Beatles fans and true crime connoisseurs alike.

i7dvdart1.jpgGirl in the Mirror: A Portrait of Carol Jerrems
5 stars

Carol Jerrems may not be a common household name, but her extensive portfolio of work on Australian counter-culture throughout the 1970s remains one of this countries most valuable artistic assets. Now, after the recent success of screenings at the Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington and Auckland film festivals, Girl in the Mirror: A Portrait of Carol Jerrems has found its way to DVD in record time.

Directed by Kathy Drayton and produced by Helen Bowden of Soft Fruit and Traveling Light fame, ‘Girl’ chronicles the works of Carol Jerrems, who spent much of her time immersed among the 1970’s avant-garde artist movement with the likes of filmmakers Paul Cox, Esben Storm and author Kate Grenville.

Although a celebration of Jerrems raw and effecting photographs, the film is also a fascinating look at how damaged and self-destructive her personality was, something that is reinforced by the numerous compelling interviews from past lovers, colleagues and subjects that grace the film.

This dark presence is further captured as director Kathy Drayton skillfully intercuts numerous striking prints, many created for the film from archives at the National Gallery of Australia, with entries from Jerrems personal journals, written after she was hospitalized by a rare form of blood cancer that eventually claimed her life at the age of 30.

The DVD offers a quality extras package featuring a rare interview with Jerrems done in 1978, with previously unseen interview footage from Paul Cox, Daddy Cool member Ross Hannaford and the two Melbourne youths who feature in Jerrems’ iconic photograph Vale Street. Also included is the short film Hanging About written and directed by Jerrems which deals with rape, a subject which is hinted at more than once in the film concerning Jerrems’ past.

Additionally a collection of 66 photographs not seen in the film offer a retrospective of Jerrems’ professional career while video clips from the music artist J. Walker, who composed the frenetic soundtrack, the films trailer, bios and a weblink gallery complete a remarkable package for a fascinating film which has deservedly caught strong attention for the upcoming awards season.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:29 PM | Comments (0)


mackley_opening spread.jpg

If Geoff Mackley were a cat, he’d almost surely have used up his quota of lives by now. As the world’s ultimate storm-chaser and subject of the Discovery Channel’s Dangerman series, Mackley is little short of a survival miracle…the kind of guy you’d stand next to in an electrical storm. Our CLARE SWINNEY caught up with the man whose images of natural disaster are spawning a new breed of reality media

He carries a video camera, a digital still camera, a satellite phone and a flame-proof suit. He has been pursued by Army helicopters; almost blasted off a mountaintop; and dangled over gaping chasms.
Little wonder, perhaps, that they call Geoff Mackley ‘Rambocam’. It began as a childhood hobby of taking photos of natural phenomena, and developed into an extraordinary career with a worldwide reputation of going where others fear to tread. Photographer, cameraman and reporter all rolled into one, Geoff Mackley carts his cameras and satellite phone virtually anywhere where a tsunami has struck, where a cyclone is perilously hovering, where a volcano is erupting, and he’ll often be the first one there. His priceless pictures, which appear in science books, newspapers, on TV and in magazines, have come to define how people throughout the world perceive natural disasters.

Not surprisingly, the activities of this intrepid photographer have been the focus of a mass of media attention. The Discovery Channel featured a series about him named Dangerman and he’s appeared in seventeen other TV shows. He has also been interviewed hundreds of times in the past for newspapers and questioned at length for his soon-to-be-released autobiography.

While making it clear he could never even conceive of tiring of his work, which is now all-consuming, he confesses to being pig-sick of being interviewed.

When we first contacted him on the 11th of February, he’d arrived home , half-an-hour earlier from Rarotonga, where he’d been taking photographs of damage to waterfront buildings caused by a 14-metre storm surge driven by Cyclone Meena. He suggests I call back that evening to enable him to have time to update his website, www.geoffmackley.com, amongst other things. Yet when I contact him at 8pm he sayshe is unavailable as he is monitoring emergency channels and intends to maintain this vigil over most of Saturday and Sunday.
“Try Valentine’s Day, 10am,” he offers.

But the 14th, at 10am, proves similarly fruitless; two menacing-looking cyclones, Olaf and Nancy, are brewing in the South Pacific region and Mackley is furiously poring over weather reports, trying to decide if he should go to Samoa, where one of the fierce storms is predicted to hit. Later in the day, I finally hit paydirt, nailing the elusive Mackley to the end of a landline, albeit that the interview becomes punctuated by the crackle of police scanners and emergency vehicle sirens in the background. You can’t, it seems, keep
Mackley down.

Mackley, 41, was born and raised in Christchurch; his mother a high school librarian and his father employed by a customs broker. It was his dad who first kindled Mackley’s interest in photographing
natural phenomena.

“Dad used to take me and my two younger brothers, Richard and Steven, on trips to take pictures of freak conditions, such as snowstorms and flooding. We were brought up with an interest in
nature. I started doing what I’m doing because I’m interested in nature and it evolved to what’s happening now. I never really expected that to happen. I never thought for a moment I’d be doing this,” he ruminates.

erta03 073.jpgIn the late 1980’s Mackley attended the University of Canterbury to study psychology, because it was “very interesting,” then dropped out after one-and-a-half years because he didn’t think it was going to be a meal ticket. Mackley had other ideas. Armed with predictions of bad weather, he would pack photographic gear into an old Land Rover and go to where a flood was anticipated, shooting it as it happened.

“Nobody was doing that then, as far as the media goes. It still amazes me that to a large extent the media don’t even do that now. You’d think that if a news event is about to happen, go there before it starts!”

In spite of a lack of formal training in photography and broadcasting (or arguably perhaps because of it), Mackley began working for Channel 10’s New Zealand affiliate news team in 1990, just after the new network’s establishment. He took pictures of natural disasters around the country for the six o’clock news and has been in the game ever since.

In September 1995 he got his first big international break. Majestic Mount Ruapehu was predicted to erupt again and he was waiting patiently nearby with his camera equipment. When the grey ash shot into the troposphere, his career as it is today was launched.

isabel3 042.jpg
Mackley’s pictures began appearing on TV news shows, in newspapers and in magazines throughout the world. The words “meal ticket” began flashing in his mind, and pretty soon Mackley was taking pictures of volcanos erupting overseas and selling them to a wide range of media. His humble intention in 1995 was to generate sufficient income in order to recover the cost of the trip and be able to go on another trip and then another…

Mackley is coy about how much he makes. He says he doesn’t want to boast.

“Two hundred thousand?” we press.

“It’s a bit more than that,” he defers – which in translation means it’s notably more. Almost as an apology for this bounty, Mackley seems keen to impress that he works very hard for what he earns. He evidently does. He seems completely focused. There’s no room in his life for marriage or children. He allocates much of his time off work to maintaining a high level of fitness. His 178-centimetre tall, 76-kilogram muscular form is probably in far better shape than bodies half his age. “I feel the same I did when I was twenty. I exercise everyday. If I go for a run, it’ll be for about three hours. I spend a lot of time running in the bush, I work out, do weights and martial arts,” he asserts. As his broadcast camera alone weighs seven kilograms and climbing mountainous terrain at any time is a possibility, being unwaveringly fit is an essential part of his life.
“I’m also careful to eat well. I don’t eat crap. If you put bad fuel in a car it doesn’t work properly. Well the body’s the same. It’s common sense,” says Mackley.

Currently about 90 percent of his time at work is spent monitoring what’s going on locally and around the world. He uses the Internet and radio for this. “That’s the key thing - that it’s 90 percent gathering information and 10 percent going out and after something,” he maintains.

Naturally, he’s amassed an extensive knowledge of the world’s weather patterns and now knows what’s likely to happen where and at any given time of the year. He says there’s no busiest time of year. It is invariably busy, as Mother Nature has different seasons around the world. The cyclone season is from November to April. Tornado season is in May and June. August through to November is
typhoon and hurricane season in the US and volcanoes may erupt at any time.

He says the Internet has been an invaluable source for information about weather and volcanic activity, enabling his career to flourish. He asserts: “The Internet is the beginning and end of everything! Because the Internet is completely free of boundaries. It’s instant. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now, ten years ago.”
The meteorology services worldwide put data on the Internet for everybody to see instantaneously. In addition, there’s an aviation website that provides updates immediately a volcano begins to erupt which Mackley watches “constantly,” so if a crater blows, he’ll be one of the first people to know about it. One can find links to his sources on his website.

The total cost of his equipment is in the vicinity of $100,000. He says that although it’s expensive, he expects it to last for years. He uses a satellite phone at disaster scenes, which is a necessary requirement in regions lacking a functioning infrastructure. This is used to transmit photos to a few news services, but at $16 a minute, it is uneconomical to send shots around like confetti.

Consequently, he prefers to put high-resolution versions of photographs on his website for newspapers and magazines to download - although this mode of dissemination comes at a cost too. He says that although the majority of media outlets publishing his work remunerate him without having to be prompted, there’s invariably a percentage which don’t. “It’s a pain in the backside really, because when you’re trying to sell still photos, many outfits will avoid paying for them if possible. You’ve always got to track down whether or not they’ve used it or not. Half the time they won’t bother to tell you and it’s not worth chasing up twenty or thirty newspapers just for $100 or whatever,” he complains.

An assortment of his best images can be viewed on his website. He uses a Nikon F90 digital camera for his still photos and says a good photo, as any news editor will tell you, has to tell a story in one shot, ideally with people in it or an object to give it scale.
He believes an image can be a wonderfully powerful tool to help people in need of aid. And one of the best moments of his 20-year career was being able to bring aid to the small island of Tikopia following the strongest cyclone ever in the South Pacific, a cyclone which thrashed villages with 350 kilometre per hour winds, completely destroying everything. His was an extraordinary story.

Cyclone Zoe, as it was named, hit Tikopia in the Solomon Islands in late December 2002, bringing gigantic waves with it.

“I’m not an expert, but I can see from a satellite map when an island is being hammered and it’d be common sense to go and see what’s happened to these people [about 1,200] who no one has heard from for four or five days,” he says. But the airforce and military, in both New Zealand and Australia, did nothing. So he decided to fly to Tikopia in a Cessna and discovered an island completely wrecked. Mackley, who was freelancing, photographed the devastation from the air only because it was impossible to land. This story was on the news that night and broadcast all around the world. He reported that the place looked as if it had been hit by an atomic bomb. He says matter-of-factly: “I suspect if I hadn’t gone there and brought it to everyone’s attention, it’s quite possible nothing would’ve been done. The New Zealand Airforce claimed that it was impossible to get there and then I got there in a Cessna.”

The day after his first report, someone from a French newspaper contacted him and asked him to get on the island anyway he could, at their cost.

Accordingly, he chartered a helicopter from Vanuatu. He filled it with packets of noodles and arrived on Tikopia to be the first outsider there since the cyclone hit and four to five days ahead of any official rescue mission. “I thought it was extraordinary,
because I wasn’t doing anything that I considered to be that out of the ordinary. I just went to the airport and asked ‘Who owns that Cessna? Is it possible to fly to Tikopia?’…‘Yes’…‘So let’s do it.’ And it was the same with the helicopter,” he asserts. Fortunately, there were no casualties, as the Tikopians were accustomed to cyclones and were sheltering in caves in their highlands.

Indeed, the camera is a very powerful tool when used correctly. Bringing images of chaos and destruction to the world is the direct cause of aid arriving – a prime example the aftermath of the tsunami. Mackley believes the amount of aid donated is directly related to the TV coverage – the two being very closely linked. “I don’t feel so bad filming misery and destruction if I know it’s going to bring some good. There are a number of Pacific Islands that are not that well off and they know full well who I am and they welcome me when a cyclone’s coming - because they know that film of the event getting on the news greatly enhances their prospects of getting aid,” he offers, seeming grateful to be of help.

Unfortunately, however, Mackley has found that providing images of destruction can be a two-edged sword. While he regards the camera as a means to elicit donations, sadly, time and time again, he witnesses huge damage being inflicted upon Pacific Island nations by grossly unbalanced news stories. The media, he accuses, ham up the bad part of an event, with little apparent thought of the consequences. He has seen all facets of the media exaggerate the devastation caused by storms; and resultant negative publicity has dissuaded hordes of tourists from journeying there.

“People believe what they see on the news – and they shouldn’t. A cyclone hits a small Pacific Island, [for instance Tonga]. It is highly reliant upon tourism and although the residents clean up the damage in a few days, because a few selective shots of flattened buildings are shown in the news, making it look as if everywhere is decimated and no mention is made that it was all cleaned up in a few days – because that’s a boring story, I’ve seen huge economic damage
being caused for 6 to 8 months,” he says, sounding annoyed. “Sure, there were a few damaged buildings, but that’s not indicative of what the whole country looks like. Often that’s how the media portray it. If there’s widespread destruction, I’m certainly going to say that, but if there isn’t, I don’t,” he says.

In addition, he says that the amount of misreporting about the Tikopian disaster was “incredible.” For the first four to five days, all the information that emanated from the island came only from Mackley. He was guarded about what he said, because he didn’t know if anyone had been killed or not. Thus, he reported that the damage was very bad and it would be amazing if there weren’t many casualties. Then to his shock, he heard stories from outfits such as CNN and the BBC about thousands of people being killed and the island being hit by tornadoes and tsunamis – events that in fact had not occurred. He contends: “It beggars belief where they get those things from in the first place, considering no one else was giving them information except me! So you can see why one would be cynical about the media.”

Although he rarely writes news stories that accompany his images, he’s occasionally a target for caustic reac-tions to them. “I’ve had people from airlines phone me and say: ‘Your story just cost us millions of dollars worth of business because hundreds of people cancelled their airfares minutes after your story went on,’” he offers.
The title ‘Dangerman,’ for the 2004 TV series made for the Discovery Channel about his activities, was a misnomer. His work is perfectly safe, he says. “I’m no closer than anyone else who drives a car to danger. When people drive down any two-lane stretch of rural road, they’re passing within half-a-metre of every other car, going at 80-100 kilometres an hour. I don’t have car-size rocks landing that close to me at volcanoes, ever! Yet people take it for granted that driving is not a risk, when in fact, it is. It’s more of a risk than what I do,” he offers, adding than when he climbs a volcano he’s in complete control of how close he gets “to the action” – unless of course the action gets close to him.

He has had close calls however, one in Mexico during a hurricane. “A building fell. I was underneath the balcony of the building and all the debris – about 50 tonnes of concrete – cascaded down about a metre away from me,” he says. Luckily, he was uninjured.

Another reminder of his mortality occurred in Indonesia. His taxi driver got lost en route to the railway station, so he missed the train he intended to catch, which subsequently collided head on with another train, which was then ploughed into by another train. He’d be dead had it not been for the taxi driver’s incompetence. Indeed, transport he says is his biggest risk, because every time he’s on a train, a bus or in a car, there’s a potential for serious injury, which is out of his control, but so far, injuries have not yet put him hospital: “In this job, you’re either alive or dead!” crows Mackley.

The name Mackley wanted to use for the Dangerman show was his nickname, Rambocam, but as copyright laws protect ‘Rambo’, it was not an option. So how did he acquire the wonderful nickname Rambocam?
This is another interesting story, demonstrating the extraordinary lengths Geoff Mackley will go to “get the shot”. It was in the mid-1990s, down on army land on New Zealand’s central North Island. The Department of Conservation was supposed to round up the region’s wild horses and attempt to sell them before killing the remainder. However, Mackley had become privy to information that a number of horses had already been killed and dumped in a big pit on army land, with no effort having been made to sell them.

“Of course, the army personnel wouldn’t let us in there. Several reporters and newspaper cameramen found out the location of this pit, and we decided we were going to storm in on army land and get pictures of the dead horses, come what may.”

heta1 040.jpgHe had a 4-wheel drive vehicle, while the others had cars. The cars became stuck in the mud, by which time the army was chasing them in a helicopter. Consequently, everyone piled into Mackley’s
all-terrain vehicle and he pressed on the accelerator in hot pursuit of the horse pit. Meanwhile, the army landed a helicopter on the road in front of them in an attempt to stall their progress, but ineffectually so.

“It was like a scene from a Die Hard movie.”

Later, Mackley’s vehicle became stuck in the ground, so all the journalists piled out and began running up the hill to the pit.
Because it was a steep hill, the army couldn’t land the helicopter and so hovered above, yelling for the group to stop – but this was falling on deaf ears, as this media mob knew the army didn’t have authority over them. The army then landed the chopper at the base of the hill and some personnel got out and ran up the hill, only to get back in the helicopter again.

“It was really quite comical. And then, in the end, another helicopter appeared with the police in it, and we did listen to them. We knew that while the army didn’t have any authority over us, the police did. So we left, but nothing happened to us. The police thought it was quite amusing that a group of reporters had managed to evade the army for 3 or 4 hours,” says Mackley, chuckling. From this point on, cameramen and reporters from TV3 and TVNZ called him “Rambocam” and the name stuck.

One of the best facets of being Mackley is that everyday is a new day.

“I don’t have the day-to-day pressures that everyone else has – just sitting in a traffic jam and doing the same boring job for years and they are sitting in the same traffic jam and haven’t really moved forward or achieved anything, and know full well what they’re doing tomorrow or the day after,” he says. In contrast, Geoff Mackley doesn’t know what he’s going to be doing from one day to the next. He could be on the other side of the world the next day, facing a volcano that’s erupting or standing in a region devastated by a tsunami. He doesn’t know, and that’s part of why he regards his life as so exceptional. On his website is the phrase: ‘Life is an incredible adventure or it’s nothing at all.’ He really believes it. “I live for each day. I intend to be doing this for as long as I can. I probably won’t be able to climb volcanoes forever, but I can certainly fly to the other side of the world, get in a rental car and drive to a hurricane, until I’m…who knows…there are people running marathons in their 80’s,” he says.

He has a reputation as one of the top photographers of natural disasters in the world – if not the top. Yet as the sirens on the police scanner in the background grow in their intensity, you can almost see Mackley beginning to twitch down the end of the phone. Always, there’s another story just around the corner, another mountain to climb. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

The Arena: Mar 05, AU edition

blue fingers.jpg

Australians should be proud of the role they played bringing democracy to Iraq

From the moment John Howard committed troops to help the United States enforce the slew of U.N. resolutions violated by Saddam Hussein, Australians were told that they should feel badly about it. By focusing narrowly on the question of Saddam’s WMD programs (and by also conveniently forgetting his history of gassing Iranians and Kurds), anti-war groups were able to conveniently ignore the greater promise of ousting Saddam Hussein: not only would the overthrow of his sick and genocidal cult of personality give a measurably better life to Iraq’s citizens, but it would also have the knock-on effect of bringing political freedom to a region sorely in need of it.

This willful ignorance came to an end on the 30th of January, a day which will be remembered as a defining moment of the first decade of the 21st Century. That was the day when ordinary Iraqis went to the polls to elect their own government — and in the process defied armies of Islamists, insurgents, Ba’ath party holdouts, and much of the Western media, all of whom predicted that the exercise of democracy would cause bloodshed from one end of Mesopotamia to the other.
In fact, the turnout was better than anyone could have expected, with early estimates pegging at somewhere around 72 per cent (much better than, say, an American or British national election). Sure, there was some grumbling, but so what if the Sunnis didn’t vote in huge numbers? The fact that a segment of the population which had for decades happily exercised tyranny of the minority got pouty and decided to pick up their ball and go home should be of no consequence to the legitimacy of the overall election. As the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out, Afrikaners refusing to vote when blacks were given the franchise in South Africa didn’t cause reporters to heave heavy sighs and complain about the sudden illegitimacy of that country’s democracy.

As Iraqis streamed out of polling places across the country, proudly waving their blue ink-stained index fingers indicating they had voted, it was fascinating to watch the story of their country change in the eyes of the Western media. For months on end, Australians had been subjected to a relentless barrage of stories about how, since the invasion, Iraq had spun wildly out of control and that (for reporters, at least) Baghdad was suddenly a place where leaving one’s hotel room to buy a pack of smokes was about as risky as poking your head above ground level in 1916 Verdun.

Thus the media’s reaction to the election’s overwhelming success was every bit as amusing as the courage of the free Iraqis was touching. Remember that for months every bombing, every setback, and every act of brutality (especially if it was committed by a wayward American soldier) was front-page news, not just in Australia but around the world. And the message was subtle but clear: Iraq and the Iraqis were better off under Saddam, because at least then the state had a monopoly on killing and mayhem. Once the Americans came in, the chaos was privatized – a far worse state of affairs.

But almost as soon as polls opened the story changed. If they didn’t exactly become cheerleaders for Iraqi democracy, the media managed to, if just for a day, agree that the voting was a good thing.
International wire service Reuters, which since 9/11 has been notorious for throwing “scare quotes” around the word “terrorist” – lest anyone think the agency was taking sides – suddenly reported that “millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election Sunday, defying insurgents who killed 25 people in bloody attacks aimed at wrecking the poll. Iraqis, some ululating with joy, others hiding their faces in fear, voted in much higher-than-expected numbers in their first multi-party election in half a century”.

The New York Times got caught up in the excitement as well, declaring that “if the insurgents wanted to stop people in Baghdad from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned
a corner”.

And closer to home, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough admitted in his first dispatch after the election that “the ballot had prevailed over the bullets and the bombs”, and even conceded that “the provisional figures will be seen as a stunning victory for Washington’s policy of democratising the Middle East and will cause great anxiety among the region’s unelected leaders, who fear such an Iraqi outcome will spur demands for radical reform across the region”.
This was an incredible (if temporary) about-face for McGeough, who has spent the last two years tipping an Iraqi civil war and once went so far as to run a story accusing interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of shooting six terrorist suspects at close range — a bit of unsubstantiated urban myth that allowed the correspondent to think aloud about “a return to the cold-blooded tactics of his predecessor”, i.e., Saddam.

In standing up to the naysayers, and the terrorists, and those who suffer from that peculiar neocolonial racism of the Left which says that some people just aren’t cut out for democracy, ordinary Iraqis took a brave stand for their future. Not only did they send a message to their foes at home and abroad that they were not going to let freedom’s enemies win, but they also told Australians, Americans, and everyone else involved in making 30 January possible that the life and treasure spent in Iraq were not in vain. As Iraqi weblogger Hammorabi put it the night before the election,

Our voting is:
No to the terrorists!
No to the dictatorships!
No to hate and racism!
No to the fascists!
No to the Nazis!
No to the mentally retarded tyrants!
No to the ossified, narrow-minded and intolerant!
The Iraqis are voting in few hours time for the new Iraq.
We are going to create our future by ourselves not by dictators.

We are going to say:
Yes for the freedom and democracy!
Yes for the civilized Iraq!
Yes for peace and prosperity!
Yes for coexistence!
Yes for the New Iraq!
Let them bomb and kill us. It will not deter us!
Let them send their dogs to suck our bones. We care not!
Let them bark. It will not frighten us.
Let them see how civilised to be free and democratic!
Let them die by our vote tomorrow! It is the magic bullet which will
kill them!
Welcome New Iraq.
Welcome freedom and democracy.
Welcome peace and prosperity for all nations with out exception but terrorists!
Amen to that.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 09:13 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Mar 05, AU Edition

But Q & A answers plenty of questions

How We Are Hungry.jpgHOW WE ARE HUNGRY
By Dave Eggers
San Francisco. McSweeney’s Books 2004 ISBN: 1932416137
Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, has compiled a list of factors that compel people to write: ‘Free time. Technology. Material. Education. And disgust’.

People are working less and living longer; computers are everywhere, spell-check included; anything goes; we are constantly being told where to put our commas; there is so much bad writing out there and there’s the belief that people are making money from it. Disgust provokes an I can do better than that mentality that has created the hordes of story-telling punks now being published all over the place.

Dave Eggers is one of their leaders, and How We Are Hungry is a collection of fifteen of his short stories. But don’t let that put you off: short stories are changing again, and for the better. Traditional surprise endings à la Roald Dahl are on the rise, while academic experimentation is out. The market for these pieces is still slim with the number of stories being written greatly outweighing the number of people who are willing to read them. With everyone rushing off to writing workshops, this situation worsens daily.

In the New York Review of Books (October), Diane Johnson articulated a hope that the genre is making a come-back: ‘Readers and nonreaders alike are affected by the Internet and television, the byte, the sound bite, and the accelerating pace of life, and have only a short story’s worth of time to give to literature.’ Proof is still to follow. Last year, the publication of John Updike’s Early Stories: 1953-1975 received much positive attention but few sales considering his status. Annie Proulx’s new anthology Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 has not had shining reviews but surely it will sell.

Eggers’ first book, a memoir entitled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, came out four years ago and made him very famous. Since then he has enjoyed an escalating cult following. His magazine The Believer, his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, and his publishing house, McSweeney’s, are all very popular. Eggers himself is well-liked, not least of all because he runs free writing labs for children in Brooklyn (Superhero Supply Co.) and San Franscico (Pirate Supply Store) offering one-on-one help
with homework.

So, how are we hungry? Each of the stories in this book answers this question directly. Self-conscious desperation is the key motivation. Mostly, Eggers’ human characters are a miserable lot. They collect cacti and count their lives away. They don’t want to be like they are, but are only momentarily allowed to transcend all that which debases. The urge to find a gigantic pair of tweezers and pluck Dave Eggers from Generation X and put him somewhere more meaningful (and less anxious) overwhelms.

The prognosis is better for dogs and the final story “After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned” is enjoyable:

When I run I can turn like I’m magic or something. I can turn like there wasn’t even a turn. I turn and I’m going so fast it’s like I was still going straight. Through the trees like a missile, through the trees I love to run with my claws reaching and grabbing so quickly like I’m taking everything.

This dog’s a Jack Kerouac but his name is Steven.
One of the most topical stories in How We Are Hungry is called “When They Learned to Yelp”. It is also one of the most annoying ones. Though he never makes this explicit, Eggers is at pains to define ‘yelp’ as what happened to young Americans upon witnessing the destruction of the Twin Towers. The word ‘yelp’ appears over thirty times within three pages and Eggers gets his message across just fine. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe a yelp is what happens when you accidentally tread on your puppy’s foot. He’s hijacked the wrong word and the experiment falls as flat as his character in “Climbing to the Window, Pretending to Dance”, who attempts suicide by jumping from a two-storey building.

It’s all the more annoying when Eggers’ writing falters because we have already looked through the windows of his enormous potential. In “Up The Mountain Coming Down Slowly” the writing is so good you don’t even notice it’s there. First published in McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, it’s about a woman who sets out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for reasons that elude her. This story is as full as any novel ever could be. And the ending… it’s no wonder Eggers is winning so many awards. A trophy room is in order if he intends to keep this up.

On the eve of her departure, Rita, from “Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly”, visits the hotel bar and meets a stranger: ‘They talked about capital punishment, the stenographer comparing the stonings common to some Muslim regions with America’s lethal injections and electric chairs. Somehow the conversation was cheerful and relaxed.’

And yet somehow this book is actually quite funny, a most curious mix. There’s also lot of fooling around here and that’s probably why so many people think he’s pretentious. The posturing in How We Are Hungry is irritating; it distracts from the quality of the writing and the quality of thought. I’d give it an A for achievement and a D for effort and attitude – Eggers might consider this the perfect grade.
It’s unsettling that quite a few of these stories have been revised since their original publication in prestigious places like The Guardian and The New Yorker. One worries that the new ones are going to change too – so wouldn’t it be better to wait and read the final version? Old-fashioned, I would prefer Eggers’ words to stay put.

Q&A.jpgQ & A
By Vikas Swarup
London. Transworld Publishers 2005 ISBN: 0385608144. Distributed by Random House Australia. Paperback. $32.95.
“I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show.”
This is the eye-popping opening line of Vikas Swarup’s debut novel Q & A - a picaresque tale of an orphan who wins “Who Wants to be a Billionaire?” Unable to pay out the prize money, the organisers of the show conspire to have him arrested for cheating. Our hero is Ram Mohammad Thomas – a name part Hindu, part Muslim, part Christian, designed to please everyone.

Ram’s excellent adventures are presented to us in the form of a quiz show, with a chapter dedicated to each question. It’s a clever set-up and the novel takes full advantage of the quiz-show phenomenon, namely that the audience desperately wants the contestant
to win.

Ram is as smart and brave as his tales are tall. This boy is far from lucky but lucky coincidences are everywhere in Q & A. In an extraordinary act of generosity Ram gives away a huge amount of stolen money to save a dying boy he’s never met. The father of the dying boy gives him his business card which he puts in his top pocket. Moments later the police arrive to frisk him but he no longer has the stolen cash so he walks free. Further down the track, a question on Shakespeare pops up in the quiz and Ram doesn’t know the answer. He elects to use a ‘life boat’ but can’t think of anyone to call. While reaching into his pocket to find his lucky coin, his hand brushes against the business card. He reads it for the first time and miraculously it says, “Utpah Chatterjee, English Teacher, St John’s School, Agra” and then gives a phone number.

Though the story is related entirely from Ram’s point of view, Swarup bends the rules so that the limited perspective is never isolating or dull. Though we are encouraged to doubt Ram’s honesty, this is done in a genial sort of story-telling way: there’s no edgy postmodern uncertainty here. It’s a book that began as a good idea and will probably end up a movie.

Like any great ride at the fair this book succeeds in making you feel a bit sick and it would be irresponsible not to give it an MA rating. Q & A is a fictional story about fortune, both good and bad. Swarup is not remotely concerned with presenting a factual account of a street kid’s life. For example, the only time Ram complains of real hunger he reports, “even something as basic as a boiled egg, which I have never liked, makes me salivate”. I am not sure how basic a boiled egg is to a penniless orphan but to nit-pick is to miss the point. If reading is at all like traveling then Q & A is like riding fast across India on a motorcycle. The view is blurry but the journey is lots of fun.(Trivia: Turkey has just chopped another six zeros off its currency, so that country’s show, “Who Wants to Win Five Billion Turkish Lira” might finally get a catchier name.)

bkturn.jpgTHE TURNING
By Tim Winton
MacMillan Australia. ISBN: 0-330-42138-7. $46.
I have a confession to make. When I gave The Turning the dreaded flick test and came across a page (say p.294) of skinny unpunctuated dialogue, I thought “not more Hemingway please”, and closed it. A review that lavished it with praise prompted me to give it a second go. I’m very glad I did. When I actually read the first story, I was instantly hooked. Here was a story whose main characters I could easily identify with – dropouts on the run, adolescent losers in quest of the big city or, as it is entitled, “Big World”. It’s a warm but unsentimental account of friendship and doomed destiny that any man who has ever worked a dead end job and one morning got up before dawn, jumped in his rust bucket and muttered to himself, “I’m gettin’ outta here,” can identify with. Or, as Winton puts it ,”Monday morning everyone thinks we’re off to work as usual, but in ten minutes we’re out past the town limits and going like hell.” And somehow you sense hell is where they’re headed, though at that moment, the exhilaration of escape is all they know about.

Accordingly, Winton’s stories have a place of honour in what Irish short story writer Frank O’Connor identified as the central literary short story tradition – people dreaming of escape but not quite achieving it. The short story becomes a kind of mournful but touching parable that shows the trapped protagonists attempting a wild tangent of hopeful escape but essentially returning to where they first started, returning to where they belong. It’s a pessimism about overly quick change in our lives that seems acceptably lifelike in a short story but perhaps unbearable in a novel. In a way, the short story has permission to be more honest about life’s bitter containments than a novel.

The small town world of coastal West Australia is here fictionally embodied in a place called West Point. Gradually and subtly, it
becomes clear that some of the characters’ lives have intersected. After all, West Point isn’t that big a place. Melanie, for instance, who is a central character in “Abbreviation”, is alluded to in “Damaged Goods” as “a farm girl whose ring finger ended at the first joint”. The effect of this and other such intertextualities is to create a sociological mosaic, a village-sized cosmos that is warm and compelling.

As well as Frank O’Connor, Winton’s stories with their drifting losers, drunken wife beaters, abattoir workers, down at heel train catchers, rusting Kombi owners and small town trailer trash put me in mind of what Granta magazine identified twenty years ago as a then new trend in American writing – dirty realism. The principal star of that “group” was Raymond Carver, a modern master of the post-Hemingway story, complete minimalist unpunctuated dialogue, feelings of entrapment and social doom and, unintellectual characters with low social horizons. Like Hemingway, Carver’s work was spare to the point of boniness, and cool to cold in tone. Winton partakes of that heritage but has a warmer tone, a plusher vocabulary with apt colourful similes that sketch in the backdrops effectively. The easy but rich style, the expert characterisation and feeling of small town enclosure make a heady and exciting brew. As of now, Tim Winton is one of my favourite short story writers.

bkshot.jpgSHOTGUN CITY: Melbourne’s Gangland Killings
By Paul Anderson
Hardie Grant Egmont. ISBN: 1-74066-210-5. $19.95.
What do Nikolai Radev, Jason Moran, Pasquale Barbaro, Willy Thompson, Mark Mallia, Housam Zayat, Michael Marshall, Graham Kinniburgh have in common? They were all criminals and they were all (save one who was incinerated) shot to death in 2003 during Melbourne’s ongoing gangland wars. By mid - 2004, when this book went to print, six more had been killed. This book is a grim progress report on the “Second War”.

None of these gun battles nor gang warfare are anything new. The opening chapter entitled “The First War” gives an overview of the era from the late 1950s to the early 1980s when an estimated 40 individuals were taken out as a result of warring factions of the notorious Painters and Dockers Union. Veteran of the murderous streets, Billy Longley says sardonically of the Second War, “they’ve got a bit of catching up to do”. Maybe so, but if the present spate continues at its current average, twenty years will see at least 62 well-dressed corpses laid to rest in classy coffins.

Why gangsters murder each other might not be a question that keeps a lot of honest citizens awake at night. However, there is some variation in theories of motivation. A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology and the South Australia Police Major Investigation Branch surprisingly fingered “dissolution of an intimate relationship” i.e. bumping off straying partners, as a major factor. It also noted money, drugs, silencing a witness, revenge, or profit from crime as motives. Anderson is adamant that in the case of the recent 1998 – 2004 orgy of assassination by bullet, most were drug – related hits.

As a result of reading this clinical to morbid text, the following advice could be given to those contemplating a career in
violent crime:
* Don’t leave your car unattended
* Don’t leave home without a pistol down your pants
* When dismembering a corpse, use a meat cleaver. Chain saws get clogged with skin and blood.
* Arrange for a minimum $100,000 donation to the police as an information incentive to help track your anticipated killers
* Move out of the Melbourne Central Business District Area
* Stop seeing Quentin Tarantino movies

Regarding the latter, it is fascinating to read that gangsters do watch and like crime movies. Billy Longley’s favourites are Unforgiven and On the Waterfront. Other movies favoured by the older generation are Scarface and Little Caesar. In more recent times, The Godfather, Heat, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs have prominently figured. Plus the cult series, The Sopranos. It must be said that the bad guys have good taste in films as they do in the expensive clobber they buy with drug money.

Cause and effect should not be confused. Crime movies don’t create criminals but if you are walking the street with a Colt .45 in your belt, the mode and code of your crime, not to mention sartorial style, may be film-influenced. It seems the local hoods do follow the general style of their American counterparts as regards dress, code of silence, mode of execution and nicknames - plus a liking for the more authentic crime movie. Overall, the Anderson account is a cool-toned hard-boiled history with traces of American slang - though reading too much at a sitting has a depressive effect.

Edited by David Crystal
Penguin Books 2004. ISBN: 0-140-51543-7. $75.
What can you say about an encyclopaedia that gives twelve lines to Alexander the Great and sixteen lines to the Beach Boys? Clearly, the pop present is being privileged over the classical past. However, this 1698-page tome is often factually inaccurate when dealing with the present (20th century). Under Mexican Art, David Alfaro Siqueiros has his last name omitted so he becomes David Alfaro; Booker Prize winner Keri Hulme is credited with the 1992 publication of Bait, a novel that she has yet to publish; Postmodernism only deals with architecture, ignoring the fact it is de rigeur in literature and art. Spelling mistakes include the Mexican president’s first name printed as Vincente instead of Vicente and painter Jose Clemente Orozco’s second name spelt as Clementi.

The omissions are a wonder indeed. Mick Jagger is in, “Keith Richards” is out; Al Capone is in, Lucky Luciano is absent; Keri Hulme is in, Janet Frame is not; Stalingrad is in, Kursk (world’s greatest tank battle) is missing; Michael Jackson is in, Peter Jackson is not; Everest-conqueror Edmund Hillary is necessarily in but Reinhold Messner, the world’s greatest mountaineer is not; Saddam Hussein is in and Osama bin Laden, as always, is invisible. Structuralism is in but astonishingly poststructuralism is not (though it is sneakily mentioned under Deconstruction with which it is mistakenly identified). I was surprised to find Timothy Leary, Peggy Guggenheim, Bryce Courtenay, Pierre Bourdieu (renowned anthropologist), Takla Makan desert and Google absent (though Desktop Publishing is in).

Another anomaly – perhaps common in other encyclopaedias – is contradictory entries. The Aborigines entry has them arriving in Australia 60,000 years ago while the Australian history section has a figure of 40,000. (Some have advanced the figure to 100,000 BC – shouldn’t all three estimates have been discussed?) The entry on Australian literature make no mention of Judith Wright, yet she merits a separate entry under her own name. This inconsistency of analysis is possibly explicable by two different people doing the two entries. But shouldn’t there be a match up? Similarly, William Burroughs is not mentioned under Beat Generation but under his own entry is declared to be a “spokesman of the Beat movement”. Also, stingily, there is no colour in any of the maps and no portraits (though that does allow more text).

Now for some appreciation. There are compendious lists of phobias, popes, highest mountains, deserts and, best of all, Crusades which includes sub-headings under Background, Leaders and Outcomes – though regretfully no Nobel Prize listings. Listings of musicians, artists and scientists are generally good. The quality of the paper and binding is excellent. Some may be wondering – in this Internet age do we still need encyclopaedias? I, for one, would not like to see them become obsolete because they present the opportunity par excellence for browsing by association and the alphabet. Also an encyclopaedia offers greater authority than the crackpot and often wildly inaccurate entries frequently found on the Internet. It cannot be repeated too often that an encyclopaedia, being a book, can never have power failure, a virus, intrusive advertisements or the irritatingly busy format deployed by many website homepages. However, the Penguin Encyclopedia needs a clean up on accuracy, improved expansion and consistency of inclusion and could do with some colour in its bland white pages. Hey, it’s still an encyclopaedia, my favourite kind of book for browsing new arcana and esoterica.

tolkien's_smal.jpgTOLKIEN’S GOWN & Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books
By Rick Gekoski
Constable and Robinson. ISBN: 1-74066-210-5. $29.99.
In general, I have regarded book collectors and first edition freaks as fetishists who are more interested in the wrapping than the present, brassieres instead of breasts. Having enjoyed Mr Gekoski’s lucid prose and accumulation of delightful anecdotes, my previous value judgment has been white-anted somewhat. Despite his eye for the deal, the multi-talented Gekoski also has an ear for the interesting human story, hence this witty and attractively presented book (which I am hoping will one day prove a valuable first edition).

The book kicks off with a chapter on the controversial Lolita, Nabokov’s sordid tale of a middle-aged lecher’s seduction of a barely pubescent girl. Shocking as this relationship might be, Nabokov’s exquisite prose turns it into a tragic love story.

In his cheerfully lucid style, Gekoski relates how after he sold a first edition of Lolita for $4900, he received a letter from Graham Greene asking how much he (Greene) could get for a copy inscribed to him by the Russian author. Apparently, this in an example of what rare book dealers call an “association copy”, one presented by the author to someone of importance. As Greene eminently qualified, Gekoski insisted on paying him $7200 (Greene wanted less!), and sold it for a profit (mysteriously, or tactfully, not revealed). When Gekoski last heard, the on sold book fetched $264,000 which left him “sick with seller’s remorse”. Since reading this revealing anecdote, I have been urging my friends at launches of my books to hurry up and become “persons of importance” so I can buy the book back off them and resell it for a whacking profit. So far, the scheme has yet to take off. And is unlikely to, for almost none of my books have that piece de la resistance, a dustwrapper, which rockets the price for any rare book into the ionosphere.

If over a quarter of million dollars sounds like big money, it has been topped by Gekoski’s estimate for a first edition Lord of the Flies – $450,000. A first edition inscribed Ulysses actually sold for $460,000 – the highest price thus far. Touchingly, Gekoksi admits that Ulysses is a tough read, even though he considers it the greatest book of the twentieth century. This promisingly profitable spiral was recently put in the shade when the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road sold for $2,430,000 which makes me wish cryonic preservation really works and poor old Jack could return and feast off the posthumous profit.

Packed with colourful stories of famous writers, this book is surely one of the more notable of the 110,000 books published in England last year, most of which, Gekoski reminds us, will soon be forgotten. I am hoping the first edition of his book will soar in value – when Gekoski soon visits the Antipodes I must ask him to inscribe it.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Nov 05. AU Edition

Plus: Looking back at Old Blue Eyes and Australia’s really ancient history

books_mao.jpgMAO: The Unknown Story
By Jung Chang and Jon Holliday, Jonathan Cape, $59.95
This is how this large and extraordinarily well-researched book begins: ‘Mao Tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth century leader.’ Apart from the bogglingly high total of deaths, the other shocking word is ‘peacetime’. Surely only a world war like that started by Adolph Hitler is needed to kill so many? Not so, it seems. And how is it possible – and what is the point – of killing or causing so many to perish?

The answer, which unsurprisingly isn’t at all rational, was given by Mao himself in Moscow in 1957: ‘We are prepared to sacrifice 300 million Chinese for the victory of world revolution’. He repeated much the same statement in 1958. Of course the ‘we’ is Mao himself. ‘Deaths have benefits,’ Mao once callously declared. ‘They can fertilise the ground.’ Hence crops were ordered to be planted over burial grounds which caused ‘intense anguish’. Naturally, Mao suffered from no such qualms.

While his cohorts were Communists with similar aims, some of the minions were slightly more ‘reasonable’. As the authors put it, ‘Whereas Mao had been using terror for personal power, Chou En-lai employed it to bolster Communist rule’. Liu Shao-chi, Mao’s No. 2, was like his master, interested in industrialisation and superpower status but wanted these goals ‘at a more gradual tempo’ by ‘building a stronger economic foundation and raising living standards first’. Mao seemed to take sadistic pleasure in making the populace suffer. His early predilection for public torture and executions to create public terror, as well as his own enjoyment of it, is grimly detailed. Even Stalin and Hitler tended to have their terror performed off stage, as it were (Siberia, Auschwitz).

While the folly of Mao’s Great Leap Forward to make more steel at any cost (burning homes for fuel, melting down farm tools and cooking utensils) is well known, less well known is that all the while China was exporting grain and soybean on a huge scale to east European countries and to Russia either in exchange for arms – or even sometimes as a donation. Indeed, the percentage of foreign aid reached a staggering 6.92 per cent of the GNP, proportionately 70 times that of the United States. The result was in the peak year of famine (1960), 22 million died. In all, 38 million died from hunger in 1958-1961. Yet so tight was Mao’s control, he was able to convince both the CIA and Francois Mitterrand, along with many other gullible western observers, that there was no famine. All in the name of Mao trying to convert China into a world superpower in a few years. The supreme irony is that today China is headed for economic superpower status, but not as a result of following Mao’s policies.

What this monumental biography makes stunningly clear is that though China seemed isolationist at the time, Mao was constantly badgering the Soviets to supply him with nuclear technology and missiles and made a surprising number of aggressive overtures towards other countries – three million troops were sent to Vietnam, for example.

Developing the atomic bomb, which he had earlier hypocritically described as a paper tiger, cost a staggering $4.1 billion – at 1957 prices! In the authors’ view, China’s nuclear bomb cost more than 100 times the deaths caused by the two American bombs used on Japan.
In early pre-communist dominant times he was never keen to fully engage with Japan as Stalin wanted. Mao wanted the Japanese to destroy Chiang Kai-shek so Stalin could then carve up China, leaving Mao as ruler of the remainder. Nor, as is commonly supposed, was Mao even fully engaged with the Nationalists until much later on – when his sleeper-spy generals betrayed them. In fact, it suited Chiang Kai-shek’s strategy to allow the Communists rag-tag army to pass through relatively unopposed. (Furthermore, his son was being held to ransom by Moscow.) Even the notion of Mao’s personal courage during the Long March turns out to be a myth – the authors reveal he was carried in a sedan chair.

Alongside the other mental disorders that have been identified there should be one called Dictator Disorder – the most deadly of all. Those who suffer from it torture kill and murder their enemies (including family and friends), waste economies on vainglorious schemes, try to destroy the past (Mao hated Chinese architecture) and while making sure that the populace suffers, enjoy as much food, luxury and sex as they can. While Hitler is often described as having been ‘mad’ and psychiatrists have tried to diagnose Hitler and Stalin as manic-depressives, no one seems to have done the same exercise with Mao. He was horribly sane and unrelentingly evil. At one point, he even considered the ultimate de-humanising strategy of removing people’s names and giving them numbers. Mao’s perverse code: ‘Do to others precisely what I don’t want done to myself’.

Taken as a whole, I found this book with its long catalogue of crimes against humanity a depressing read. However, the authors have done an astonishingly thorough job. They interviewed people who knew Mao in 38 countries. Corpses and all, this will be the definitive biography of Mao.

books_blinding light.jpgBLINDING LIGHT
By Paul Theroux, Hamish Hamilton, $49.95
One - though not the only – disconcerting thing about Theroux is his prolificity. Seemingly after a few short months, he pops out yet another book. Justly renown as a leading travel writer, he’s a captivating novelist as well and I was surprised (well, not really) to note that this is his 27th novel.

Blinding Light’s central character is a highly successful travel writer (like Theroux) who is suffering from that weird American condition called ‘writer’s block’ (very unlike Theroux). I say weird because if there is such a thing as writer’s block why haven’t we heard of painter’s block, architect’s block or composer’s block? On closer examination, writers who are ‘blocked’ are usually suffering from depression, alcoholism or simply find that their talent has run dry.

Slade Steadman is a one-book wonder with good reason – his first and only book was about a guy (himself) who crossed countries without a passport and without luggage – ever since then he has lived off the lucrative spin offs: leather jackets, sunglasses, pens, knives. It’s such a good idea I’m thinking of trying it myself and hope that the customs officials of the world’s 227 or so countries will cooperate.

As the book opens, Steadman is on his way to South America in quest of a chemical cure – a psychoactive plant that will extend his mental horizons and clear his creative blockage. He tries first ayahuasca and then a more deadly concoction, datura. The insights that the plant’s ingestion brings comes at a high price – Steadman first experiences a kind of ‘darkness visible’, along with insights into his oafish fellow travelers, but eventually the controlled blindness becomes permanent. There is much heavy though successful symbolic play and irony by Theroux on the various meanings and types of blindness – and the punning title resonates throughout the text.

Steadman’s desire to write fiction – in particular, a recapitulation of a richly erotic life – is excuse enough for Theroux to saturate the book’s middle section with much ingenious and at times perverse sexuality. It has to be said Theroux has a gift for this kind of writing though it may seem an excuse for self-indulgence to some readers. By contrast, he is even more gifted in writing about relationships that persist in a savage limbo-like aftermath – yet can still mysteriously rekindle – such is the perversity of human attraction. In the end, Steadman is a tragic and doomed figure. Presumably, it is Theroux’s successful deeper intention to show us that salvation by dark means leads to a dark end.

books_sinatra.jpgSINATRA: The Life
By Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan, Doubleday, $49.95
Sinatra was one of those perennial entertainers who seemed indestructible and ever-present, so it is almost a surprise to be reminded that he is no longer with us in person – though very much so in records and films and from time to time on the radio.

Ambition and achievement are close to alignment in the singer’s life. Sinatra said, ‘I’m going to be the best singer in the world, the best singer that ever was’. The authors more or less concur that Sinatra was indeed ‘... the most celebrated popular singer in history’. Today, the early crooning Sinatra who sounded a bit like Bing Crosby – the singer Sinatra set himself to surpass – has been overtaken by the later Sinatra with that street-wise, nightclubby voice that makes the Sinatra timbre instantly recognizable. For a guy who boozed so heavily, it is astonishing that his singing voice lasted as well as it did – but then Sinatra was often described as a man of astonishing energy and stamina. His lineup of performances would make some younger fry quail – in 1946 he was on stage 45 times a week, singing one hundred songs per day while also doing 36 recording sessions and 160 radio shows.

Sinatra was no angel – he punched out bothersome photographers and in later years was always accompanied by heavies who would beat up people at Sinatra’s signal. On the good side of the ledger, he was a generous man – he gave away 300 gold cigarette lighters and helped pay medical bills for poorer entertainers and hated racial prejudice of any kind. Rumour, apparently supported by fact, has it that Sinatra was buddies with many of the powerful gangsters of the day such as Lucky Luciano and Sam Giancana. The authors inform us that Sinatra’s grandparents came from the same small Sicilian town as Luciano; that Sinatra once acted as courier in taking a satchel with a million dollars from Giancana to Joe Kennedy on behalf of Jack Kennedy’s presidential campaign; that Harry Cohn was threatened with death unless he gave Sinatra lead role in the film version From Here to Eternity. All these statements are encyclo- paedically footnoted and so they may well all be true. My only reservation is that Summers was one of the main protagonists for the widely held belief that Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kennedy had an affair – a connection that been seriously challenged by some biographers.

What is indisputably true is that Sinatra had affairs (and marriages) with some of the most beautiful women in America including Ava Gardner (his most lasting but doomed love), Mia Farrow, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Juliet Prowse plus many others less known though some of them – judging by photos – were even more beautiful than the better known names. The much-publicised adoration of bobbysoxers was according to George Evans, Sinatra’s press agent, 98% synthetic.

Faults and all, Sinatra was a guy who is hard to dislike – at least from a distance. His lasting achievement was to turn pop music into an art form. As for the now much vaunted ‘I Did it My Way’ as a biographical theme statement – hotly denied by Sinatra himself – his own son said it summed up his father exactly.

books_digging up.jpgDIGGING UP DEEP TIME
By Paul Willis and Abbie Thomas, ABC books, $34.95
This book has a resonant title – what could be more romantic than finding the fossilised remains of strange and unknown animals from the distant past? That our earth and the universe is so ancient seems appropriate in the grand scheme of things. Currently, scientists believe the earth is 4.6 billion years old and the universe at least 13 billion years old. A five-decade-plus living fossil such as myself has no business feeling old.

Australia is one of the oldest chunks of terra firma and is particularly fossil-rich. This book visits fifteen of the most well known sites. At Marvel Bar, the hottest place in the country, are the microscopic remains of bacteria known as cyano- bacteria believed to be 3.465 billion years old. Also long in the tooth are stroma- tolites found at Shark Bay, Western Australia, which resemble stone cauliflowers. The Marble Bay fossils are not accepted by all scientists; Martin Brasier of the University of Oxford thinks the ‘fossils’ are just tiny clumps of impurities in the rock.

The theory that life on earth could have originated from Mars - prompted by the finding of an Antarctic meteorite in 1996 – is given an airing but no firm conclusions drawn. Until we find better or indeed some evidence of life on Mars itself, the Martian hypothesis, drawn only from objects found on earth, looks shaky.

In 1979, myoscolex, the world’s oldest fossilised muscle tissue, was discovered on Kangaroo Island. Also located – and boxed in high relief – is the World’s Oldest Poo though tantalisingly, the age of this Methuselah-style dung is not given. At times the prose of the enthusiastic authors waxes poetic – the elegant (!) lungfish (it was news to me that some fish had lungs) is described as ‘graceful and beautiful as an exotic dancer in flowing gowns’. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholders.

Arguably, some of the most colourful finds were found at the Wellington caves which were water-colour sketched by Augustus Earle of the HMS Beagle. This New South Wales site yielded up two of my favourite beasties – Thylacinus Carnifex, better known as the marsupial lion, which could snap off an arm with one bite, and the buffalo-sized Diprotodon, the largest-known marsupial (which was originally mistaken for an elephant.)

Boxed biographies of leading fossil finders and locations indicating where to view the fossils are appended to the end of each chapter in this highly informative book which is a must for school-aged paleontologists or anyone interested in fossils.

books_surviving with wolves.jpgSURVIVING WITH WOLVES
By Misha Defonseca, Portrait, $49.95
At first viewing, it sounds like a fairy tale or extract from a mediaeval bestiary: One snowy morning a Little Girl’s Mother and Father are taken away by Bad Men to a Far-Off Land. The little girl is adopted by a nasty godmother. One day the little girl decides to run away and find her parents. She gets lost in the woods and is adopted by a mother wolf who brings her food ... and the little girl survives to tell her tale, though unlike a fairy story she does not find her missing parents.

Surviving with Wolves is one of those heroic harrowing stories that makes me reflect on what a soft, hardship-free life I’ve been lucky enough to lead. Defonseca survived freezing weather with no shoes, encounters with brutal German soldiers (including one who tried to rape her whom she stabbed to death) wild gypsies, a primitive terrain all but bereft of food. She began her journey with two apples, a loaf of bread, some gingerbread and a compass. She was eight years old.

A prominent role model and undoubtedly one who gave her an example of courage was her grandfather, who said of Hitler, ‘... he’s a madman who wants to repaint the world in his own colour’. It is, of course, Hitler who is behind the disappearance of her parents. From he grandfather she learnt much about nature, how to use a compass, and how to laugh while from Virago, her bullying foster ‘mother’, she learnt how to hate. During her privation when she would eat the pine needles, bark of trees and even dirt, she would lift her morale by talking to her painful feet, telling them that they must go on.

This soul-warming story of heartbreak and perseverance draws the reader in so that when she finds bread and a piece of bacon we too feel as though we are enjoying a banquet. The scenes with wolves are deeply moving and in my view are yet another illustration of how mammals at large often show the unlikely capability to form a bond with other mammals. The key is to be neither aggressive nor afraid.

Her mother had read her stories of wolves which did contain any notion that wolves were dangerous. When she read Little Red Riding Hood she was outraged by its false notions of human cannibalism. In the end, she smelt of wolf which made it easier for other wolves to accept her. Acting submissive around the top wolf and even rolling on her back with her limbs in the air in imitation of a lolling pup also earned her wolverine approbation.

After surviving such a barbaric environment, the sight of a young American soldier handing out chocolates, sweets and tinned beef must have been a surreal experience. Surviving with Wolves is an honest and moving account of how an angelic-looking little girl showed extraordinary physical and moral courage in a quest for love and belonging.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Mar 05, AU Edition

RPoutlook(no Palms).jpg

Mauritius is a relatively undiscovered jewel in the Indian Ocean – so get there before everyone else does

Forget the South Pacific or Caribbean: it’s the Indian Ocean that home to some of the world’s best island hotspots. And one of the greatest of them all is the Republic of Mauritius, a uniquely multicultural African island east of Madagascar. It is so beautiful that Mark Twain wrote upon arrival: “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.”

British, Indian and French influences make this destination a multicultural dream which sets Mauritius apart from other destinations – as does its bargain-basement vacation rates, which are more than fair for a true tropical paradise.

One heads to Mauritius to relax, enjoy the beach and all it has to offer, and direct flights from Perth and Sydney make getting there a relative breeze. Even better, travelers can get by on $10 to $20 a day for food, and $40 to $80 a day for lodging. When you consider what you get (the sun, beach, and aquatic activities) this really is a steal.
There are a wide variety of hotels and resorts to stay at, including those run by Beachcomber Hotels, providing a range of quality resort hotels with locations to match. Featuring superb accommodation, high standards of service, outstanding quality, plus a host of inclusions, spending time in any of these resorts is a pleasure. One can enjoy the thrill of water-skiing or windsurfing, work off some excess energy on the tennis or volleyball court, or marvel at the spectacular underwater world from a glass-bottom boat. And for a nominal fee golfers can enjoy a round on one of the most spectacular resort courses in the world, located at the Paradis resort.

To further tantalize you and provide a taste of all this country has to offer, I’ve prepared a packed three-day itinerary, for which all you need to bring is a bathing suit, suntan lotion and a relaxed attitude.

DAY 1: Grand Baie
At Mauritius’ most popular tourist center, you’ll be visually overloaded by the white sand and blue water. Some quick orientation: Grand Baie is about 18 kilometres north of Port Louis and easily accessible by the regular, albeit slow, Mauritian bus system.

In the late morning, after a breakfast of fresh juice and fruit, cruise the sheltered bay and you’ll feel the relaxed energy that makes a visit here a must. If you’ve done your research or picked up a brochure or two from your hotel’s lobby, you will be itching to do Grand Baie’s most renowned water-related activities.

Everything from yachting and snorkeling to water-skiing and simply swimming is available. The perfect weather (it is so regularly sunny, you can set your watch by it) allows for prime conditions for all these exci-ting opportunities, which come free of charge at
many resorts.

If you want a snapshot of the beautiful reefs without getting wet, take a ride on La Nessee, a semi-submersible boat that gets up close and personal with all forms of aquatic life. Other out-of-the-ordinary activities include an undersea walk, à la a Jules Verne novel. Wearing an astronaut-like helmet and lead boots, you can explore the Mauritian waters without having to swim up to the surface for air. Deep-sea fishing is also highly popular and available in the outlying areas of Grand Baie.

After outdoing yourself for a few hours enjoying one or more of these unique experiences, hit a restaurant to quell your hunger. Just outside of the beach area, you’ll see why Grand Baie is often called the Cote d’Azur of Mauritius – the shops and eateries reflect the trendy areas around them and are not tourist traps in any sense.

Dine at Sakura Restaurant for prime Japanese fare or Lotus of the Garden for original cuisine in an Indonesian setting. For true local Creole food, you’ll have to look at smaller, more intimate places around town.

Walk off the big meal by heading down Sunset Boulevard, a fashion center with unbeatable prices. After picking up new threads, head back to the restaurant area for some crafts and boutique shops which feature native art, Asian handicrafts and cheap jewelry. Drop off the loot back at your hotel (if you’re staying in Grand Baie) and then prepare for a night out on the town.

DAY 2: Ile aux Cerfs
For only 80 Mauritian rupees (just under $4) tourists and locals alike can experience a living, breathing paradise. This is how much the 20-minute ferry ride costs for you to travel from Pointe Maurice to Ile aux Cerfs, an islet on the east coast of Mauritius.

A disclaimer: if you are staying near Port Louis in the west, you’ll have to take a long bus ride to get here. Try and arrive as early in the morning as possible, since you need the whole day to enjoy the island.


Any effort to reach this slice of beauty is worth it. This will become evident once you set foot on the island’s sprawling beaches. From this vantage point, you can see the enticing lagoon waters, prime sunbathing spots and straw-roofed bars, restaurants and shops. Start out the day with what Mauritius is all about: relaxing on the beach. Pick an area (secluded spaces are available if you want to spend time looking) grab a book and just let time slip by.

The sun, sound of the surf and lazy atmosphere will make you forget about all your stress in an instant. Sleep has been known to set in for most of the sunbathers at Ile aux Cerfs.

When you do wake up from your slumber, sit back at Lor Brizan Bar with a traditional afternoon tea, or, if you want something that packs a little more punch, a Pina Colada. There is also a very convenient beach bar service as well.

Follow this up by taking a walk around the accessible section of the island’s coast (the whole walk takes 3 hours if you’re up to it) and the fact that there is heaven on earth will finally sink in – the view of the palm trees, ocean and sand is indescribable.

Grab an exotic sorbet from one of the beachside kiosks – but don’t savor it too long. The island’s last ferry ride out is at 5 p.m. and an overnight stay is prohibited.

DAY 3: Port Louis
Finish off your trip to tropical paradise with something a little different. Mauritius puts its history and many-layered culture out for all to see in the capital of Port Louis. A relatively large city, considering how small Mauritius is, a lot of interesting sight-seeing
opportunities await you here.

A good starting point is Place d’Armes in the oldest region of the city. Check out the interesting buildings here, as well as the St. James and St. Louis Cathedrals. The Port Louis Market is nearby and represents a good place to grab some lunch. It is a prime place to see Mauritians in their comfort zone, haggling for fruits, vegetables, fish, crafts, and spices.

The multiculturalism of the city is most obvious here, where people from all races and walks of life congregate daily. Remember that sellers can spot tourists a mile away and will not hesitate to quadruple prices for the souvenirs you want. To counteract this, make like locals and bargain like mad. You shouldn’t have trouble in English, since it is as widely spoken as Creole and French.


Return to Place d’Armes and find a bench or table to sit and munch at the exotic fruits bought back at the market. When that’s done, get more tastes of the varying cultures by visiting the Muslim quarter, centered around Muammar El Khadafi Square. Funny enough, the main mosque, Jummah, is not situated here. You’ll find it in the city’s bustling Chinatown area, another place worth taking a look at.

As evening comes along, you’ll find that most of the city closes down. The one shining star now is Le Caudan Waterfront, a bustling area with shops, restaurants and bars. If you want to drop more money on souvenirs, try Le Talipot or Macumba. As for dinner, ignore the fact that the area has become somewhat Americanized (there’s a Pizza Hut) and sit down at Grand Ocean City for Chinese or Kela Patta for Indian food. Though it rarely needs to prove itself, Mauritius is so much more than your typical island resort. You can be astounded by its beaches, beautiful people, relaxing opportunities, and diverse cultures all at once. Add to this string of pros the cheap cost of experiencing it all and there leaves little doubt that Mauritius is an ideal vacation spot. Take it all in, you won’t regret it. –AskMen.com

* Petty crime is an issue in Port Louis and the main tourists spots, so watch your wallet and valuables at all times.
* All travelers to Mauritius must already have a return ticket booked – proof of this is needed at the airport. The good news is, Australians don’t need a visa; just showing up with a passport lets you stay for thirty days.
* Don’t be limited only by the beaches mentioned here: Mauritius has many other great ones as well, including Belle Mare and Flic en Flacq.
* Tourism is increasing by 10% each year, so get on board before everyone else does!

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:50 PM | Comments (0)


Australian families are spending more on education than ever – but what are they getting for their money? A crash course in left-wing political indoctrination, heaps of parties, but not much in the way of real learning, says SAMANTHA HO

Once upon a time when children finished school, their families could wish them well and send them on their way. Their offspring might have decided to pursue a career in surveying, nursing, soldiering, chorus dancing, boiler-making, or home-making. But whatever well-trodden path the children chose, the majority of parents from thirty-odd years ago could look forward to having some privacy again as a couple. This was just as true for more well-to-do parents, whose release from their young came when their young intelligentsia moved out to go
to university.

Happy to escape the suburbs, Australia’s new undergraduates would collect a bunch of milk crates for furnishings and set up a share house with other students. Then they would start a band, have pregnancy scares, and read Marx (Karl, not Groucho) at bus stops while smoking French cigarettes. Quite often, the university students of old would also concentrate on confounding the working public via wacky gags like handing out the Pill to nuns while playing double bass clad only in Marx noses (Groucho this time). Then, of course, they graduated to become barristers, diplomats, doctors, politicians, and academics, building wonderful wine cellars, donating a wing or two to their old high schools, and holidaying in the south of France. Their path through university was aided by the scholarships and living allowances that the Commonwealth used to hand out to a majority of students.

Such taxpayer-funded generosity was quite forthcoming thirty years ago when tertiary institutions were no-fee finishing schools for the well-to-do, and enrolled less than a third of the more than 900,000 students who cram today’s campuses. But like all good parties, that one wasn’t meant to last, and when the Hawke Government expanded a university education into a mass market phenomenon in the late 1980s, fees appeared and started rising, as did heavy restrictions on student assistance schemes. The proportion of students receiving Commonwealth scholarships and other benefits fell from about two thirds thirty years ago to less than thirty per cent now.

The results of this shift might please armchair anthropologists given to admiring the social cohesion of countries where nine or ten generations of a single family customarily live under the one roof. Others weep.

Do you have a university student in your household? Whether you are helping with the fees or simply covering other expenses, tertiary study these days eats money. One way or another you’re probably paying through the nose for the privilege of helping your young know-it-all join the ever-expanding ranks of the university educated.

Even a place subsidised by the government under what was known as the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (now it’s called Commonwealth-supported) can cost about $8,000 a year. Full-fee places for students who fall a mark or two short of the entry cut-off can be billed at more than $20,000 per year.

Then there’s all the textbooks, photocopying, stationery, SMS bills, food and fun costs, and compulsory student union fees.
The non-tuition costs of university life quickly drain the wallet with many textbooks small-run, high-price editions and annual compulsory union fees of up to $590. Not to mention another $7,000 or so each year in rent for those lucky or resourceful students who move to a share house in defiance of this age of “adultescence” – the epidemic of children living with their parents into their twenties and even thirties. And for parents whose kids live at home, the situation is even worse.

So is all this worth the thousands you and the students pay, and the billions the government pours in courtesy of your taxes?

thinker1 copy.jpgWhen the government recently admitted a drastic shortage of skilled labour and said that Australia might have to admit another 20,000 foreign tradespeople to keep industry and the economy alive, they certainly weren’t talking about any urgent need for more batches of “social researchers”, “advocates”, or “change agents” – all graduate career paths listed in this year’s NSW universities admissions guide.
No, they were talking about graduates with functional and constructive skills – engineers, health professionals, and people who can actually do stuff like build ships, rather than merely interpreting the changing role of seamen in representations of queer identity.

Of course, the trades are not for the squeamish - wielding welders can be a good deal more hazardous to one’s health than waving about a sociology text.

Physically, at least. For surely it can’t be good for the soul to spend years indulging in intellectual tomfoolery – which is the only way to describe an awful lot of what goes on in Australia’s tertiary classrooms.

Some of the more offensive variety are disguised amongst what would seem to be fairly straightforward but growing vocational areas, like communications. That’s journalism, public relations, or marketing right? Wrong.

Have a look at the communications offerings at one of Australia’s more cutting-edge institutions, the University of Technology, Sydney. Here we find the wonderful Bachelor of Communications (social inquiry), which gives whiners the opportunity to feel right at home in what used to be the realm of tough, critical thinking. But then again, why master the hard-won secrets of engineering or physics when you can indulge in the opinion-page pleasing zone “where social theory, research and communication converge. It offers … [students] the skills to participate effectively in social change.”

One could be forgiven for thinking that social change was what pioneering doctors, lawyers or engineers did in bringing their skills to the outback or to the downtrodden, or what urban planners could do by ditching the Macquarie Fields/Redfern-style ghetto model of public housing.

But no, social change is a discrete topic in today’s universities.
The “professional subjects” for budding social changers include “social change, Australian history and politics, belief systems, cultural studies, globalisation, [and] gender and diversity.” (A prize for the reader who can guess which way this all leans in terms of its ideological underpinnings.)

And while we’re at UTS, let’s take a look at some of the traditional courses. How about nursing, an area where the Federal Government just gave UTS a stack more places to make up for the University of Sydney’s decision to phase out of undergraduate nursing.

In between learning to care for people, budding nurses have the opportunity to study Organisational Relationships, where they learn about “critical issues of health care delivery … with particular emphasis on the effects of power, policy and politics”.

Do you have any young kids, or are you planning some? Well, let’s take a look at what our next generation of teachers are learning.
With Australia crying out for more skilled, literate and numerate workers who aren’t snobs about doing hard yakka, what better subject for our teachers could there be than UTS’s Sociology of Education, where topics include “the direction of social change and the nature of globalisation”. No wonder so few people were surprised when Wayne Sawyer, president of the NSW English Teachers Association, announced that he thought his profession wasn’t doing its job if students kept graduating and voting for the wrong guy, i.e., Howard.

In an era crying out for Realpolitik, is it any wonder the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s latest online graduate recruiting drive features a trainee whose background is not in the humanities, but in the logic-heavy disciplines of mathematics and computer science? Plus the trainee, Axel, has actually learnt foreign languages instead of doing vacuous “cultural studies”.

lawn1 copy.jpg
But then again, if DFAT have any questions about how the world works, they only need to pick up the phone to the student unions, who operate on budgets totalling hundreds of millions of dollars nationally, and who use their funding to develop deeply wise policies and positions on everything. With membership of student unions compulsory in every state except Western Australia, chances are the students in your household have been forced to give money to a small clique of delusional ratbags who would die off the moment that unionism becomes voluntary.

First cab off the rank could be the National Union of Students (NUS), an um- brella organisation that collects millions of dollars each year from its affiliate campuses.

The NUS spends up big on get-togethers where it thrashes out wildly entertaining “platforms”, such as a gem from 2001 when the NUS expressed its outrage that the US and its allies attacked the Taliban and al Qa’ida, in a “racist war of terror”. In a dastardly twist, the evil US’s attack on Islam’s theocratic fascists in Afghanistan “perpetuates women’s and queer oppression”.
Cool, huh?

The Taliban executed homosexuals by collapsing walls on them and barred women from attending school, but somehow it all turns into a Western plot, and the NUS called on “the US government and its ally, Australia, to withdraw troops and military operations”. It would be hilarious if this was some nutter’s blog instead of a multimillion dollar organisation funded by hundreds of thousands of university students.

The totalitarian impulse has bled out of much of Western society since the end of the Cold War, but not in student unionism, where the NUS proclaims that “under capitalism the university does not function as a site of critical learning, but rather as a training ground for industry and big business.”

OK, so how do we explain the skills shortage and the preponderance of “social change” courses?

But wait, it gets better: “A fundamental restructuring of the education sector, and of society, is necessary.”

Says who? A pack of undergraduate nitwits who have grown fat off the proceeds of compulsory student unionism.

Luckily for students who would rather make up their own minds whether they want to spend hundreds of dollars each year joining a union, the Federal Government will later this year introduce Voluntary Student Unionism legislation to the Senate. Expect plenty of noise.

And as pointed out in a recent rare moment of the Sydney Morning Herald reporting first and spinning second, the NUS is struggling to come up with a response to the dire threat of consumer choice.

Their main counter attack so far has been an Orwellian assault on language. From the NUS website: “It is very important that we take control of the language being used … Voluntary Student Unionism [VSU] is a positive term in a linguistic sense, and in an ideological sense, for some.”

Can’t let choice be positive: “Instead of VSU … say Anti-Student Organisation.”

In fact, don’t even use the word ‘union’ in this individualist era: “Instead of student union say student organisation or student council.”

And sidestep the ugly truth: “Never refer to compulsory fees or membership. Always use universal membership or universal fees.”
So this will be an interesting year if you have a student at home.
Either they will be happily under the capitalist thumb, learning something useful or intellectually rigorous, or they will somehow combine a zeal for social change with white-hot fury that the Commonwealth wants to give students like them more freedom of choice.

And if you want to get your money’s worth when helping a child through university, encourage them to learn the core disciplines of their area of interest, subjects like mathematics, history, or a language, rather than content-free spin-offs such as social change or cultural studies.
University costs plenty, so focus on the protein – not the frippery.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:45 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Mar 05, AU Edition

Neil Perry.jpg

Australia’s cable cooking programs give Eli Jameson tummy trouble

Is Foxtel holding Neil Perry’s dog hostage somewhere in the bowels of its Pyrmont broadcasting facility? The question would almost be worth asking, given the amount of time the celebrity chef and Rockpool owner spends schilling for the cable provider and submitting to mock interviews about why he’s so in love with his new digital cable setup.

Of course, that’s a bit over the top. Foxtel doesn’t need to use standover tactics to get Perry to lend a hand any more than Range Rover does to get Perry to drive one of their cars. (As a “Land Rover Ambassador”, that company’s website tells us, “Neil Perry drives a Range Rover which perfectly represents his position as one of the countries leading chefs owning and operating the famous Rockpool and XO restaurants in Sydney.”) Instead, the cable provider simply airs series after series of Perry-themed programming, including his deadly-dull restaurant infomercial known as “Neil Perry’s Rockpool Sessions.”

As a result of all this publicity, Perry has catapulted himself into that upper firmament of brand-name celebrity chefs that includes former Perry employee Kylie Kwong and Sydney café owner Bill Granger – who, in keeping with the small-world nature of the Australian food world, once worked with Kwong as well. (This is in contrast to such great Australian chefs as Tim Pak Poy, who for years ran one of the best restaurants in the country but generally stayed out of the limelight).

Close business histories are not all the three have in common. Perry, Kwong and Granger share an admirable belief that consumers should demand the freshest ingredients possible, a philosophy that has led to better quality and diversity on Australian shelves. And, on their shows at least (when there isn’t an army of prep chefs around to do the scut work), the three also preach a gospel of simplicity which holds that cooking should be easy, not intimidating, and most of all, not time-consuming. Endless chopping, basting, and roasting are out; a quick sear in the grill pan and a drizzle with a just-whisked dressing before rejoining one’s guests for another champers in the backyard is in. One almost never sees a “hero” – the pre-prepared dish that went into the oven ages ago to be pulled out at just the right moment in shooting – on these shows, since everything is quickly tossed together a la minute, as they say in the restaurant business.

This is all very well and good, but those of us who actually like to muck about in the kitchen, get excited when zucchini flowers show up in the shops, and never buy pre-made ravioli because it’s so much more fun to make one’s own, I think. Or rather, back in the heat of the kitchen, while everyone else sits in the lounge room watching Bill Granger’s family scramble over each other to eat breakfast in bed.
At least Ian Hewitson (a pioneer Melbourne restaurateur in his own right), with all his sponsored brand loyalties, spends most of his show, Huey’s Cooking Adventures, actually cooking. Which makes the fact that he once told viewers to make garlic mayonnaise by first glopping a few spoonfuls of store-bought mayo into a bowl almost forgivable.

Sure, that may seem lazy, but it’s nothing compared to Granger, who thinks twenty minutes stirring risotto is a chore and once spent an entire segment of his Lifestyle Channel program explaining that Italian delis are great places to buy ready-to-eat picnic supplies. Now really, in 2005 Australia, do we need to be told that Italian delis are great places to pick up good cheese and olives?
Thus those looking to TV to improve their skills in the kitchen in a serious manner – and not just pick up a new way to combine seared salmon, sesame oil, and Asian greens – have to look abroad, especially to the UK, to do so. (If someone had told me, a decade ago, that today most of my cookbooks would be by British chefs, I would have asked them if they also saw a serious taste bud-injuring accident in my future).

Nigella Lawson, for one, is a great believer in celebrating the techniques of cooking, and is absolutely unapologetic about the fact that time and effort spent in the kitchen is in no way mutually exclusive with having a good time. Fellow Briton Gary Rhodes, meanwhile, manages to combine a passion for fresh ingredients with an instinctual feel for the fine line that separates what is challengingly possible in the home kitchen to that which makes ambitious solo chefs pull their hair out, pour another glass of wine, and order pizza instead. And even Jamie Oliver, behind his luverly-jubberly cockney routine, still manages to cram an awful lot of ideas and “hey-I-didn’t-know-that” tips into his show.

It’s a shame, though, that a country that likes to think of itself as sophisticated about food and where a woman can lose the chance to lead her political party because her kitchen isn’t sleek enough is not producing more chefs who want to share their knowledge and do their part to increase viewers’ skills. Certainly there is a market for it, if the demand for books and programs by the likes of Lawson and Oliver is any indication. Maybe Perry and Co. are worried that if too many secrets get out, Australians will stop going to their restaurants for the really challenging stuff and start doing it themselves.

Gin is generally thought of as a historically British spirit – think District Commissioners touching it with bitters on the verandah at the end of a hard day administering their particular corner of the Empire, or the very English Col. Henderson berating the help for putting ice in the G&Ts in The Year of Living Dangerously – but it actually has a very international history.

Invented by the Dutch (hence the phrase “Dutch courage”) in the 1600s, the British took to it in droves during the reign of William and Mary, and later discovered mixing it with tonic water was an agreeable way to ward off malaria.

But today some of the best gin in the world isn’t being produced in Northern Europe, but much closer to home in New Zealand. Sold in a tall, sleek bullet of a bottle, South’s makers advise that their customers “leave the tonic in the fridge” – and they’re right. This is a gin that exists on an entirely different plane. Martini drinkers who would never think of sullying their cocktail shaker with anything but Bombay Sapphire will suddenly wonder how they had spent so many years in the wilderness.

Because the thing about South is that it is as smooth as a newborn’s skin, the result of a double-distilling process that creates a grain-neutral spirit that works as incredibly clean canvas for the brewer. From there, traditional ingredients such as juniper berries (of course), lemon, orange, and coriander seeds are added – as well as some very new world ingredients, including manuka berries and kawakawa leaves. The end result is a gin that, despite the high alcohol content, lets drinkers play with it almost like a wine, picking out various flavors that come and go as it passes through the mouth. Just a touch of vermouth and a quick shake-and-strain with some very cold ice is all that’s needed to bring it to life.

South’s parent company also sells fantastic premium vodka called 42 Below – a reference to their distillery’s line of latitude – in a variety of flavours. Their manuka honey vodka, chilled to the point where it starts to get a little syrupy, is particularly delicious.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)


Home care, not day care. A “French” model for pre-schooling. Helping “supermums” do it all. Investigate editor JAMES MORROW recently caught up with controversial federal MP Bronwyn Bishop, who’s just launched a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s flagging birth rate and the work-life balance, to discuss what Canberra can do to persuade more people to have kids, and help those who’ve already taken the parenthood plunge

INVESTIGATE: You’ve just announced that your Standing Committee on Family & Human Services is launching an inquiry into Australia’s birthrate and work-life balance, and perhaps the best way to
begin is to ask, what ways do you see government being able to effect change in this sort of area of Australians’ lives?

BRONWYN BISHOP, MP: Well the first thing is, it’s not peculiar to us, it is a problem affecting the whole of the Western civilized world, that countries are losing population. So there’s already been a lot of discussion about it, and I think that it is timely that we start to bring it together.

My interest grew in this initially from 1999, when I was Minister for Aged Care, and when I had responsibility for the Year of the Older Person, and of course I really wanted to understand and document the impact of an aging population on Australia’s population. So I commissioned Access Economics to do the research, and that
was the first research that was done – from which we subsequently got the Inter-generational Report.

But the problems that we identified – how do you keep mature-age workers in the work force, issues of productivity, all that – we’ve passed that period, and we know where to go. The corollary is: what do we do about people in their twenties and thirties? We know that people stay in education longer, people have children later, we know that one quarter of women will never have any children, and we want to look at the reasons why people are doing that.

INVESTIGATE: Sure, and the reasons a lot of people have cited are that people want to have a career, get themselves situated, have various life experiences, travel, and all that – how can you effect a cultural shift and have people go back to where they want to start a family earlier?

BISHOP: It’s not a question of going back to where we were; it’s a question of what pressures can be relieved through the use of public policy. What can we do to make people feel that they can in fact create an environment and a home where they can feel comfortable keeping a relationship and a family intact, and what are the policies that can help bring that about?

Now under the terms of reference we’re looking at taxation, because taxation is the driver of so many things and so many behaviours. Obviously the question of childcare will arise, and we will be certainly looking at other countries’ models, and we will be looking at countries like France. In terms of childcare they seem to have a system which gives more children care, and their birthrate is now above ours – they’ve pushed it up again.

INVESTIGATE: Of course if you look at a place like France, you’re also talking about a place where you have large groups of immigrant families who are having many more children than the native-born population, to say nothing of all the economic problems they’ve had from the social benefits that make it more expensive to
hire someone…

BISHOP: Well, France has a problem with a lot of the way it organizes itself, such as the fact that they introduced a 35-hour work week. We’re not the slightest bit interested in that, and I think it has been pejorative for the French nation. And from a family point of view, there is a lot of evidence around that it actually makes it harder for women to work and raise a family because it is a lot tougher to have certainty of hours.

But in other policies, such as where they have an effective pre-school system for children three to six, which covers 99% of French children, certainly immigration is part of the question – we have immigration here too and we would cease to grow if were not
for immigration.

INVESTIGATE: On the question of childcare here, there’s a huge problem with the actual number of childcare places. Parents get a benefit for the money they pay, and get some of that back, and that goes with the whole question of tax policy – but an awful lot of parents can’t get their kids into a place. What can be done about this?

BISHOP: Look, why do we put all our resources into childcare places, which at the end of the day is an institution? Why aren’t we looking, as we have with other service deliveries, why aren’t we looking at the home? We made a good start with the 30% rebate which will come in from 2006 for childcare expenses, but again that’s through childcare places. We’ll certainly be looking at options and alternatives.
Going back to my aged care analogy, people don’t really want to be in institutions, they want to be at home. And asMinister I introduced thousands of [funded] places for people to remain in their own homes. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t look at service delivery in other ways.

INVESTIGATE: When you say “in the home”, you mean making it easier for parents to stay at home with their children, or to have people come in and look after kids, or what?

BISHOP: Well, we actually need young women to return to the workforce. We made a big investment in their education, the country needs a return on that, and they know they’ve got a one-in-two chance of being divorced. They need to get their skills up because they might be heading up their own families. So all these things are all very real issues.

But looking at help in the home – instead of having to go into an institution to do that – there is some evidence of that happening in France. So we’ll be looking at those things as well.

INVESTIGATE: What about leave policies? I know that’s something that Pru Goward has been talking a lot about – questions of how you get people to take advantage of benefits fully. For men, for example, they may not want to take advantage of parental leave in their office if it leaves them vulnerable to getting overtaken by someone else in their office who doesn’t.

BISHOP: To me, maternity leave is no doubt to be discussed. My personal view is that when you’re looking at issues of decisions to have a child and to be in the workforce, it’s not a thirteen week problem, it’s a thirteen year problem. And it could be a thirty year problem! But in reality, we have to look outside the square and look beyond our regular way of doing things.

INVESTIGATE: Speaking of outside the square, you’ve brought up France a couple of times, and you’ve mentioned their polices of services in the home. Help us get our heads across some of these ideas, how this would work.

BISHOP: One of the ideas would be to have a tax deduction for paying people who come and work in your home to come and care for not only children but also do aged care, look after grown parents, and so on, in people’s homes. I took a look at the ABS figures and found that for those sorts of jobs that are in the black economy, they’re worth about six billion dollars in foregone tax. So it’s not all an expenditure question, it’s also one of creating proper jobs – all those things need to be looked at.

INVESTIGATE: I’m sure you saw the Australian this morning, which reported the latest numbers from the OECD on taxation and marginal tax rates and how much money the government takes. There seems to be a lot of talking about giving people benefits for this and that rather than just cutting people’s tax, letting them keep more on the front end, and making up their own minds what to do with it.

BISHOP: Look, my personal views on this are well known. I’m a strong believer in the philosophy of free enterprise and individualism. Individuals will always spend their money more wisely than governments who take it and say we’re going to spend it on your behalf. That is the basic position I come from philosophically, and the principles of free enterprise are really as immutable as the laws of gravity.

INVESTIGATE: So then just as part of thinking outside the square, your inquiry might wind up recommending a real overhaul in the way we do things in this country, and get to keep more money in the first place?

BISHOP: Well I’m certainly not going to predict what the outcomes will be. But there is more than one way to give money back to people. One way is to collect less money in the first place, through tax cuts, another way is through tax deductions, another is through rebates. And we’re going to have a 30% rebate on child care expenses in approved places. We have given the birth of a new child $3,000 – which is giving people more of their own money back.

INVESTIGATE: Well of course the $3,000 is great for new parents, but it’s a one-off, and they’re not getting that money back every year.

BISHOP: There is also the $600 per child, which is better than nothing…

INVESTIGATE: So with the idea of bringing people into the home, you’d have to obviously develop some sort of new accreditation system I presume? How would that work? I could imagine there would be a real danger of creating a whole new bureaucracy around this.

BISHOP: One thing – and these are all things we have to explore – we have to explore withholding tax, and getting these carers a tax file number, and getting them into the system. You know, when I speak to large groups of people and say hands up anyone who knows someone who pays for these sorts of tax in cash, well, forests of hands go up. It’s in the black economy, and it’s money that could be captured. But it’s just one of the things we’re thinking about.

INVESTIGATE: What are some of these other ideas that we might be seeing down the track out of this inquiry? This is, after all, the number one issue these days it seems.

BISHOP: Absolutely, there are some firms that have crèches, and there’s Family Tax Benefit, and we’ll talk about that. So there are just a lot of things to be discussed. And I think the inquiry gives us the opportunity – because so many areas have been discussed in so many unconnected ways – to bring it all together and connect up the dots.

INVESTIGATE: The thing with all these inquiries is getting from connecting all the dots to getting the government to change the way people do things – and as you say there are ways to change opportunities, to change the economic incentive, but how do you change the social attitudes around things such as having children in your twenties, when it’s safer and easier to do so?

BISHOP: Well of course, everything’s moved up, hasn’t it? I mean, forty is the new thirty; thirty is the new twenty. We’re living longer. We’ve got more time. But the biological clock hasn’t moved, of course…

INVESTIGATE: The whole problem of women who say, “oops, I forgot to have a baby” – is your inquiry going to look at ways to change attitudes and remind people that no matter what life expectancies are at 35 your fertility is declining and you need to be seriously thinking about the order in which you do things?

BISHOP: Really our concern is, what are the barriers that make people think “it’s not for me”, or “maybe I would like to but I’ll only have one”? What are the barriers? We want to hear from women. We want to hear from employers, we want to hear about the impact of the return of women to the workforce and of women with tremendous skills being able to be mothers and wives without being a supermum. Some people talk about the myth of the supermum: it’s reality. So that’s what we’re starting out looking at. Then we will look at recommendations from that for public policy.

We’ve seen tremendous changes in the culture in the last thirty years. In the ‘80s we had a government that was encouraging people to leave the workforce at 55 – they simply had not done the forward projections. Anybody who had done the forward work would’ve known that was nuts: that they couldn’t afford to live the good life when they were only halfway through it. We had the situation where legislation was brought in changing the divorce laws in the ‘70s; that was a tremendous change in the culture. So cultural change has been fermenting for the last thirty years. And in the last twenty years there has been quite a tremendous shift. What we’re looking at is, how can we have good public policy?

That means people can have good fulfilling lives, and that involves having a family and having children. What are the impediments that people feel? What are the constraints? What are the things that make people think, “no, it’s not for me”?

What are those things, and what do we need to do in terms of good public policy – tax, providing services people. That is the question.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:32 PM | Comments (0)

FAMILY SECRET: Apr 05, AU Edition

Untold tens of thousands of women terminate their pregnancies every year in Australia. Thousands of others, desperate for a child of their own, undergo IVF and other painful and expensive fertility treatments. And, just to make things more interesting, somewhere around 20,000 kids are sitting in Australian foster homes right this moment, many of them craving a permanent, loving family to truly call their own.In between these stark realities stands adoption: an issue that, despite recent publicity surrounding it, most Australians leave in the “too hard” basket. Investigate editor JAMES MORROW sorts out the myths from realities and looks at why the adoption option deserves a second look

The first thing many strangers say when they meet Christine* and her five-year-old daughter is, “she looks
just like you”. Indeed, mother and daughter do share the same skin tone and chiseled European features.

The only thing they don’t share is DNA: Christine had ovarian cancer when she was 19, had both ovaries removed, and although grateful to be alive was left unable to have children of her own. And so, like a small number of Australians, Christine and her husband went down the long, sometimes expensive, and often frustrating path of adopting a baby in this country.

As highlighted by the surprise reunion earlier this year between Health Minister Tony Abbott and the son his girlfriend gave up for adoption when he was 19, adoption was once a routine practice in this country. But for a variety of reasons – increased access to abortion, more government assistance for single mothers, political concerns about “stolen generations”, and a loss of stigma around single motherhood among them – adoption has slowly but surely gone out of favour in this country.

In fact, there are now more babies adopted from overseas in Australia than actual Australian-born children placed as adoptive children in local homes. In 2003-04, the latest years for which figures are available, just 73 Australian-born children were adopted, down from 78 in the 2002-03 reporting period – continuing a trend that has been spiraling downwards for nearly three decades.

By way of comparison, in 1980-81, nearly twenty times that many local children (1,388 to be exact) were placed in adoptive homes.

Yet despite the much-discussed Australian fertility crisis – our 1.75 child-per-woman rate is hardly enough to keep the population steady – on the one hand and the vast number of children living in foster or “out-of-home” care on the other (more than 20,000 kids at any given time and growing, according to the latest numbers from the Australian Institute for Family Studies), adoption continues to remain on the sidelines of the family planning agenda.

Part of the reason for this is the time, effort and money involved in adopting a child – though, to be sure, many fertility treatments can also take years and run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Rules, procedures and costs vary from state to state and agency to agency, but $5,000 is a good starting point for any in-country adoption, with overseas adoptions likely to run to $20,000 to $40,000 or more, especially once plane tickets, accommodation, and other travel-related expenses are factored in. And money is no guarantee of getting a child, either: even qualified parents have been known to wait five, six, seven years or more before being allowed to take home a new member of their family, though two to three years seems the norm. “Adoptions are made so very carefully,” says Jane West, a spokesperson for Anglicare Adoption Services in Sydney.

Beyond being able to afford the cost (fees are waived forspecial-needs adoptions, says West), typically couples need to be between the ages of 21 and 45, have been married for three years (though some agencies accept de facto partners and singles) and be Australian citizens. Much of the expense comes from the training, background and reference checks and medical screens which are all performed. Once these steps are completed, the lucky couple is then put in a pool of applicants with no guarantee that they will ever be chosen.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, West points out that when a child is placed for adoption, his or her birth mother is given extensive counseling (as is the father, if he can be located) – a far cry from the bad old days when young mothers had to give up their children literally without so much as a second look. Birth mothers are given a selection of profiles of potential adoptive families to choose from, and have final say over with whom their child is placed.

“We had never really had any plans to adopt when we got married,” says Christine, who says that she had been thinking about the idea for a while when, one night, she turned to her husband in bed and said, “what do you think about adopting a child?” To her surprise, he thought that was a great idea, and before they knew it the couple from Sydney’s northern suburbs were taking the first steps into the maze of NSW’s adoption regime.

When they started the process in 1998, they had planned to go to Romania to find a child because they were under the belief, subtly encouraged by social workers, that there were simply no children available to adopt in Australia. And Christine and her husband were fine with that idea; as she says, “we figured that we’d be doing the right thing by giving a baby who needed one a home, the baby would be happy, we’d be happy and, well, everyone would be happy!”

But the more they researched it and found out that it was actually possible, the more they became convinced that they wanted to adopt a child born in this country – though Christine admits that initially she was scared off by the whole process of “open adoption”, which allows for contact between the birth mother and her offspring. (Indeed, the ongoing rights and feelings of the birth mother are one reason why Christine’s family has asked for anonymity).

“At first, I have to admit, it was really difficult from my perspective. It was like the changing of the guard: one family is accepting this new responsibility, and seeing the woman who gave birth to your child is probably the most difficult part of the whole adoption process,” she says.

In fact, when Christine and her husband initially filed their applications, they said that they were not keen on having contact with
the birth family, though they were encouraged when a DoCS social worker told them that, paradoxically, “the families who say they want the least contact often turn out to be the best candidates for open adoption”.

Even though it was initially difficult (her daughter sees her birth mother twice a year: once around her birthday, and once around Christmastime), Christine says it has actually been a blessing in disguise. “For my daughter, I think she’ll benefit from the contact,” she says. “And I know from my circle of friends who adopted from overseas that we are lucky to have this contact. In the beginning, yeah, it was extra stress, but now five years down the track I think it’s fantastic.” One feature Christine is especially keen on is the fact that her daughter has a real sense of where she comes from: “She knows her story, she knows everything, but it doesn’t really come up much. It’s just how it is. For the most part it’s been really positive.”

While Christine’s story has had a happy ending, she and others who have been intimately involved with adoption in Australia are concerned that, with so many children in need, far too many are being shuttled back and forth from foster homes to unsuitable and abusive family situations and back again – hurting their abilities to form trusting bonds with anyone, and creating thousands upon thousands of adults who will, in all likelihood, have repeated run-ins with the law or simply become wards of the state. A recent study by the CREATE Foundation, an advocacy group for children in state care, confirms that that is just what is happening, with those in foster care reporting that they are missing school, are victims of bullying, have trouble making and keeping friends, and are subject to everything from decreased educational aspirations to emotional instability and violence.

The head of the NSW Adoptive Parents Association, who, like Christine, has concerns for her privacy and that of her adoptive child’s birth mother and thus asks that her last name not be used, is a woman called Sonia. She recalls going to an Adelaide conference on adoption in 2004. Sitting in the audience amongst a thousand other delegates, she heard that there were many children in various state foster care systems who had gone through eleven or more placements in the space of just a few years – numbers confirmed by CREATE. According to Sonia, there is a golden opportunity here to connect at least some of these children up with parents wishing to adopt, and she believes the government ought to set some sort of time limit – even just a loose one – stating that after a certain amount of time in foster care, a child should be eligible to go into the adoption pool.

“Surely adopting would be more appropriate than long-term fostering”, she says. “We have learned from the stolen generation, and we’ve learned from the days when we forced adoption on girls when there wasn’t any other option, but since we don’t have that social structure anymore where women are forced into doing something they don’t want to do, why can’t we do something about it?”, she asks. “If a child has to spend, say, a year in foster care while some issues are sorted out, that’s one thing. But if we see that a child is going back and forth from foster home to birth parent and then back out again to some other foster home, there has to be a point at which we say, enough is enough?”

Having children is one of the most emotional and important issues to face Australians, both as individuals and as a nation. Without enough young people who have been raised up to be solid, productive citizens, fifty years from now the country will find itself in the same position as contemporary Western Europe.

There, an aging population which is incapable of replacing itself has been forced to make what now looks like a devil’s bargain with various increasingly hostile immigrant groups in order to keep their leaky welfare state economies afloat. While this sort of situation is unlikely to occur here – for one thing, Australia is generally a lot better at assimilating new migrants – the fact remains, we’re not raising enough kids to keep our economy growing at the sort of clip that has, until recently, been standard operating procedure.

So where does adoption fit in? Certainly, it takes a very special sort of person to decide to go through filling out the forms, sitting through the interviews, and writing the cheques that go along with becoming an adoptive parent. And, on the other hand, it also takes a very special kind of person to recognize that, under their particular circumstances, their child might be better off being placed with another family. All anecdotal indicators suggest that there are large numbers of parents who would consider adopting children if they thought that the process was easier and that there were more Australian-born kids who not only needed permanent homes, but were eligible for them as well. (Christine recalls that in a moment of candour, a DoCS social worker – who was later happily proved wrong – told her “there are no healthy babies out there for adoption”, an attitude which surely causes plenty of prospective parents to chuck in the towel before they even begin).

There are many things that need to happen before adoption is thought of as more than just a pricey and rare special offering on Australians’ menu of reproductive choices. Although Parliament has just undertaken an inquiry into international adoptions chaired by Bronwyn Bishop, MP (see interview, p. 42), something ought to be done on a federal level to streamline the domestic adoption process and streamline the chaotic maze of regulations that go from state to state. Part of this should include a look at allowing private adoptions, a process that has worked successfully for years in the United States to put couples in touch with women who want to adopt out a child.

Furthermore, too, cultural attitudes must shift, and concerns about repeating the mistakes of the past must eventually subside if they get in the way of doing good in the future. The number of terminations and children in foster care on the one hand and, on the other, the number of couples going through difficult infertility treatments shows that there are lots of parents who want children but can’t have them – and vice versa – in Australia.

* Not her real name; due to privacy concerns and Australia’s open adoption regime which keeps birth parents involved in their children’s lives, all the adoptive parents contacted by Investigate and named in this article have asked to remain anonymous.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:25 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Nov 05, AU Edition

Once a closed state, Carol Pucci discovers Laos is an unspoiled treat

LUANG PRABANG, Laos – At first it sounds like thunder. Then I recognize the beat of a drum and the hollow ring of a gong. It’s 4 a.m. and the neighbours across the street, the Buddhist monks of Wat Sene, are starting their day.

Two hours later, I step around the desk clerk asleep on the floor in the lobby of the Senesouk Guest House and walk outside. Lined up next to the red and gold pavilions inside the temple gate are dozens of orange-robed monks about to begin their daily ritual of collecting alms.

Barefoot young novices, some just school-age boys, follow the lead of the older monks as they walk in a single-file procession, tipping their lacquered bowls toward women kneeling along the roadside offering dollops of sticky rice.

One young monk yawns; another smiles when a woman substitutes a candy bar instead of rice. No one speaks.

The scene repeats itself every morning on nearly every street, country road and back alley in Luang Prabang, the ancient former royal capital of Laos. Thirty-two Buddhist temples housing more than 500 monks are part of a cache of historical treasures that led UNESCO to declare this the best-preserved traditional town in Southeast Asia.
Set 2,300 feet above sea level on a peninsula at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in northern Laos, the town of Luang Prabang, part of a jungle province surrounded by teak forests and limestone mountains, has always been a special place among the spiritual.

The first kingdom of Laos was established here in the 14th century. The last king to rule the country – Sisavang Vatthana – lived in the Royal Palace, now a museum, until shortly after a communist takeover following the Vietnam War.

Laos became the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975 and reopened in the late 1980s to outsiders after years of isolation. With its temples and collection of French-style mansions and shop houses, Luang Prabang was declared a World Heritage site in 1995, and began attracting Western travelers drawn to the absence of cars and crime and easy, slow pace.

Small enough to walk around in a few hours, this is a town that so far seems to have found its way onto the Southeast Asia tourist route without compromising its culture.

Along Thanon Xieng Thong, the sleepy main street lined with temples glittering with mirrored mosaic tiles, women wearing long, slim silk skirts amble by on bicycles or motorbikes, shading themselves with parasols.

Banana and palm trees shade alleyways leading to the misty Mekong. Pots boil over charcoal and wood fires at open-air breakfast restaurants. At the morning market, women crouch on low stools as they split sugar cane with machetes.

It’s possible to buy a cheeseburger, a latte or get a foot massage at a string of businesses catering to Western travelers. But there are no McDonald’s or Starbucks or high-rise hotels, and the World Heritage status is likely to quash any wholesale moves toward gentrification.
Laws ban construction of modern hotels in the historic center.

Instead, local officials encourage developers to renovate stylish old mansions, built when Laos was a French colony and European architecture thrived.

“The question is, how far do we want to go?” says Tara Gujadhur, an American hired by a Dutch organization to help local officials develop ecotourism.

The number of tourists visiting Luang Prabang grew from 67,000 in 1997 to 170,000 in 2002. “Our goal is not to become another Chiang Mai (a town in Northern Thailand that’s lost much of its charm to an influx of Western tourists) or to follow Thailand’s lead.”

Best advice: Get here soon. Rise early. Chat with a monk. Cruise the Mekong in a longtail boat. Wave at the sweet-potato and peanut farmers working the terraced hillsides.

Sit back. Sip an ice coffee at a riverside cafe at sunset.

For now at least, Luang Prabang is much like what most of Southeast Asia used to be – a slice of the world made for slowing down.

It didn’t take long for me to become a regular at the Sack Restaurant next door to my guesthouse where the bill for a banana pancake with a thin coat of honey, and a coconut shake, came to about $2.

One morning, the young owner split open a coconut for my shake, then while the pancake was cooking, took off on his motorcycle, and returned a few minutes later with his own breakfast.

“This is what Lao people eat,” he laughed, opening a packet of liver steamed in a banana leaf.

Most people speak French as well as Lao and almost everyone is anxious to practice their English.

I wandered into the temple grounds at Wat Sene one afternoon with hopes of putting a name and a face to the sea of orange robes filing by in the morning procession.

MonkGossip.jpgA young man standing outside near a giant standing Buddha figure wrapped in a silk sash introduced himself as Monk Chantha, age 20.
He dreams of one day teaching or working in computers. In the meantime, as a novice, he studies, prays and observes the many rules of Theravada Buddhism.

“No driving, no killing animals, no drinking, no eating after noon. And no swimming,” he smiles as we stand talking in the midday heat. “Only showers.”

Lao boys become monks for a day, a week, months or years, often as a way of gaining merit for their parents or a relative. Chantha, like many short-term monks, entered the temple in exchange for an education his family could not otherwise afford.

We exchanged e-mail addresses, but he warned that I might not hear from him often. “For us, it’s very expensive,” he says. I checked later at an Internet cafe. The price was about $1.50 per hour.
Westerners can travel like kings all over Southeast Asia, but Laos offers exceptional value. The currency is the kip, and with a 1,000-kip note worth about 20 cents, change for a $20 adds up to a thick wad of colorful bills.

An air-conditioned room in the eight-room Senesouk Guesthouse, with polished teak floors and modern bathrooms, costs $40; It’s possible to eat well at any of the riverside restaurants for $5-$6 a person including a large bottle of Beer Lao. There’s also a handful of upscale European-style guesthouses and bistros that cater to Western wallets, and a few are worth a splurge.

A bargain at $100 a night is a deluxe room in the Villa Santi, an elegant and graceful hotel in a mansion owned by the family of a former royal princess. Around the corner, at the French-owned L’Elephant bistro, friends and I sampled a menu of Laotian specialties for $15 each that included betel leaf soup, marinated pork and banana flower salad, marinated buffalo, and tropical fruits seasoned with pepper and lemon grass syrup.

Tourism has brightened the economic prospects for many in a country where the per capita income is $500 a year.

Longtail boats once carried only fishermen. Now they ferry tourists along the twisting Mekong. Twenty-five dollars buys a trip to the Pak Ou caves two hours upstream where grottoes carved into limestone cliffs house hundreds of Buddha statues. On the way back, the boats stop at a village where the locals make whiskey from rice and another that specializes in paper making and silk weaving.

Lim Somsy, a villager who sells paper lamps he makes from the bark of mulberry trees, explains that until five years ago, most of the 200 families living in the Mekong village of Xang Khone only farmed rice. Then tourism took off and the “whole village benefited.”

Perhaps it has to do with living under a Soviet-style government, but locals have adopted an entrepreneurial spirit that’s endearing in contrast with high-energy cities like Bangkok or Saigon, where travelers are sometimes hassled by annoying touts and scam artists.
“Lucky, lucky,” a young woman squatting on a straw mat piled with rows of silk scarves calls out as I walked by her stall at the night market. “You buy from me please.”

HmongGirl.jpgShe was among dozens of women who come in from the villages each night carrying bags filled with hand-sewn and woven textiles. “How much do you want to pay?” she asks, unfolding two or three scarves in colors that caught my eye.

In the village of Ban Aen, about a half-hour’s drive from Luang Prabang, brick and tile have replaced dried palm and thatched bamboo on some of the houses, signs of the new prosperity.

Bouncing around in the back of a tuk-tuk, an open-air truck with bench seats and a canopy, I came here to catch a boat for a 10-minute trip along the Nam Khan to the jungle waterfalls of Taat Sae.

As the driver turned into the village, I noticed two women standing on either side of the road holding a piece of string with plastic bags attached to it. As we approached, they grinned shyly and raised the string.

“The village entrance,” the driver laughs when I ask what was going on. He leaned out the window and handed one of the women two 1000 kip notes, worth 25 cents. Then they lowered the string and thanked us with big smiles and waves as we drove inside.

The Great Indochina Loop
29 days, ex Bangkok
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mekong River, Luang Prabang, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, Temples of Angkor
Brief: Journey through the heart, the soul and the many diverse delights of Indochina. The treasures of Thailand, the locals of Laos, the vibrancy of Vietnam and charisma of Cambodia - discover it all on this awesome adventure Asia.
Departure: Departs every Wednesday
Price: AU$2030 plus a Local Payment of US$400 per person.

A Taste of Laos
5 days, Vientiane to Luang Prabang
Trip Style: Intrepid Independent
Highlights: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Mekong River, Pak Ou Caves
Brief: Experience the essence of Laos on this short but enlightening trip. Colonial mansions, tree-lined boulevards and Buddhist temples impart a unique timelessness to the charming town of Vientiane, situated on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. The former royal capital of Luang Prabang never fails to enchant visitors with its abundance of temples, faded French provincial architecture and friendly people. Visit these sites and get a memorable introduction to a fascinating country, seemingly lost in time.
Departure: Departs daily
Price: AU$625, twin share per person or AU$960, single per person

When is the best time of year to travel?
Just about anytime is a great time to visit Laos as most of the year is hot and humid. There are three main seasons – hot, wet and cool. The hot season is from February to May, during which temperatures can get up to 40°C and the land is dry and dusty. The wet season is from June to October and tends to have consistent rain, cloudy days with temperatures averaging around 30°C. The cool season runs between November and January with temperatures dropping as low as 15°C in the evening.
Religion: 60% Buddhist, 40% Animist & other
Language: Lao
Currency: Lao Kip (LAK)
Visas: All nationalities require a visa to enter Laos. We ask all our travellers to obtain their Laos visas in Asia, and NOT in their home country. Generally best to get it in the starting point location or on occasions at the border, depending on the current state of affairs (it varies!). Please ensure that you have 3 passport photos and US$50 cash (this may vary too) to fulfill the requirements.
Electricity: 220V AC

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:17 PM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Nov 05, AU Edition

The-End-of-the-Roquefort-Ba.jpgFOR OUR OWN GOOD?
Eli Jameson looks at our overzealous food regulation – but sees a glimmer of hope

As anyone who has ever flown into Australia knows, the rules for what can and cannot be brought into the country are pretty strict. The official obsession with food and drink and animals and anything that can pass the lips may have valid reasons in science, biology, and economics, but the seemingly-arbitrary nature of what is and isn’t OK sometimes looks more like an application of a secular state religion, always seeking purity and to keep out the unclean.

(Once after returning from an extended holiday in the United States, I found myself at a quarantine desk in an otherwise deserted Sydney Airport arrivals hall waiting for my golf clubs to be cleaned, lest a North American grass seed wedged in my 7-iron throw off the entire Australian ecosystem. I chatted to the young woman manning the station as I waited, and quizzed her about different nationalities and what they’re notorious for smuggling. Japanese? ‘So honest they declare a stick of chewing gum’. Koreans? ‘They try and bring enough food for their entire trip’. Americans? ‘Usually pretty good, but for some reason American girls always try and smuggle a bottle of fat-free salad dressing in their back- packs’, much like Australian backpackers who can be found nursing hangovers from Thailand to Turkey with their own personal jar of Vegemite).

But while some bans make sense – the impending bird flu crisis has customs officers around the world working hard to keep out any potentially-infected poultry products – plenty of others do not. Which is why food lovers down under rejoiced last month when Food Standards Australia New Zealand finally lifted its ban on that marvelously stinky French export, Roquefort cheese. The ban, which represented an unholy alliance between protectionist farmers and the for-your-own-good food police, was an affront to both common sense and good taste. The problem was that Roquefort cheese is made with unpasteurized ewe’s milk (shock, horror), and yet was considered a great delicacy. Thus banning it was an easy call, satisfying both the nanny staters and the competition-shy domestic cheese industry.

Australia’s Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health Christopher Pyne MP explained the issue recently on ABC Radio: ‘Before 1994, FSANZ had never done an investigation into how the cheese was put together, the circumstances, the production of it. In that intervening time that has gone on, and it’s been determined that the way the French make their cheese, of course, after many hundreds of years of making this cheese, is safe and good for consumers and the Trade Commissioner assures me this morning that there’d be no cases of Roquefort cheese causing illness in France in recorded history...after many years of investigation, FSANZ has decided under the right circumstances and with the right warnings to consumers, that Australians can make their own decisions about what cheeses they eat. They’re grown up enough to determine the risks they like to take and that we don’t believe it is dangerous to Australian consumers.’

Amen to that. Now if only the Australian government – never shy about sticking its nose into the citizenry’s kitchen cupboards, among other places – could take such an enlightened attitude about other food products. For one thing, while unpasteurized Roquefort is now OK, it’s pretty clear that other cheesemakers, both foreign and domestic, will still not be allowed to make or sell similar products on the Australian market.

There are plenty of other bans that make little or no sense and which seem to exist only to give local producers a leg-up. Prosciutto and other fantastic cured meats are generally not permitted; Aussies have to make do with local substitutes. Less-celebrated delicacies – tinned American corned beef hash (trust me on this), for example – are also barred from Australian soil. According to the rules, any product that contains more than 10 per cent dairy or 5 per cent meat requires a special permit, applied for by the manufacturer in the home country. It’s a time-consuming process, and one with which smaller makers overseas simply won’t bother, even if large corporations will. Thus local production is protected, local palates denied.

All this isn’t to say that there aren’t some great Australian cheesemakers, ham-curers, and so on – there are. But as Christopher Pyne says, shouldn’t we be adult enough to make our own decisions? The same thing goes for many products that aren’t available to Australian consumers thanks to one or another regulation. While French foie gras – the liver of specially-fattened geese or ducks – is banned due to bird flu and other concerns (fair enough), the production of the stuff locally is also illegal, thanks to the radical animal rights lobby. Which is a shame, since farmers in the United States have proved that the French hardly have a monopoly on this delicacy. The ban also denies chefs the pleasure of magret de canard, the especially-flavourful breasts from these specially fattened ducks.

Instead, we have to make do with the semi-cooked tinned stuff.
Similarly, hanging game for a week or two in the European manner is forbidden, despite the fact that bacteria are killed at 60 degrees C, and no game goes in the oven at under 200 degrees C. Real salami? Also a no-no; authorities require a ‘starter culture’ be used which adversely affects the taste of artisinal salamis.

All this calls for a radical re-think in how we think about freedom and food. What is more personal and intimate than what we put in our bodies to feed ourselves, or give to our families? No wonder dietary regulations are such a big part of so many religions, especially those that emerged from the desert where preservation is such an issue. Warning labels are one thing, but not allowing consumers the freedom to make up their own minds is quite another. As Pyne says, we’re all adults; let’s eat like it.

In celebration of the lifting of the Roquefort ban, why not get cooking with it? Make a Roquefort dressing or mayonnaise for salads or burgers on the grill; use it in sauces, or just enjoy it on its own. Or try this Roquefort terrine, adapted from The Palms restaurant in South Carolina.

You’ll need:
250 grams Roquefort, crumbled 125 grams unsalted butter, softened, 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted, 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper.

To make:
Purée half of cheese with butter in a food processor. Transfer purée to a bowl and fold in remaining cheese, 1/4 cup nuts, and pepper. Spoon into a small crock and smooth top. Chill, covered, at least 2 hours to allow flavors to blend.

Before serving, let terrine soften about 30 minutes, then sprinkle top with remaining tablespoon nuts.
Accompaniment: baguette toasts or crackers

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:05 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: Mar 05, Au Edition


Are party drugs really the best way to make a cancer patient’s last days more livable?

Aside from those who die suddenly in accidents, quietly in their sleep, or simply sitting at the dinner table, a good proportion of the population gets not only a fair bit of advance warning that their time is almost up, but also a rough estimate of when that will be. That diva of death, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, counseled coming to terms with and embracing death as a part of life, seeing it as a “transition” to a better place. She was quite a morbid little lady though – and perhaps a little impatient for death to come as well, having spent so much time preparing for it.

On the other side of the coin, there are those of us who would prefer to achieve immortality through not dying. Being firmly in this camp, I plan a last-minute panic, followed by months of denial – but having spent several years working in aged care, my experience is that very few people actually spit the dummy completely when given notice. Still, there is psychological work to do to wrap up a life, and it is painful to watch a patient who is trying to achieve some measure of acceptance and reconciliation but is exhausted by the effort.

Which brings up the question: how much intervention is appropriate to help this process along? Some people these days are answering, “a lot”. Pending a license from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Harvard will this year commence an FDA-approved trial of MDMA, better known as the party drug ecstasy, in end-stage cancer patients suffering from severe anxiety. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre is trialing the use of psilocybin (the active in ingredient magic mushrooms) in terminally ill cancer patients. But these are all very small studies, and are of the “qualitative”, or anecdotal, kind: see what happens, and then know what to look at if it progresses to the level of a drug trial. Essentially, they are pre-trial trials.

(This is not the first time since the heady days of Timothy Leary that U.S. researchers have toyed with illegal drugs to treat various mental conditions: the University of Arizona has lately reported success using psilocybin to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, while in Charleston, South Carolina, MDMA is being studied in victims of violence who are suffering post traumatic stress disorder.)

What some medical researchers have discovered is that ecstasy can make people happy. And expansive. And positive about themselves and at one with the world and like, man, there’s like love, just like, everything is love, you know? Feeling like this, they reckon, is better than being fearful and anxious, as most cancer patients are to some degree. What if we could make them happy? Give them tools to make the work of wrapping up a life and preparing for death a little easier? Or just generally unbridle the unconscious, facilitate communication with family, and defy the poet to go gently into that good night?

In the Harvard and UCLA studies, the patients will be evaluated, given low-to-moderate doses of drugs in the company of a psychiatrist, and then spend a fair few number of consecutive hours talking it all out. And then do it again a few weeks later. The studies aim to see if this helps people to deal with end of life issues. Certainly, most of the unpleasant side effects could be controlled in this very controlled setting. The idea seems to be that these are patients who may not have the time and energy for an in-depth rigorous sorting through of the subconscious issues in guided psychotherapy: if they are uninhibited and happy, it can all get done a lot quicker.

Myself, I’d like anything in my subconscious to stay put, and thus avoid both psychotherapy and hallucinogenic drugs for this reason. But putting aside the issue of how the process could be patented to make money, and determined to be safe, and then approved ten years hence, would anyone really want to find a psychiatrist to sit and talk with them for six hours at a stretch? Furthermore, how much damage might a “bad trip” do to someone in their last days? And if dad has always been a cranky old bugger, will it really help the family to hear him waxing lyrical under the influence? My own feeling is that there wouldn’t be a lot of takers for this kind of treatment, and that they would be a fairly self-selecting group. But what if it took off?

Personally, I don’t like the idea. It rings wrong to me, and I have been trying to find a way to come at it reasonably. Debating the idea of using hallucinogens like this often leads to overwrought fears about a dystopian, mood-managed future á la Huxley’s Brave New World, and brings up a lot of the same issues that came up when it was discovered that Prozac could not just cure depression, but smooth out challenging personality traits. There are, if you tilt your head and squint, some interesting ethical dilemmas here, but the reality is — as for the overwhelming majority of drugs that are tested for any medical use — that cost, profitability, patentability and practicality, as well as safety and the broader concerns of the community may well be immovable obstacles standing in the way of Nana ever getting high.

This small wave of tests involving medical mushrooms and prescription party drugs will probably die out with the patients in the studies, and people will continue to wrap up their lives in much the same ways they always have.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: Nov 05, AU Edition

The brain is a marvelous thing – but it can also play tricks on us (for our own good, of course)

Have you ever felt badly blue, critically assessed your life and thought, Of course I’m depressed! Anyone would be under these circumstances!, and then gone to bed, or for a walk, or for coffee, or whatever it is that you do, and felt better?

‘Oh’, you thought, ‘it was the night/the weather/the deadline/the head lice that made me temporarily insane. I love my life. Could use a little bit of tweaking at the edges, maybe, but nothing major.’
Most of us have felt exactly this way at one time or another. And if you don’t feel worse than this, than guess what? You are not depressed. Instead, you’ve just suffered from a mild delusion – but that’s normal.

In fact, your life is always going to be slightly worse than you think. That’s right. You are less moral, less reasonable, less kind, less lucky and less smart than you think. Aren’t we all. If you were depressed you would feel lousy most days, and if this went on for more than two weeks you would be well advised to go and see a doctor.
But if you’re not depressed then you’re not a good judge of how things are going. The depressed – aside from being tedious negative – Nellies – are better judges in some areas of critical thinking than the rest of us. The rest of us are optimists because it gets us through the day.

How smart do you think you are? A bit above average? Isn’t everyone. I have done less-than-perfectly in exams because I was tired, anxious, pregnant, overqualified, didn’t study at all, missed the lecture, or the questions were stupid. I have never done worse than I expected in an exam because more than half the people who took it were smarter than me. Like everyone else, I am smarter than average. I don’t know where the half of people on the wrong side of the intelligence bell curve are hiding, but clearly no one has told them yet.

We – excluding the floridly delusional and the depressed – who are neurologically normal are poor critical thinkers. Some try to think well, and some don’t bother, but the results have been in for years. We are lousy at critical thinking. Our brain wants us to feel good. It tells us lies so that we do. We can’t all be ‘above average’.

People believe weird things. Few of us understand statistics (a subject which should be taught in detail in primary school), and I have seen grown adults confronted with the phrase, ‘show me a double blind study’ look up with big puppy dog eyes and say, ‘I don’t know what that means, but I’ve heard amazing stories so I know it’s true’.
And actually, even if we try not to believe weird things, they still slip through. Imagine you’re a doctor. In all probability you or your work subscribes to a couple of journals about interesting medical stuff. You probably get digests of popular journals sent to your email address. Drug reps bring pens and reports. All together, we are talking about hundreds of studies a week here. To keep up to date, you will only read the interesting ones in detail, and if they ‘seem right’ and confirm what you know to be true, you won’t dig around to be sure the study was done well. This is a self-serving bias. You see what you expect to see. And if a study comes out tomorrow showing irrefutably that smoking is good for you, everyone will look at it, squint at it, and say, ‘well, I just don’t believe that’.

Here’s an example of how this works. Studies have shown, repeatedly, that Echinacea really does nothing for the common cold. Nothing. One study showed it actually made colds worse, but that was an errant finding. I’ve been watching the Echinacea phenomenon for ten years now, and every time it is proven not to work, someone says ‘the dose they used in the study was too low, too high, preserved in alcohol, or brewed under a waning moon so of course it didn’t work…but for just $50 I can hand-bottle the perfect dose for you’.

It still doesn’t work.

Vitamin C also doesn’t work, at least not in the 2,000 mg-an-hour school of cold-fighting. The anti-viral flu injection doesn’t have as much promise as was hoped ten years ago. We all make mistakes, and we like to see things that aren’t there so long as they make us feel good. Conventional medicine is fallible, but it does get the message eventually. Conventional medicine makes errors, isn’t always skeptical enough (of drug companies), is perhaps overly-critical of herbal wisdom, but it tends eventually to get with the program. Show it enough studies and it says, ‘well…OK’.

Unfortunately people with a vested interest in something that can be proved to be false (homeopathy, for example) have, by definition, a vested interest in maintaining their point of view. True believers will never be convinced, or at least the majority won’t. Bad No good Western Medicine comes off a little better, because it is based in science which is true (I mean, specifically that it has a plausible congruent hypothesis which could be – but hasn’t been – disproven. That being a damn fine definition of a scientific fact). That this is, so the beliefs of your local GP are only nominally threatened when they read that they have been prescribing and believing in an antiarthritis drug that provides as much pain relief as panadol, and kills then odd person. They feel foolish at first; then their brain tells them they couldn’t possibly have known , then they feel better about themselves and their profession, and make a note to be cautious with arthritis management in future. If a homeopath sees a study that shows the whole thing is junk science (and doesn’t work, to boot) they have a lot to loose by accepting this. So they don’t. They become a little paranoid and delusional, which is bad, but they get to keep their jobs and their belief in themselves. Which is good. I suppose.

Anecdotes aren’t evidence. They’re stories. We all suffer the placebo effect, and what a blessing that is. The human brain abhors a vacuum. We like to feel useful. ‘Magical thinking’ is the phrase that describes believing in magical things because we don’t like to know how little we know. Magical thinking describes at times a schizophrenic’s reasoning, but it also explains our tendency to attribute cause and effect where there isn’t any. ‘I feel better because I took vitamin C’ really means, ‘the less I know about vitamin C or the cold virus, the more I see the connection’. I don’t know much about computers, but I like to feel smart, so I can gather erroneous information to form a belief about why it won’t do what I want it to. We all do this. But it doesn’t make it right.

The human brain selectively remembers information to support beliefs that support you. This is why there is no point trying to argue someone into or out of religious beliefs. They will accept your arguments only if they are receptive to them, in which case, they are susceptible to believing you and it is in their interest to do so. And yet, the letters page…

You recall the two times in your life that you intuitively thought of a person not thought of for years, only to run into them, or hear they’ve died. Because you like the idea of having spiritual powers and being intuitive. You fail to recall the four million times that you have thought of a person out of the blue, and never saw them, heard from them, or thought of them again. Great dinner party stopper: ‘I had this desire to look up this guy from school – and then a week later I heard he had died!’ Would you believe that the statistical probability that that would occur by chance is really high?

Just another trick of our wonderful, if sometimes deluded, brains.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)


drug 006.jpg

Why is the Bracks government sticking with a world-first roadside drug test that’s controversial, expensive, and will make Victorian motorists only marginally safer? JAMES MORROW crunches the numbers and finds that there are plenty of good reasons why no other government on Earth has gone near this scheme

When Ballarat truckie John De Jong was publicly humiliated for driving while under the influence of drugs – and then let off the hook (without so much as an apology, incidentally) when it turned out he was innocent – by the Victoria Police last year, it was widely assumed that the much-hyped roadside drug testing program that nabbed him would be allowed to die a quiet death. But instead of learning the potentially expensive lesson of De Jong’s case, Steve Bracks’ state government has pressed ahead with the program. And even though the police say they’ve changed their ways so that fewer innocent people will get caught in their net, a closer look at the program reveals that Victorian taxpayers are still being asked to sacrifice a lot of their own time and money for a program with highly speculative results.

“One in 100 drivers found taking drugs” screamed the headlines when Victoria’s police finally lifted the lid on their controversial roadside drug testing program a few weeks ago. The state’s roads, went the implication, were choc-a-block with stoned ravers and speed-addled truckies: according to the police, around one in every hundred drivers tested by the program were found to have either THC, the active ingredient in marijuana or methamphetamines (or some combination of the two) in their system. Amazingly, this number was proportionally far greater than the number of motorists caught driving while under the influence of alcohol, a legal and readily-available product: As Melbourne’s Age noted in its report on the revived program, “the yearly average strike rate for motorists caught drink-driving is about one in every 250 tested”.

Yet no one asked the question, could these new numbers for drugged drivers really be correct?

The famous American bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked by a reporter why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” came the succinct reply, and it’s hard to fault that logic. To arrive at these incredible 1-in-100 numbers, the sort of headline-grabbing figures that would not only consign John De Jong’s case to ancient history but win an extension of the program from the state parliament when it comes up for review later this year, it’s clear that the cops went the Willie Sutton route.

In fact, despite initial claims that these numbers were arrived at largely by “random” methods, Victoria’s scare-story numbers were almost entirely the product of some very selective targeting. At one operation, targeting the New Year’s Day Summerdayze dance festival, almost one out of every ten drivers tested positive. It’s not clear how many drivers were pulled over on their way out of Summerdayze (the police won’t reveal such operational details about that or any other sting), but it’s easy to see how, in choosing this sort of venue, Victorian cops had an easy opportunity to up the numbers supporting this program.

Do the math: Imagine that, say, fifty drivers were stopped in one night’s operation, and five of them tested positive – an extraordinary result, ten times that of the general population, but not at all unthinkable. If we take these statistical outliers out of the rest of the numbers, things become clearer: Stopping those other 1,450 other drivers would have led to just ten hits, cutting the overall success rate to just .68 of one percent.

Now on one level it makes sense that if you want to catch people who are taking drugs, go to the sort of places where they hang out and party. (Though whether or not the time and effort spent sitting outside a dance festival could not have been more profitably spent patrolling the roads for dangerous driving is another question). But it is also ridiculous on its face for Victoria’s police to suggest that because cops managed to get a one percent strike rate through highly selective targeting, then one out of every hundred cars one sees on Victoria’s roads is being driven by someone under the influence of drugs.

This would be the equivalent of saying that, say, the number of drunks on the road on New Year’s Eve is the same as those out there on any other evening. Furthermore, while it may be tempting to compare testing for stoners and drunks, the procedure for administering these saliva tests are a good deal more invasive than simply asking a driver to blow into a tube. A driver who gets stopped in by one of these sweeps is asked to put a saliva collector in his or her mouth, and then wait five minutes for the results to come back. (And refusal is not an option, but rather carries with it the presumption of on-the-spot guilt). If the sample comes back negative, the driver is free to go; otherwise, they have to produce a second sample, which, if it turns up positive, is then sent to a lab for further analysis by more accurate tests. In the meantime, then, they have to wait for up to three weeks to find out if they will be prosecuted for an offence.

And not only is the test more involved and time-consuming for the (at least) 99 out of 100 drivers who are guilty of nothing but who are still compelled to sit by the side of the road for five minutes waiting to see if they will become the next John De Jong, unlike breathalyzers, with these drug tests there’s far less link between a positive result and actual driving impairment. That’s because these tests can pick up drugs taken long before the driver got behind the wheel – thus a joint smoked on a Friday, while illegal, would likely not impair a driver Saturday. And isn’t the point of this whole program road safety?

So why did the Victorian cops decide to go down this route and become, as they proudly proclaim in all their literature, the first po
lice department in the entire world to set up this sort of roadside drug-testing regime? Beyond the basic motive force that causes any bureaucracy to seek as many good headlines as possible while expending as little effort as possible, much of the justification seems to come from work done by Dr. Olaf H. Drummer of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, and especially a presentation he gave to the Australasian Association of Clinical Biochemists in 2004.

The presentation was sponsored by BioMediq Pty. Ltd., the Doncaster, Vic.-based agent for the UK company that makes the Cozart Rapiscan – the same test that snared truckie De Jong. In his talk, Drummer talked about the various ways drugged drivers can be a danger on the road (no argument here), but then drew the rather long bow that by spending $1 million to Rapiscan 10,000 Victorian drivers, the state could save a $15 million. As Drummer’s PowerPoint noted, this represents a “Cost benefit ration 15:1 ! [sic]”.

But there are a couple of problems with Drummer’s study. For one thing, the arithmetic behind the purported $15 million savings feels like it was concocted in a trendy outcomes-based grade school maths classroom: it’s not whether the answer is right or wrong that is important, but rather that everyone feels good about the result. Drummer’s presentation states that “If drug testing and wider police enforcement reduces use of drugs and driving by … 5%” (italics added), the “reduction in drug use saves potentially $15 million” (again, italics added). Yet if 10,000 people were tested, and fully 1 percent of them were on drugs as police statistics imply (i.e., the entire program took 100 drivers), it is hard to figure how that handful of drug-takers could wreak $15 million worth of damage.

Who needs a roadside drug test when for some motorists their faces are a dead giveaway? Californian woman Penny Wood traded her privacy for reduced prison time on traffic and petty crime misdemeanours, by agreeing to let police publicise her mugshot as a warning about the ravages of five years’ methamphetamine abuse.

In other words, roadside drug testing could save lives and money; on the other hand, it might not. Since the only sub-stances the current test looks for are pot and speed, then it stands to reason that the smart – well, if not smart, than at least cagey – drug abuser who was looking to get behind the wheel would simply switch to a different poison. Already this seems to be happening, as a quick scan of posts on forums hosted by inthemix.com.au, an Australian dance party website, suggests.

(“We need to send out decoys,” one participant jokingly suggested amidst the debate. “The first car (which has a straight driver of course) that leaves in each convoy from the party puts drops in their eyes to cause their eyes to dilate, then drives in an erratic manner to attract attention, the cops then pull them over, see their huge eyes then perform the test on them. During this time, the remainder of the crew slip past. Once the test is complete and passed, everyone goes on their merry way.”)

Victoria’s drivers are used to getting ripped off when they get behind the wheel. Recall that last year, that the state government had to refund $14 million dollars to some 90,000 motorists incorrectly fined by speed cameras on Melbourne’s Western Ring Road, and spend a further $6 million compensating drivers for hardship when their licenses were incorrectly taken from them by dodgy technology – again, of course, all in the name of safety.

Amazingly (especially considering the embarrassment of John De Jong’s case) Victoria’s police seem more than happy to once again let technology do their work for them, rather than get out on the roads and into the public transport system and look to stop unsafe or criminal behaviour in progress. In the process, Victorians will be forced to give up another little bit of their time and freedom, all in the inarguable name of safety.

And that represents one of the biggest, yet most under-reported, problems with the whole program: while roadside drug testing may pull a few stoners off the road, it also represents yet another small erosion in the personal liberty of all Australians (New South Wales is considering a similar program at the moment, and it is unlikely to stay confined within Victoria’s borders). Part of the tradeoff of living in a free society is that people are willing to take on a bit more risk in return for having a government that, as much as possible leaves people alone to make their own decisions and go about their business.

Australia is not, and should not become, one of those societies where cops and other agents of the state have the power to question and detain people without reasonable cause; that’s the sort of thing many Aussies (or their parents or grandparents) came here to get away from.
While the pain of losing a friend or relative to an auto accident is, of course, incalculable, there is very little indication that an expensive drug-testing regime for motorists will do much more than cause a hassle, heartache, and ultimately further embarrassment for the Victorian government.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:45 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: Nov 05, AU Edition

A new internet numbering system could computerize everything, reports Brian Kladko

The Internet is running out of real estate. Just like a city, the Internet’s virtual space is divvied up into addresses – not e-mail addresses, but Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Each numerical address represents a piece of the Internet, and you can’t connect to the Internet without one.

The current version of the Internet has more than four billion IP addresses. But soon, that might not be enough.

Fortunately, there is a solution: a new system that will not only provide an address for every person on earth, but every animal, every electronic device, every mechanical part. Everything, not just everyone, could be connected.

“Because you have the ability to link everything to everything else, you could conceivably have your cell phone control up to 250 different electronic appliances in your home”, explains Alex Lightman, an inventor, writer, entrepreneur and one of the most ardent boosters of the new system, called Internet Protocol version 6.

IPv6, as it’s known, is a set of international standards, or protocols, that allow computers to understand each other. It will replace IPv4, the standard that has enabled the Internet to function since its creation 35 years ago.

IPv4 worked fine when the Internet was used by a bunch of computer scientists. Now that everyone wants a piece of it, IPv4 is seen as increasingly obsolete.

Most people aren’t even aware of their IP addresses, because most people don’t own one: the addresses belong to government agencies, universities and companies. When someone logs on from home, they borrow an address from a pool of addresses owned by their Internet provider. Although there are still 1.3 billion addresses yet to be assigned, that’s not enough to accommodate two of the most exciting trends of the Internet – high-speed mobile computing and Internet telephony. Both technologies depend on the ability of two computers to communicate directly with each other. Every mobile device, for example, will need its own IP address to tap into the Internet with a broadband connection.

The U.S. Department of Defense has realized the possibilities. It’s converting all of its computerized systems to IPv6 by 2008, so that it can create a “Global Information Grid” – a military network that would provide commanders in the Pentagon and front-line soldiers a wealth of information about battle conditions.

But drumming up interest among private companies, and their customers, is more difficult. So proponents are dangling the prospect of an automated, remote-controlled future: one that will be made possible by giving an address to every device, not just computers.

IPv6, for example, could make it easier to get a taxi when you’re getting drenched. In Japan, sensors with their own IP addresses have been attached to taxis’ windshield wipers.

When the wipers start moving in response to rain, that information is collected through the Internet. Taxi companies use the information to redirect their fleets to rain-soaked locations.

If ordinary household devices can go online, manufacturers could monitor them to make sure they’re working right, or diagnose a problem when they’re not.

If a digital video recorder has its own address, the owner could tap into it from another city and download a show it had previously recorded.

In other words, the Internet won’t just be about sitting in front of a computer, reading Web sites or tapping out messages. It will be about controlling the minutiae of our lives, down to the most mundane details.

“Your refrigerator could call the store when it needed to and order more milk because it would know you were out of it”, explains Doug Barton, general manager of the international organization that distributes addresses. “There are some pretty grandiose ideas behind some of these things.”

When addresses were first doled out, the United States – which invented the Internet – got most of them, even though many are going unused to this day. But when Asian countries finally got on board, they couldn’t get nearly as many, which is another factor that is pushing many to advocate for IPv6. At one point, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had more addresses than China.

“There is a real sense of injustice about how the addresses have been provided over the years”, said Jim Bound, a Hewlett Packard computer engineer who heads a group promoting IPv6 in North America.

Thanks to a reform of the way addresses are assigned, as well as a technological workaround that allows many network users to share one address, the depletion of addresses that some people had predicted just a few years ago has still not come to pass.

But Chinese officials continue to complain about a disparity.
Countries throughout East Asia see IPv6 as a remedy to past wrongs, as well as their best hope of catching up to, or surpassing, the United States.

IPv6 conferences in Japan and China attract thousands, and Japanese prime ministers even mention it in speeches.

Some IPv6 missionaries, such as Lightman, say the United States will pay for its complacency. As the rest of the world moves to a different standard and starts slapping addresses on everything with a circuit, the United States will lose its technological edge.

“We’re a bunch of rubes with respect to the new Internet”, Lightman says.

But even some IPv6 boosters, such as Bound, say it’s only a matter of time before companies realize its potential.

“We are not the overweight, sloppy ex-heavyweight champion”, says Bound, who helped select the IPv6 standard. “What we are is someone who’s ahead. And therefore, for new technology, we have the luxury of operating at a slower pace. We’ll get there when we need to get there.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:34 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition



Nicholas Cage is one of Hollywood’s most complex actors and fascinating personalities. The son of a literature professor (and nephew of Francis Ford Coppola), Cage was once expelled from primary school – yet went on to star not only in blockbuster action flicks like Face/Off and Con Air, but in richly complex character-driven films including Leaving Las Vegas, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. Today, Cage is on the brink of new milestones: not only does he have a slew of new movies on the horizon, but a soon-to-arrive baby as well. The 41-year-old Cage recently sat down with JORDAN RIEFE at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons to discuss his latest ventures, fatherhood (and how his powerful relationship with his own dad affects his work today), and what might be his most controversial project to date: his involvement with Oliver Stone’s film about 9/11.

Q: Is it fair to say you’re not a method actor?

A: The idea that I’m not a method actor implies that I don’t subscribe to any particular method of performance, and I do have my own method. At the time I agreed to do The Weather Man I was going through a divorce and I was trying to figure out how I could take a negative and turn it into a positive. And when I received the script for The Weather Man, I thought, ‘Oh well, here’s a parallel.’ Sometimes I choose movies that help me, like a therapy, help me do something positive with a negative emotion. And The Weather Man was an opportunity to take this well of feeling that I had and just funnel it into Dave Spritz. It was my producing partner who brought it to me and I said, ‘This is really right for me at this time because I have a lot of stuff I want to get out.’ Dave and I were going through similar experiences and so it became an overlay, if you will, of my life and David Spritz’s.

Q: How many times have things been thrown at you?

A: I wish I could be more colourful and say all the time but I’ve never had anything thrown at me; at least not food. There have been times in the past when girls have thrown glasses at me.

Q: How much cash do you normally carry in your wallet?

A: Do you want to come and look? You know, I don’t even have my wallet or any cash on me. But I do go to the supermarket. I just went to the market and bought about 20 packages of Gillette shavers. I buy in bulk. And I used one this morning.

Q: How difficult was it to play someone fumbling through fatherhood?

A: I think no matter what walk of life we’re in or who we are, we all have that connection with our father because we are small in the beginning and they’re big so there’s this awesome regard for dad. And on top of that, my dad is a professor of literature so he’s very, very smart. So I was always thinking how I can aspire to be him? There was this intimidating aura growing up with a university professor, but yes, I did use my own feelings about my own father.

Q: There’s a scene where you’re recognized standing in a queue at the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] and you’re not very pleasant to the person who recognizes you. Can you relate to that?

A: I don’t relate to it because I have bad relations with people on the street or at the DMV. I try to make an effort to behave well and I know if it weren’t for my fans I wouldn’t be here. So they’re very important to me. I know what it’s like to meet someone you admire and have them be a complete jerk. But before I was famous someone impounded my car and they weren’t very nice about it. It was an old car once owned by Dean Martin, which is ironic because I now live in Dean Martin’s old house. They were so rough about it. There was no reason to impound it and there were dents all over it. I remember just wanting to go and get my car by any means possible. I think if we’ve all been frustrated by bureaucracy, whether you’re the weather man, you or me.

Q: You’re about to become a father again. Are you excited?

A: Without going into detail, I’ve got 15 years of experience now so I’m very ready.

Q: You talked about your very smart father. Can you talk about what it was like working with Michael Caine and bringing your own experiences to your screen relationship with him?

A: It’s always fascinating to work with the best and Michael Caine is obviously one of the best, so I wanted the opportunity to study him and look into his face. I was ecstatic to work with him, and he’s so friendly. And as for my father, yes, it does relate. He had that aura bout him, but what I will say about my dad is...I’m going to go on the record and I’m not a high school drop-out, but I wasn’t a great match for school. I went to my dad and said, ‘This isn’t for me, I want to act. This is affecting my self-esteem; I’ve got to get out.’ So he said, ‘That’s fine, but just get your High School Equivalency’.
So I did and left and went right to work.

Q: Why does your character have such trouble communicating with women?

A: It’s the battle of the sexes. Do you have trouble communicating with men? We have difficulty from both sides comprehending what exactly is it we’re thinking. Dave is on the receiving end of that because he’s not thinking all the time, he’s forgetting things like the tartar sauce. For her, something as mundane as tartar sauce is enough to tip the apple cart, but we know it’s more than that. I’m very sensitive. I’m even sensitive to the weather.

Q: I’m intrigued by the Dean Martin connection. Have you ever felt his presence?

A: They’re both coincidences. I didn’t know it was his car when I bought it and it wasn’t because it was his house that I bought the house. It was about 3 a.m. one night and I was sleeping and I heard this faint voice singing, ‘That’s Amoré’. And I was like, ‘Please, I’m trying to sleep.’ I’m kidding. And what’s really weird is that was the theme song at the end of Moonstruck.

Q: It looks like you’re going to have six or seven films out next year and it does appear that you work incessantly. Do you feel the need to work constantly and will there be any slow-down with the impending birth of your child?

A: That’s just the way it works out sometimes. I haven’t worked since National Treasure, which was a year ago. I try and make two movies a year. To me, that’s not too much. On top of that, I like to work. It’s part of my spiritual belief. I want to do something with my time that’s productive. I want to serve and I feel I’m serving myself and serving you by working. I don’t want to sit around by the pool luxuriating with a margarita. That’s just not what I want to do. So yeah, work is just part of my principles.

cageart1.jpgQ: But will you slow down once your child arrives?

A: Probably yes.

Q: Gore Verbinski was the one throwing the fast food at you and he reportedly enjoyed it. What was that like?

A: Yes. There are some good photos of him throwing chicken nuggets at my head. And I think he did enjoy it. He made sure it was him every time.

Q: Dave is often uncomfortable in his own skin. When are you uncomfortable in your own skin?

A: When I have to spend five hours in a room doing one TV interview after another knowing that everything I say will be a matter of public record for the rest of your life, that makes me pretty uncomfortable in my own skin.

Q: What do you do when you’re angry?

A: George Washington once said, ‘When you’re angry count to 10. When you’re really angry count to 100.
So I do that and also I use film, again, to try and steer that anger and turn it into a positive emotion.

Q: Do you still do archery?

A: I don’t but there aren’t too many things I’ll say I’m a natural at. But when I started doing archery it was the first time I’d found something besides acting that I felt I could really do. I did all that archery in the film and I’m happy to say that. I really enjoyed it.

Q: You were talking about the experience of being a father again. What will you do differently this time round?

A: That is a brilliant question and I’m sure anything I say to that will reveal a lot about me, my character and every invention of my mind, but I want to be very careful about respecting his privacy.

Q: What small part of Dave will you carry with you?

A: I’ll carry him with me for the rest of my life and he’ll be around after I’ve gone. He’ll be around because he’s on film. So we’re connected. I don’t know how else to answer that. I’m really happy with the movie.

cagert3.jpgQ: Can you talk about your character in Ghost Rider?

A: Again he’s a man trying to turn a negative into a positive and, as I said before, I’ve been trying to take movies and do something positive with the negative feelings I’ve had. The character in Ghost Rider had something horrible happen to him and he’s making something positive out of it.

Q: You have a great relationship with your screen daughter. You don’t have a daughter yourself, so did you just particularly like her?

A: I did like her very much but I also like children. I’ve been around children a lot. They’re very close to their hearts. There’s not a lot of filtering that goes on and I like that integrity.

Q: You’ve talked a lot about turning your negativity into positively. Are you over all that now?

A: Yes. I think things go in cycles, they wax and wane. I’m just trying to get better at negotiating the waves. Right now, I’m trying to be more neutral rather than ecstatic or depressed. I’m trying to be right in the middle and to be better in all ways - as an actor, as a father and as a husband. I’m not saying I have any control over my destiny but I’d like to be better at surfing the waves of life.

Q: You’re starting the Oliver Stone 9/11 film next month. What can you tell us about that?

A: I’m still finishing my film The Wicker Man, and then I’m going to go to New York. I know Oliver is going for a cinema verite feel. Oliver and I have been trying to work together for years. And it’s not so much about the buildings falling down as what happened amongst this family of men - which of them survived and how they coped. It’s really about the human condition.

Q: You’ve made a few films about families. Is that a subject that appeals to you?

A: I’ve really wanted to make a family drama. I think it’s a genre that’s just really good for people. I think people can usually learn something. But it’s also the hardest kind of film to make. It can collapse into saccharin or become episodic like a TV show. So my goal was to do something a bit edgy and I think I found a really happy marriage in this film.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition



It comes like a thief in the night and empties wallets of purchasing power. And it means debtors make off like bandits. What is it? Inflation – and with oil prices high, it’s making a comeback. Can Australians cope? What can you do? And what happens if interest rates and unemployment rise in concert with prices, as they did in 1970s America? SHAUN DAVIES and MATT JOHNSON report.

One hundred thousand dollars a year may sound like a lot, but for Melodie Darmody and her husband, Mick, it’s a struggle to make ends meet on that sort of combined income. They don’t lead a flash lifestyle, carry huge credit card balances for luxury purchases, drive expensive cars, or live in a ‘McMansion’ or what newspapers refer to euphemistically as a ‘leafy suburb’. Instead, they live near Campbelltown in Sydney’s sprawling western suburbs in a house they bought before the property market took off like a rocket, and their driveway is home to a 1983 Ford Fairlane and a 1997 Falcon Futura. Family holidays are spent with relatives in country New South Wales, and they haven’t been to the dentist ‘in years’. She’s a reporter at a community newspaper, he’s a teacher, and with bills to pay and two kids in childcare, they have precious little in their pockets at the end of a fortnight.

‘We do our budget fortnightly’, Melodie says, explaining their situation. ‘We pay $1000 on the home loan, $155 on the car loan and $600 on childcare. Groceries are only about $100 and the fuel bill at the moment is around $100. That’s really it. There’s not much to spare - when insurance and things like that pop up it’s a big stretch. We’ve got to save up for those costs for a few pays. We’ve got a payment now one now for the car insurance and we had one for house insurance a while back, and they’re about $600 each.’

Like millions of other Australians, the Darmodys lives are very price-sensitive. Which is why the prospect of inflation, spurred on by rising petrol prices – which make the costs of transporting raw materials to factories and finished goods to market that much more expensive – is so daunting. Already, the prices of some key staple items such as milk have gone up, with two of Australia’s biggest dairy concerns, Dairy Farmers Group and National Goods, hiking prices in September. And Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens recently indicated that the biggest threat to Australia’s economy, which has over the past decade weathered American recessions and Asian meltdowns with aplomb, is inflation.

‘The issue before us in the next year or two is whether the world and Australian economies can adapt to higher energy and resource prices without a significant bout of inflation’, he said. Commonwealth Treasurer Peter Costello has echoed Stevens’ concern, and – even more worryingly for mortgage-holders like the Darmodys – indicated that increasing inflation could lead to higher interest rates as the government attempts to put on the brakes.

In short, it seems like a sure bet that prices are heading north, and every Australian will, quite literally, be forced to pay the price. As John Edwards, Chief Economist at HSBC says, ‘there’s no doubt that we’ve had a big hit [from fuel prices] recently’, and that there’s also ‘no doubt it’s going to turn up in higher prices for a wide range of goods’.

How bad? Bad.
In terms of how far the average families budget could be forced to stretch, it is crucial to note that oil prices are not yet at all-time highs. Worse price spikes have been seen – especially in the 1970s, when inflation was such a world-wide problem that it arguably brought down two U.S. presidents (Gerald ‘Whip Inflation Now’ Ford and later Jimmy Carter, whose opponent, Ronald Reagan, popularized the idea of the ‘misery index’, or the sum of the then-double digit unemployment, inflation, and interest rates). On 17 October 1973, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, OPEC cut off supplies to Israel, the United States, and its allies. As a result, the price of oil surged by about 135% in the Christmas of 1973. After adjusting for inflation, the price of oil increased by almost 220% between 1973 and 1974.

As a result of this, Australian inflation rate began to accelerate. Higher prices at the pump led to higher prices for just about everything else, and inflation reached a peak of 17.6% per annum in March 1975.

In the 1970s, the Government of the day controlled the interest rate, and as increases were unpopular – as they are today – the Government was slow to act when oil started pushing prices skyward. The wrong decisions were made, and inflation got out of control. Today, the RBA would increase the interest rate as inflation pushed up prices, and thereby limit how far the inflation infection could spread.
Since 1990, the RBA has kept the rate of interest about 3.6% higher than the rate of inflation – so 17.6% inflation might have meant interest rates at 21.2% per annum. At that rate, repayments on the average Australian mortgage of $230,000 would rise to a little over $4125 each and every month for 20 years.

If such astronomical interest rates seem unlikely, they have precedent. After the second oil shock in 1979 – this time the result of the Iranian Revolution – US monetary policy was handed over the modern breed of central banker. As Chairman of America’s Federal Reserve Bank, Paul Volker (Alan Greenspan’s predecessor) oversaw an increase of 6.5% from the time of his appointment to April 1980. The US saw rates peak at around 17.6%, and brought the economy to the brink of recession. Rates were cut to prevent recession, however when it became clear that inflation had not been beaten rates were push up still farther, to a peak of 19.1% in June.

Speaking on oil prices and the consequences of Hurricane Katrina, research director at economic analysis firm 4Cast, Alan Ruskin, commented that ‘it would not be surprising if oil prices had now spiked by so much that they would not be absorbed by the profit margins of firms, but rather would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices’. He added that ‘it is fear of such an inflationary spiral that encourages central banks to increase rates, in the knowledge that the more they respond now, the lower the risk from inflation in the future’.

Future shock
So what is the risk to inflation rates, the Australian economy, and families like the Darmodys? The increase in milk and dairy prices appear to be the thin end of the wedge, with the increase in oil prices and associated costs flushing out the usual suspects.

On September 21 the ACTU called for a four per cent increase to worker’s minimum wages because ‘petrol prices and other rising costs (were) putting working families under pressure’. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) immediately countered this suggestion, calling it ‘Whitlamesque economic mismanagement’.
‘The ACTU somehow seem to have forgotten that one of the most significant economic mistakes of the 1970s was to index wages to changes in prices in the context of the then-oil price shock’, ACCI chief executive Peter Hendy said at a conference in Sydney.
‘This is the type of thinking can kill an economy stone dead, end economic expansion and doom a society to inflation, recession and major job losses.’

Hendy has a point. It’s widely accepted by economists that the problems associated with the oil shocks of 1974 and 1979 were exacerbated when governments around the world gave into public pressure and accommodated unions’ (understandable) attempts to restore the value of the average pay packet. The majority of businesses were doing it just as tough as workers, and were forced to increase prices so they had something with which to fill those (now fatter) pay packages. This led to an inflationary spiral, where workers asked for more money to make up for the increased cost of living, and firms increased prices and laid off workers to make up for the increased cost of labour.

infart1.jpgIt is widely accepted that the Government erred in leaving rates too low for too long; and by failing to take steps to counter inflationary wage claims. Artificially propping up the wages of average workers ensured that demand for oil and other goods remained reasonably strong, despite skyrocketing prices – the tonic of higher prices was resisted and the market was prevented from correcting itself.
Another bout of such mismanagement would meet with resistance from the RBA. Interest rates would be increased until folks with loans were so broke that firms would not be able to sell much if they kept putting prices up. The threat of bankruptcy would force firms to refuse claims for an increase in wages that could only be funded by increasing prices.

Central banks have already been forced to re-assess their inflation outlooks in the light of Hurricane Katrina. Oil prices were rising before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita severely damaged oil production and refining capacity in the Gulf of Mexico. China’s (and to a lesser extent, India’s) voracious appetite for all kinds of commodities, and particularly energy, has driven the sustained increase in the price of a barrel of oil.

But while the demand the demand for oil is higher than it has ever been, the true bottleneck is in refining capacity. Oil needs to be turned into petrol or gasoline before it becomes useful to your average family in the western suburbs of Sydney. And right now, it’s easier to take extra oil out of the ground than it is to build the extra refining capacity required to transform that oil into something usable. As a result, refiners are able to charge a little more for their services, and the price of fuel has risen by still more than the price of oil. The consequence is that the threat to inflation from more expensive oil is greater than is suggested by the increase in oil prices alone.

Heading for a spiral?
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand was among the first central banks to sound the inflation alarm. It warned, in September’s Statement on Monetary Policy, that rates may have to rise as a result of increased fuel prices; it upgraded its inflation forecast to 4% by the end of June 2006 as a result (its upper limit is 3%, like the Reserve Bank of Australia). In anticipation of the RBNZ increasing the rate of interest, financial markets have responded by increasing the rate of interest of Kiwi debt by about 50 basis points (0.5%), suggesting that they expect the RBNZ to increase rate to 7.25% by Christmas.

Other central bankers have lately joined the chorus. The US Federal Reserve’s Richard Fisher said that the Fed is watching for inflation pass-through to prices, and the European Central Bank’s Bini Smaghi signalled that the ECB also has concerns about Oil, commenting that the Bank is ‘closely evaluating how the European economy is reacting to oil prices’.

The latest inflation data suggest that Australian interest rates may also be about to rise. TD Securities supplies the main monthly estimate of Australian inflation; their estimate of inflation for September suggests that inflation has broken above the RBA’s 3% upper target. Stephen Koukoulas, Chief Strategist at TD Securities, highlighted the advance of another inflationary spiral, telling Investigate, ‘it is important to note that the inflation acceleration is spreading beyond the direct and clear effects of higher petrol prices.’

‘Inflation is accelerating to worrisome levels and is above the top end of the RBA target range. With the economy also picking up and wages growth rising, the RBA will be increasingly keen to increase interest rates to guard against an even more dramatic inflation problem in 2006. An interest rate rise before year end is now on the cards.’As a result of this, TD Securities expect that the RBA will increase interest rates to 5.75% before Christmas.

The risk of inflation from higher oil prices has shifted sentiment back toward an increase in Australian interest rates. Over the past few months, the bias of professional opinion has shifted from a cut over the next six months, to expectations of an increase in interest rates.

loan6.jpgIn the Australian Financial Review’s most recent regular survey, only one economist said they expected rates to fall over the next six months, while eight expected rates to increase, while the remaining 18 expect rates to remain at 5.5%. If the horizon is extended to the end of June 2006, 10 favour an increase, and 16 see no change. More might be expected to tip an increase once data covering the period with the biggest increases in fuel costs are released.

Ray Attrill, research director in 4cast’s Sydney office, agrees that the pressure is on the RBA. He says that ‘the RBA will be under pressure to increase rates, as higher energy prices boost both inflation and growth’, adding that ‘the RBA should be comparatively free from concerns about choking growth, as Australia benefits from higher prices via exports and investment, as it is a net energy exporter’. As a result, 4cast predicts that ‘the RBA will increase rates to 5.75%, by March 2006’, and that there is a 40 per cent chance rates will increase further, to 6% by the end of June of next year.
UBS Senior Economist Scott Haslem is more pessimistic, and tells Investigate that ‘the re-emergence of inflation risks in the September and December quarters [will] lead to rate hikes [at the] end of 2005/early 2006’. He nominates 5.75% by Christmas, and 6% before the end of March – an increase that will see average mortgage rates hop from 6.8% to 7.3%.

A quarter-point increase in the rate of interest adds about $35 per week to the average $230,000, 20-year mortgage. An increase from 6.8% to 7.3% would therefore add about $70 per month to average mortgage repayments. But this is not where the pain of higher oil prices stops. Between June 2004 and June 2005, the average price of petrol was about $1.02. The average household spends about $35 per week, or about $153 per month on fuel, so unless people drive their cars less this year, petrol prices of $1.25 per litre will add about $35 per month to the average fuel bill – the equivalent of another quarter-point increase in the interest rate.

Though many see this worst-case scenario as unlikely, US investment banking behemoth Goldman Sachs recently released a research report that predicted that oil prices may rise as high as US$105 per barrel. They believe that ‘oil markets may have entered the early stages of … a “super spike” period’.

Oil at $105 per barrel would result in pump prices of about $2.02 per litre. Assuming that they don’t make major cutbacks to their driving, this will add about $150 per month to an average household’s fuel bill – the equivalent of more than a 1 percent mortgage rise. Central banks would increase interest rates, making mortgages more expensive. And companies would have to pass on increased costs to customers and workforces, which would surely be forced to absorb budget-cutting layoffs. In sum, it’s a recipe for the ‘misery index’, and something that would be devastating to families like the Darmodys.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)

Simply Devine: Feb 05, AU Edition


The new counter-culture groundswell

You know that by the time a new way of thinking makes it into a Hollywood blockbuster it is already deeply embedded in the culture. When it comes to Team America: World Police, how the thought must make lefties cringe.

Made by South Park’s Trey Parker, 35, and Matt Stone, 33, as a Thunderbirds-style puppet movie, it has a team of trigger-happy, flag-waving Americans fighting terrorists, while the peacenik liberals of FAG, the Film Actors Guild, headed by an “Alec Baldwin” puppet, try to stop them.

It features “Michael Moore”, a hot dog in each hand, as a suicide bomber, “a fat socialist weasel”.The movie opened at No. 1 in Australia last month and was still at No. 5 after three weeks. It strikes a chord, despite the lukewarm reception from a lot of reviewers.

They have said the movie attacks left and right with equal vigour. It does not. They liked the beginning because gung-ho Team America blows up the Eiffel Tower while chasing terrorists. “Let’s go police the world,” say the puppets. But those who thought the movie was a satire against American warmongers were shocked to find the opposite.

To her credit, Margaret Pomerantz of ABC’s The Movie Show gave Team America four stars and declared it “hilarious”.

But her co-host David Stratton was “really disgusted”. “It seems to become completely skewed, in the second half of the film, towards attacking liberals in the film industry,” he said. “Sean Penn and Tim Robbins have been very principled in what they’ve said about the Iraqi war and to deliberately destroy them the way this film does is really playing into the hands of George W. Bush.”

All I know is the teenage boys in the theatre I was in laughed heartily at the obscene jokes, puppet sex and savage mockery of Penn and co.

“As actors, it is our responsibility to read the newspaper and then repeat what we read on television like it’s our own opinion,” explains

“Janeane Garofalo”.

“Tim Robbins” complains that corporations are “all corporation-y . . . and they make lots of money!”.

“Sean Penn” keeps saying, “I went to Iraq, you know” and says before Team America arrived there were “flowering meadows and rainbow skies and rivers made of chocolate, where children danced”.

In one scene, evil North Korean dictator puppet “Kim Jong Il” won’t let UN weapons inspector “Hans Blix”, or “Brix” as Kim calls him, inspect his palace.

“We will be very angry with you, and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are,” threatens Brix, just before Kim feeds him to his shark.

After terrorists blow up the Panama Canal, TV newsreader puppet “Peter Jennings” intones: “Team America has once again pissed off the entire world”. Then “Alec Baldwin, FAG” comes on the screen: “Who’s to blame for these attacks? The terrorists? The people who supplied them with WMDs?” No. “Team America, the blood of the victims of Panama is on your hands.”

The final summation of why the world needs Team America, even if they are, “reckless, arrogant, stupid d—ks”, to save them from terrorist “a—holes” is unambiguous, despite reviewers who expected a puppet Fahrenheit 9/11.

“We tried to make the movie optimistic and pro-American,” said Stone in an interview.

Even new movie The Incredibles has an anti-political correctness theme: super hero family forced to blend into society and hide talents. Super-fast runner Dash thinks it’s not fair: “Everybody is special, Dash,” says his mother. “That’s just another way of saying nobody is,” he moans.

The movie also celebrates family: “Mom and dad’s lives could be in jeopardy, or worse - their marriage!” says daughter Violet. These subversive themes are the new counter-culture.

The way it works is that those who build a culture, over 40 years or so, have a vested interest in maintaining it. So the old counter-culturalists become the conservatives, even though they still think they are progressives and deride as “conservative” those who disagree with them, though disagreeing is counter-cultural.

Then along comes a generation which has known nothing but the old “counter-culture” and feels oppressed by it, because there are so many rules now about how you should think, and to a fresh mind many are absurd.

So you get the first signs of rebellion from the most independent-minded, and soon enough it builds into a tsunami that breaks down the old counter-culture and begins the process anew. This is what is happening now, vomit jokes, puppet sex and all.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 06:31 PM | Comments (0)

Money, Dec 05, AU Edition

Who’s getting rich off high gas prices? Hint: think ballot boxes, not bowsers

Let me take you back in time, to a land that existed long, long, ago. A time when life was vastly different, an era when we were more mobile, a time when petrol was around 85 cents a litre. I am, of course, talking about January 2005. They say that a year is an eternity in politics. Well, the same can be said for petrol prices. I recently heard an explanation from an “industry expert” about how the price of petrol is determined each day, indeed, each hour. It makes subjects like the structure of DNA and thermonuclear physics seem like kindergarten stuff.

Not surprisingly, the only person to lose out in all of this is the motorist. In my honestly held opinion, there are snouts in proverbial troughs everywhere when it comes to making a quid out of petrol. It is also a fact of life that we all depend on our cars for almost everything. Maybe, just maybe, cutting back on petrol, and not using the ol’ chariot as much as we used to, is not such a bad thing. Do we really need to drive to the local shops when they are only a 5 minute walk anyway? Dropping children off at school can be a bit like a demolition derby, but with more emotion… so walking to school is maybe not such a bad thing.

In July 1969, when man landed on the moon, the number one hit was a cheerful little number called, “In the Year 2525”, by Zager and Evans. Some of the lyrics of this song include, “Your arms are hanging limp at your sides. Your legs got nothing to do. Some machine, doing that for you”. Perhaps they were predicting the way we would be going if we didn’t stop using our cars for the most mundane tasks. Call me an eternal optimist but there has to be an upside in this whole price of petrol predicament. Conversely, maybe the more haunting lyrics from Messieurs Zager and Evans are, “I’m kinda wondering if man’s gonna be alive. He’s taken everything this old earth can give. And he ain’t put back nothing...” So let’s have a look how we can drive through to the other side of this petrol pricing tunnel: there is a light but we just need to look for it. And, no, it is not a train heading toward us.

Who gets what?
Let’s look at a litre of standard unleaded petrol – say it costs $1.20 per litre. Where does your hard-earned go? Well, the refiner gets about 60 cents (this is called the “Terminal Gate Price”), and the government gets their bit (in fact its a large bite; around 41 cents goes to consolidated revenue, but only the government could get away with having a tax on top of a tax, because we have to pay GST on top of all these figures, so that makes another 11cents). Are you starting to see a bit of a trend here? We are paying $1.20 and approximately 52 cents of it is going to…drum roll…the government! The wholesaler gets about 5 cents out of all of this and by the time the poor ol’ servo gets a cut they only wind up with about 3 cents a litre.

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to see that there is a 100% mark up on the refinery price, so the next time you are muttering under your breath about the petrol station owner, remember that the actual outlet itself is not getting that much from the petrol. (This is why they’re always flogging Mars Bars and chewing gum and groceries and magazines). They make more money on a few chocolate bars than they do on your petrol.

Let’s make these numbers dance a bit so that they are more meaningful: if we assume that the average car has about a 60 litre tank then a full tank would cost $72. The government gets $31, the refinery $36 and the servo gets $2. If you fill up once a week, that means that over the course of a year you are paying around $3,800 in total for petrol – including $1,650 extra in tax. Can you take that off your next income tax return? I don’t think so… and once again the total that the petrol station retailer gets for your patronage is about $100.

Hopefully it is now a bit clearer about where the money goes but we still haven’t looked at how the Terminal Gate Price is determined. Why have we seen such a big increase in the last 12 months and especially the last 3-4 months? This is where it is a real minefield and requires some unravelling of the facts.

How do they decide on a price?
The key point is that Australian refineries compete with Asia for petroleum products. Both oil and finished products (such as petrol and diesel) can be purchased at competitive prices from a number of locations in the region. Prices of fuel types such as diesel or petrol in this regional market are driven by supply and demand of each individual fuel type, resulting in fluctuations of the prices relative to each other. Australian refineries not only compete with imports of finished product in Australia but also export product to the regional market.

The Terminal Gate Price includes the import parity price plus tax (again), and a very small margin which covers some administration and marketing costs. It appears we are getting closer to the crux of all of this. We know what the terminal gate price is but what is the import parity price?

The import parity price is essentially the cost of importing, including freight and wharfage, finished product (as opposed to crude oil) to Australia. The import parity price is not regulated but instead determined by market forces. It now appears that the base price of the petrol we buy is directly linked to the importation of product. But in what way?

An international pricing benchmark is required for efficient operation of the petroleum products market in Australia and Asia. Singapore is a major refining centre and prices there are the best available reflection of prices in our region. For this reason, the Australian market uses Singapore prices as a benchmark, with actual prices negotiated relative to this benchmark. Changes in Singapore petrol prices or exchange rates typically take one to two weeks to flow through into either increases or decreases in pump prices. These changes are often masked by weekly cycles in pump prices in major capital cities.

What a revelation! It appears that the refineries pay for their imported product based on a calculation using the Singapore petrol price. This in turn is directly linked to the fluctuating cost of a barrel of crude. This changes daily and is determined by international supply and demand forces in the Middle East and the USA. This is globalisation in action. The next time you are in a country town like Wheelyabarraback or somewhere near the Black Stump, then realise that the petrol you are putting into your car is costing you what it costs because of what is happening in Singapore and Arabia… and don’t forget the government taxes!

But why do they all go up at once?
A common question is that all petrol stations seem to put up their prices at the same time. This, in fact, is not collusion but rather the result of marketing forces. You see what happens is, as we have just discovered the price that refiners pay for their product is determined by international supply and demand, and what the Singapore price is…but there is still a lot of room to move for thee refineries. There is a time lag between when prices are agreed and when they are paid. There are also corporate marketing strategies that result in temporarily decreasing the margin for the oil company. In other words, instead of a refinery making a 20% margin on their terminal gate price they make a 10% margin but they sell a larger volume.

Now this is why we see petrol cheaper on certain days, usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It is marketing ploy to make us buy then rather than wait. And if one company moves in price the rest will follow to remain competitive. After a couple of days of not maximising profits (remember, they are still making a profit but it is just lower) then there is financial pressure on the oil companies to increase their prices again, hence higher prices toward the weekends. I suppose it is basic commerce really: there are two groups of factors which lead to higher petrol prices – higher costs, and different competitive environments. (And of course, taxes.)

So what do we do?
The aim, of course, is to minimise your petrol bill, and you can do this with push and pull strategies.

1. Firstly, think carefully each time you use the car. Do you really need to fire up the beast to go two blocks to pickup some milk?

2. Do you really need that milk in the first place or can it wait?

3. Can you use public transport? At least on a bus or a train you can relax, maybe read or do some work, and save money.

4. Cadge a ride with someone else. Car pooling works well overseas.

5. Think … and act about your driving style. Drag-track starts might get you away from the lights quicker but you just get to next set of lights before everyone else, and it costs a bundle in petrol. Also there is no need to rev a car’s engine when you first turn on the ignition, unless you have a car built before 1960.

6. Plan when you buy your petrol. If you hear on the news that crude oil prices are going up then that means every part of Australia will be affected. Try and beat the oil companies to a price rise.

7. Watch for pricing cycles. If petrol is usually cheaper on Tuesday, well, buy on Tuesday.

8. Use coupons from supermarkets and other retailers to get a reduction in the pump price. Remember the old truism; look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

In case all of this fails…buy a horse. This used to work before, they are cheap to buy, and upkeep is more efficient than a car. Unfortunately, the price of cereal and hay is going up. Why? Because of petrol costs. Oh well, maybe it is better to just stay at home: at least we can’t be taxed there…unless we do something.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

Dec 05, AU Edition


James Morrow speaks to Zimbabwean actor and filmmaker Chloe Traicos about life in exile, her documentary about the brutality of the Mugabe regime, and the growing community of escapees from that African thugocracy who now call Australia home

In retrospect, perhaps the world should have known Robert Mugabe was going to be trouble. In the 1970s, when he was fighting the war for Rhodesian independence, he was thought of as the most radical, and most Marxist, of all the guerrilla leaders at the time, and did his best to drag out the war and its suffering – especially that of the white population – for his own aims. And his return from exile to lead what would become Zimbabwe was, according to historian Martin Meredith in his book The State of Africa was marked by throngs of supporters displaying “rocket grenades, land mines and guns … and many youths wore T-shirts displaying the Kalashnikov rifle, the election symbol that [Mugabe’s party] wanted but the British had disallowed.” But Mugabe, being a crafty warrior, moderated his tone on the advice of Mozambique’s president, who told him not to scare the white population back into exile.

Now, with Mugabe in the twilight of his life, his true colours have emerged once again as a brutal thug and an anti-white racist. And like another ZImbabwean author and the characters in his book, individuals like Chloe Traicos and her family have paid the price as well.

Tall, blonde and 26 – and with just a touch of the young Audrey Hepburn about her – Chloe Traicos is a Zimbabwean-born actress and filmmaker who has devoted the past five years of her life to documenting and exposing the brutality of Robert Mugabe. The daughter of former Zimbabwean test cricketer John Traicos, Chloe Traicos was born around the time of independence, and had what she describes as an idyllic childhood. The black-versus-white tensions that have been so enflamed didn’t exist at the time, and she recalls going to South Africa when she was a girl and being utterly baffled by apartheid – a system totally alien to the Zimbabwe of the 1980s.

“My father was a cricketer and also the managing director of a big hotel, and everyone there was like my family. That was my home, and I stay in touch with a lot of the people there, but the only way I can go back is if the government changes.” Traicos was forced leave with her family for Perth when it became clear that Mugabe was beginning to show his true colours.

“By the time we left, there were already violent food riots in the country”, recalls Traicos over coffee in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, where she moved two years ago. “I remember doing a three-day computer course in downtown Harare with my sister, and in the middle of one morning the college got a call telling them not to let anyone outside”, she recalls, making her an eye-witness to a situation it would take the rest of the world several more years to wake up to.
“The next thing I knew, our mum was there – she had coming racing in
to get us – there were riots going on around town, and we sped home and everything was shut down in the middle of a weekday and I just thought, ‘well, it can’t get any worse than this’.”

Of course, things were to get a lot worse, with the farm invasions that began in 2000 and the brutality that continues unchecked to this day. “When the farm invasions started happening, a lot of Australians just thought, ‘oh well, they’re finally kicking out the rich whites’, but they didn’t understand that all this was making life even worse for Zimbabwe’s blacks.”

To shed light on the situation in her homeland, Traicos – who studied acting in South Africa – has written and produced A Stranger in my Homeland. What started out as a stage play that ran in 2000 at Perth’s Blue Room has turned into a one-hour documentary of the same name that has screened all over the world, including at the Perth International Arts Festival, the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, and the Las Vegas International Film Festival – and has recently been picked up by Amnesty International as well. Essentially telling the story of both black and white Zimbabweans who have been forced to flee by Mugabe’s reign of terror, the documentary tells the story of “just how bad things are” – including the horrific Matabele massacres of the early 1980s, a “bath of blood” in the words of one witness carried out with the help of North Korean mercenaries.

It’s a constant battle to keep awareness of Mugabe’s crimes on the agenda in the West, says Traicos, who says she finds many who have escaped Zimbabwe just want to keep quiet, “keep their heads down”, and quietly start a new life. “The memories of what has happened is just too raw for many of them”.

But while the silence of Mugabe’s victims is understandable, Traicos is less sanguine about the attitude of Australians and other Westerners, many of whom still choose to turn a blind eye to the situation in Zimbabwe. “No one it seems really wants to know about what’s going on – he even has a following in the US!”, says Traicos, outraged. “Did you see that horrible speech he gave to the UN where people stood up and cheered?”, she says, referring to the address (boycotted by Australia) Mugabe gave recently – ironically enough for a man who has driven his country to starvation – to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“It’s like what happened in Rwanda”, says Traicos, speaking of Western countries’ failure to act in Africa before disaster strikes. “People will say, ‘oh, that’s terrible that that is going on’, but no one is willing to step in and really stop it. Sadly, the only country that’s really in a position to do anything is South Africa, but they won’t.”
Given some of the Mugabe-like rhetoric to come out of South African president Thabo Mbeki, perhaps that’s not surprising. For the people of southern Africa, though, it is very, very worrying.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 06:05 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: Mar 05, AU Edition


The moon’s still out there, but what is it good for? Maybe the next century of Asian economic growth, says Pat Sheil

Since Eugene Cernon closed the hatch on the Apollo 17 lunar module and hit the grunt button, the moon has been a very quiet place. We’re used to the idea now, but in the early 70s the notion of a deserted moon in 2005 would hardly have seemed credible. We were meant to have Holiday Inns on Mars by now, right?

The are good reasons why none of this has happened, not the least of which is that once we knew it could actually be done, going to the moon quickly lost the lustre of heroic achievement and became just another budget line item. If there isn’t a quid in it, and all the prestige value has been milked, then it’s time to mothball the idea until there’s a good reason to do it again. A profit angle sure wouldn’t hurt.

But governments are lousy at making money – remember the hype about drug companies whipping up miracle cures in zero G aboard the shuttle and the space station? With no whiz-bang, frontier busting purpose, the shuttle has proved to be the greatest lemon in the history of transportation, largely because it had nowhere to go and nothing to do when it got there.

Since the Columbia disaster the lemon has mutated into a grapefruit. NASA is so terrified of losing another one that they have restricted its use to delivering odds and ends to the space station, a destination in name only. One more prang and the remaining two will go straight into museums.

The shuttle has become, in the minds of NASA, an accident waiting to happen, and if you or I lived by the new NASA definition of “acceptable risk” we’d all wrap ourselves in cotton wool and crawl under a rock for the rest of our lives. (There is a beautiful story on this subject dating back to the early days of the Apollo program. Werner von Braun had assured NASA that he could achieve an impossible “four nine” reliability, by which he meant that 99.99% percent of his launches would succeed. Word around Houston was that he achieved this by asking his sycophantic fellow German scientists “Is there anything wrong with this design?” only to hear “Nein”, “Nein”, “Nein”, “Nein”.)

But things may be about to change. For space to be worthy of investment, it has to generate a return, and at the moment the only money is in communications and imaging satellites, because they actually deliver a saleable product. The moon, on the face of it, is a desert. But then so was Western Australia in the 1880s. The moon may be about to have its first gold rush.

The gold, in this case, is helium 3. Helium 3 is a very rare isotope of helium which accumulates on the moon from the solar wind, but exists in tiny quantities on Earth. The reason it glitters, from an economic viewpoint, is that it looks like the best fuel for the nuclear fusion power plants that we’ve been promised for the last fifty years. If fusion can be made to work, it will change the energy market in ways that haven’t been seen since the discovery of electricity. And the people who control the He3 supply will get very, very rich.

Sure, there are a lot of “ifs” here, but that’s never stopped speculative investors from sniffing around scenarios that promise mountains of money. These things have a habit of snowballing, and recent events have put the moon back on the table, as it were.

For one thing, George W. Bush has made wacky pronouncements about “going back to the moon and on to Mars”. These can largely be ignored, because it ain’t going to happen, not the way he envisages it, anyway. Most of us will be long dead before there’s a Mars base. But he will be throwing money at the idea, if only by gutting other NASA programs. The space caper, from a purely business perspective, is a lot more sophisticated than it was the last time big government moon money was flying around, and there are companies now that will want a bigger slice of the action than sub-contracting work on engines and paint jobs.

Secondly, there are new players. Take the Soviets out of the game, and throw in Europe, Japan, India and China. These last three especially have very serious long-term energy problems. They have serious short term energy problems for that matter, but by 2050 these nations will have found new sources of energy or they will have imploded.

All of these countries are launching moon probes in the next few years. Europe’s Smart-1 arrived in lunar orbit in November. Japan launches one next year. India and China have both announced moon shots by 2007. All of them will be doing mineralogical surveys.

They are not doing this for fun. Sure, there’s an element of flag-waving in it all, especially in China’s case, but there’s also the small matter of possession being nine-tenths of, well, everything.

D.J. Lawrence, planetary scientist at the US Los Alamos National Laboratory was in India in November addressing the International Conference on Exploration and Utilization of the Moon being held in the northern city of Udaipur. “Potentially there are large reservoirs of helium 3 on the moon,” he said. “Just doing reconnaissance where the minerals are and to find out where helium 3 likes to hang out is the first step, so when the reactor technology gets to work we are ready and have precise information.

“It really could be used as a future fuel and is safe. It is not all science fiction.”

But what of the 1984 UN Moon Treaty, which forbids nations from making territorial claims on the moon, or anywhere else in the solar system? Australia is a signatory. Significantly, the USA and China are not, and with stakes this high, they’re not likely to ratify any time soon. But even if they did, there’s nothing in the treaty, or the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forbids corporations claiming territory. And this may be a clue as to how this will eventually pan out. Space agencies like NASA are already looking at the sub-orbital flights of Spaceship One last year that took out the US$10 million X Prize, and coming up with their own prize schemes. NASA has announced the Centennial Challenge prizes, which may soon top US$200 million, for private projects including robotic lunar landings and sample return missions.

It’s not that hard to conceive of a multinational mining corporation teaming up with an aerospace company and taking a punt on something like this, especially when success could reap not only tens of millions of dollars to recoup the initial investment, but also put them in pole position when the gun goes off in the claim-staking race. You can almost hear ‘em now. “Treaty? Don’t apply to us – we’re the Lunar Energy Corporation, not the US Government!”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE : Dec 05, AU Edition

One 21st birthday bash plus two divorced parents minus cigarettes equals a very tense ride

Just after dark recently I was dropping off a passenger in an Eastern Suburbs Housing Commission neighbourhood. As I slowed, a party of three hailed me. It was obvious they were waiting for a booked cab: A young guy around 18 years old in suit pants, white shirt and tie, plus two women likewise dressed up.

The fella ran after the cab then stood on the roadway at my window waiting for the passenger to alight, then asked, ‘Mate, are you free?’ ‘Um, did you book a cab?’, I replied. ‘Yeah but we’ve been waiting half an hour – it’s my sister’s 21st and we’re really late. Please, I know you don’t have to take us but it’s really important’. The kid’s plaintive appeal struck a chord. ‘Yeah righto, jump in’.

My passengers were in good spirits as we headed for a five star restaurant at Circular Quay. The kid earnestly engaged me in banter about cab driving whilst the two women quietly chatted in the back. When one of them requested we stop at a convenience store for cigarettes, the kid tapped me on the leg and said, ‘Mate, this cab doesn’t stop, does it?’. ‘Depends who’s paying’, I replied. ‘I am’, insisted the woman. ‘No, Mum’, the kid replied, ‘we haven’t got time – we’ll be late for the guests’.

Hearing the word ‘Mum’ surprised me. From snippets of their easy chat I’d been under the impression both women were the same age. Now I realised I was carrying a single parent and two children. ‘Mum, you can buy cigarettes when we get there’, the kid told her. ‘No, I don’t think there’s anywhere near the restaurant’, she said, ‘We’ll stop at the nearest hotel’.

At Circular Quay I pulled up at the Paragon Hotel for the mother to buy smokes in the bottle shop. However, as she only had plastic the kids told her she would need cash for the machine. ‘I don’t care, we’ve got to find another shop’, she said tersely, ‘You know not to get between me and cigarettes’. The birthday girl chided her, ‘Mum, you’re being childish’. But the mother’s frustration was obvious – she needed smokes.

‘I’ll take you around to Harrington Street’, I said, ‘there’s a 7-11 there’. ‘No mate...’, said the kid, but his mother interrupted, ‘Yes Steven, we get the cigarettes first!’. Whatever, I thought; it would only take a few minutes. Unbelievably though, the store was lit up but closed! The mother stood outside its doors willing it to open, before storming back to the cab and slamming the door. ‘I told you I needed cigarettes!’, she exploded. The kid leaned over and whispered to me, ‘Mate, please take us to the restaurant now’. ‘Okay’, I said, ‘but there’s a shop back on Pitt Street’. ‘We’ll go back then!’, the mother barked. ‘Mum, let’s just get to the restaurant’, the kid pleaded, ‘then I’ll run up to the store for you’. ‘Yes, you will’, she scowled.

We completed the trip in tense silence, the jovial atmosphere now gone. ‘Thanks Mum’, the daughter quietly said, ‘you’ve managed to spoil the start of my night’. Ignoring her, Mum handed over a debit card then hopped out, slamming the door. ‘I’m really sorry about my Mum’, the kid said as he punched in the PIN. ‘Mate, it’s cool’, I told him. ‘I’m a smoker too.” I handed him a cigarette for her along with the receipt.

What I understood was the situation of divorced parents coming together to celebrate a child’s 21st birthday. There was a good chance relations between the parents were not ideal and the pressure of such a momentous evening could be overwhelming. A child’s formal graduation to adulthood is a tough gig for parents at the best of times, full of powerful mixed emotions. And if a parent insists on cigarettes for such a night, then they must be believed. Believe me.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at www.cablog.com.au

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: Mar 05, AU Edition


Paul Wright takes a caffeinated tour of Sydney’s suburbs to test go-anywhere broadband

The setup procedure for my new Unwired broadband modem was extremely fast and friendly. Four clicks and I was off to the car to test whether mobile internet access really means mobile as in “while driving from place to place”, or mobile as in dangling in one spot while slowly turning around and around while singing “It’s a Small World After All” as the parents weep quietly in the corner of the baby’s room because all they want is just one night of sleep, is that too much to ask?

First stop: Birdies’ Cafe, Alexandria. Fast call to the Good Lady Wife because I forgot to bring the demo password, and I was off into the wild blue internet. Popular myth has the first telephone call being from Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant Watson to help him with an acid burn. In a remarkable coincidence, the first Unwired email I received was an eerie reflection of Bell’s plea; it begins “Mr Watson, I need you...to help get $93 million out of the Bank of Lagos.”

The tests were performed using a Toshiba Pentium 3 600 notebook, test websites chosen for load speed were the Sydney Morning Herald, as a popular local website with medium graphics content, and instapundit.com, a very popular US website with low graphic content. Most tests were performed in business hours.I recommend turning on the “Reception Assistant” whenever going online from a new location. Without this, there is no way to tell why the system is not connecting.

Cafe Bianchi, Summer Hill. Reception: four bars. Download speed: good. Watching: movie trailers from Hoyts.com.au. Coffee: excellent. People: ugly.

The modem has no battery indicator, so user won’t notice when it tanks. Like the reception, this is irritating in extremis, and means one more thing to check when a page won’t refresh. Also, the modem needs to be physically switched off after use. This is an entirely new habit to form, and for the first few days, expect the modem battery to be as flat as a pancake every morning.

Starbucks, Park Street, City. Reception: off the chart. Load speed: excellent. Service: where’s my triple espresso?! These people are moving at the speed of mud.

Make sure the computer you are using has an ethernet port. That’s the one that looks like an overweight telephone socket. Without it, you’ll have to deal with the mutants at Tandy as they gibber incomprehensibly about what sort of cable you need while making insulting comments about your manhood because you actually require assistance with your computer.

Big roundabout, Sydney Park, Alexandria. Reception: poor; connection dropped out. Repeated laps of roundabout failed to regain signal. Other motorists increasingly rude. Decided not to explain reason for driving behavior. Left before police arrived.Since this is a free demo account, I decided to test e-mail load speed by signing up for every possible spam site, porn offer and scam letter I could get my hands on. I want every part of my body enhanced and enlarged with cheap generic medicines supplied to me by the wife of the former Chief of the Army of Nigeria. And Hot College Chicks will then Want To Meet Me Now.

Blackwattle Bay park, walking the dog. Or rather, sitting down while the dog chases the trams on the overhead railway. Computer says it has many, many spyware programs. Decide to download and install Ad-aware software. Reception: hovering between 2-3 bars. Download speed for a 2Mb program file: 8 minutes. I mean, sitting in the middle of a sunny park, no visible means of communication, and it takes 8 minutes to reach out across the other side of the world to get a free program that will prevent marketers from tracking my internet movements? Eight minutes! May as well be living in Russia!

As an aside, it’s worth noting that the software used by Unwired cannot be exported to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya or North Korea. So if you were planning on making a killing re-exporting wireless broadband to countries that still communicate by writing notes on their enemy’s livers, think again.

Note to Unwired: when I’m driving over the Harbour Bridge and need to email ahead to have someone open the wine, I do not want to have to wait to get a connection. A man is not a camel, you know.

A glance through the User Guide produces some interesting examples of Tech-Speak. My favourite came at the top of the document, where they urged me to put in the Quick-Start CD to assist in installing the User Guide. Perhaps this is included to throw those annoying North Koreans off the scent.
When using the Unwired modem in a public space, the signal strength can be enhanced by holding the modem up higher, placing it next to a window, or moving g it about the room. While this may have an effect on connection speed, it will definitely make sure everyone in the restaurant knows you’re an Unwired user and therefore at the bleeding edge of technology. As with every other broadband service provider, reading Unwired’s pricing plans rapidly causes glazed-eye induced bouts of keyboard face. If your boredom threshold is so high you are willing to pay extra for the grass-growing cable channel, I commend you to the pricing plan page. For the rest of us, I recommend choosing blindly, and hope there isn’t a kidney forfeit clause in the fine print.
Interesting thought: will mobile broadband spell an end to fights over bar bets? Who will resort to fisticuffs over the level of influence Seneca had over Pliny the Elder (well it comes up where I drink), when the dashing Unwired user can swiftly settle the matter to the satisfaction of all parties?
One significant problem with the Unwired system is that you can’t tell if it will work in your house or place of business, until you actually purchase the whole deal, get it delivered, install it, and spend a few hours shouting at the screen to get it running. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee, but in the meantime, you’ve parted with some hundreds of the readies, and signed up for a year-long contract, which you now have to inveigle your way out of. There probably isn’t a way around this, but it’s still annoying. For instance, the on-line mapping of coverage in Sydney tells me I have access from my house. I relayed this slowly and loudly to the Connection Assistant, to little avail. No connection.
All in all, Unwired is a nifty system that portends serious changes to the way we will do business in the future. For home use, it is more cumbersome, and less reliable, than a wireless LAN, but Unwired still offers speed and big-time convenience for road warriors. To say nothing of that increasingly rare commodity, major pose value.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

THE ROUGH LIFE: Dec 05, AU Edition

Eli Jameson hopes his kids don’t wind up inheriting his handicap

Frank Sinatra famously sang that he’d had regrets, but that they were “too few to mention”. (One has to wonder what those regrets would have been: Letting Peter Lawford into the Rat Pack? Cozying up to the Kennedys? The famous “two-dollar whore” remark on his 1974 tour of Australia – if only because it inspired the dreadful The Night We Called it a Day?)

Personally, I try to live much of my life by Sinatra’s credo. Sure, I don’t punch out blackjack dealers (much), can’t stomach Jack Daniel’s, and my wife isn’t named Nancy. But I do believe that it’s good to keep the regrets of one’s life to a minimum. Looking back on my life, however, there is one thing I would have done differently.

I would have learned to play golf when I was much, much younger.
In fact, I grew up overseas, in a city where golf courses were pretty inaccessible except to those who had the money for a pricey membership, the time and fanaticism required to camp out for a tee time at a public course, or both. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties and was living in a golf-mad town that I finally picked up a club, when some mates announced they were going to the driving range after Sunday brunch. Having nothing better to do on a hot summer afternoon, I asked if I could tag along.

To make a long story short, I was hooked two minutes after first picking up a club. (I sliced thirty seconds after picking up a club, but that’s another story). My friends put a 9-iron in my hands, gave me a bucket of balls, some basic tips on set-up, stance, and swing, and I was off. The memory is hazy, but I know that only about half of my first dozen swings even came close to connecting with the ball, and those that did saw shots skitter wildly across a 120-degree field of fire that managed to include the course’s first fairway.

Then it happened: the one magic shot that took off high and straight, describing a parabola, before settling down to earth with a satisfying thup and little puff of dust, a la Wile E. Coyote when he has one of his unfortunate run-ins with gravity. Like the caveman at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey who discovers the power of an old bone as a club, I had discovered the power of the 9-iron as, well, a club. The following day I went into the office, ordered up a set of clubs off the Internet, and pestered my friends to take me out on the course the following week. (In a tremendous dose of beginner’s luck, my very first shot on my very first hole – a par-3 – was a 5-iron that landed nicely on the green. Everything about both me and my game has gone downhill since.)

And that’s the problem: I will never get to be really, really good at golf. Breaking 90 is a pipe-dream. Perhaps if I were a natural-born athlete who’d done sporty stuff his entire life, I could have adapted my other skill sets to fit the game, but there’s really no chance of that happening at this point.

That’s why I’m determined that I won’t make the same mistake with my kids. I’m going to do whatever it takes to be the Earl Woods of the Southern Hemisphere. I’m going to turn my offspring into stone-cold golf nuts with negative handicaps by the time they turn 18 and have the world wondering when they will take the US PGA by storm. And as their manager, I’ll never have to worry about how my super is doing again.

OK, maybe that’s a bit much. Still, though, I hope they decide to gather their rosebuds – or work on their mid-irons – while they may. I guess it’s a case of another aphorism that I first came across in a Tiger Woods book about golf strategy: Never make the same mistake twice.

Or something like that.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

Money: Mar 05, AU Edition


Owner or renter, boss or wage slave, the coming interest rate hike

Australians are famous for their love their credit and, according to the latest government fig-ures, currently hold a record $28.2 billion debt on their charge and credit cards alone. So it’s no wonder that the mere mention of a rise in interest ratesis about as welcome in many quarters as, say, discoursing on the potential for shark attacks is on Bondi Beach.

Yet all signs point to the Reserve Bank of Australia lifting interest rates sometime this year, and possibly within the next six months, with the economy continuing to grow and the consumer price index edging ever closer to the government’s outer-tolerance limit of three per cent per year. And when the rise comes, it’s not likely to be that temporary a situation, either: economic forecaster BIS Shrapnel’s senior economist, Matthew Hassan, has warned that an increasingly tight job market will push wages up over the next two years, leading to higher prices and, ultimately, interest rates that are “expected to peak at around 8 per cent in late 2006”.

But there’s no need to cue the Jaws theme just yet. Even if the cost of money – which is, in essence, what interest rates represent – is poised to poke skywards like the dorsal fin of a circling great white, there is no need to panic. For when it comes to both hungry sharks and rising rates, experts agree that a lot of panicky shrieking and splashing about will only make things worse.

Homeowners (who represent about seven out of every ten Australians) are obviously going to be the first to feel the pinch, and should make sure their home financing is structured properly: “We suggest that people have one-third of their mortgage on a honeymoon rate, with another third being fixed for five years and the last third being fixed for ten,” advises Christine Davie, a certified financial planner with Melbourne-based Donohue Financial Planning. According to her, this is the best way to hedge one’s bets as interest rates rise and fall over the period of the loan. “The banks have been giving away money as fast as they can for the last several years, and people who are highly-geared should think about this.”

Davie adds that when it comes to interest rates, it’s not smart to go crazy trying to find the lowest rate – “it’s actually very hard to find the bottom of the market,” she says – but that does not mean mortgage holders shouldn’t try and at least do a deal with their individual bank. After all, notes Davie, everything’s negotiable: “It’s often worth asking your bank if that’s the best they can do. But just because the sign in the front window says ‘6 per cent’ doesn’t mean they won’t come down if you ask, or even threaten to take your business elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, for those Australians who don’t own their homes yet, but are looking to join the ranks of first-time homeowners, this is a critical time – one in which careful planning can pay off big.

The first thing to remember is, bide your time. In fact, with interest rates heading north, there is “no rush to get into the housing market right away,” says Damian Cullen, Managing Director of Cullen Financial Planning in Sydney. Instead, put your money someplace smart: “When you’re looking to buy within a twelve to twenty-four month timeframe, really the only place to be is in cash or fixed-interest investments,” cautions Cullen, who adds that when it comes to that crucial down-payment nest egg, “don’t even think of going near the share market”. The second thing to keep in mind (especially for young buyers) is that circumstances change. For example, says Christine Davie, just because a couple consists of two high-earning professionals today does not mean both parties will still be bringing home fat pay packets of five years ago. And the number one reason for this is kids.

“People get married and buy a house and never think about what might happen if they only had one salary coming in, or if one of them decided to take time off to care for a child” she says. Thus couples often wind up either putting off having children, or find themselves in tough circumstances when kids do arrive with a lot of hard choices to make. Davie adds that even if both mum and dad keep working, children are expensive, and childcare can eat up an awful lot of that second income. The old days of buying more home than one could afford may still make economic sense (though it’s an old financial planning chestnut born in the days when one-income families were the norm, not the exception), but it can seriously interfere with one’s work-life balance.

For both owners and renters then, rising interest rates can ultimately mean – either for direct or indirect reasons – less money in the kitty at the end of the week. Smart planning now, says Davie, can avoid a lot of pain later: “If you have personal debt and loans and credit cards, this is the time to consolidate things,” she says. “And maybe, if you find that you keep getting into trouble, you should even think about cutting up the credit cards”.

Meanwhile, companies as well as individuals are poised to feel the effect of an interest rate rise, according to George Etrelezis, Managing Director of Western Australia’s Small Business Development Corporation, and business owners will feel it in a variety of ways.

“First of all, there is the straight bottom-line effect that interest rates have on the cost of borrowing, whether for purchasing equipment or obtaining working capital, and interest rates also factor in to leasing costs and replacement costs,” says Etrelezis, who adds that “there’s certainly an effect that rates have on the dollar coming in the door of a business. And as consumer sentiment dips as they have less money to spend, this means that various industries like the building trades will suffer as people decide to, say, put off building an extension to their home”.But there are other and more pernicious ways in which businesses may feel the pinch as well, and this is where Australian entrepreneurs need to keep a close eye out in coming months. Unless their business is a bank, they need to make sure their customers don’t treat them like one.

“Debtors will quickly start to become an issue for businesses,” says Etrelezis, “and there will be more and more of them who will try and extend their terms of credit. And it makes sense: with the cost of money going up from the banks, they will try and get cash somewhere else,” even if it means stepping on your goodwill.

As a result, the mantra that (especially for small businesses) “cash flow is king” becomes ever more important. Etrelezis says all business owners must start to think like the big boys, who are very strict about their payment terms and are not afraid to enforce them. “Be disciplined, and if someone goes too far beyond their 30 days, don’t be afraid to turn away their business. Remember: you can’t afford to let a regular customer slide for 60 or 90 or 120 days, and if they go down they will take that cash flow down with them”.

Finally, as tempting as it is to focus solely on interest rates at home, smart planning means keeping an eye on what’s happening beyond Australia’s shores as well. According to Geoff O’Neill, Managing Director and CEO of Advantage One, a financial planning and investment counseling firm which caters to high net worth clients in Adelaide, interest rates in the United States are about to make a move as well – something to bear in mind when making investment decisions.
“If you look at the U.S., their rates are at a historic low, while their economy is moving into a period with improved economic fundamentals. And as their economy expands, we’ll start to see American interest rates edge up to keep a lid on growth”, says O’Neill, who adds that this will probably knock some value off the Australian dollar. “Our dollar looks strong right now, but that’s really a reflection of the weakness of the U.S. Dollar,” he points out. “As we see an improving economy in the States leading to an increase in rates, then we can also see the Australian Dollar falling back closer to the .70 mark,” something that will affect our balance of trade and the performance of exporting versus importing companies.

While those two sectors will likely balance themselves out on the equity markets, O’Neill cautions that when it comes to the share market in general, it’s time for investors to get realistic and says that “this current rate of growth is not sustainable, and we must get more focused on achieving the real rate of return out of equity markets, which should be something like 10 percent or less – and certainly not 18 to 25 per cent.”

It can be easy in Australia to get used to living in a place where low interest rates and virtually full employment rule the day, and where the economy regularly weathers storms that lay low the finances of other countries. But while a rise in interest rates might be unpleasant – especially for the unprepared – it’s also the sort of medicine that can keep other more unpleasant numbers (like inflation and unemployment) down as well.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:23 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: Dec 05, AU Edition

Elliott’s latest fails to impress. Plus: soul survivors, and a moving tribute to Sublime

ME.jpgMissy Elliott
“The Cookbook”, Goldmind/Atlantic
2 stars

Missy Elliott has a remarkably consistent track record of combining stylistic innovation and commercial success, with a series of freakishly catchy hits that match her outre sensibility with her producer pal Timbaland’s off-kilter beats. All of that came to a creative peak on the brilliantly strange 2002 hit “Work It.”

On “The Cookbook”, though, Timbaland is in the kitchen on only two cuts. As a result, Elliott delivers the first merely mediocre album of her career.

It has its soulful, compelling moments, such as the confessional “My Struggles,” with Grand Puba and Mary J. Blige, and even better, “Irresistible Delicious”, which makes excellent use of the insouciant flow of rap legend Slick Rick. But “The Cookbook” is ultimately not much more than a serviceable party record. From Elliott, we’ve come to expect a more nourishing repast.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

MusicCatalog_P_Patti LaBelle - Classic Moments_Patti LaBelle - Classic Moments.jpgPatti Labelle
“Classic Moments”, Def Soul
3 stars
Vivian Green
“Vivian”, Sony Urban
3 stars

To hear these Philadelphians tell it, soul never really got too hijacked by hip-hop. For veteran Patti LaBelle and youngster Vivian Green, soul is all about desperation and joy within supple arrangements and vocal twists beneath the rhythms.

Lacking a memorable song, Green’s voice inhabits the colors of each careful arrangement, such as the flying strings of “Under My Skin” and the flickering guitars of “Mad”. From her lyrics to the ache in her high register, Green conveys how some emotions surprise her, from the sadness of “Frustrated” to the carnality of “Damn”.

What Green is just gathering, LaBelle has cultivated during her decades-long career. Without too much sass or gloss, she takes to these slow classics with the sort of simmering and seasoning any great cook would.

Her hefty voice bounces off the Fender Rhodes bump of “I Keep Forgetting” and winnows through the gospelish “Ain’t No Way.” Amen to that.
Reviewed by A.D. Amorosi

SubTrib_Cover.jpgVarious Artists
“Look at All the Love We Found: A Tribute to Sublime”, Cornerstone
3 stars

Nothing overshadows the tragedy at the heart of Sublime’s legacy: Singer Brad Nowell’s succumbed to a heroin overdose, leaving behind a wife and baby just before the band’s self-titled breakthrough LP appeared in 1996.

Sad too, in an altogether different way, is the unrealized potential of the trio, which loved punk, reggae, pop and hip-hop. This solid and varied tribute – with contributions as far gone as the Greyboy Allstars’ jazz vamp on “Doin’ Time” and as faithful as Fishbone’s bug-eyed “Date Rape” – underscores that point in a way the perpetual radio play of “What I Got” does not.

Yes, Sublime inspired hokey beach bums such as Jack Johnson, who strums on till the break of yawn here on “Badfish.” But it also dared fellow So-Cal punk-reggae kids No Doubt (who deliver a live version of “D.J.s”) to dream big.

That’s a legacy worthy of a tribute.
Reviewed by Patrick Berkery

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

Skin Deep: Mar 05, AU Edition


How is Karen Matthews turning Ella Baché into a great name in Australian skincare? JAMES MORROW learns the secrets of one of the country’s youngest CEOs

Youth is the name of the game in the cosmetics and beauty business, but very few players in the industry put their money where their mouth is by hiring one of the youngest CEOs in Australian history – she was just 35 when she ascended to the boss’ chair – to turn it around. Not Ella Baché Australia, however, which in 1998 hired Karen Matthews to join the company with an eye towards making her Chief Executive Officer.

It was a big risk for both Matthews and Ella Baché – at the time, the company was losing money – but it paid off big for both of them. Today the firm is flying high and expanding across Australia, and Karen Matthews was recently named Telstra’s NSW Businesswoman of the Year.

Making it big in business was always in the cards for Matthews, who grew up outside Sylvania Waters, NSW, with a corporate executive father and a schoolteacher mother – a combination which goes a long way towards explaining not just her corporate savvy but her desire to teach others the lessons she’s learned along the way.

As a freshly-minted commerce graduate with a major in marketing from the University of New South Wales, it would have been natural for Matthews, like so many with her degree before her, to hop right onto the product and brand management track. Instead, she entered the retail world, joining the Myer chain’s graduate trainee program, where she got to have a go at every section of the business.

“I loved retail – it’s such a buzz. It’s constantly changing, there’s such a great variety of people, and it requires great gut instinct and real creativity”, recalls Matthews, reflecting on her early days at Myer. Plus, she adds mischievously, “it’s great fun when you get to spend other people’s money!”

Her tenure at Myer would eventually see Matthews move to Melbourne when the company consolidated operations there in 1990. Although she missed Sydney, while at Myer she learned valuable lessons that, she says, apply to anyone in their career. First among them: don’t be afraid to speak up.

“One of the most important things I learned at Myer is, if you have a point of view, share it. Even if people don’t agree with you, letting people know what’s on your mind is the only way to develop a profile within an organization,” says Matthews, who further cautions that those who keep quiet “risk fading into the shadows, especially in a big corporation.”

Her time in Melbourne taught her a lot, too, about how to get ahead in a large corporate structure, and also about some of the biggest pitfalls – especially to be careful of people with hidden agendas as well as what she calls “the art of the dysfunctional meeting”.

Eventually, though, it was time to move back to Sydney with her husband Ian, an accountant. “It was great grounding to spend eight years at a corporation like Myer,” she says, but found her role in such a large organization, between meetings, office politics, and only
being responsible for a relatively small part of the business, limiting. When an opportunity came in 1994 to join F.J. Benjamin, the Singapore-based fashion distributorship, she leapt at it. The differences between her new job, where she was responsible for setting up licensees for such major international and American labels as Guess, Ann Taylor, and Brooks Brothers, and her old one, were head-spinning. If Myer was all corporate politics and highly structured decision making, F.J. Benjamin was all about family,
instinct, and what Matthews likes to call “gut”.

“It couldn’t have been more extreme, coming from Myer,” Matthews recalls fondly. “F.J. Benjamin was a family business where the entire family was involved, and everything was done completely on instinct and emotion.” It was a great time in her career, she says, but also one that led to “major burnout.”

“I learned an incredible amount about being flexible, rolling with the punches, and how to change fast,” she says, “but I was on the road all the time. By 1998 I had been at the company for four years, and I realized that over that time, I hadn’t spent more than six weeks in Australia at any one time.”

Suddenly, she realized, it was time to go.

Having told the F.J. Benjamin family she was leaving, Matthews looked forward to spending six months off and doing all the things she hadn’t had a chance to do when she was bopping from Europe to Australia to Asia and back in less time than you can say, “priority boarding.” Matthews had barely cleaned out her desk when the phone rang with what would turn into her chance to make corporate history. It was a headhunter on the line, saying that there was an opportunity for her to join a cosmetics and skincare company as a marketing manager. At first, says Matthews, her reaction was no, no and no: “I didn’t want to go back to work, I certainly didn’t want to go back to work as somebody’s yes-person, and I didn’t want to go work for a polished brand like Estee Lauder.”

Then she heard that the opportunity was with Ella Baché, and that they were not so much looking for a marketing manager as someone to be groomed to take over as chief executive officer. Matthews took the job as much for the opportunity to be CEO as the strength of the name itself: “There was something about the brand: it had a certain attitude to it, a real Australian larrikinism,” she says, noting that the company has sponsored an 18-foot racing skiff and the Sydney Swans.

“I liked that there was a real element of living on the edge and that they embraced the rawer, unpredictable side of things – and one thing I’ve really encouraged here is for people to use their gut and intuition within a structured framework.”

Of course, in taking on the role of CEO – she was elevated a scant six months after joining the firm – Matthews was also taking on a company that she says “lacked focus” and was losing around $1.5 million a year. (Thanks to Matthews’ stewardship, Ella Baché is now quite comfortably in the black). To turn things around, she had to act fast, and that meant that there was not a lot of time for on-the-job training. “It was a major learning period for me,” she says, but despite never having been responsible for so many people or processes before, Matthews was able to quickly find the keys to success.

“One of the biggest challenges when you become CEO is that suddenly, you’re the boss, and everyone watches you and knows what you are doing,” notes Matthews, reflecting on the sudden feelings of isolation she felt when she stepped into the lead role. But in this, she says, there are lessons for others who someday wish to sit in the boss’s chair: “As leader of the company, you have to lead by example and practice what you preach,” she says. “People really do care about when you come and go, and they are very watchful of whether you are in a good mood or not.” Matthews notes that, a few years ago, when she was feeling particularly run down for an extended period of time, people under her constantly monitored her movements in and out of the office, and even paid attention to whether she was looking particularly pale from one day to the next.

This attention, combined with isolation, can make it difficult for any CEO to do their job, says Matthews, who was startled to find that even though her new job put her in charge of the company’s strategic vision, she was less and less able to call on colleagues for long-term thinking. One way she ameliorated this is to join a group called The Executive Connection, or TEC, which gives her a “safe space” to meet with other chief executives – almost all male, a benefit because “sometimes it’s great to get that male, cut-and-dried perspective on things” – and have a forum to bounce ideas off of and share experiences with.

On a day-to-day level, of course, things are different: “As CEO, one is responsible for a whole range of functions, but for me, I had never really had any exposure to areas of the business like finance and operations,” she says. As a firm believer in the principle that strong leaders surround themselves with strong people, Matthews says that a good CEO “learns very quickly where they are weak, and finds good people to help manage them.” In that same vein, she says, one of the best lessons she has learned is that there is no shame in admitting a mistake: in fact, it can often times be an asset. Says Matthews, “to be the first person to put your hand up and admit an error is a very strong thing to do, and people will respect you for it.”

One thing that Karen Matthews has never done is let her being a woman stand in the way of her goals – if anything, she says it’s been a plus in her career. “Sure, I’m not in the building or engineering industries, but I haven’t had any problems with a glass ceiling,” she reports, adding that she believes that being female has in many ways made her a better leader.

“Being a woman and a chief executive, I really see the benefits as a leader,” she says. “Women are more intuitive, and I think that contemporary businesswomen are very comfortable in letting their emotions show and be part of the workplace, so long as that is structured within a framework.”

Ultimately, says Matthews, the key to being a successful person or growing a successful business is not whether someone is male or female, but rather the blend of people that one is surrounded with: “The best companies are those that have a mix of sexes, ages, backgrounds and cultures working together. The more depth you have as a company, the more solid and effective you will be not just in the marketplace but as an employer with a great corporate culture.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition

Are we heading for a world with less petrol, or is there enough black gold in the ground to keep us driving 4WDs for five hundred years? CLARE SWINNEY looks at ‘peak oil’, the latest cry of ecological doomsayers and wonders if this time, the sky really is falling

Sydney, 2019. Centrepoint Tower basks in the glow of the sun’s last rays of the day before it slips below the distant and hazy ranges of the Blue Mountains. The motorways though, are almost empty, as they have been for most of the previous 18 months – ever since petrol hit the latest in an ongoing series of highs – $8 per litre. These days, the traffic is mostly buses and trucks, commuters having long ago given up on runs into the CBD each day in preference for telecommuting from their home computers. The ambitious and expensive network of tunnels built under the city are now largely falling into disuse by everyone except for squatters; it’s too expensive to keep it all roadworthy for the few remaining paying coustomers. And in the CBD, luxury high-rise ghettoes are crammed with people trying to escape now-isolated suburbs.

Such a scenario may sound outlandish, and perhaps it is, but according to a growing number of energy analysts Australians are in danger of living the dream-turned-nightmare. Oil, they say, is running out. The ubiquitous black gold that lubricates our daily lives and makes the economy hum is getting harder and costlier to extract from the ground. On this much virtually everyone, even the skeptics, agrees.
What they don’t agree on is when it’ll happen.

‘In the next three years’, argues author and researcher James Howard Kunstler in a recent interview with Grist magazine in the US, ‘we are going to be feeling the pain. Our lives are going to be noticeably beginning to be disrupted. In the next ten years, you will see the beginning of a major collapse of suburbia’.

Australia is a country heavily reliant on oil. Our strength as one of the world’s leading agricultural producers hinges on not just fuel oil for transport, but oil by-products as fertilizers.

According to Kunstler, rising fuel costs will force city-dwellers to grow their own food literally in household backyards and farms on the back doorstep. Many people, he says, will find their lifestyles change to accommodate a necessary grow-your-own component. Prices for lifestyle blocks and large city sections will soar, while prices of apartments will plummet.

Although Kunstler was speaking to an American audience, there are those in Australia, like the Green Party, who are convinced by his message, and throw the threat of falling oil supplies into an already-confused local debate over environmental policy and where the country – and world is hidden. For while on the one hand, environmentalists worry that the world is running out of oil (though they never mention that such a scenario would also go a long way towards cut greenhouse gas emissions), on the other, scientists such as Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, disagree. According to Lomborg, there are vast reserves of oil in tar sands and shale, and while it is more expensive to extract, these sources could also keep the well from running dry for many, many years – 5,000, to be exact.

It’s not hard to understand why the skeptics would be, well, skeptical. After all, back in the 1970s environmentalists were predicting that today civilization would be beating back glaciers and that nations would be going to war over food. And there’s currently huge debate over whether rising temperatures are the result of man’s planet-destroying hubris which needs urgently to be put in check, or simply caused by natural long-term fluctuations in the climate. After all, if meteorologists can’t predict whether Saturday’s trip to the beach will be a wash-out, what makes them think they can project the temperature, five, ten, or fifty years down the track?

So is this matter of peak oil really much ado about nothing and another tactic by the Greens to garner inner-city votes and reduce vehicle emissions? Or is it the skeptics who are misinformed?
New Zealand-based geologist Alan Hart, who has worked on the frontline of the oil industry for 30 years, believes the ramifications of this ‘final’ oil crisis will be very serious indeed and our media has fundamentally failed to alert people to the realities of what lies ahead. Born in Texas in 1951, he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with advanced degrees in petroleum geology in 1974 and 1979, and has worked for several oil companies, including the 7th largest US petroleum company, ARCO. Since 2002, he has been on the board of directors of Canadian company, TAG Oil, which is concentrating on exploration efforts in New Zealand.

‘These journalists and radio hosts are entitled to their opinions and can denigrate spokespersons like myself all they want, but I personally know that peak oil will arrive in two or five or ten years. From that point on, the world as we know it will be changed unless the global community meets it head on and begins its preparations now.’
The act of taking oil from the ground is called producing it. Since the start of oil production in the nineteenth century, the world has produced about half of its ultimately recoverable oil resource. At the halfway point, the world will achieve what is referred to as its production peak – more oil will be produced in a year near the halfway point than ever before – or thereafter. This is what is referred to as peak oil.

There are varied opinions regarding when peak oil will occur. Dr Colin Campbell, a petro-geologist who is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on predicting oil trends, calculates that it will occur in 2006. Dr Campbell, who was conferred with a PhD from Oxford University and has worked as a geologist, manager, and consultant for a variety of oil companies, is currently the convener and editor of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) and a Trustee of the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre in London. He told the Guardian in late-April 2005 that about 944 billion barrels of oil have thus far been extracted, some 764 billion remains extractable in known fields or reserves, and that a further 142 billion of reserves are classed as ‘yet-to-find’ – that’s the oil geologists expect to be discovered. He said if this is so, then the overall oil peak arrives next year – with unpredictable and perhaps drastic consequences for the world.

Optimists focus on the figures and assume that just because the production peak has arrived doesn’t mean that oil is under imminent threat. But Campbell and James Howard Kunstler argue the petro-optimists are missing the point.

‘We don’t have to run out of oil or natural gas to have severe problems’, says Kunstler. ‘All you have to do is head down the arc of depletion on the downside of world peak production.’
In other words, as production decreases yet demand continues to increase, oil prices become problematic for the world long before the wells actually dry up.

The peak oil debate has recently heated up especially across the Tasman, where Energy Minister Trevor Mallard told Investigate the Government stands by its view that peak oil will occur sometime between 2021 and 2067, with ‘probability highest around 2037’, statistics that come from the United States Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.

‘I stress that other estimates abound’, concedes Mallard, ‘and that I’m not claiming that this is the right one, but it’s in our view the best estimate we have to work to for now’.

oil-rig.jpgBut critics say politicians like Mallard have no choice but to play it cool, lest the healthy economic outlook be exposed as a fraud. The man who just purchased a new 4WD on hire purchase would think the bottom had dropped out of his world and the young couple who’d just built their dream home an hour’s drive from their work places, where there was no alternative but to drive, would be gutted. It’s far simpler, say petro-pessimists, for the Minister to use smoke and mirrors to provide an illusion of a rosy future, which allow for the continuance of current trends over the coming years, rather than to tell it like it is. It’s like booking us to go First Class on the Titanic and moving all the furniture towards the end that will sink first.

It is significant that peak oil is getting much more coverage in the international media than it is in Australia’s daily press. But this will change. Ordinary people are learning about the theory, thanks largely to word of mouth and the internet. One who ascribes to this view is Kiwi builder Robert Atack. For six years now, this 47-year-old has been a modern Jeremiah informing people about the impending oil crisis. He, like some experts in world energy studies, believes it will have a catastrophic impact on humanity, an impact which could be lessened if we start our preparations now.

Atack has plunged $9,000 of his own cash into the issue, printing and distributing leaflets, CDs, DVDs, videos and books, which carry information from experts of Dr Colin Campbell’s ilk, to members of the public and parliament.

‘During the last term of government I had 10,000 copies of The Oil Crash And You printed and sent about 5 copies each to every MP. And I’ve sent a lot of e-mails – and I think probably most of the current government have had something sent to them’, offers Atack.

‘Trevor Mallard’s been in denial. Any official reply I’ve seen from his office since he became Minister of Energy is just the regurgitated rubbish Pete Hodgson’s secretary sent out, who became Mallard’s when he took over the job of Minister of Energy.’

Beyond the rhetoric, there is evidence that the oil industry really is in dire straits. According to oil geologist Hart it is an industry virtually working at full capacity now. It’s being pushed to its limits. He can tell by the number of oil tankers traveling around the world, the number of seismic vessels gathering seismic data for oil companies, as well as from the number of oilrigs in use.

At present, the world can produce about 84 million barrels of oil a day at the most.

Over 82 million barrels per day are being used at present and there’s an increasing demand for more. The world economy grew by 5.1% in 2004 – the fastest in nearly three decades. Among the leaders were China, (with around 1.3 billion inhabitants), expanding at 9.5%, Argentina at 9% and India at 7.3%, (around 1.1 billion people). Projections for the fourth quarter of 2005 indicate that 86 to 87 million barrels of oil a day will be required and this won’t be met. Although the biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Texaco, and BP talk about there being ‘plenty of oil’ and being able to produce more, their production figures are actually going down every year, a problem compounded by a lack of refineries that create supply bottlenecks and push the price of petrol north.

While the oil industry can function well at the moment, it won’t in the imminent future. Compounding the oil availability problems is that for the past 20 years the industry has failed to attract enough new personnel. Faced with the choice of studying oil geology or the glamour of IT during the dotcom boom of the nineties, many students chose IT. The grim period of mergers and downsizing in the oil business added to the perception that the oil business was a beast in its death throes. As perhaps it is.

Managing editor of the Oil & Gas International Journal, Dev George, puts it, ‘It seems as though every major petroleum industry conference these days has at least one session devoted to bemoaning the critical shortage of new blood, the lack of young professionals – engineers and geologists and geoscientists as well as business and industry generalists – entering the industry.’

Hart says this spells doom for the oil business, because the ability to successfully locate and drill for oil is highly dependent upon having an employee base with extensive work experience.

‘In 1985, the average age for a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists was 38. The average age last year was 53. This shows that at this critical time when the industry really needs experienced employees, they won’t be there. It is really a dreadful situation we face’, offers Hart despondently.

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists has been providing videos and encouraging its 31,000 members to speak in public forums about the possibility of future oil shortages for the past 15 years. Hart began making presentations to various civic and business groups down under several years ago in an attempt to alert the public to the coming end to cheap oil, but finds it difficult to disseminate the message because the public is chiefly ‘unbelieving.’

‘Some people think that “peak oil” is nothing but evidence of a greedy oil industry trying to talk up the oil price’, but this is not so, says Hart: ‘Why would the industry manipulate prices so high that they drive away the very customers that are required to keep them in business? The last thing the oil companies want to see is a chaotic global event [peak oil] that destroys their carefully cultivated consumer base. If there was anything the producers – especially OPEC and petroleum companies could do to slow the price juggernaut,
believe me they’d be doing it now, not tomorrow.’

Hart says it’s the plight of his own four children that motivates him to inform the public about peak oil, because while he can educate them on the impending oil crisis, without the cooperative efforts of the rest of the community and nation, their entire livelihood is threatened by the coming dilemma.

Dr Peter Ballance, formerly Associate Professor of Geology at Auckland University, specialised in sedimentary and oil geology and holds a Doctorate of Science from the University of London. He contends that the threat of peak oil should be taken seriously. ‘It’s a physical fact. One which we may reach this year or in 10 year’s time’, he warns.

In regard to whether skeptical cientists such as Bjorn Lomborg are correct in claiming that there is plenty of oil, Dr Ballance admits that ‘people who say there’s plenty of oil are right in one sense, but in the sense of plenty of the ideal oil, they’re wrong. Much of that remaining oil will be in tar sands, oil shales, deep-sea locations and Arctic locations. All of that’s very expensive and environmentally damaging to extract.’

The cost of oil is not the real issue. The availability of oil is. It is currently cheap because we’re extracting fuel from easy fields whose technical infrastructure was put in place and paid for decades ago. When those fields empty, sooner rather than later, prices will rise.

It is commonly suggested that technological advances will play a role in finding meaningful quantities of more oil. Unfortunately, according to Hart, while technology has and will continue to enhance the oil industry’s ability to locate significant new accumulations of petroleum, it cannot compensate for the huge amounts of cheap oil we are chewing our way through.

‘Anyone who believes that technology will “save the day” like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster is not facing up to reality. Technology alone cannot replace the amounts of cheap oil [less than US$10/barrel to produce] we are currently consuming on a global scale. It’s going to take a conservation effort too’, he asserts. Wishful thinking, whilst correct to a point, still ignores the reality that markets rely on plenty of advance warning and new discoveries, not magic wands, and that if another chemical existed that could replace oil as a fuel, or in plastics or any of the other myriad uses for oil, we ought to know about it by now. And we don’t. And on a worst case scenario those ‘markets’ may only have another five years to find the mystery new elixir, test it and produce it.

Yes, solar power can help reduce some of the dependence on oil, but currently we use oil to create solar generation capacity. The power and telephone lines into our homes are manufactured from oil. Computers are dependent on oil. Many pharmaceutical and health products require oil. For the markets to truly ‘take care of it’, planning has to begin immediately, argue petro-pessimists.

50026687._S8E0830_oil_rig_Long_Beach.jpgSome still refuse to face the possibility of a world with less oil, however, like those who believe Thomas Gold’s theory that oil is abiotic, or non-organic in origin. This theory, which holds a growing number of followers, suggests that oil is being produced within the mantle of the earth, from where it continually moves upward, to provide an unlimited supply. Dr Ballance says that there is no substance to Gold’s theory. ‘It’s one of the many myths on which people build hopes’, he says.

Although the oil industry has repeatedly proven that oil is biotic, meaning that it is derived from the degeneration of organic plant and animal remains from which the carbon molecules have been converted to complex hydrocarbon molecules through pressure and time, the Gold theory has retained many believers for a number of reasons.

There are genuine accounts of oil wells refilling, and drilling at levels deeper than 10,000 metres, which some say is evidence that has supported Gold’s theory. Ballance counters that the reason the wells have been refilling is not because oil is being magically produced deep within the earth, but simply because oil moves through permeable rocks in response to a pressure gradient. It can continue to move after a well has ceased to provide economic quantities of oil. Thus, it’s to be expected that old wells will in some cases refill with oil, but in no where near the quantities that will make any difference to a world that uses over 82 million barrels a day.

Likewise, the drilling beyond 10,000 metres does not lend support for the abiotic theory, either because when hydrocarbons are subjected to the temperatures and pressure that exist below 9,000 metres, they are generally destroyed says Hart.

Former industrial chemist Kevin Moore, who has an Honours degree in chemistry from Auckland University, has studied the abiotic theory and says its proponents are asking us to accept a process that defies the laws of chemistry. ‘Until the proponents of abiotic oil present a plausible theory, and they’ve presented none to my knowledge, it’s just junk science’.

The deepest bore to date was drilled by Russians in the Kola Peninsula to 12,262-metres from 1970 to 1994 and cost more than US$250 million. However, it was not drilled in order to search for oil or natural gas, but to study the nature of the earth’s crust. ‘While there’s no ultra-deep oil except in a couple of unusual fields, there is ultra-deep gas in many places. No matter where people get their information from, they can be assured that petroleum is not generated in the mantle. And if Russia, which passed peak production in the late-1980’s, has all of this deep oil, why isn’t it selling it on the world market?’, questions Hart.

According to peak oil advocates, Australia should be doing a thorough analysis of each sector of the economy to understand how vulnerable it is to oil prices and shortages and what can be done. For example, can our food be grown closer to where it is eaten? How do we maintain soil fertility without nitrogen-based fertilizers – which are made from fossil fuels? Can we invest now in expensive infrastructure that will be hard to afford when oil is expensive – like rail, wind turbines and solar technologies, to say nothing of nuclear power, which is once again on the agenda.

Australia is competing against the world for a limited amount of liquid energy. As long as oil demand outstrips the industry’s ability to supply oil, the prices will continue to rise. When global oil production does peak, and it soon will, the disparity between demand and supply will continue to grow and the situation will so worsen. It’s not a case of if, but when. While one can hope and pray that gigantic new sources of petroleum will be found tomorrow, if the majority of people working in the petroleum industry are correct, this won’t happen and continuing our gas-guzzling ways is only going to add to an already critical situation.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

MOVIES: Dec 05, AU Edition

Reece Witherspoon’s latest fails to thrill, while Russian Dolls is more than just kid stuff

Xavier and Wendy in St Petersburg on boat_cmyk.jpgRussian Dolls
Release: December, 2005
Rated: M
French with English sub-titles
3 stars

Russian Dolls is a sequel to the very popular 2002 French flick, The Spanish Apartment. In The Spanish Apartment a group of 25-year-old students come to discover life isn’t all about meaningless sex and realize that they have to grow up. Set five years later, Russian Dolls has the group on the cusp of thirty discovering they really, really have to grow up.

The storyline is predominantly explained through voiceover from the lead character Xavier (played by a cute but slightly dull Romain Duris). He’s no longer working in finance and is now doing crappy freelance writing for romantic TV movies. So as he writes he fills in plot gaps: “I wrote a book called L’auberge Espanole five years ago, but haven’t been able to find a publisher.” It’s a clever way to bring you up to speed with the lives of his friends over the past five years.

Basically the gang all get back together for the wedding in St Petersburg of English stagehand William (played charmingly by Kevin Bishop) and Russian ballerina Natasha (Evguenya Obraztsova).
Two stand out roles are Xavier’s ex-girlfriend, Martine (played by the captivating Audrey Tautou), who has a young son by a never-seen father, still carries a semi-torch for Xavier and, like all the characters on display, is searching for true love. And current girlfriend Wendy (played by the magnetic Kelly Reilly) a gifted writer getting over an abusive relationship.

Enter Celia (played appropriately woodenly by Lucy Gordon), a top fashion model whose life story is being ghost-written by Xavier. She’s beautiful and dumb – making her the perfect woman in Xavier’s eyes.
My question is why do all these beautiful and smart women fall for a neurotic no-hoper wreck? Sure Xavier is handsome and French – but come on girls, we all know he’s a commitment-phobic disaster.
If you liked The Spanish Apartment you’ll like Russian Dolls. It’s nice to have films that grow up with you.

JL05_cmyk.jpgJust Like Heaven
Release: December, 2005
Rated: PG
3 stars

Look, I love Reece Witherspoon. And I think Mark Ruffalo is a big spunk. But the new movie they are starring in, Just Like Heaven, leans a bit too heavily on their sweetness to make up for its failings.
Basically Elizabeth is a type-A, work-obsessed woman who has no time for love – not much of a stretch for a Reece Witherspoon character. David is a depressed yet gentle man trying to get over the death of his wife – again, Mark Ruffalo could play this with his eyes shut.

The catch is Elizabeth is a spirit that no-one but David can see. Yup, it’s a pretty dumb plot alright. The scriptwriters obviously hope viewers will make the leap of faith before you run from the room screaming Ghost. Myself, I struggled with it.

Anyway, our two leads have to figure out why Elizabeth is a spirit and only David can see her so they can hopefully fix the problem. There are some funny bits. While Elizabeth is trying to convince David to help her, she seals the deal by arguing, “Look, you have two realities to choose from. The first is a woman has come into your life in a very unconventional way and she needs your assistance. The second is you are a crazy person talking to himself on a park bench.” Fair point.
Of course this is a romantic comedy so they fall in love – even though she’s not real so he can’t touch her and she can walk through walls and furniture. Hmmm.

If you’re looking for a dumb chick flick to distract you this summer Just Like Heaven is for you. But I prefer my spirits mixed with with orange juice.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

Dec 05, AU Edition

chadwick 3-25.jpg

A mystery from inside the Pacific’s Bermuda Triangle

In February 1962, an ageing bi-plane on a scenic flight became the first victim of an area they’re calling the Pacific’s Bermuda Triangle. Six planes have vanished never to be seen again, taking with them 23 men, women and children. Now in this extract from aviation writer RICHARD WAUGH’s new book, Lost Without Trace?, comes the story of the missing Dragonfly, and details of a $4,000 reward for its discovery.

From a gentle idle Brian Chadwick closes down the Dragonfly engines. The ground running warms them up before the flight and is a last check for any obvious faults. Everything is fine and there is plenty of fuel aboard. Stepping away from the Dragonfly, Chadwick looks toward the distant Alps. It’s a habit. There is total cloud cover and he can feel the southerly wind.

With the Flight Plan filed he walks into the imposing terminal building and greets two men already waiting at the Inquiry Desk. “Hello, I’m Brian Chadwick, your pilot for today’s flight,” “Gidday mate, I’m Louis Rowan,” “And I’m Darrell Shiels.”

Elwyn Saville soon joins them and his new wife Valerie emerges from the powder room. ‘A happy young lot; they’ll love the flight,’ thinks Chadwick as they head off chatting, toward the parked Dragonfly. Louis quickly works out his older brother Bill had worked with Darrell at a Sydney brewery.

“Yes, she’s not the newest plane,” says Chadwick, “But you’ll have fantastic views and we’ll be slow enough for you to use all the film in your cameras – I guarantee it!” He soon finds out where they’re from, and puts Elwyn and Valerie together on the rear bench seat, Louis in the front seat next to him, and Darrell in the middle seat. They listen attentively as he gives the safety instructions and points out the First Aid box, barley sugars and four small blankets.

Chadwick eases into the pilot’s seat. He has just over 6,000 flying hours experience. There is friendly banter in the cabin and they all laugh when he says, “On board we have a Pom, three Aussies and a Kiwi – not a joke – but it’s going to be a memorable flight!”

The Dragonfly had been refuelled the evening before by Ken Froggatt who worked as an assistant to Chadwick. Following instructions Froggatt had filled the wing tanks to capacity (30 gallons each) and put 15 gallons in the rear fuselage tank, and the aircraft was all ready for the morning’s flight. After ground running the engines, Chadwick went to meet his passengers. The four tourists were all from New South Wales: Elwyn & Valerie Saville from Wahroonga, Louis Rowan from Granville and Darrell Shiels from Balmain. Valerie was a New Zealander who had married Elwyn in her home town of Gisborne just two months earlier.

chadwick 4-F2-1.jpgThe Savilles came to the South Island as part of their extended honeymoon holiday in New Zealand, wanting to see some of the renowned scenery. They were intending to return to Australia in late February. Sidney Elwyn Saville, known as ‘Elwyn’, was born on 8 October 1941 at Casino on the north coast of New South Wales where his father Roy owned and ran a dairy farm. He was the third of five children. The family were Seventh Day Adventist and Elwyn attended Casino High School and then went to work at the Wahroonga Sanitarium and Hospital in Sydney. This is now the Sydney Adventist Hospital.

Valerie Gay Bignell was born on 27 June 1939, the second youngest of twelve children of Fred and Jessie Bignell at Tokomaru Bay, north of Gisborne. Fred was a foreman and slaughterman at the local Freezing Works. Valerie attended Tokomaru Bay School and from the age of 14, the New Zealand Missionary College (later Longburn College) near Palmerston North. She returned to Gisborne and worked in the office at Cook Hospital as a typist. Valerie’s family remember her as “a loving kind person, quiet, who loved children.”

She decided to go to Australia in 1959 as several relatives were there including a sister, Patricia. Valerie soon got a job as a secretary-clerk at the Adventist Sanatorium and this is where she met Elwyn. Engaged in the winter of 1961, they set a wedding date in New Zealand, took extended leave from their jobs and the couple left Sydney by air for New Zealand on 21 November, along with several other friends and were booked to return to Sydney by sea on the Canberra, leaving on 28 February 1962. It was a return trip they would never make.

chadwick 4-F3-2.jpgBorn at Junee in New South Wales in 1928, Darrell Stanley Shiels was the youngest of Warrie and Doris Shiels’ three children. His father worked on the railway. He attended Drummoyne Boys High School. Darrell’s older brother, Allan Warren Shiels, aged 19, was killed in wartime England on 19 June 1944 in a plane crash whilst serving with the RAAF.

Darrell was 5’11” tall of medium build and played tennis, but his favourite occupation was playing the piano. He took after his grandmother who was a very good pianist. Darrell worked in a railways office and later as a clerk in the office of Tooth & Co Brewery in Sydney. Darrell was single but had been engaged for a short time a few years earlier. While at Tooths Brewery he lived at home with his mother at Balmain, Sydney.

Louis Rowan had been working in New Guinea before returning home to Australia for Christmas 1961 and then took a trip to New Zealand with the prospect of working for a while.

“Louis was a very outgoing and popular man who had close mates and a wide circle of friends,” remembers his brother John. “He was generous by nature and a willing helper to anyone who needed it. He was popular with the girls and flirting was a trademark. He played tennis regularly and kept himself very fit. Louis was 6’1” tall, lean and about 170lb. He was a member of the Granville RSL and really enjoyed a beer and a smoke. He owned three cars, the first a Vanguard, the second an FJ Holden and the third, his pride and joy, a Dodge Kingsway. He was never short of family and friends to fill these cars for any occasion.”

chadwick 4-F1-1.jpgRowan’s date with destiny happened by chance: the possibility of a scenic flight to Milford Sound came up while he lingered in Christchurch awaiting a flight back to the North Island and thence home to Australia. When the opportunity came to board the Dragonfly, he seized it, leaving his luggage behind in a bed and breakfast establishment he never returned to.

As the group of five boarded the Dragonfly, Don Eadie, a 24-year-old licensed aircraft engineer with Airwork, was ready to help. In 2004 he remembered: “I was on tarmac duty when Brian Chadwick loaded up AFB with the tourists for the trip to Milford. At that time, the engineering staff at Airwork wore grey overalls, and I always kept a clean pair of white ones for ‘tarmac duty’. My job was to assist the pilot ‘load up’ and having shut the door, stand by with a fire extinguisher while the engines were started. I often wondered what I would do if one caught fire! However, I was never put to the test. The Dominie and Dragonfly engines always started and ran smoothly after a short warm up. A testimony to the care with which they were maintained.

“I seem to recall that it was a warm day at Harewood. I can still see the young couple in the Dragonfly, lightly dressed and quite excited at the prospect of flying to Milford. After a wave from Brian, I pulled away the wooden chocks and he then taxied out to the runway. That was the last I was to see of him.”

Dragonfly ZK-AFB was airborne just over 10 minutes late. George Blackett reported, “Upon Captain Chadwick’s departure from Christchurch the Control Tower sent the Flight Plan to Communications for onward transmission and sent the Control Centre a plaque to inform the Centre of the actual time of departure. The aircraft left at 9.52am and was to set down at Milford at 12.37pm.”

Christchurch Airport received no further radio reports from Chadwick as the Dragonfly began the long climb toward the Southern Alps.
As expected, many other pilots were flying in the lower South Island that day. From Hokitika, Brian Waugh took off mid-morning on the scheduled West Coast Airways service to Haast. He later wrote: “Dominie ZK-AKT lifted off into a light cloudy sky. It was early morning, and Hokitika looked quite sleepy beneath me. Another typical day I thought. Little did I realise that 12 February 1962 would be a day not easily forgotten. Just over an hour later I landed at Haast in sunshine, picked up six passengers and headed home on the return trip. Jim Harper was right: while the coast weather was good, it was pitch black in the ranges. I smiled smugly: ‘Chaddy will not be carrying any scenic passengers to Milford today,’ I thought.”

chadwick 1-1.jpgNo radio reports were received from Chadwick after the Dragonfly took off but this was quite normal as his next designated radio reporting point was the Mt. Eliede Beaumont area, assuming his “Usual Route”. While there were no radio messages there were a number of reported hearings and sightings of the blue and white Dragonfly as it droned its way over the Canterbury Plains and headed south-west. In this sense the aircraft did not disappear ‘without trace’ as these observations were made by a range of people at many different places. These reports indicate that the progress of ZK-AFB for part of its intended journey can be confirmed with reasonable certainty.

In 1987 Eric Gillum contacted the author recording his memories of 12 February 1962: “I was digging a drain with a dragline working on Mr Walter Elliot’s Omahau sheep station that day, which is about 6 miles south from Lake Pukaki Village and about half a mile from where Twizel village was later established. I had just stopped work a few minutes before midday when I heard a plane going over, it was far too low and one engine was spluttering and blowing out smoke. I thought then that if it got as far as Lake Ohau it would be as far as it would get.
“Mr Elliot came out that afternoon about 3 o’clock and told me a plane had been reported missing. I asked him if he knew what sort of plane it was and when he said it was a Dragonfly I told him it had gone over with one engine spluttering. I had met Captain Chadwick and found him a very levelheaded person. If the plane had kept on course after it flew over where I was it would have had to gain a lot of height to get over the Ben Ohau Range, but I couldn’t see that being possible with one sick motor, he could have flown around the Ben Ohau Range at the bottom of Lake Ohau and got back on course from there.

“About 11 o’clock that same day my sister, Eileen Harrington, was at Jim O’Neil’s farm on Clayton Road, Fairlie, when that plane passed overhead, therefore he was right on course and the timing would be right too.”

One of the earliest reports received by Search and Rescue on the Monday night was relayed from deercullers at the head of Lake Ohau. This was further investigated on the Tuesday. Evan Blanch in 2004 wrote this detailed account:

As a 20-year-old, I was employed by the New Zealand Forest Service doing deerculling in the Hopkins River watershed. There were eight shooters covering the Hunter, Ahuriri, Hopkins and Dobson Valleys – two to each, plus a Field Officer and under the control of the Otago-Southland office in Queenstown. On the day Chad- wick’s aircraft went missing we were all at the NZFS Waitaki Base Camp on Huxley Gorge Station. This camp is at the base of Ram Hill at the south end of the Hopkins Valley. We would meet up once a month to collect and send out mail, fill in our monthly report cards and have our tallies counted.

“The weather was, to say the least, terrible, with a very strong southerly coming up over Lake Ohau with low cloud and rain showers. I don’t remember now the exact time but it was in the middle of the day. I was at the time repairing the driveshaft on my Chevrolet pick-up truck and was surprised to suddenly hear an aircraft overhead in the cloud. It was clearly twin-engined and working very hard against the wind but at no time did it become visible. I stood and listened until it could no longer be heard. It flew directly up the Hopkins Valley and my impression was that some mountain tops must have been visible to make it possible to fly up the valley. The plane sounded as if it came out of the Dobson Valley and around Mt Glenmary, when the sound of the engines ceased – they stopped very abruptly.

“Everyone at the camp heard the plane but as they were indoors they did not take a lot of notice. It was not until the 6 o’clock news came over the radio saying that a plane was missing that we realised that what we heard was probably it.

Chadwick 2-1.jpg“The Hopkins River is almost North to South and has a gentle curve over most of its length. The Huxley River is quite a large valley on the west of the Hopkins with the Elcho Valley a bit smaller. These would be an absolute trap in bad weather for any plane but they do give access to the Landsborough River, via the Brodrick Pass, which in turn gives a route to the West Coast and Haast. So we heard the plane going north away from its intended destination and into an area of high mountains and dense forest. In two years working in the area there was a lot of the area I never visited. A blue fabric covered aircraft could easily still be there!

“The Police were interested in what I heard but I didn’t see any – but officers in charge tend to take over in these situations. I have never been asked for my story and this is the first time I have put it to paper.”

A total of 17 civilian and 17 military aircraft – including both RNZAF and USAF aircraft from Operation Deep Freeze at Christchurch – combed Fiordland for any trace of the aircraft. All up, they logged more than 630 flying hours across more than 250 individual sorties. To this day, it remains the largest air search ever conducted in New Zealand history.

The whereabouts of Dragonfly ZK-AFB, its pilot and passengers, quickly became a persisting mystery spawning wide interest, and this has continued to the present day. Based on what many people reported seeing or hearing, the Dragonfly’s progress south west is reasonably certain but its final resting place is still elusive, despite a number of search initiatives over the years. Adding to this Dragonfly mystery is the subsequent disappearance in the same lower South Island region of five further aircraft which have never been found (see sidebar story).

With the official Dragonfly search being suspended, the families of those on board the missing aircraft were compelled to face the reality that their loved ones had died. It was a traumatic week.

Telegrams had been sent from the New Zealand Police in the late afternoon and early evening of 12 February notifying relatives in Australia that the aircraft was overdue and missing. Darrell Shiels’ mother told newspapers the following day that her husband had been put on sedatives to help cope with the shock.

For the Rowan family it was just as devastating with the family making desperate attempts to obtain more news. Every news bulletin on Sydney radio was listened to and reception of late evening radio broadcasts from New Zealand were sometimes successful. But the distance and lack of news was heartbreaking for all involved. Support for the families from relatives and friends was encouraging with care and prayers being offered all across Australia.

Elwyn Saville’s parents stayed with Valerie’s sister, Patricia King, at Cooranbong, and it was from there that Mrs Saville wrote a letter to the other bereaved families. Her heartfelt letter of 20 February to the Rowan family said:

“We are writing a short note to you in hope that by being parents of the young couple in the same plane as your boy has disappeared, we may be able to offer some comfort in knowing that the one sadness covers both our homes. We do not know each other but may God bless you with his love in our sad time, it is very hard for us to understand but I do feel that God must have a purpose for it all, may we put our trust in him.

“We contacted the New Zealand Commissioner of Police asking if they considered it would be of any gain for us to go over to New Zealand or if my husband and son could be of any assistance in the search, the reply wasn’t just what we’d have liked but they have really made a wonderful effort in the search for them.

“The reply stated that they have searched 17,000 square miles six or seven times. The search has been suspended in the meantime and will be taken up immediately if information comes to hand. No point in coming to New Zealand at present. We cannot expect more of them even though we’d like them to go on searching. We can only have faith in knowing that if we should not see them again in this world we will meet our loved ones when Jesus comes on the Great Resurrection Day. May your faith, courage and health, as well as our own be built so as to face the future whatever God has in store for us.”

In Christchurch the news had filtered out more quickly. The Isles family, where Valerie and Elwyn Saville had been staying, heard about the aircraft being overdue by late afternoon but Valerie’s parents, Mr and Mrs Fred Bignell and their family in Gisborne, weren’t contacted by police until later that evening.

Two weeks later Mrs Bignell and her daughter Joyce went to Christchurch, stayed with the Isles, and collected the luggage, including wedding presents, that the couple had left behind.
For Sylvia Chadwick and her two sons, the news was also unbelievable. At the naval training establishment in Auckland, Tony was convinced that his father would turn up unscathed after a couple of days, and had to be virtually ordered to go home on compassionate leave. Then there was a sense of helplessness, as there was nothing that could be done to assist the search.

chadwick 5-11.jpgCertainly the performance of the Dragonfly in alpine flying conditions, especially at the required altitudes in the lower Southern Alps, was very poor. Not only was there an appreciable difference in the actual single engine performance of ZK-AFB when compared to manufacturer’s claims, but by 1962, in comparison with other newer aircraft available, the veteran Dragonfly was clearly unsuitable for such trips. When the aircraft’s known poor single-engine performance and susceptibility to icing, is combined with the mountainous terrain and deteriorating weather, a whole new meaning is given to the term “margin of error”.

The reality was that the Dragonfly had little or no margin of error to cope with any major weather deterioration or mechanical failure en route to Milford Sound. Chadwick may not have originally envisaged using the Dragonfly for his Milford Sound flights, as his larger Dominie aircraft was more suitable, but in practice the aircraft regularly flew the Glacier and Milford Sound charters. With hindsight it can now be said that flying a Dragonfly aircraft on regular commercial charters over the rugged Southern Alps to Milford Sound, sometimes in deteriorating weather, was risky, if not a tragedy waiting to happen.

In spite of the passage of time, local pilots continued to keep watch for the Dragonfly, looking for anything unusual in the dense bush and trees, especially in more isolated areas. Brian Waugh was prominent, but there were many others.

Nancy Stokes, widow of Mt Cook skiplane pilot John Stokes, who was based at Fox Glacier 1961-1964, recently commented: “John always kept an eye out for Chadwick”. Ray Sweney from Hokitika also deliberately flew over many likely areas. The same was true for Canterbury-based pilot Jim Pavitt, who continued to fly Milford Sound charters, “After Brian Chadwick went missing, every time I flew to Milford I scrutinised the terrain for any signs. I even varied the route to cover as much as possible, but there is such an extensive wilderness it was fruitless. One day I hope a tramper or someone finds something; then we might learn what happened.”

In January 1975 a deerstalker, N.L. Duncan reported seeing what looked like aircraft debris in the headwaters of the Rangitata River. A fully equipped six-man team, led by two police constables, completed a search accompanied by Mr Duncan but nothing was found.

On 8 August 1980 Paul Beauchamp Legg and his wife Frances were flying with Dr Paul and Jean Monro in the Middle District’s Aero Club’s Piper Cherokee 180 ZK-ECR. Paul Monro recounts: “We were on a flight from Franz Josef to Milford Sound with Paul Legg flying. I remember us flying well round Mt. Aspiring to the south of the West Branch of the Matukituki River. We then headed for a point a few miles out to sea from the entrance to Milford Sound and flew over tall bush-covered undulating country which I assume may have been the Dart River. As we descended towards Lake Alabaster, before crossing its southern end, Jean, who was sitting in the left rear seat, saw what looked like the white tail plane of an aircraft semi-hidden in the bush.” Beauchamp Legg was quickly alerted and he recalls: “We were in a severe down-draught at the time and I was more interested in staying with the living than joining the dead and was working hard to get into an updraught. I only had time to make a quick glance in the direction Mrs Monro indicated. I marked it on the map and passed the information to Air Department but as far as I know nothing was done about it. I was told much later, at Queenstown, that one of the helicopters had dropped a fridge in the bush somewhere about there but Mrs Monro was still adamant that it was an aeroplane she saw.”

A further on-going search initiative has been quietly undertaken by Lex Perriam, a ranger with the New Zealand Forest Service based at Omarama since 1975. Perriam remembers the Dragonfly going missing while attending high school at Mosgiel. In 1977 he discussed the mystery with Stafford Weatherall, owner of the Lake Ohau Station.

Weatherall told him that on the day the Dragonfly went missing he had been mustering east of Lake Ohau on Ben Rose Station and heard, above the fog, an aircraft to the west with engines revving loudly. This account, together with a dream Perriam had of the Dragonfly being in the South Huxley area, and Richard Waugh’s article for the 25th anniversary of the disappearance in 1987, renewed his interest and prompted him to be deliberate about ongoing searching for wreckage in the areas for which he has Forest Service responsibility. In 2005 he reported: “I was encouraged to continue looking for the location of the plane by foot and by air.”

Mason Whaitiri of Bluff reported to the author recently: “In early 1962 I was the Skipper of the Miss Geraldine fishing boat and was working directly off the entrance to Milford Sound at the time the aircraft went missing. It was a bright sunny day and the boat was straight out from St Anne Point about a mile from the Sound mouth. The time was about midday or 1pm and the boat was picking up pots.

“I was in the wheelhouse and two crew members were at the winch – Russell Trow, my brother-in-law, and Allan Strange. In spite of the noise from the freezer and engine in the wheelhouse I heard a very loud aircraft noise which all of a sudden cut out.

“I went out on deck and asked the others who were using the winch whether they had heard the close-by aircraft but they hadn’t heard a thing over the noise of the winch and didn’t see anything. While the weather was sunny and clear it was blowing a 25-30 knot wind from south west coming up the coast. A hard wind!

“Later that day we heard that an aircraft was missing. We also saw smoke in the bush behind Big Bay and steamed for about three hours to get closer but we determined it was Davy Gunn mustering cattle. Some weeks later it dawned on me the possible explanation for the very loud aircraft noise and its sudden end.

chadwick front cov.jpg“I felt the aircraft would have been very near for the noise to have penetrated the wheelhouse so clearly – maybe within 200 yards. I think the missing aircraft may have been running out of fuel and the pilot had nowhere else to land and so decided to get close to the only human civilisation – the Miss Geraldine – and to ditch in the sea alongside. This was the loud noise I heard as the aircraft came up very close. But unfortunately the pilot ditched on the wrong side and was not noticed. The crew and I were not looking that way as we were concentrating on collecting the pots and were watching certain land features to help determine where the pots were. I am a friend of veteran helicopter pilot Bill Black. On occasions Bill came up close to my boat but if I was in the wheelhouse I only heard his helicopter when he was directly overhead. This whole incident has haunted me for all these years.”

Although many years have passed it is quite likely there will be still more reports made about the Dragonfly. All deserve to be considered carefully. The reality is that the Dragonfly did not just vanish without trace. This book documents many key and credible reports, many dating back to 12 February 1962, which provide strong evidence that the Dragonfly was flying on a southwest route down the eastern side of the Main Divide. The sighting/hearing reports of an aircraft in the Lake Ohau/Hopkins area and the Mt. Aspiring area provide important clues as to its possible final resting place.

Investigate magazine is supporting Richard Waugh’s quest to solve New Zealand’s most perplexing aviation mystery by offering a $4,000 cash reward to anyone who discovers the wreckage and reports it exclusively to Investigate in the first instance. No reward will be payable if news of any discovery is first publicized intentionally or unintentionally in any other media than Investigate. For full details of the likely route of the Dragonfly, purchase a copy of Waugh’s new book, Lost Without Trace? Available at all good booksellers.

Since the disappearance of Dragonfly ZK-AFB on 12 February 1962, there have been five other aircraft lost without trace in the same southern region of the South Island; four fixed wing aircraft and one helicopter. In total, including those aboard ZK-AFB, 23 persons – 6 pilots and 17 passengers – have vanished!

The large area in which these aircraft and people have been lost is among the most rugged in New Zealand, with much of it having World Heritage status. Since the Dragonfly, other aircraft to disappear have been:

chadwick sbar1.jpg• 16 August 1978: Cessna 180 ZK-BMP owned by Central Western Air. The pilot was Rev Cyril Francis Crosbie (aged 37) of Riversdale and the passengers were: Trevor George Collins (aged 50) of Waimea, Gordon Grant (aged 28) of Waipounamu and Peter Alexander Robertson (aged about 40) of Wendonside. The aircraft was on a flight from Big Bay, South Westland, to Riversdale, Southland. It was probably last heard at Jamestown at the northern end of Lake McKerrow and appeared to be heading towards the Jamestown Saddle.

chadwick sbar2.jpg• 29 December 1978: Piper Cherokee Six ZK-EBU owned by the Otago Aero Club. The pilot was Edward James Sinclair Morrison (aged 28) and the passengers were: Earl Blomfield Stewart (aged 40), his wife Elizabeth McGregor Stewart (aged 37), their son David John Stewart (aged 18), Alec Davidson Stewart (aged 38), his wife Rosie Stewart (aged 37) and David Hogg (aged 20). The elder Stewart men were brothers and all the Stewarts were from Dunedin. The aircraft was on a scenic flight from Taieri, Dunedin, to Queenstown, Milford Sound, Preservation Inlet and then back to Dunedin. It was last seen flying down Milford Sound toward the coast.

chadwick sbar3.jpg• 30 July 1983: Cessna 172K ZK-CSS owned by Arthur Roy Turner. The pilot was Arthur Roy Turner (aged 55) of Mt Ruapehu, National Park, and the passengers were: his wife Anne Zelda (aged 33) and children Kim Dorothy (aged 6) and Guy (aged 4). Anne was also a pilot. The aircraft was on a flight from Tekapo to Fox Glacier.

chadwick sbar4.jpg• 8 November 1997: Cessna 180 ZK-FMQ owned by Cascade Whitebait Ltd. The pilot was Ryan Michael Moynihan (aged 23) and he was the sole occupant. The aircraft was on a flight from West Melton Aerodrome, Canterbury to Waiatoto, South Westland.

chadwick sbar5.jpg• 3 January 2004: Hughes 369HS ZK-HNW owned by Featherstone Contracting Ltd, Hamilton. The pilot was Campbell Montgomerie (aged 27) from Hamilton and his passenger, girlfriend Hannah Rose Timings (aged 28) from Cheltenham, England. The helicopter was on a flight from the Howden Hut, on the Routeburn Track, to Milford Sound. A total of 204 flying hours and 2300 man hours were reported as being spent searching the mountainous area for the missing helicopter, without success.

Following the Dragonfly’s disappearance, Civil Aviation officials investigated some overseas developments regarding aircraft radio beacons. A 1962 memo entitled ‘Recommendations Arising from the Dragonfly Accident’ says in part: “Radio in the past has been out of the question, but recently appears to be becoming a distinct possibility. We are currently obtaining data on several emergency transmitters which have recently become available.”

In New Zealand, the Emergency Locator Transmitter device (ELT), to assist in locating missing aircraft, was not finally made mandatory for the general aviation fleet until 1986. The beacon commences transmitting if a certain ‘G’ threshold is exceeded, as in a crash. It radiates on 121.5 MHz for civil or 243 MHz for military, but in the near future the standard will be 406.5 MHz. The signal can be detected aurally if a receiver is set to the appropriate frequency, so overflying aircraft are often the first to report a beacon.
Orbiting SARSAT/COSPAS satellites operated by the United States and Russia are designed to receive the signals and within 90 minutes they can typically determine the location with amazing accuracy and so greatly assist Search and Rescue personnel.

In the case of Hughes helicopter ZK-HNW, the ELT did not function correctly with no signal being transmitted; a rare failure. Phil Timings, father of Hannah Timings, was reported in the New Zealand media in March 2004 calling on the British Government to pay for high tech “Synthetic Aperture Radar” (SAR) equipment that could possibly locate the missing helicopter. He said: “It is like a giant metal detector and the Americans use them for search and rescue. If they can find downed pilots, they can find Hannah.”

Over coming years it will be interesting to see whether the six missing aircraft, Dragonfly ZK-AFB included, can be located by advancing technology.

Note: The author acknowledges published information regarding four of these missing aircraft from the book ‘Missing! Aircraft Missing in New Zealand 1928-2000’ by Chris Rudge (Christchurch, Adventure Air, 2001)

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition


David J. Ford has spent a lifetime working in the region’s hotspots – including over a half-dozen years active service with the British Army’s Royal Military Police during the Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Rebellion in counterterrorism and anti-insurgency roles. He’s worked with corporations such as Hilton and Woolworth’s when their operations have been bombed or threatened, and upgraded Fiji’s aircraft safety program when the world’s airlines considered avoiding fly-overs due to perceived security risk. Now, in the wake of the latest Bali bombings, this international counterterrorism expert sees a chilling trend in Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombings


The terrible loss of 22 innocent lives in Bali on 1 October is a sharp reminder that Indonesia’s terror groups, be they Jemaah Islaamiyah, various splinter groups or other, independent radicals, have not lost their explosive bite – regardless of the arrest of 200 or so JI activists since the first Bali bombing in October 2002. The cruel, despicable use of suicide bombers has again confirmed it as the preferred weapon of Islamic extremists.

But as if the idea of a fanatic wandering into a crowded restaurant full of civilian tourists and workers, the latest bombings point to a potentially more sinister trend – one which adds a dangerous new wrinkle to our efforts to identify suicide attackers and keep them from bringing innocent people to grief. While very little information is known (or at least is being released) about the identities of the bombers themselves, police are known to be investigating the tantalizing possibility that the explosives were detonated by remote control via mobile phone, due to records of calls made at the time of the blasts. The question then becomes: Were these calls made to the individual bomber or – just as likely – were they used to actually trigger the explosive device?

This is a vital piece of information: if the explosives were detonated remotely, each of the bombers may well have been duped into carrying the bomb into the target location, on some pretext or other, without knowing the contents of their respective backpack. That could mean that they had no intention of dying, that they too were murdered. This would be a very worrying revelation indeed. If true, it could mean that in future, otherwise innocent, duped couriers could be of any race, colour or religious persuasion and from all walks of life.

Indeed, there is already precedent, albeit unsuccessful, for this sort of attack. In 1986, shortly before Anne Marie Murphy, a young pregnant Irishwoman, boarded an El Al flight in London bound for Tel Aviv to meet the parents of her Palestinian fiancé, the airline’s world-famous pre-flight interrogators got suspicious. They searched her baggage thoroughly and discovered that her so-called lover had duped her into carrying a load of plastic explosives and a detonator in one of her suitcases. Had she been allowed to board the flight, she may very well have unwittingly sent herself, her unborn child, and hundreds of others to an early grave.

Today, true followers of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad and of the Koran would testify that suicide by whatever means, and for whatever purpose, is strictly forbidden. Muhammad himself said, ‘Whoever purposely throws himself from a mountain and kills himself will be in the [hell] fire falling down into it and abiding therein forever; and whoever drinks poison and kills himself with it, he will be carrying his poison in his hand and drinking it in the [hell] fire wherein he will abide eternally forever; and whoever kills himself with an iron weapon will be carrying that weapon in his hand and stabbing his abdomen with it in the [hell] fire wherein he shall abide eternally forever.’

Let there be no doubt then that for a Muslim, suicide is strictly forbidden as a major sin. So why do they do it?

Desiring to be martyrs, these killers produce their own purely selfish justification for their intended actions. They argue that they are fighting a jihad, or struggle, which they interpret as against all non-believers of Islam, infidels, and that to die in such a war makes the warrior an instant martyr with all that entails – eternity in paradise, 72 virgins, the lot. And while suicide is forbidden within Islam, martyrdom is sought after as the ultimate achievement in this life and performed as a duty.

(Theologically, of course, this promise of paradise cannot stand on a number of points. Among other things, in Islam, the only wars that are permitted are between armies, which ‘should be engaged on battlefields and engaged nobly’. And as for indiscriminate killings, this too is prohibited. Muhammad said, ‘Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people’. By their very actions many of these religious zealots illustrate a propensity for mass murder without any plausible, religious justification but for some obscure political purpose. They are but pawns in a global game of politics and religious mayhem, and have chosen to ignore their own scriptures and the teachings of more moderate religious leaders to make their own interpretation of the Koranic scriptures.)

The incidence of suicide bombings has increased alarmingly over the past five years globally and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing rate as more young candidates graduate from Muslim religious schools, many financed by Saudi Arabia which promotes a strict so-called Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, that promote this unholy doctrine.

Others will be recruited as disenchanted fringe-dwellers who get roped in and indoctrinated by local radical religious leaders, as was the case with some of the recent London bombers.

And one cannot ignore the role played by the world media as al Qa’ida and other Islamic extremists continue to take heart from perceived successes (even if they are strategic or tactical failures) in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

That said, we must also be mindful that for some clerics and extremists there is also another apocalyptic agenda. The central tenet of Islam is that there is only one true religion, and that is Islam. It goes even further, instructing followers to work towards world domination by converting, or eliminating, all non-believers: to a strict Muslim, the world is divided into the dar al-Harb, or House of War (representing non-Muslim lands) and the dar al-Islam (the Muslim world). A quick glance at a map shows that all along the border of these two areas, conflict is the norm rather than the exception, and the existence of a Hindu outpost such as Bali in the midst of the world’s largest Islamic country is, to a fundamentalist Muslim, like a red flag to a bull.

A religious war, with Islam pitted against the West, suits the goals and aspirations of the likes of al Qa’ida and JI and keeps with the most important commandment of the Koran: to spread Islam throughout the entire world, by force where necessary.

Terror-Attacks-in-Egypt-Kil.jpgIt is possible that this aspect of the Koran and its scriptures could help explain why many Islamic scholars and clerics worldwide have shown reticence to openly condemn or to identify and expose Islamic terrorists in their midst. Though in Australia, Islamic clerics and leaders now appear to be trying to resolve these issues, even attempting to find consensus amongst their disparate groups with a view to accepting the broad application of Australia’s new anti-terrorism laws.

An explosive device, whether carried upon the person or in a vehicle by a suicidal extremist is seen as a very successful and effective weapon. And there appears to be plenty of misguided, well-indoctrinated volunteers seeking martyrdom. Thwarting a person bent on committing suicide using a bomb is nigh on impossible. The device can be detonated at will.

So how can we prevent or reduce the incidence of suicide bombings? There are several possibilities.

Firstly, Muslim scholars, together with all Islamic religious and community leaders must be more vocal and decidedly pro-active. They must, at every opportunity, distance themselves and all true believers from terrorist activity and from the minority religious leaders who continue to preach violence and murder. They must be prepared also to ferociously denounce these extremists to the security authorities lest the extremists and their followers grow in strength and develop momentum such as to bring all of Islam into disrepute, with the added risk of incurring the wrath of all free thinking people. And finally, they must promulgate widely at every opportunity that the act of suicide is abhorrent to the dictates of Islamic law and which immediately negates all chance of martyrdom for the offender.

The second and more immediate question is to find a way of further convincing potential candidates for suicide bombing that, from their religious standpoint, suicide would be pointless and self-defeating, as well as to bring shame on himself and his family.

How could this be done and how would we convince them of this?
Well, profoundly distasteful as the answer is it lies in making the suicide bomber’s body, or mortal remains, unclean in the eyes of Islam. Here we must keep in mind that this is a person who has rejected the norms of the civilized world, one who has corrupted the teachings of the Koran and who is prepared to kill and maim innocent, women and children and the elderly, and even his brothers in Islam, in order to achieve martyrdom. And one who by virtue of his actions can no longer consider himself a Muslim.

Surely, such people do not deserve the respect and social norms usually accorded to the dead.

Muslims are strongly forbidden from eating pig meat, and they consider the animal itself unclean. (Indeed, this porcine prohibition took a darkly comic turn in the West Midlands, UK, council of Dudley recently, when council workers were ordered to take any pig-themed novelty items off their desk lest Muslim staffers be offended). The Koran states: ‘He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of God’.

Muslims therefore consider that to eat pork is a very, very unholy act, andan abomination before God. Similarly, to touch a pig is to make one unclean and an unclean person cannot enter paradise. Hence, this person cannot be a martyr.

Is it not axiomatic therefore that in order to take away the prime incentive of the suicide bomber and other mass killers – that of entering paradise with all its promised sensual pleasures – we offer a counter promise? Authorities would guarantee the contamination of his remains with the blood of swine. And importantly, that the remains would not be returned to his family to enable ritual cleansing and purification.

This would have a very salutary affect and might even put an end to this madness. Remove access to martyrdom and you remove the very purpose, or excuse, for dying, and in its place, make people aware of the threat of carrying bags or packages for suspect people – lest they become unwitting bombers themselves. There is precedent for this: American General John Pershing, fighting Muslim militants in the southern Philippines after the Spanish-American War, wrapped the bodies of captured and executed terrorists in pig fat. As one officer reportedly told a militant at the time, ‘You’ll never see Paradise’. More recently, according to some reports, the Russian afforded the same treatment to the bodies of terrorists involved in the Moscow theatre siege of 2002.

Now is not the time for equivocation. The tightening of Federal and States’ counter terrorism legislation is a very good first step, in a pro-active sense, but it will do little to prevent the die-hard martyr working secretly and in concert with just a few cohorts. We must remove the suicide bombers very reason for dying.

It is time for straight talking and timely action however unpleasant and uncivilized that might appear. Unless the West and true followers of Islam face Islamic fundamentalism and revivalism head-on today, the world will experience a future to horrid even to contemplate.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 05:03 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Dec 05, AU Edition

James Fletcher has two good reasons to stay home on a hot summer night

DVD_SUBMARINERScover.jpgSubmariners: The Complete Series
4 stars

During the 1980s the Australian government took the dramatic step of constructing a new Collins Class submarine fleet, to be built in Adelaide and homed in Western Australia. But from the outset things did not go well with massive budget blow-outs and numerous flaws surfacing in the design and mechanics of each boat.

After the initial public relations disaster, which played out in both parliament and the media, the negative attention eventually subsided and for the past few years has remained relatively quiet. But now, a new six part made-for-television series takes a look at the Collins Class fleet from a very different perspective.

Submariners, released as a two DVD set, is a unique independent series filmed aboard the Collins Class flag ship HMAS Rankin during its crew shakedown and subsequent voyage around the globe in preparation for RIMPAC, the world’s largest military war games, off the coast of Hawaii. With the cameraman and producer granted unparalleled access over three month at sea, the Rankin is revealed warts and all in an intimate profile of her strategic capabilities and crew dynamics. In fact, director Hugh Piper reveals a military culture which suffers from an 80% divorce rate, continually demonstrates its resistance to change, and sincerely embraces the Australian spirit of camaraderie – to the point of hazing rituals which, shall we say, don’t always benefit the Navy’s reputation.

However, the series does manages to capture the claustrophobic habitat and isolation of life aboard a submarine, and to its credit efficiently strips away the Hollywood glamour to instead reveal a raw and unnerving sense of distress, a feeling which is effectively demonstrated when the Rankin’s air supply becomes toxic after an engine malfunction while submerged as well as during a tense and unrelenting cat-and-mouse game played against a US Naval destroyer.
Set against some breathtaking cinematography, the series is both an intriguing insight into modern high-tech warfare paralleled with the reality of life aboard a military submarine, a theme which is mirrored in the DVD’s two galleries featuring images from renowned photographer Jon Davison. And surprisingly, the series also manages to blow the Collins Class reputation as a dud right out the water.

lord of the fans copy.jpgRingers: Lord of the Fans
4 stars

After the recent spate of pop-culture fan-boy documentary DVDs such as Trekkers and Comic Book Confidential comes Ringers: Lord of the Fans – and with it a breath of new life to revitalize a tired and neglected genre.

Without question, Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has carved its way into film history, drawing audiences as diverse as university academics, heavy metal rockers and the palest of Star Wars geeks, but love or hate Jackson’s interpretation, Tolkien’s novels remain a seminal part of modern pop-culture. And it’s from this perspective that Ringers explore the evolution of its global fan base.

Utilising a unique blend of animation, interview techniques, reenactments and a superb soundtrack, Ringers explores the history and inspiration behind Tolkien’s Middle Earth from its initial conception to the critically disastrous release of The Fellowship of the Ring before it found a home within the counter-culture of 1960’s America.
Resonating with comedic moments and fascinating trivia, Ringers also delves into the various incarnations of LOTR’s influence in western culture over the past 50 years, from an hilarious pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy gaily singing “Happy Hobbits” to the cryptic, drug-infused lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and John Lennon’s failed big-screen adaptation.

But it’s the impressive celebrity talent that director Carlene Cordova intercuts with interviews from Tolkien’s enthusiastic fan base that drives home just how wide-spread the series’ influence has become. Featuring many of the film’s cast, including Dominic Monaghan (who also supplies the film its charismatic narration), Ringers also includes interviews with fantasy writers Clive Barker and Terry Pratchet, Motor Head front man Lemmy Kilmister, filmmaker Cameron Crow and actor David Carradine who, along with many others, sing the praises of Tolkien’s visions and themes.

Released as a Special Edition, the DVD includes a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes, along with deleted scenes, an amusing audio commentary from the production team, and some hidden material. Overall the DVD manages to deliver a fun, entertaining and fascinating look at the culture and influence that LOTR’s still maintains in today’s society.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Feb 05


Edited by David Crystal, Penguin, $75
What can you say about an encyclopaedia that gives 12 lines to Alexander the Great and 16 lines to the Beach Boys? Clearly, the pop present is being privileged over the classical past. However, this 1698-page tome is often factually inaccurate when dealing with the present (20th century). Under Mexican Art, David Alfaro Siqueiros has his last name omitted so he becomes David Alfaro; Booker Prize winner Keri Hulme is credited with the 1992 publication of Bait, a novel that she has yet to publish; Postmodernism only deals with architecture, ignoring the fact it is de rigeur in literature and art. Spelling mistakes include the Mexican president’s first name printed as Vincente instead of Vicente and painter Jose Clemente Orozco’s second name spelt as Clementi.

The omissions are a wonder indeed. Mick Jagger is in, Keith Richard is out; Al Capone is in, Lucky Luciano is absent; Keri Hulme is in, Janet Frame is not; Stalingrad is in, Kursk (world’s greatest tank battle) is missing; Michael Jackson is in, Peter Jackson is not; Everest-conqueror Edmund Hillary is necessarily in but Reinhold Messner, the world’s greatest mountaineer is not; Saddam Hussein is in and Osama bin Laden, as always, is invisible. Structuralism is in but astonishingly poststructuralism is not (though it is sneakily mentioned under Deconstruction with which it is mistakenly identified). I was surprised to find Timothy Leary, Peggy Guggenheim, Bryce Courtenay, Pierre Bourdieu (renowned anthropologist) Takla Makan desert and Google absent (though Desktop Publishing is in).

Another anomaly - perhaps common in other encyclopaedias - is contradictory entries. The Aborigines entry has them arriving in Australia 60,000 years ago while the Australian history section has a figure of 40,000. (Some have advanced the figure to 100,000 BC — shouldn’t all three estimates have been discussed?) The entry on Australian literature make no mention of Judith Wright, yet she merits a separate entry under her own name. This inconsistency of analysis is possibly explicable by two different people doing the two entries. But shouldn’t there be a match up? Similarly, William Burroughs is not mentioned under Beat Generation but under his own entry is declared to be a “spokesman of the Beat movement”. Also, stingily, there is no colour in any of the maps and no portraits (though that does allow more text).

Now for some appreciation. There are compendious lists of phobias, popes, highest mountains, deserts and, best of all, Crusades which includes sub headings under Background, Leaders and Outcomes — though
regretfully no Nobel Prize listings. Listings of musicians, artists and scientists are generally good. The quality of the paper and binding is excellent. Some may be wondering - in this Internet age do we still need encyclopaedias? I, for one, would not like to see them become obsolete because they present the opportunity par excellence for browsing by association and the alphabet. Also an encyclopaedia offers greater authority than the crackpot and often wildly inaccurate entries frequently found on the Internet. It cannot be repeated too often that an encyclopaedia, being a book, can never have power failure, a virus, intrusive advertisements or the irritatingly busy format deployed by many website homepages. However, the Penguin Encyclopedia needs a clean up on accuracy, improved expansion and consistency of inclusion and could do with some colour in its bland white pages. Hey, it’s still an encyclopaedia, my favourite kind of book for browsing new arcana and esoterica.

bkgreen.jpgTHE LIFE OF GRAHAM GREENE Volume Three: 1955-1991
By Norman Sherry, Jonathan Cape, $79.95
At 906 pages, this is the largest of the three volumes of an ongoing Greene biography that now totals 2251 pages — possibly the largest biography in history. It is a labour beyond love — 27 years in the making — and, to be honest, it is somewhat of a labour to read it.

Sherry’s ultraviolet style contrasts uneasily with Greene’s always clipped, spare prose. In contrast to the trouble-seeking journalist— novelist Greene, Sherry is an academic obsessive — he had already written five books on Conrad — and he surmises it was his dedication to Conrad (a kind of early Graham Greene) that may have helped in his selection as his biographer. Plus his hands-on willingness to go to exotic countries as part of his research. Following the wide-ranging peripatetic trail of Greene and his work has meant Sherry has been to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Kenya, Panama, Mexico, Barbados, France, Switzerland, Argentina, Paraguay, Ireland and Spain - bravo! (And shouldn’t Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba be added?)

This biography is of the Boswellian type — no detail omitted. No pithy one liners when a paragraph will do the job - Sherry uses large half page (or more) quotes. When he deals with some of Greene’s major novels, such as A Burnt Out Case, he gives us three chapters whereas one would have sufficed. The overall effect is one of sauntering excess and under-editing. While it is arguably in order to refer to Greene as a maverick, loner, provocateur, rebel and anarchist, the description of Green as politically immature, unripe, callow and jejune looks like three adjectives too many.

Sherry works assiduously, and a trifle over-gleefully, in identifying originals for Greene’s characters, marking him as a biographer of the old school and not a text only postmodernist. His actual literary approach to Greene - influence of cinematic techniques or Hemingway (say) — in the light of contemporary trends of biography, is surprisingly limited.

Having detailed — elaborately as always — Greene’s stubborn inability to quite believe in hell, heaven, angels, heaven or Satan (though he does think of God as Christ), Sherry concludes in somewhat exasperated tones, it’s difficult to buttonhole Greene as either Roman Catholic or Christian - yet there is Green’s oxymoronic statement that he is was a “Catholic agnostic”(or worse still “Catholic atheist”) plus the agonised arguing that occurs so powerfully in Greene’s novels about the nature of evil, God, sin etc. For this reviewer (and I suspect for many more than fully admit it), this agonised I-want-to-believe-but-can’t-quite-believe strikes a resonant chord. Certainly, it is clear—and I am at one with Sherry on this — that Greene is pro-victim which can render his ideological stances fluid, rather than consistent.

Two of the most interesting matters dealt with are Greene’s clash with corruption in Nice - his tough dedicated fight on behalf of his daughter-in-law against a local thug and a corrupt mayor which alas, ended in legal failure - and his failure to win the Nobel prize. I am convinced by Sherry’s account that it was a dedicated Greene-opponent on the controversial committee, one Arthur Lundkvist, who vowed never to vote for Greene because his play The Living Room, was Catholic “propaganda of the most vulgar type”. Even if this were so, the large amount of brilliant work that flowed from Greene’s busy pen plus general world literary opinion should have prompted the committee to press for Greene’s strongly merited award. Unsurprisingly, the English literary establishment considered Greene the most deserving of the writers who had never won the world’s most prestigious literary prize.
While it frequently gives off the sanctimonious odour of hagiography, Sherry does reproach Greene from time to time — e.g. for being a supporter of Castro after executions became commonplace. Despite its stylistic infelicities, tortured metaphors, lapses into banality, embarrassing asides to the reader, excessive detail, over extended treatment, and its occasional presumption to read Greene’s mind too dogmatically, this biography is a must read for any Greene fan.

bktolk.jpgTOLKIEN’S GOWN & Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books
By Rick Gekoski, Constable, $34.95
In general, I have regarded book collectors and first edition freaks as fetishists who are more interested in the wrapping than the present, brassieres instead of breasts. Having enjoyed Mr Gekoski’s lucid prose and accumulation of delightful anecdotes, my previous value judgment has been white-anted somewhat. Despite his eye for the deal, the multi-talented Gekoski also has an ear for the interesting human story, hence this witty and attractively presented book (which I am hoping will one day prove a valuable first edition).

The book kicks off with a chapter on the controversial Lolita, Nabokov’s sordid tale of a middle-aged lecher’s seduction of a barely pubescent girl. Shocking as this relationship might be, Nabokov’s exquisite prose turns it into a tragic love story. In his cheerfully lucid style, Gekoski relates how after he sold a first edition of Lolita for $4900, he received a letter from Graham Greene asking how much he (Greene) could get for a copy inscribed to him by the Russian author.

Apparently, this in an example of what rare book dealers call an “association copy”, one presented by the author to someone of importance. As Greene eminently qualified, Gekoski insisted on paying him $7200 (Greene wanted less!), and sold it for a profit (mysteriously, or tactfully, not revealed). When Gekoski last heard, the on sold book fetched $264,000 which left him “sick with seller’s remorse”. Since reading this revealing anecdote, I have been urging my friends at launches of my books to hurry up and become “persons of importance” so I can buy the book back off them and resell it for a whacking profit. So far, the scheme has yet to take off. And is unlikely to, for almost none of my books have that piece de la resistance, a dustwrapper, which rockets the price for any rare book into the ionosphere.

If over a quarter of million dollars sounds like big money, it has been topped by Gekoski’s estimate for a first edition Lord of the Flies - $450,000. A first edition inscribed Ulysses actually sold for $460,000 - the highest price thus far. Touchingly, Gekoksi admits that Ulysses is a tough read, even though he considers it the greatest book of the twentieth century. This promisingly profitable spiral was recently put in the shade when the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road sold for $2,430,000 which makes me wish cryonic preservation really works and poor old Jack could return and feast off the posthumous profit.

Packed with colourful stories of famous writers, this book is surely one of the more notable of the 110,000 books published in England last year, most of which, Gekoski reminds us, will soon be forgotten. I am hoping the first edition of his book will soar in value — when Gekoski soon visits the Antipodes I must ask him to inscribe it.

By Yann Martel, Canongate, $29.95
The Life of Pi was such a delightful book I vowed I’d read anything else that came from the pen of Yann Martel. As is often the case, the massive success of one book prompts an issue (or reissue) of earlier titles. Helsinki consists of two novellas and two short stories published earlier in the author’s career.

The title short novel is by far the most significant work of the quartet. Of the remaining stories, the formally experimental “Manners of Dying” which presents postmortem letters about an execution as variations on a theme of what the condemned man ate and the manner of his death, is the most interesting. The star of the collection is without question the Helsinki novella.

A well-known literary phenomenon is that a grand (as it were) disease eventually prompts the creation of some grand literary masterpieces. Among these are - The Magic Mountain (tuberculosis), Doctor Faustus (syphilis), A Burnt Out Case (leprosy), Awakenings (sleepy sickness). When AIDS played its dread hand in the early 80s, I was (almost) morbidly waiting for the appropriate literary work to do it justice. Several plays and films have so far appeared but none as powerful or skilful as this novella. It could not be validly claimed that this work is a grand masterpiece but it is a minor one, relentless in its grim clinical detail.

However, Helsinki offers more than just pathological footnotes.
Inspired by the story-telling in the face of the Black Plague in Boccaccio, a nameless narrator puts the proposition to his blood transfusion-infected friend Paul that they should mutually invent stories to, as it were, defeat the doom of the encroaching disease. One event chosen from each year the century thus far — 86 stories in all — would form the narrative backdrop. The stories would centre around a Canadian family in a city neither of the two story tellers had ever been to Helsinki. The combination of factual base combined with an imaginative family in an “imagined” though real city, would form a satisfyingly solid tapestry. It may sound a bit contrived but it makes a compelling counterpoint to the deepening and irreversible manifestations of the disease.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone who has not heard of AIDS. Yann Martel’s short powerful novella tells us of the brutal destruction wrought by the disease and of how two friends responded to it with “narrative therapy”.. If art does not work a physical miracle, it can provide the next best thing - a compensatory defeat by the imagination.

bkwater.jpgHELL OR HIGH WATER: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River
By Peter Heller, Allen & Unwin, $35
Until the arrival of maturity and arthritis, I used to nourish the fantasy, however remote, that I might one day go kayaking, preferably on some previously unkayaked river. This would prove to myself (and to others) that I had at last acquired the warrior manhood that my prior dismal performances at football, fighting, and free climbing had failed to evidence; that I might at last be redeemed by one all out fluke performance on raging white water. A fantasy I can no longer sustain. Instead, I can now recline on my sofa, sip the “white water “off my beer” and read about how real men do it. Among these intrepid dudes are two New Zealanders - Mike Abbott, said to be the best paddler in the world, and Dave Allardice. When Abbott won a big cash prize he shared it with his broke mates.

Like so many exponents of extreme sports, participants peak early 25-30 (say). It’s not an activity for one’s middle years (though there are exceptions). Just to reach the Tsangpo river is a feat in itself. It’s buried at the bottom of a 15,000 foot gorge at the eastern end of the Himalayas and has defeated earlier explorers for more than a century. Heller vividly revisits Victorian times when fearless Indians (who came to be called Pundits) crossed the border into forbidden Tibet as pilgrims and proceeded to map the terrain for the British by walking 2000 measured steps per mile, using modified prayer beads as pedometers, carrying prismatic compasses inside their prayer wheels and thermometers in hollow walking sticks in order to obtain hypsometric altitude readings. James Bond’s 007 antics were just a feeble continuation of this daring nineteenth century espionage ingenuity. These early measurements ascertained just where Lhasa was situated and established that the Tsangpo met the Brahmaputra.

Heller, who is a kayaker himself, describes the phenomenon of white water with a specialist vocabulary - “wave trains”, “mean comber”, “boulder garden”, “center of the tongue”. The prose, like the river, is wild but also like the paddlers, controlled. Almost beyond imagining, is an exhilarating though arguably insane activity called squirt boating where the kayak becomes submerged and then pops out - squirts back into the air. Another exhibitionist variety is freestyle or rodeo kayaking where the kayak “catapults forward in a series of fast end-over-end cartwheels” — I think I’ll take another sip of my beer, thank you. Though some consider freestylers made the best river runners, Scott Lindgren, one of the best paddlers in the world, asserted that the opposite was the case. His view was that “riding holes” would be worthless on the mighty Tsangpo.

The first Victorian explorers hoped to find a cataract as mighty as the Victorian falls but it turned out to be a “mere “ 150 feet high - now shrunk to 112 feet. For kayakers, the glory of the Tsangpo river is its wild white water, gloriously rendered in the controlled tumult of Heller’s expert prose.

Beside the wonder of the world’s most terrifying foam piles, wave trains and rolling haystacks, there is also the ferocious and lyric beauty of the landscape, rebellious porters who want more money and the ominous possibility of being eaten by a Bengal tiger. An intoxicating broth of a book.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Feb 05

Phil Marty charts America’s less-travelled canyons

Escalante, Utah — We were relaxing in the shade at a table outside the Trailhead Cafe and Grill here while smoke from burgers drifted away from the gas grill into a brilliant blue sky. On the road into Escalante, brilliant blue met reddish orange, compliments of otherworldly red-rock formations.

As if on cue, the radio, set to an oldies station somewhere bigger than Escalante (pop. 900), began to pour out Billy Joe Royal’s lament, Down in the Boondocks.

It’s not hard to consider this southern third (or maybe the whole state) of Utah to be the boondocks. After all, there aren’t many people (only 2.3 million for the whole state - a half million less than Chicago alone). Consequently, there aren’t a lot of fine-dining options.

Or high-brow cultural events.

So, yeah, this probably is the boondocks. But, man, what beautiful boondocks they are.

It was the national parks and their close proximity - five of them, each less than 250 kilometres from the next - that lured my wife, Bonnie, and me here last September. The parks - Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion - share some of the same geology. In this area “you’re getting 600 million years of Earth history with very few pages missing,” says Kevin Poe, a park ranger/naturalist at Bryce.

Most of these parks have the same buff-colored Navajo sandstone and salmon-colored Entrada sandstone. But each has its own idiosyncratic delights: Arches’ namesake weathered rock arches. Canyonlands’ aptly named Island in the Sky. Capitol Reef’s 100-mile-long rocky wrinkle called Waterpocket Fold. Bryce’s fantastically shaped and wildly colored hoodoos. Zion’s massive and (hate to be repetitive, but...) aptly named Checkerboard Mesa. Now that should be enough for any lover of sensational scenery. But there’s more. How about Kodachrome Basin State Park? It got its name from the color film, and for good reason. And guess where Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park got its name?
Impossible to ignore is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which, with 1.7 million acres of cliffs, mesas, buttes and canyons, is big enough to swallow the state of Rhode Island and still have a little room left.

Truth be told, after you look at a road atlas and see how many routes here are designated as scenic byways, you begin to wonder why all of southern Utah isn’t one big national park.

And, oh, if that isn’t enough of an enticement, it’s not much of a jog over the border into Arizona to sample the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then meander back toward Utah through Monument Valley, whose towering buttes and mesas have been the background for many Western movies.

In short, this is one doozy of a road trip that packs a lot into only about 2,100 kilometres.

Fly to Las Vegas and rent a car or SUV. From there, it’s only about 260 km to Zion National Park and the beginning of a circle drive that will leave your jaw dropping. And because it’s a circle drive, you can, after hauling out your road atlas, route it however you like.
This is simplified, to a certain extent, because Utah, like most of the American West, doesn’t have a profusion of paved roads, owing to those pesky mountains and canyons and deserts that we want to see but that can make road-building daunting.

That mammoth Grand Staircase-Escalante, for example, has only two paved roads that skirt just a teeny bit of its edges. So if you want to explore it more in depth, you need to choose from what a brochure describes as “five secondary roads of varying character (that) traverse the monument from north to south.”

What makes the character of those roads vary? Well, the weather for one. All of these roads are dirt and/or gravel. And that means that if they’re wet, you don’t want to be on them - certainly not in a car, but probably not even in a four-wheel-drive SUV, like we were driving. Keep an eye on the weather forecast. One morning after leaving Bryce Canyon, we stopped at the Bureau of Land Management’s new visitor center in Cannonville to inquire about the state of the Cottonwood Canyon Road. It cuts 80 km through the west central part of Grand Staircase from Cannonville to U.S. Highway 89 on the monument’s southern edge, near the Arizona border. July and August are the most likely months for thunderstorms here, but it’s always best to check road conditions with the people in the know. They’re the ones, after all, who put out that aforementioned brochure that also refers to this as “a fierce and dangerous land.”

The beginning and ending sections of Cottonwood Canyon Road might make you glad you’re driving a rental vehicle. Their washboard surface will rattle your fillings whether you drive 10 km/h or 30.

Just before we got on that section of road, though, we made a stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park, which got its name in 1949 when photographers from National Geographic were so impressed by the colors that they named it after the new color slide film they were using. The park, at 4,000 acres, isn’t all that large, but it impresses with a profusion of towering reddish sandstone chimneys that change hue depending on the vagaries of the lighting. A one kilometre nature trail, one of eight in the park, does a good job of explaining the geology of the area and its flora and fauna.

Heading south, we got our fillings rattled before making a turnoff to the towering double arch known as Grosvenor Arch, for the president of the National Geographic Society at the time of that 1949 trip.

Cottonwood Canyon Road smooths out in the middle section and at a couple of locations there are minor fords across streams, but nothing a car couldn’t handle. After one of those fords, at Round Valley Draw, we topped a hill and found a large flock of roadrunners doing what they do best — running across the road.

At other places, dirt tracks meandered off to the left or right for intrepid four-wheelers.

I wish I could say the two-hour drive across Cottonwood Canyon Road was worth it, but the last 10 kms or so seemed to go on forever. I wouldn’t do it again. At least not the whole road. But certainly Kodachrome Basin and Grosvenor Arch are worth the effort.

A few days before, we had some white-knuckle views of another area of Grand Staircase as we drove Utah Highway 12 (another of those roads the atlas marks with dotted lines to show a scenic route) from Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, to Bryce. Just south of Boulder, about midway through the 170k drive, we cut through a small piece of Grand Staircase and found ourselves atop what’s called The Hogback. Here, the two-lane paved (thankfully) road perches on a very, very narrow ridge. So narrow, in fact, that there’s just the road ... and then nothingness on either side for at least a hundred metres down. At least that’s what I was able to see as I kept my eyes glued to the road with only a few quick, furtive glances to the side. Exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

It’s the out-of-the-blue surprises like The Hogback that punctuate a drive and make you say, “Whoa, did you see that?” A few others:
The landscape along Utah Highway 24 south of Interstate Highway 70, through the San Rafael Desert, is one of bluffs and mesas, sand and cactus. Then ... bang ... a sea of green, leafy trees crowds into a large area along a dry creekbed, roots reaching deep to tap into the moisture that feeds this unexpected oasis. Then as quickly as they appeared, they’re gone.

A bit farther on, the relative flatness of the scenery is suddenly interrupted by out-of-this-world red-rock formations that reach probably 30m into the air. There are no other geological oddities here. Just these spires that look like they were discarded by some massive toddler at play in this sandbox.

Along Arizona 12, south of Escalante, mile after mile of otherwise tan-colored landscape glows like gold from the yellow flowers of hundreds of rabbitbrush that blanket the ground.At Capitol Reef, as the sun dips toward the horizon, its rays bounce off orange-red cliffs and paint the waters of a gently flowing stream a lovely copper color.
At the Mossy Cave turnout in Bryce, we make the very pleasant acquaintance of Terry and Pat Norman of Surrey, England. Terry (him) and Pat (her) like the U.S. - a bunch. How much? Well, for the past nine years they’ve been coming here twice a year, two months at a time, to wander in the RV they bought and store in Orlando when they’re back in England. This trip they’d planned to tour the East Coast, but worries about hurricanes canceled that, and they ended up in southern Utah after taking the advice of a woman they met in Indiana. “I guess you have to like a place a lot to keep coming back year after year,” Terry said of our country.

And that could be said of these boondocks called southern Utah. Even a trip of nearly two weeks leaves a yearning: Just one more trail to hike...Just one more glowing sunset ...
Just one more ...
(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:41 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition

10_med.jpgHow do you take a radical idea and turn it into a market leader? JAMES MORROW talks to Ross Cameron, Managing Director of Dyson Appliances’ South-East Asian operations about how he took a vacuum cleaner developed in a Bath, U.K., coachhouse and turned it into one of the fastest-growing brands in Australia – and in the process


For almost eighty years, the first three words most people came up with when asked what they thought of when they thought about vacuum cleaners were ‘big’, ‘loud’, and ‘ugly’. But in the past decade that has changed radically, thanks to the work of British inventor James Dyson and his Australian counterpart Ross Cameron – two men who have not only turned the prosaic market floor cleaners upside down, but in the process introduced a new word to the language – ‘Dyson’ (as in ‘I have to Dyson the carpet’, or, just as common, ‘sucks like a Dyson’).
Today Dyson is the number one vacuum cleaner brand in Australia in terms of both volume and value, the result of a remarkable story that brings together radical thinking, a will to win, and a lot of dirty floors.

The story of how Dyson came to be a brand-leader not just in Australia but in Britain and the United States is a classic tale of an inventor working through prototype after prototype in a lab; of highs and lows with business backers; and lots of old-fashioned door-to-door (or rather, store-to-store) salesmanship. In 1979, British designer James Dyson – who had already invented a series of marine and gardening products – realized the common flaw of all vacuum cleaners, namely, the bag, and like all true revolutionaries, decided to do something about it. He sold his shares in one of his previous inventions for GBP10,000, and spent the next five years making 5,000 prototypes before coming up with his unique Dual Cyclone Technology in 1984.
But despite the genius of the technology, not everyone was interested. For one thing, big multinationals were reluctant to back a product that could, if it succeeded, do to the vacuum cleaner bag market (worth GBP100 million a year in Britain alone at the time) what digital cameras have done to makers of 35mm film.

Fast forward to 1989, and enter James Cameron.

Cameron, who at the time was working for S.C. Johnson Wax as part of their global team trying to develop equipment that would go along with the firm’s already-existing chemicals lines, recalls the first time he heard about Dyson’s product as a real eureka moment in his life. ‘I said to myself, wow, there’s the answer! I have an engineering background myself, and knew we had to do this’. So Cameron set about convincing his company to buy the commercial rights to Dual Cyclone Technology, and sat down with Dyson to make a viable vacuum cleaner for the marketplace.

‘So we had the backing of S.C. Johnson and James had a little coach house in Bath, in the U.K., and we had a couple of engineers. He would be designing, and we would be getting prototypes made, and finally we had the design sorted out’, says Cameron. ‘We were also meeting up regularly with the global marketing people from S.C. Johnson to make sure there were going to be buyers for this thing, and got them to spend $3 million on tooling. We got the machine produced in Italy, launched it in 1990, and did very well with it across Europe.’

dyson2.jpgSoon, though, the other shoe would drop – in the form of a corporate edict from on high that said vacuums were not part of the company’s core business, and therefore, the Dyson operation was shut down. Of course, it’s pretty hard to keep a good idea from eventually forcing its way to market, and that’s just what happened as Dyson and Cameron teamed up to take on the world. James Dyson started selling vacuums in the U.K. in 1993, and as soon as a barrel vacuum was developed in 1995 – about eighty percent of the floor cleaner market down under is for barrel vacs, as opposed to upright models – Cameron flew down to start breaking in to the local market. Of course, that’s the sort of thing that’s easier said than done – and as Cameron quickly discovered, his first problem was getting into a retail market he didn’t know about with a product no one had ever seen before.

His solution? Hit the streets.

‘I took it out to the stores, and was pretty persistent. A lot of people told me what I could do with my vacuum cleaner!’, laughs Cameron as he remembers some of the less-than-diplomatic receptions he was accorded by store managers. ‘But I wanted to win. I believed in the technology, and I made a decision that this was going to go, and I know it was just a matter of getting in the door and showing retailers the technology’.

This faith in the product – and the fact that the product was so unique (as opposed to other manufacturers who had for years been essentially repackaging old technology in new housings) – is what sustained Cameron, who notes that that sort of passion is necessary for anyone trying to get a business off the ground.

‘I suppose I was a bit naïve, but I’m bloody-minded, and I just wanted it to work.’

Eventually, though, Dyson’s break came, and David Jones placed an order for 120 vacuum cleaners in May of 1996. They sold just 24 through the following month, a number which Cameron still remembers vividly to this day. But better luck came in the form of a deal with Myer’s: ‘They said they’d put it on sale and placed an order for 170, and we’ve never looked back’.

But while this was the break Cameron was looking for, he realised that managing growth was going to be tricky, and that continued success – predicated as it was, at the time, on so much word-of-mouth advertising – depended on more than just being able to get more product to market. So Cameron and his team spent virtually every night of the week going out into the stores and training staff in how the Dyson worked. ‘We would take the thing out, pour fine powder on the ground and let them see how it separated it out, and even let them take them home to try them out’, says Cameron, who never moved the product out to market without also giving this sort of support to retailers. ‘They realized it was different, but it was damn hard doing all that training’.

From there, Dyson’s Australian operation grew at ‘a ridiculous rate’, with giant retailers like Harvey Norman and Retravision quick to sign on. All of which led to another problem that Cameron never imagined: many of his employees at the time did not want to work for such a high-growth company, having joined up thinking that they were going to spend their days at a staid little operation without too many demands being made of them.

‘In one year I lost 70 per cent of my staff – they couldn’t handle the pace. That was the year our sales doubled. They said they wanted to work for a little company and have a little job – and I knew they couldn’t meet our expectations’, says Cameron, adding that he went through a great deal of soul-searching about his hiring processes. And, as Cameron discovered, getting the right team on board was key as the company was tipped for major growth.

‘One of the things I said was that I didn’t need a lot of little Ross Camerons around’, he says, describing his hiring philosophy. ‘The important thing is to find people who have a vision, and who’ve got passion – the most important thing is that they have that.’

Cameron adds that this quest for strong, diverse people leads to a much stronger team, especially when there’s conflict over an issue.
‘I’m a hard taskmaster, but my people push back. If they defend an issue, I’m very likely to accept what they’re trying to say – I want strong people around me’.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

Money, Feb 05

Had your email inbox fill up with Nigerian scams lately?
Well, now there’s a new scam doing the rounds called ‘watch this stock’…

Jim rang his financial adviser to place an order for some shares. He had just received an amazing tip. He had run into his old friend Neville down at the club and found out that he had been making a lot of money on the stock market. This came as a surprise to Jim as he had known Neville for many years and had come to learn that Neville could not be described as the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was one of nature’s plodders, a real battler who never seemed to attract good luck. Well, it seemed that good fortune recently took a liking
to Neville.

It started about seven months ago. He received a personalised letter marked private and confidential. The letter introduced a fail safe system of selecting individual shares that were due to increase in value. It did not ask for money, only privacy. The letter was unsigned and Neville had no idea who sent it. It suggested that Neville watch the share price of ABC Ltd as it was about to go up. On the first of the following month a similar letter arrived, again unsigned, suggesting that the share price of DEF Ltd was about to decrease in value. Now Neville was not a fan of the share market, however he did note the prices of the shares highlighted and sure enough ABC Ltd went up in price and DEF Ltd went down. At the start of the next month he received another letter suggesting that GHI Ltd was due to increase in value. Well this had gone on for eight months and each time the information was correct. The anonymous share tipster had grabbed Neville’s attention and by the end of the fourth month Neville had opened an account at the local broker.

Neville’s problem was that he could never keep a secret and was happy to share his good fortune with anybody prepared to listen. Jim thought that it would be a crime not act on such a sure fire tip and promptly phoned his investment adviser to place an order. He also shared his enthusiasm and source of the information. If someone could get eight tips in a row correct, surely they must have some insider knowledge or superior skill. Jim was tempted to find out more about this mysterious tipster and was seriously thinking about changing permanently to this new adviser.

Jim thought that it was too good to be true and listened patiently while his adviser explained the scam. The scammer would source large mailing lists of like-minded individuals, preferably greater than 20,000 which was typically an industry trade list. The first letter is simply one of introduction, in the second he splits the list in half.

He tells one half that ABC Ltd’s share price is going to go up, the other that it is going to go down. The next month he would only write to the half which received the correct information. He would select a different share and advise half of the (reduced) data base that the share would increase in price, the other half that it would decrease.

Typically by the eighth letter he offers to sell them a share trading system for a grossly inflated price and then leaves the area before they discover that it is a scam. Neville’s only luck was in being part of the surviving group. A cynical person would suggest that Neville’s bad luck streak was continuing as he was likely to pay the $35,000 asking price for the useless software and become the victim yet again.
Jim’s adviser always says that punters should always be wary of schemes that appear too good to be true and be especially alert if secrecy is actively encouraged. He went on to explain to Jim that although scams were important, he should be aware that larger issues were requiring attention. He suggested that personal debt levels for New Zealanders could be the next warning sign that investors need to take heed of.

A study undertaken by the Ministry of Social Development in 2004 titled “When Debt Becomes a Problem” suggests that one in six New Zealand households have negative net worth. It goes on to suggest that 17% of the population believed they could not obtain $1,500 in an emergency (51% for those on income-tested benefits) and 36% could not obtain $5,000 (76% for beneficiaries). This includes sourcing it from credit cards and extended family. The study indicates that the above figures are about average for the rest of the western world.

If one in six households are experiencing trouble meeting their debt obligations, then punters have to question if the recent increase in house prices is sustainable. The average income for most New Zealanders is still between $40 and $50 thousand per year. Where the average debt level for an Aucklander is in excess of $73,000. In the USA the figures are similar. In Denver, Colorado mortgage foreclosures are up 30% on the previous year. Experts indicate that risky loan strategies such as no-money-down loans and a year of low housing appreciation contributed to the rise.

Parents have an obligation to teach their children that the first step to financial security and independence is to spend less than they earn. It is common for the financially unskilled to cross this line during the festive season at Christmas. Recent reports from the USA show that January is peak season for those registering with financial counsellors. Courses supported by churches have attracted unprecedented demand.

Those in debt have turned to religion for support. In New Zealand, Citizens Advice Bureau is filling that gap. They cover a wide range of legal, personal, housing and vehicle topics, however they are more commonly known for their budgeting skills.

When it came to selecting share market winners, Jim wanted to believe that some one else had an inside edge and was disappointed to hear that Neville’s secret adviser was just another scam artist. For Jim and his faithful companion Moira, the figures about those in financial hardship came as a surprise. They had learnt sound financial practices from their parents and were excellent students. They did everything within their power to pass these skills onto their children. They were unaware that almost 20% of the population were close to, or suffering, financial hardship. People should be in a position of telling their money where to go, rather than spend time wondering where it got to.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:17 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Dec 05. AU Edition

Plus: Guinness’s records are not so stout anymore, and falling in love (again) with Venice

books_guinness.jpgGUINNESS WORLD RECORDS 2006
Edited by Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records, $45.00
Up until recently the Guinness Book of Records was a quiet black and white document with every record imaginable recorded in small sombre print. Not any more. The cover looks like the inside of a pulsing nightclub, complete with hologram-like reflectors that image anything close by with a series of green and silver highlights. The contents page is adorned with the world’s Most Pierced Women and an actual-size cane toad. The razzle-dazzle continues with the Most Hula Hooped Woman, a Dog with Five Tennis Balls in his Mouth and the proud possessor of 137 Traffic Cones. Impressed? But wait – there’s more! – 31,424 Students Cleaned their Teeth for 60 seconds! 937 students and staff wearing Groucho Marx Masks! 1254 Students Danced the Scottish Reel! Leonardo D’Andrea Crushed 22 Watermelons with his Head! And here’s my favourite – Most Valentine Cards Sent to a Guinea Pig – Over 206 cards from as far away as New Zealand!

Old time Guinness Book of Records readers – fact crunchers who took their records and achievements seriously – must be wondering what the hell is going on. No question – Guinness has gone upmarket with flashy collages, in-your-face images and silly records that anyone could help set. The new format declares that you don’t have to be a fact-geek or a horn-rimmed nerd to read this book – a skateboarder or a guy with 258 straws stuck in his gob will be fine. I guess all this new mass participation is nicer than a group of Islamic terrorists squashed into a bus but it seems to eliminate the point of setting records for true human endurance which are mostly an individual matter requiring either guts, ingenuity or perseverance. Brushing your teeth for one minute with 30,000 others hardly qualifies.

OK, I’ve had my beef. The compendium still has plenty to endear the true record lover. Paul Hunn can burp at 104.9 decibels. Rene Alvarenga has eaten 35,000 live scorpions. Michel Lolito, whose teeth can grind at eight tonnes per cm, has eaten 18 bicycles, 15 supermarket trolleys, 3 TV sets, 6 chandeliers, a set of skis, a computer and a Cessna light aircraft. Whether or how long he brushes his teeth is not recorded. I was impressed to learn the largest private library contains 1.5 million books and the record for one finger pushups is 126 (pushups not fingers). I was surprised, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been, that the world’s fastest solo circumnavigation record is held by a woman (Ellen MacArthur) and astonished to learn that the world’s most dangerous stinging nettle is in New Zealand – Urtica ferox can kill dogs, horses and even once killed a man.

Bacteria are tough cookies – samples have survived over two years in outer space (they were attached to satellites). I learnt that there is such a critter as a Wolphin, the result of a whale-dolphin cross, and that the fastest humanoid robot can only stomp along at a snail-like 1.8 mph. On the human side, the oldest surviving couple have been married for 78 years and the world’s largest wedding banquet had 150,000 guests – a missed opportunity to set a dishwashing record. It is satisfying, though slightly absurd, to learn the longest prison sentence handed out (fraud, Thailand) was for 141,078 years. Though I’m sure the fraudsters will be out after only 140,000 years for good behaviour.

More criticism – many records that could reasonably be expected are absent - examples (from a list of many) could include world’s largest aircraft, most poisonous snake, world’s loudest band, largest extinct bird. In its present format, the Guinness Book of Records is no longer the exhaustive compendium of yesteryear. Perhaps they should consider a smaller formatted pocket edition which is mainly print?

books_the city of falling angels.jpgTHE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS
By John Berendt, Sceptre, $49.95
What is all this fuss about Venice? This question is usually asked only by those who have not visited the famous watery city – the only city in the world without traffic noise. When I spent a weekend there some years back, I knew little about the place but on arrival, I became, as many have done, an instant convert to her decaying charms. There’s something about magnificence in decay that stirs me deeply, just why I don’t know. Perhaps because magnificence at its peak is often accompanied by the expression of tyranny that expects obeisance whereas when the civilisation has passed away and only the buildings remain, we can enjoy them as architecture minus the tedious and oppressive trapping of visible power.

In the long litany of adoration that Venice has enjoyed from art critics, poets and composers (there are of course notable exceptions among the eulogists), most of the travel writers and essayists have looked at the city as a kind of architectural poem – which it very much is – and somehow overlooked the Venetians. As Mary McCarthy, renown American author once pre- sumptiously said, “Nothing that can be said about Venice has not been said before” – and she was echoing another famous American literary visitor to Venice, Henry James. As Berendt triumphantly demonstrates, these statements have about as much objective correlative as the fatuous statements made around the end of the nineteenth century that science had discovered nearly everything about the universe. Berendt, a skilful social observer, has managed to find out and report back on various scandals and upheavals in contemporary Venice - events that would make a wonderfully dramatic film. Events that give the reader a fresh view of an embattled city.
The City of Falling Angels begins - a perfect film prologue – with a destructive fire in 1996 that incinerated the Fenice Theatre, a stately opera house that was a symbol of Venetian cultural grandeur.

Three days later, with the smell of charcoal still in the air, Berendt arrived. His mission – to see Venice sans tourists – was to be fulfilled in a way he could not have anticipated. For the obvious ensuing question was, was the fire an accident or deliberately set? Either way guilty parties had to be fingered. The book has the feeling of a triptych, with the first event and eventual culprits identified enfolding many additional and wild characters, who, of course, are flesh and blood not novelists’ invention – a forwarding note says: “This is a work of non fiction. All the people in it are real and are identified by their real names.”

Presumably, Berendt (or his publisher), insisted on such a note, otherwise non-Venetians night be inclined to imagine that such fellows as Ludovico De Luigi – a latter day Dali – a surreal painter, who arranged for a porn star politician to arrive in a gondola, topless, climb one of the famous horses at St Marks and proclaim herself a living work of art – might not exist. (And in fact, I’m still wondering, if, after all, as Berendt tells us, the Venetian embellish everything and consider truth tellers a bore, whether he hasn’t added a bit of colour.) The intricate drama of intrigue and plotting that Berendt details is a modern soap opera from real life. Naturally, the Mafia come under suspicion and in my innocence, I didn’t know that they had used arson against art institutions as an extreme form of cultural terrorism.

In the middle chapters, Berendt, who seems to have a knack for engaging friend and foe alike, explores other dramas of great poignancy such as a rift in an ancient family of glass blowers from Murano. First, we side with the father, then sneakily, we see the rebel son’s point of view. Either way, the glass creations emerge, whether fire-inspired or technically innovative – some photos would have been nice. Another long chapter is devoted to Olga Rudge’s struggle with other Poundites determined to secure the old poet’s papers for a song and the bitter battles that ensue. If all of the above sounds unrelentingly highbrow in scope, Berendt slips in a rat exterminator who attributes his huge success at his chosen profession by feeding rats the same (but slyly doctored) food that local humans eat. Is Berendt trying on a symbol for the wiliness of Venetians?
Owing to the fortuitous events of history, what was intended to be perhaps just another travel book, an architectural swan song, became an enthralling and immediate social history. This is only Berendt’s second book, so it will be interesting to see which part of the globe he brings his acute gaze to next.

PS: Against difficult odds, the restored opera house re-opened in 2003.

books_lunar park.jpgLUNAR PARK
By Bret Easton Ellis, Picador, $27.00
Lunar Park which is not to be confused with Luna Park, the Sydney amusement park, and indeed there is little chance of that. Luna Park possibly brings a smile to the face of its users but Lunar Park, Ellis’s latest novel, is neither amusing, uplifting nor entertaining. In fact, it is a tiresomely bad book. The reader may well wind up asking “is this a horror or a horrible novel?”, and the answer is yes on both counts.

Initially, Ellis pulls out that tired metafictional trick of an author turning himself into a character in a novel. Witty when Philip Roth does it, alas not here. The opening chapters with their confessions of druggy parties read like a straight autobiography so the casual browser could be tricked. The blurb tell us “that every word is true”, an assertion which even the dimmest reader will slowly realise is fictional puffery. Ellis, the character, keeps complaining that he is not cut out for suburban married life. And it might appear, Ellis, the real author, is forewarning us not to expect this brat pack novelist to turn respectable and suburbanly settled, anytime soon.

Enter Terby, a nasty doll that seems to have stepped out of the B-grade pages of Stephen King. What’s worse or better, depending on how you look at it, is the presence of a young man dressed up as Patrick Bateman, sadistic-psychotic villain of Ellis’s previous notorious novel, American Psycho, who appears to be leaving a trail of corpses. In other words, art is copying life, even though that “life” is also fiction. Stated thus, something shallow sounds metafictionally deep. I can assure you this is not the case.

The gratuitous slaughters in the pages of American Psycho leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth and here the narrator (Ellis) seems to want explain and excuse the author (also Ellis) by maintaining that brutal murderer Patrick Bateman was a notoriously unreliable narrator and that the crimes may well have been fantasies, “fuelled by his rage and fury about life in America was structured and how this had ...trapped him ...”. The book “was about society and manners and mores, and not about cutting up women”. Or is Ellis, the real and actual author, seeking to let himself off the hook of accusations of unrelenting sadism towards women as grimly reported in American Psycho? It certainly looks that way.

Another unconvincing theme in Lunar Park is that Ellis is trying to make peace with his father and the nastinesses of Patrick Bateman were based on anger against his dad. This notion at least leads to the only good piece of writing in the book – the last two magnificently lyrical pages which describe the ashes of the dead father being cast into the sea. Which is possibly what Ellis should have done when this book was still a manuscript. Except, of course, for those last two pages.

books_country life.jpgGRANTA 90: Country Life
Edited by Ian Jack, Granta, $27.95
Established some 20 years, the very non-literary (no criticism or poetry) literary book-formatted magazine, Granta continues to publish first class short stories, travel and sociological memoirs. There is a Granta package – meticulous detail, lucid elegant English, sympathy for the underdog, particularly the working class underdog – the old style factory or field worker – which is sometimes presented as the worker speaking or narrating non-stop for several pages. This approach is used for the lead feature – an evocation of a fading rural way of life in England entitled “Return to Akenfield” by Craig Taylor.

Akenfield – first published in 1969 – was “a rich and perceptive portrait of life in an English village, told in the voices of the farmers and villagers themselves”. Akenfield has had a boom – population 298 in 1950, by 2001 it had rocketed to 358. We learn that picking black currants is bloody (actually sticky) hard work and buying a reasonably-sized dairy farm nowadays will set you back a cool five million bucks.

In former days, Granta tended to mainly feature big name writers but the only one featured here – unless you count Studs Terkel interviewing Bob Dylan back in 1963 – is Doris Lessing’s “The Death of A Chair”. I found Lessing’s piece uninspiring. She is surpassed by less known authors like Barry Lopez (noted for his book on wolves) who writes a poignant piece on salmon fishing with his son; “Fantastic Mr Fox” by Tim Adams, a satisfying look at the crazed dedication and frantic antics of the anti-fox hunters, and “Nightwalking” by Robert Macfarlane, a celebration of noctambulism (walking at night especially in search of melancholy) as opposed to somna- mbulism (sleepwalking, possible at high noon).

The intriguing thing about Granta is if you open it at random you will find it difficult to tell fact from fiction. Actually, the fiction is in the minority but when I read “Constitutional” by Helen Simpson (fiction) I took it to be the kind of typical personal memoir piece that Granta writers do so well. Does this mean my reading filter had fallen asleep? Or that fact and fiction have become indistinguishable? Neither, I believe; it’s just the hard bitten exactitude of the Granta style.

The collection is rounded off by the postcard-tinted style photographs of tree blight by Robert Gumpert and the solemn dignity of English folk parading their showtime farm animals by Liz Jobey. The piece de la resistance (almost) is a bunch of gloriously cheerful Englishwomen holding up their prize chooks on a Hertfordshire farm in 1933, exceeded only by four behatted gentlemen clutching their piglets. The inscription on the building behind reads, “Adolph’s Kindergarten, Bombing Verboten.” Great stuff.

books_space race.jpgSPACE RACE
By Deborah Cadbury, Fourth Estate, $67.95
As a small boy I informed my parents that one day a man would fly to the moon. My parents, aunties and grandparent (I had only one) laughed with amiable derision. Man fly to the moon! Consistent aerial Luddites, none of my elders so much as set foot in an aeroplane though they lived into the 70s, the era of cheap flight.

Today – setting aside the conspiratorial sceptics – we know men have flown to the moon not once but six times. The notion that flight to the moon was possible was most prominently mooted by Werner Von Braun, a refugee from Nazi Germany, a former member of the SS whose scientific prophecies included space stations, artificial sunlight, rocket planes crossing the Atlantic in 40 minutes – all in 1945! A series of articles published in Colliers in 1952 continued the hype and were read by millions. Certainly, I knew the name von Braun when I was in short pants. As adolescence hit, I became a science fiction fan. The moon trip was a certainty – it was just a matter of time. My parents were alive when the moon was reached, though kindly, I never crowed ‘I told you so’.

Space Race is a very apt title and just how fiercely it was contested is the thrilling tale related in this gripping book. Major Staver was responsible for the Americans gaining an early lead over the Russians by acquiring – just hours before the Brits arrived – 100 V2 rockets, 15 tons of documents, 1000 technicians, plus the inimitable and charismatic Von Braun, ever after to lead the American half of the space race. Later, the Americans secured some 7000 “German experts” from all branches of industry. By any standards, they had a head start. In fact since they had the V2s, they had a flying start.

What of the Russians? Stalin was furious that they had no V2s, no documents and no senior experts. But SMERSH agents managed to get hold of a gyrostabiliser platform used in a V2 rocket, a talented young engineer called Helmut Grottrup and some blueprints for parts of the V2. Later the Russian’s trump card was an outstanding rocket engineer, Sergei Korolev, brought back into favour after a period of incarceration in a gulag on the usual trumped-up charges.

It was the genius of Korolev in pioneering the R-7 rocket that led to the dramatic overtaking of the American space program by the Russians. I am of the generation who reeled under the impact of Russian success – A satellite! A dog! A man! A rocket impacting on the moon! – while the Americans languished in miserable technical failure. In relatively uncensored America, the press had a field day calling the failed American attempt to catch up Flopkin ... Dudnik ... Puffnik ... Oopsnik ...Goofkik ... Kaputnik. Of course, the Russians had their disasters too, though Soviet propaganda meant that a massive explosion in 1960 which killed 150 was hushed up. The Americans had their small successes and further humiliations, but their moment of triumph finally came with the awesome moon rocket Saturn V whose 5 F-1 engines delivered 7.5 million pounds of thrust and were so powerful they could be heard 100 miles away. Meanwhile, in an ironic reversal, the Russian equivalents began blowing up. This is drama on a grand scale and no has told it better than Deborah Cadbury. It’s a blast!

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:17 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition


Iraq, the United Nations, and the threat of terrorism in our region: What is Howard doing wrong? How would Labor do things differently? Investigate editor JAMES MORROW recently sat down with Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to find out

INVESTIGATE: Do you think Iraq is better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, the fact of the matter is Saddam’s gone, but to state the bleeding obvious we didn’t support the war. The fact of the matter is that that advice was not accepted by the Australian government, the Australian government fought in the coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, and in fact succeeded in removing him. Therefore we are, as people interested in and committed to universal human rights, happy that he’s gone.

But what one is concerned about is the stability of the country, and the regime which replaces him. What we’re uncertain about is how all this will shake down in the years ahead, particularly once there is an eventual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
INVESTIGATE: On the subject of the US’s eventual withdrawal, where do you stand on the question of keeping Australian troops in Iraq? After all, Mark Latham promised to have the troops home by Christmas, but Howard has committed another 450 troops.
RUDD: We think that [increasing the deployment] was an inappropriate decision for a number of reasons, one of which is the prime minister’s election commitment, to the Australian people in black and white, which was that there would be no substantial increases. Prior to the election from memory we had in country something in the vicinity of 300 troops if you add another 500, it’s basically a breach of undertaking.
INVESTIGATE: So what’s Labor’s plan?
RUDD: When I visited Iraq and spoke with Ambassador Bremmer, one of the things he impressed upon me was the problem of the porousness of Iraq’s borders, and of insurgents and jihadists coming across from Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran and [the need] to do what was necessary to enhance the systems, procedures and personnel tasked with providing Iraq’s border security. We can provide a very effective training package for that as well as effective packages to assist Iraqis on the humanitarian front.
INVESTIGATE: In that vein, did you see Syria recently nabbed 113 people trying to make it into Iraq from Syria?
RUDD: I have not seen that particular report, but those figures would not surprise me. I stood in Bremer’s office in Saddam’s palace and examined a very large map of Iraq and its contiguous land borders with Iran, Syria and Saudi. These are borders that probably in the best of times were never properly policed. Now that we’re in the worst of times, in terms of Iraq, to paraphrase [CIA Director] Porter Goss, it has become something of a magnet for training jihadists from around the world.

It strikes us that the best thing to do is help the Iraqis build better border control and better border security systems. That’s something we’re not bad at.
INVESTIGATE: To bring the United Nations into the conversation for a moment, you opposed going into Iraq; does Australia always need the UN’s mandate to use force, or is there a danger that that limits our options?
RUDD: We take the UN charter seriously, and the reason we take the UN charter seriously is that, prima facie, it is better to have an international rules-based order than to have no international rules-based order. And to state the bleeding obvious, of course it’s inefficient. The bottom line is it was put together by a committee of nations in 1945. But critics of the UN don’t argue what sort of rules-based order, if any, should replace it. Are they arguing for the pre-‘45 world order, the pre-1919 world order, what sort of world order are they arguing for creating? Back to Westphalia, back to pre-Westphalia?

If you’re going to take the classic neo-conservative critique of the UN multilateral order, then think in the great tradition of Burkean conservatism, you should argue for something to replace that which you would tear apart. I don’t hear a coherent program along those lines other than occasional bursts of unilateralism when you judge it absolutely necessary. A lot of capabilities are divided within the strength of the UN charter: Article 42, which provides for collective action through the Security Council (that’s how we managed to achieve our outcomes in East Timor). You’ve also got Article 51, which provides for an opportunity to defend yourself against attacks, and Kofi Annan has argued for a further examination of that given the advances in weaponry in recent times. Then you’ve got doctrines of humanitarian intervention, which are much more controversial provisions.

INVESTIGATE: How does that all fit in, then, with the crisis in Darfur?
RUDD: The challenge at stake with Darfur is the question of whether it is a failure of the UN or the member states of the UN.
INVESTIGATE: Then isn’t the problem with the UN that it is only as good as it’s member states?
RUDD: Most cooperative endeavours are.
INVESTIGATE: Sure, if you’ve got an organisation with lots of different states that are not democracies and a few that are, don’t you wind up getting pulled down to the lowest common denominator, because those dictatorships keep one from being able to act?
RUDD: If you look back to the Commission on Human Rights, which is the subject of such comprehensive reform proposals by Kofi Annan’s reform panel, that is the inherent problem of having a democracy of states, states which irrespective of their internal political composition all having equal say in the general assembly.
But again, the critics of the UN system fail to argue the alternative. I don’t hear that. I don’t even hear that from the neo-conservative critics. Would it be the death of Westphalia? Would the sovereignty of individual states go out the door? If so, what replaces it? I just think that reforming the current system is the most practical way to go. I put in these stark terms and your readers will be familiar with Churchill’s great critique of democracy, and I think the same is true with the United Nations.

So it’s not about some belief in chanting the UN mantra for the sake of chanting the UN mantra. No, it’s not ideological, it’s practical. And contrast that with the various international systems of the pre-1945 period. And in this country which tends to be pro-American, and I have a career record of being pro-American myself, support for the UN tends to poll over 60 percent.
INVESTIGATE: On the issue of pro- and anti-Americanism, what did you make of that report from the Lowy institute which said that more Australians were more afraid of the United States than Osama bin Laden?
RUDD: I was actually in China when that poll came out so, so I haven’t gotten into it, but in terms of the responses in the poll that supported the US alliance, I think the figure was 38 per cent, and for America itself it was 58 per cent. That I think is an interesting insight into the way Australians think. Australians, since 1941 when [Labor] ran the country, we had an alliance with the United States for the first time, which was under an Australian Labor government, and we took a lot of criticism from those who accused us of departing from the mother country. We have been consistent supporters of a military alliance with America, and that has not changed and that will not change.

However, support of the US military alliance does not mean that you have to subsume every tenet of Australian foreign policy to American foreign policy. There are going to be areas of difference. There have been in the past, and you know what? There will be in the future. This is not the sort of thing where you just go and tick every box.
INVESTIGATE: Back to the whole concept of multilateral alliances and structures, what do you say to the criticism that if we were in the ASEAN treaty a few years back, we wouldn’t have ben able to liberate East Timor because we would have had to respect the sovereignty of Indonesia?
RUDD: I think it’s an intellectually incoherent argument, the reason being that in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation refers to Article 42 of the UN charter, which in turn provides for collective action by states. It was only when the UN mandated action in East Timor that the Indonesians withdrew and we entered uncontested under the terms of the relevant UN resolultions. To use the ancient Latin phrase, that argument is complete bullshit.
INVESTIGATE: Where do you see China fitting in to geopolitics these days, especially with the Taiwan issue?
RUDD: I think the central foreign policy challenge for Australia in the next quarter-century is China. I don’t think the Howard government necessarily grasps that. If you look at the Prime Minister’s speech to the Lowy Institute recently, he described us Asia as constituting the stadium of international affairs for the century ahead. Well, that’s terrific that the Prime Minister has discovered a pre-existing reality which is staring the nation in the face for the previous quarter-century. Anyway, leaving that to one side, the core component of that is China. Why? China is the dynamic, and it is an unfolding story of rapid economic growth. Back in 1984 it has an economy slightly smaller than Canada and slightly larger than that of Australia. Now, depending on the measure, you’re talking about an economy that’s the fourth-largest in the world and getting larger.
INVESTIGATE: There’s a lot of economic growth there, but not much political freedom…
RUDD: The open question is, is China going in the direction of a democracy? Anyone making bold predictions on that I think has an excess of courage and a possible deficit of wisdom. It is a very difficult question to predict. To answer to the question how China will evolve politically, well, frankly it is impossible to predict.
On the question of China’s foreign policy behaviour, China now in terms of diplomatic and foreign policy activity in the region is much more activist than it has been in the past. China in the 1980s did not have much of a view of what was going on in the region. Now it has an acute view.

On the question of Taiwan, it is one of continuing core sensitivities, not just in terms of peace and prosperity across the Taiwan straits, but peace between China and the United States, peace between China and Japan, peace within the wider region. This is the core question within the core question.
INVESTIGATE: So if China makes a play for Taiwan, and the US ends up on the side of China, where does that leave Australia?
RUDD: The answer I will give is that it is not productive for the government or the alternative government of this country to speculate on how our alliance relationship with the United States will apply given future strategic circumstances.
INVESTIGATE: But how do you feel about Taiwanese independence in the meantime?
RUDD: We’re long term supporters since 1972. Remember, Labor Party history isn’t bad on China is not a bad one. The conservatives pretended China didn’t exist for 23 years, and you know, we thought that was kind of stupid. Our treaty with China remains unchanged, and we don’t budge from that. Now what is involved domestically within Taiwan, in terms of a liberal democratic principle of management, that we of course support, and I have long been on the record supporting that. I studied in Taiwan as a student, and I’ve seen Taiwan change over the years, but that doesn’t alter our view of the One China policy.
INVESTIGATE: Moving elsewhere in the region, regarding the insurgency in the Philippines, we’ve got a story on the al Qaida-linked Islamic problem. Should Australia be doing more?
RUDD: The connections with the wider al Qaida networks in the southern Philippines has been the subject of some study, and I’m of the view that there are connections. Based on advice I’ve seen it’s quite clear to me that there are connections. That leads to Labor’s fundamental premise in its policy on counterterrorism in the region, that is, beyond rhetorical flourish by a government with an eye on opinion polls in this country, as opposed to doing the hard yards of actually tackling terrorism on the ground, we argue that to be effective in the war against terrorism, what you need is a comprehensive, regional counterterrorism strategy which covers each dimension of the problem. That means, for example, effective intelligence coordination across all south-east Asian states, police cooperation across all south-east Asian states, and on top of that it means dealing with some of the underlying social and economic factors which make it easier for terrorist organisations to recruit. That is the sort of strategy we need. At present what we’ve got is a bit of money here, a bit of money there; fund that capability-building unit in Jakarta; who knows what the one in Kuala Lumpur is doing; what about the one in Bangkok?

As a starting premise, what we argue for is a comprehensive region-wide audit of our counterterrorism capabilities if you’re serious the enterprise, that’s where you start. Then the second thing you do is identify capability gaps, and you agree on a strategy across the region in order to clear the gaps. This is not happening. You have a bit here and bit there, usually in response to an event, and that is a classical conservative party misunderstanding of a fundamental national security challenge.
INVESTIGATE: It sounds like you’re talking civilian operations – but what about on the military side. If we had knowledge of someone with a suitcase nuclear weapon somewhere bound for Australia, does Australia have the right to go stop it?
RUDD: That’s a fantastic hypothetical…
INVESTIGATE: Perhaps, but so was 9/11 before it happened.
RUDD: Look: the only way Australia, a country with twenty million people and limited national security resources of our own, both military and non-military, could do so is collaboratively, with the states of the region.

I mean, John Howard by talking about unilateral action is alienating regional states and the diplomatic support necessary to actually engender the cooperative relationships which are necessary to stop terrorists on the ground. This is a mindless piece of politics and hairy-chestedness.

Ask yourself this question: if you’ve got a problem with terrorists in south-east Asia, can you concede that Australia could in any way act other than collaboratively with the local state involved?

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)

Simply Devine: Mar 05, AU Edition


Kids are alright,but are they a requirement for leading the ALP?

In her brief flirtation with the top Labor job last month, the party’s most ambitious woman, Julia Gillard, discovered that some people think her status as a single, childless 43-year-old woman renders her “unelectable”. She also found that some people think her neat, sunlit kitchen in Melbourne’s western suburbs looks “lonely” and “lifeless”, code for spinsterish.

“Single? Female? Childless? Was this really what Australians wanted in their alternative prime minister?” asked one newspaper.
It’s not something she had considered before, she said in a phone call from Melbourne on Australia Day after announcing she would not run for the leadership. “That’s just my life.”

But far from being an odd fish, Gillard spearheads a new and honourable tradition of powerful, unmarried childless women who are quietly heading for the top in their careers, unencumbered by the very real needs of children and the sometimes unreasonable demands of a spouse.

The 2005 Bureau of Statistics yearbook shows the fastest-growing household type in Australia is a single person living alone. In the next 20 years, single people will comprise a third of all households, and not entirely because of an ageing population.

Like a growing number of women, Gillard never set out to not get married or not have children, but says that is just the way her life turned out. “It’s an accumulation of the little decisions that brings you here.” And, like many single women, she just never met the right man, “if the definition of the right man is a relationship that endures forever ... Obviously I’ve had a series of relationships that mattered”.

Not that she’s intent on remaining single: “I wouldn’t preclude the thought of being in a strongrelationship”.

When she was a little girl people would ask her if she wanted to be a mother one day, and she would reply: “Oh no. I don’t think so”.
“I never had a strong desire to have children”, she says. “But it was not a decision [based on any notion] children would prejudice my career.”

Gillard is single again after splitting last year with her companion of two years, fellow Labor MP Craig Emerson. The new focus on her single status has led to “all sorts of peculiar offers”, she says, laughing about the men who yelled, at an Australia Day function in her western Melbourne electorate, “you look all right to me, love!”
But she was stung by the criticism of her single status, which seems to have emanated from the ALP itself, as part of a campaign to undermine Kim Beazley’s rivals for the party leadership.

“We can’t even blame the media for this; it’s her own colleagues that did it,” former Labor minister Susan Ryan told the ABC. “Now we’re back in the dark ages, where a woman’s marital status and whether she has children or not is being used against her by her own colleagues.”
Gillard denied her colleagues were behind the whispers but she did feel compelled to compare herself with her ideological opposite, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

“Dr Rice is a single, childless black woman and she is the most powerful woman in the world,” Gillard told reporters, as the pressure against her mounted. Flipping sausages on a BBQ, she went further to justify her single status: “No one person can encapsulate everyone’s life experience. A man doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, a person with children doesn’t know what it’s like to be a person without children, a person from a wealthy background doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up on a housing estate.” Touché.

She also points out she is part of a family, anyway: her “original family”, parents John and Moira, and older sister Alison, who live in Adelaide.

Likeable and engaging, Gillard also has a tribe of close friends in Melbourne including Terry Bracks, wife of the Victorian Premier. When Mark Latham abruptly quit the Labor Leadership, she was on holiday in Cambodia and Vietnam with another friend.

In any case, she says voters in her electorate don’t care about her marital status, as long as she does the job.

On the other side of politics, 36-year-old Liberal Sophie Panopoulos, also ambitious, childless and unmarried(so far), weighed into the Gillard debate with her own tale of marital-status prejudice.

“All of the Labor sisterhood in Canberra remained absolutely silent when the Labor candidate for Indi (in north-east Victoria) in the last election made the same allegations about me,” she told the ABC’s 7.30 Report. “[He said] I really wasn’t fit to be the member because I wasn’t married and didn’t have children.”

But the allegations didn’t damage Panopoulos’s standing with the electorate. In fact, she won the seat by a margin of 21 percent and attracted almost six percent of Labor voters from her ostentatiously married-with-children rival.

Few Australian politicians have made as big a deal of their family as Latham. There was the famous shot of him striding down a hallway with his mother and wife and two sons when he was first elected Labor leader. He invited cameras to his home during the election campaign to snap him on Father’s Day playing backyard cricket with his boys.
Latham read storybooks to schoolchildren and did everything possible to portray himself as the quintessential family man. But did that make the electorate warm to him? Far from it. In the end, when Latham resigned, he cited a desire to devote himself to his family. From Latham’s experience, you might even infer that the demands of being Labor leader with young children are too hard.
Of course, Gillard could have married her handbag, just to conform. But why should she?

Instead she has to contend with snide comments about her “unnaturally spotless” kitchen, in which she was photographed for the Sun-Herald recently.

Sure, it might not be the schmick Calcutta marble kitchen of a yuppie Sydney couple with a subscription to Belle. But it is a practical kitchen, about what you might expect from a busy single professional person who had returned to work a week early from a holiday and hadn’t had time to buy apples for the fruit bowl.

Successful single men rarely face such prejudice; and most don’t stay single for long, there being no shortage of women eager for rich-wife status.

But it is trickier for a successful career woman to find a partner who doesn’t demand babies at an inconvenient time of her career, as movie star Brad Pitt supposedly did with Jennifer Aniston, for instance, or who doesn’t feel neglected by her success.

Instead, increasing numbers of self-respecting women in their 30s and 40s are content to accept they may never marry or have children. They focus instead on their careers, and relationships with friends and “original family”. It’s not a lifestyle they chose, or one they imagined for themselves. But they are not lonely. They don’t feel they are settling for second best. They are just realistic.

The bonus for a society which embraces such women is the extra guilt-free attention they can lavish on their jobs. Julia Gillard’s single, childless status is an electoral asset because it means she can work harder.

Or, as a woman emailed me after a shorter version of this article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Julia and other single gals such as myself are an asset to any organisation because we are not going to p... off early from our responsibilities to collect little Charlotte or Joshua from daycare after another outbreak of conjunctivitis.”


Posted by InvestigateDesign at 04:04 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, AU Edition


He’s won a fourth term, faced down a revolt from backbenchers, and has historic control of the Senate. So what next for the Prime Minister? ALAN ANDERSON provides an inside account of the power struggles within the Liberal party, the outlook for succession, and Labor’s last best hope.

With the Opposition languishing in the polls, the new Senate under Coalition control and the issue of the Liberal leadership at least tem-porarily quiescent, one would imagine John Howard to be at the peak of his power. Yet the past few weeks have seen him locked in tense negotiations with four of his own backbenchers, culminating in a partial repudiation of the policy with which he is most closely associated in the public mind. As we eagerly anticipate the Government’s legislative agenda, how far will Howard really be able to push things in a fourth term?

The revolt led by backbencher Petro Georgiou against mandatory detention has been an unsettling experience for the Government. With big ticket items like industrial relations and Telstra on the agenda, together with smaller but equally controversial reforms like voluntary student unionism, Howard will not want policies that should form his legacy to be watered down by nervous backbenchers.

Howard’s response has been to portray the revolt as a strength rather than a weakness. His welcoming of fresh ideas from the backbench carried a disturbing touch of Chairman Mao’s exhortation to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’, although one hopes his motivation is less sinister.

Certainly, Liberal MPs identify the party’s capacity to generate ideas as a key advantage over Labor. ‘We are winning because we are about ideas’, one South Australian Liberal MP told Investigate. ‘They are more interested in factional politics.’

This is more than rhetoric. Two new policy journals, The Party Room, edited by former federal director Andrew Robb MP and tax crusader Senator Mitch Fifield, and Looking Forward, edited by South Australian Liberal MP Dr Andrew Southcott, have sprung up in the last few months. Freed of the discipline of staring down the barrel of electoral oblivion, Coalition MPs have greeted Labor’s decline with an eagerness to conduct their own policy debates in public.

The Coalition is providing its own opposition, while an impotent Labor Party is relegated to the role of spectator. There is every reason to believe that this is not a passing phase. Labor was sidelined before Coalition control of the Senate; deprived of its upper house veto it can only become less relevant. Policy is in fashion this season, and there is no doubt that it is making the Liberal Party look like the natural party of government.

Yet while Howard’s portrayal of the Liberals as the ‘party of ideas’ may encompass calls for tax reform or school vouchers, it was a contrived explanation of his surrender to the mandatory detention rebels. Howard’s line has only passed media muster because the press gallery were so keen to see immigration policy watered down.
The days of a meek and compliant backbench are gone. ‘There are two ends of the spectrum’, another Minister explained. ‘On one hand you have people like Georgiou, who know that they’re never going to get a position on the front bench. What has he got to lose? He figures he might as well do what he believes.

‘At the other end of the spectrum you have young, ambitious backbenchers. If you’re in your thirties and on the backbench, you want to make a name for yourself. You see there’s a logjam on the front bench at the moment, and you don’t expect promotion any time soon. So you’re thinking long-term, beyond this Government’.

In other words, the Coalition’s policy debates are partly a symptom of its success. Howard has an abundance of talent in the Parliament, much of it quite experienced, but there are only so many ministries to go around.

The two major themes championed by the party’s backbench this year have been tax reform and softening of mandatory detention. They represent two different models of backbench activism, at least one of which poses a direct challenge to Howard’s authority.

The so-called tax ‘ginger group’, led by Fifield and Victorian Liberal MP Sophie Panopoulos, was careful to give credit to the Government for past tax cuts while lobbying for more. They portrayed their cause as consistent with the direction of government policy, and their form of contribution is doubtless what Howard has in mind when calling for debate. But to be fairto Petro Georgiou and his mandatory
detention rebels, consistency with government policy would not have been a credible claim for their group to make. Asked to comment on where the line is drawn between healthy debate and white-anting, one Liberal Senator saw the policy itself as the main distinction. ‘The difference is about whether you are agitating to advance Liberal values, or to overturn them; whether you’re trying to get us to go forward or to reverse’.

Yet there is a distinction of process as well as substance. Sophie Panopolous invited controversy when labelling Georgiou’s group ‘political terrorists’, yet there is no question that their campaign was conducted using the threat of private member’s Bills and an embarrassing split in Government ranks. If not terrorism, it was at least blackmail, and it worked.

Media commentators, seeking to excuse Howard’s capitulation on a policy they detest, suggest that it sprang from his belief that ‘disunity is death’. But if disunity is death, has Howard not encouraged it?

The Coalition party room was solidly behind Howard on this issue. Had he wanted to stand firm, there is no question that Georgiou and his three colleagues would have been isolated and defeated.
Instead, Howard spent nine hours negotiating with the group, delivering substantial concessions that undermine the mandatory detention regime for any asylum-seeker accompanied by his family. To extend the Panopoulos analogy, Howard broke the rules and negotiated with terrorists.

howard.jpgOne Victorian Liberal backbencher sees the rationale for Howard’s move as being specific to the issue. ‘The Palmer Inquiry was going to criticise the [Immigration] Department and recommend reforms. Howard was just moving first, so that when the report came out he would already have fixed the problems’.

Another explanation is that Howard was driven by memories of the dissipation of Malcolm Fraser’s authority in the face of regular defections. Yet the broader precedent has been set. ‘It will certainly encourage others to think they can get away with breaking ranks’, according to the Victorian. The incident has cast doubt over whether Howard be able to rein in the excesses of this phenomenon.

Of course, the one force that could reverse this trend is the federal Labor Party. Were it not for the absence of effective opposition from the benches opposite, Coalition parliamentarians might be more circumspect in airing internal policy debates than they have been in recent months.

What are the chances of a Labor revival bolstering discipline in the Coalition ranks? The prospect of a Labor leadership change, unthinkable before the Budget, is starting to look like a real possibility.

Returning to Beazley seemed a safe option at the time, but the Labor caucus must be wondering whether they have made their third mistake in a row.

Yet Coalition MPs see Beazley more as a symptom than a cause of the Labor disease. For one thing, a change in leadership will not alter the high ‘hack factor’ that is so apparent from a perusal of Labor CVs, or the resultant intellectual vacuum.

‘It’s about personnel’, was the Minister’s explanation of Labor’s woes, but it was not just a reference to the leadership. ‘Labor’s benches are full of trade union reps and former staffers. None of them have had any real world experience, and they’re not representative of the community. Our party room looks more like Australia’.

‘They just don’t have any ideas’, adds the South Australian MP. ‘They seem to be getting all their policy from one or two sources: tax policy from one think-tank conference; health policy from Catholic health groups. It’s because their MPs are basically just union and party hacks. They aren’t coming up with anything themselves’.
Equally damaging is the fact that Labor continues to break the primary rule of politics: look after your base.

This is perhaps Howard’s most important political legacy. Since 1996, ‘Howard’s battlers’ have continued to upset the traditional political balance. Won over by Howard’s rejection of the culturally elitist Keating agenda, a few battlers went home to Labor over the GST in 1998, before being cemented back into the Coalition’s corner by the border protection debate in 2001.

In 2004, the focus returned to domestic issues, with a traditional class warfare campaign under Labor’s pie-eating Aussie bloke, Mark Latham. Yet in spite of scare campaigns on health, a polarising debate over private schooling and a barrage of self-serving stories about Latham’s Green Valley upbringing, the battlers voted Liberal in greater numbers than ever. This, together with the abject failure of Labor’s anti-Costello campaign, suggests that Howard’s battlers have become the Coalition’s battlers, increasingly wedded to its aspirational economic message as well as its culturally conservative one.

Is this reversible? Beazley’s ham-fisted efforts to block Costello’s tax cuts suggest that Labor still believes it can regain its traditional support base. Yet it is questionable whether Labor can ever win back its socially conservative core demographic until it finds the courage to confront its latte set of academics, teachers and lawyers and reconcile the conflict between what Beazley’s father memorably called ‘the cream of the working class’ and ‘the dregs of the middle class’. Increasingly, Labor looks like it is just sitting back and praying for a recession.

This may well be Labor’s only chance. Asked to explain the Coalition’s electoral dominance, three Liberal parliamentarians independently came up with the same phrase: ‘strong economic management’.

howardart2.jpgIt is interesting that Costello’s mantra is now echoed even by MPs more traditionally associated with Howard, given that it relegates Howard’s personal appeal to being a subsidiary cause of success. Yet it is a tribute to the Howard-Costello partnership that the Government has acquired a confident identity beyond the personality of its leader, in stark contrast to the personality cults of state Labor administrations.

This ongoing dominance leaves Howard with great responsibilities, and with the challenge of managing a restless backbench. He is the trustee of years of intellectual and political effort by liberals and conservatives, which have finally delivered the opportunity for serious reform. There are two tasks by which Howard will be judged.
The first task is to maintain the reform momentum. Kevin Andrews’ ambitious industrial relations reforms exceed the meagre expectations created by his ambiguous post-election pronouncements. If implemented in their current form, they will be a fitting capstone to Howard’s career-long struggle to liberate Australia from its antiquated IR system.

Peter Costello’s last budget also exceeded expectations, although purists will continue to call for a more radical flattening of the income tax system. Liberals have good reason to be satisfied with their Government’s fourth term performance thus far.

But Howard has yet to negotiate passage of his industrial relations laws, which have offended federalists and face a possible defection by Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce. The sale of Telstra also faces hurdles, with some Nationals likely to complain so long as one farmer has mobile reception problems when trying to call the sheep in his back paddock.

On a smaller scale, there are also rumblings of dissent over voluntary student unionism, raising the fear that the policy will be watered down into insignificance as it was under Jeff Kennett in Victoria.
Securing passage of these reforms will be a test of Howard’s authority, not to mention his negotiating skills. This once-in-a-generation opportunity must not be squandered. Howard has acquired a large reserve of political capital over the past ten years. This is the time to spend it.

Howard-at-Press.jpgYet there will be a temptation to do the opposite. Fear of a possible leadership battle in the coming year could cause Howard to question whether he should keep his powder dry; whether a ‘steady as she goes’ approach and the appeasement of dissenters is a more prudent course to maintain poll numbers and party room support in the short term. It can only be hoped that the surrender on mandatory detention was not a sign of such an approach.

This brings us to Howard’s second great task. Even he must appreciate that the end of his career is approaching. If Howard fights the 2007 election, it will be as a 69-year-old. And even if he fights and wins, what about 2010 and 2013? No one believes Howard will be around for those elections.

One senior Liberal told Investigate, ‘Our newer MPs are looking at the long term. They know the best chance they have of a long career is if the leadership transition is timed right and goes smoothly’.

The Liberal Party’s future does not end with Howard’s career; nor does Australia’s. Howard owes it to his supporters to devise a credible succession plan that bequeaths to his successor a legacy that does not die with Howard’s leadership. His aim should not be one more victory, but many, through a long period of conservative dominance of which he is merely the founder. At the recent Liberal Federal Council meeting, blatant promotion of Alexander Downer, a strong contender for the Deputy’s position under Costello, suggested that succession planning is very much on Howard’s mind.

Thus we have arrived at a crossroads in Howard’s career, which will determine whether he is a politician or a statesman. Howard the survivor can spend his final years in office ducking and weaving to dodge the inevitable final blow. But he is enough of a student of history to know that Australian Prime Ministers are remembered more by their leaving of office than by their holding of it.

Accordingly, Howard should use the authority that four election successes have conferred upon him to advance the Liberals’ ideological cause, applying the bold template of his industrial relations reforms to other areas and creating a policy agenda that will extend beyond his reign. If Howard departs office voluntarily, with his Prime Ministership not a finished book but the opening chapters of a work in progress, he will have earned an exalted place beside Menzies in the Liberal pantheon.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

FIRST DRAFT: July 05, AU Edition

We sneak a peek at the Senate’s new workplace agreements...

Standard Contract (“Senator”)
Terms and Conditions of Employment
Howard Holdings Pty Ltd


You are employed as a full-time Management-Staff Liaison Officer (“Senator”). As described in the Company Charter (“Constitution”) of Howard Holdings Pty Ltd, your continued employment is subject to ongoing review by employee-shareholders (“citizens”). These reviews (“elections”) occur at regular three year intervals in all branches (“cities and towns”) of the corporation (“Australia”).

The exact date of the next review will be chosen by the Chief Executive Officer (“Prime Minister”) after consultation between the Management (“House of Representatives”) and Board of Directors (Messrs Murdoch, Packer, Stokes, et al.).

It is your duty to faithfully and diligently facilitate the implementation of Management decisions (“policies”) made in the collective pecuniary interest of all 20,342,715 Howard Holdings employee-shareholders.

Pursuant to this, on occasion, you may:

• Make minor adjustments to these decisions in response to employee-shareholder input (“public opinion”).
• Politely express reservations about the nature of these decisions in response to your own personal code of business ethics (“conscience”). Under exceptional circumstances these may take the form of signed petitions (“private member’s bills”) against certain aspects of company practice*.


• Excessively zealous collective expressions of discontent regarding any aspect of the company’s performance in the global marketplace (“rebellions”), and/or surreptitious dissemination of company records (“leaks”) – particularly those aiding and abetting known anti-corporatist forces (“ABC”, “Fairfax”,”Greens”) – may, at Management’s sole discretion, be seen as breaches of these Terms and Conditions. As such they attract severe penalties, up to and including dismissal (“disendorsement”).


• Extra prudence must be applied while performing any of your duties related to the recruitment of overseas personnel (“immigration”) and the nature of the processing thereof (“border control issues”).

And finally:

• Any and all of the above Terms and Conditions may be subject to change by Management at any time without notice.

* N.B.: While some junior Management staff (Georgiou, Moylan, et al.) have recently invoked this particular clause – and have not been penalised as of this writing – Management-Staff Liaison Officers are still strongly advised not to follow suit.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

TOUGH QUESTIONS: July 05, AU Edition

The death of a child

I suspect many people remember this song: ‘Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven? Would you be the same, if I saw you in Heaven? I must be strong, and carry on, because I know I don’t belong, here in
Heaven…’ When rocker Eric Clapton wrote those words, he was thinking not of the potential success of a hit record, he was writing from the heart. On March 20, 1991, just a week after my own son was born, Eric Clapton lost his four year old son Conor in a tragic, heart-rending accident. It happened on the 53rd storey of a New York apartment building. Conor, like all boys his age, was full of energy.

Unfortunately a cleaner had just finished wiping a large floor to ceiling window and left it open to dry. Conor was running and, before his mother could grab him, simply fell out the window, plunging 49 stories to the rooftop of an adjacent four storey building.

There are so many ‘if- only’ elements to this sad event, and Clapton took nine months off to grieve. As commentators noted, when he returned to performing his music was much more powerful and more reflective.

The other week, someone I know lost a child in an equally tragic accident in Auckland. Again, the ‘what-ifs’ and pain swirl in an endless cyclone of recriminations wishes by the parents that they could turn back time and do something – anything – differently.

Death comes to all of us, yet it is incredibly hard to deal with. The pain, the trauma and the emotional loss from an event like these is like a jagged blade in the heart, and the wounds take a long time to heal. So if religion is supposed to answer these “meaning of life” questions, if religion is supposed to help us deal with the ultimate question, how do the various religions stack up when it comes to death?

If you don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, I suspect coping with death is hardest for you. And indeed, medical and psychiatric studies have repeatedly found that a spiritual belief makes people cope with life better than those who don’t have one. For a non-believer who loses a child, there is no hope, just an aching hole in the heart where their baby used to be.

For Buddhists, Hindus or follower of New Age doctrines, life is a cycle of reincarnation, and the grieving parent at least is comforted by the idea that their child will return as someone else’s child. The downside to this is the loss of personal identity. In the Eastern faiths, you become one with the universe, recycled and then spat back down to Earth again where past identities and memories of those you loved are lost to you - a meaningless, cosmic Groundhog Day.
It is Christianity, I suggest, that offers the only tangible hope for non-Christians and Christians alike.

The central theme of Christianity is triumph over death. Death entered the world through the fall from Eden. Now imagine that sequence in reverse, where a kind of supernatural Earth (Eden) is poisoned,, in a massive universe-wide dimension shift that kicks humanity and the world it occupies out of the heavenly dimension into a dimension where death and decay exist. This was the first separation of humanity from God.

Jesus Christ came back to Earth to offer an invitation back for those who believed. In regard to children, it is widely believed from Christ’s comments that children who die are accepted into Heaven by God’s grace. For a grieving parent, Christian or not, God’s grace is equally available by invitation. Only Christianity and the example of Jesus’ resurrection, offers the hope of seeing a dead child alive again.

And yes, Eric, little Conor will know your name, if choose to join him, there in Heaven.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:35 PM | Comments (0)

LEFT HOOK: July 05, AU Edition

Now’s your chance, Mr. Howard: Go, Johnny, go!

Australian politics is entering unfamiliar territory in that, for the first time in a quarter of a century, the government of the day now controls both Houses of Parliament. Having spent the duration of the Howard Government arguing against their agenda, I guess their Senate majority is a cue for me to redouble my efforts and do what I can to critique and resist what already seems to be a bad bunch of policy options.

But I realise that this moment actually offers me a chance to give John Howard a piece of gratuitous, though sincere, advice. Believe me, my inclination is not to do him any favours, but maybe I’m just homesick enough – I’m about to head back to Oz after three years in the United States – to see what maybe we should all see more clearly, namely, that sometimes politics offers us opportunities.

People argue that history is bearing down on Mr. Howard and that he shouldn’t waste the opportunity of his Senate majority in the way he himself believes Malcolm Fraser did after 1975. I’d like to suggest
another historical possibility.

The fact is, like no prime minister in recent history, Mr. Howard is on the verge of greatness.

Indeed, he is in the rare position of being able to implement change that would not only honour the liberalism that underpins his party philosophy but that would end some of the most divisive and intractable debates since the Dismissal. Plus, it would undermine his opponents such that there would be virtually no challenge his government couldn’t undertake.

In short, the prime minister would so reek with political credibility that all would wilt before him.

The first step would be to offer an apology to Aboriginal people for past injustices. Think about it. He would in one stroke provide the basis for the sort of symbolic recognition that he himself admits is needed, without for one second undermining his insistence on ‘practical reconciliation’. His opponents would be blind-sided and could offer nothing but praise.

Second, he could embrace the Georgiou reforms on immigration and asylum seekers and end the utterly illiberal policy of indefinite detention, freeing children and their families, without at all undermining his government’s basically sound stance on border protection. Once again, his opponents would be floored.

Finally – and admittedly, most difficultly – he could ignore the special interest calls for a ‘more flexible’ workforce and publicly recognize that a worker is not just another factor of production, but that work itself is the basis from which people find a sense of personal identity and through which our society builds a stable and prosperous nation. He could level the playing field without at all damaging the economy.

Having thus transformed the political landscape, he could even do what so few political leaders get to do: retire gracefully at the top of his game.

It should be obvious that any one of these options would be personally difficult for the prime minister – though far from politically impossible – and that any attempt to do all of them would require an almost transcendent sense of duty and will power.

But that’s what greatness demands. A willingness to defy expectations. If he chose to grasp the moment, Mr Howard could seal his place in history as the most audacious leader of the modern period. Probably of any period. Johnny B. Great.

Tim Dunlop is a homeward-bound writer and author of Australia’s most widely-read left-leaning blog, www.roadtosurfdom.com

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:29 PM | Comments (0)

RIGHT HOOK: July 05, AU Edition

Gagging on ‘Deep Throat’

My only regret is that Mark Felt did not rat out Nixon because he was ticked off about rapprochement with China or détente with the Soviets. Rather, Felt leaked details of the Watergate investigation to the Washington Post only because he had lost a job promotion. This will come as small consolation to the Cambodians and Vietnamese slaughtered as a direct result of Nixon’s fall. Oh, well. At least we got a good movie and Jimmy Carter out of it.

Still, it must pain liberals to be praising an FBI man who ordered illegal searches of their old pals in the Weather Underground in the early ’70s. For those searches, Felt was later prosecuted by the Carter administration.

Ironically, only because of Watergate, which Felt helped instigate, could a nitwit like Jimmy Carter ever become president – a perch from which Carter pardoned draft dodgers and prosecuted Mark Felt. No wonder Felt kept denying he was ‘Deep Throat.’

Also ironic is that Felt’s free-love, flower-girl daughter was estranged from her father for decades on account of her rejection of conventional bourgeois institutions like marriage. A single mum, she is now broke – because of her rejection of conventional bourgeois institutions like marriage.

Of course Felt wasn’t Deep Throat. There was no Deep Throat. Now we know.

As most people had generally assumed, the shadowy figure who made his first appearance in a late draft of All the President’s Men was a composite of several sources – among them, apparently, Mark Felt. And now the jig is up.

The fictional Deep Throat knew things Felt could not possibly have known, such as the 18 1/2-minute gap on one of the White House tapes. Only six people knew about the gap when Woodward reported it. All of them worked at the White House. Felt not only didn’t work at the White House, but when the story broke, he also didn’t even work at the FBI anymore.

Woodward claimed he signaled Deep Throat by moving a red flag in a flowerpot to the back of his balcony and that Deep Throat signaled him by drawing the hands of a clock in Woodward’s New York Times.

But in his 1993 book, Deep Truth: The Lives of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Adrian Havill did something it had occurred to no one else to do: He looked at Woodward’s old apartment, and found that Woodward had a sixth-floor interior apartment that could not be seen from the street.

In another scene in All the President’s Men, Woodward’s sidekick, Carl Bernstein, goes to a porno theater to avoid a subpoena – and the movie Deep Throat happens to be the featured film! Havill points out that Washington, D.C., had recently cracked down on porno theaters and Deep Throat was not playing in any theater in Washington at the time.

Woodward and Bernstein’s former literary agent, David Obst, has always said Deep Throat was a fictional device added to later drafts of All the President’s Men to spice it up (kind of like everything in a Michael Moore film).

Obst scoffs at the notion that the No. 2 man at the FBI would have time to be skulking around parking lots spying for red flags on a reporter’s balcony. ‘There’s not a chance one person was Deep Throat’, he told The New York Times.

So it’s not really that amazing that the identity of Deep Throat managed to stay secret for so long.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

LAURA’S WORLD: July 05, AU Edition

Big boys should stop crying

Many of my male friends, colleagues and contemporaries are of the opinion that the women’s movement has gone too far. An opinion shared, it seems, by a majority of males.

The gist of it is, men are not free to be men any more. The male spirit has been gradually eroded away by the disapproval of women and replaced with a neutered, domesticated, femme-friendly New Age model of manliness. Real men feel ripped off, as if they have to apologize for simply being blokes.

These frustrating emotions are behind men’s revival movements such as Australia’s Promise Keepers who claim much of society’s problems relate to the displacement of men. Restore the male to his position of leadership and authority and you will reassert his sense of pride and responsibility. Crime will fall as a result, says this theory.
If men’s roles are not restored, crime, violence, war, and a host of other horrors will continue to rise. The responsibility for this horrible scenario rests squarely on the shoulders of those feminists who upset the order of things by breaking out of their traditional role and stealing men’s thunder.

An astonishing piece of blackmail really. Essentially, if women don’t give men what they want, men will wreck the planet and blame women. So what do men want? I have asked this question of my disgruntled friends and I can only describe the response as elusive. Men only know that they feel vaguely threatened and undermined in subtle ways, but they don’t know how to fix it. Some comments I’ve heard cited by challenged men are: women’s wants never end, you give them some ground and they want more. Women have gone way beyond 50/50; they are at about 70/30 now and won’t stop until they have it all. Men are sexual beings; sex is a physical requirement and if women continue to deny men then rapes will logically increase. Divorce courts favour women by giving them automatic rights to children and to half the husband’s assets regardless of whether she helped earn them.

Some of these examples of discrimination, such as the parental-rights issue, do appear real. But there are glaring omissions in this summary of women’s power and territory. I have my own way of assessing gender equality and it is quite a simple formula. Power is associated with voice. Who gets heard, who gets published, written about, who stars in movies, who gets radio airplay, who runs businesses, who leads countries.

Applying this formula shows women at best account for 20% of who gets heard, seen, reported on, and who holds power. All it takes is one day of observing to come to this conclusion. Listen to the radio, read the paper, watch TV news and check out what’s on at the box office. Roughly 80% of all that is newsworthy, all radio singers, all movie top-billers, all movers and shakers are male.

How this equates with women having gone too far in the minds of men is a little scary. Women have a long way to go before they are anywhere near equal to the actual wealth, earning power and overall status of men, and yet men feel robbed.

The hue and cry over boy’s second-rate performance in schools is a fine example. No complaints were heard when girls came second, as it was expected of them. Now that girls have caught up, there is a feverish scramble to overhaul education. Why don’t boys simply do what girls did: try harder?

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

THE WATCHER: July 05, AU Edition

Media Watch pays homage to Phillip Adams

Australian perceptions of the media are incredibly poor. According to a Roy Morgan poll conducted last September for The Reader, only 18 percent of Australians believe the media is doing an unbiased job reporting on controversial issues; nearly 70 percent believe newspapers do not accurately and fairly report the news. No Australian media organisation escaped a mention.

With such consumer discontent evident one might expect a program like ABC Television’s Media Watch to make the most of what appears to be a target-rich environment. Yet the vista – or at least one side of it – from Media Watch’s studio appears sparse. Such is the state of the state-owned broadcaster’s optics.

While Fairfax (with the exception of conservative columnist Miranda Devine) and the ABC itself never get hit with anything firmer than Paul Keating’s famous piece of wet lettuce, the so-called ‘Murdoch press’ and its conservative columnists remain the show’s perennial target. True, The Australian’s most conspicuous lefty, Phillip Adams, has felt the romaine and radicchio lash, but only just. And the attention he once received was only a convenient artifice to launch another attack on Media Watch’s favourite right wing target, columnist and now ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen.

Weblogger ‘Professor Bunyip’ (http://bunyip. blogspot.com), as he is known, imagined former Media Watch Host David Marr stitching the program up with Adams: ‘We’ll pretend that the item is about you, but what we’ll really present is another attack on Janet Jackboots.’ And, on that occasion, when Media Watch bothered to take any notice of the sins committed by a fellow traveler, the case was weakly presented and was indeed used to attack Albrechtsen (who now has a Media Watch hat-trick to her credit).

In a 1997 speech to the International Documentary Conference in Brisbane, Adams said paying homage was merely a posh term for plagiarism.

What animates Adams’ critics so much is not that he has borrowed a phrase or two now and then; it is that he is seen to be habitually ‘paying homage’. And even when Adams is caught out, he re-offends.
If you like to read the fortnightly New York Review of Books (NYROB), at A$6.00 a copy on the street in New York (far more in Oz), in addition to plenty of time, you have an expensive reading habit. So here’s a tip: affluent Adams reads the NYROB, too – though I expect his copy is paid for by the ABC Radio where he hosts Late Night. Fortunately, you can get theReader’s Digest version in his Australian column.

Evidently, the ABC gets just one copy of the NYROB and Adams permanently absconds with it as he leaves his Radio National studio to write his column, and the ABC, with its beggar budget of $750 million, apparently can’t afford a second copy for Media Watch. Just as well for Adams, lest it fall into Media Watch executive producer Peter McEvoy’s deft hands.

But something tells me it’s not lack of resources that keeps Media Watch from focusing on filching Phil; rather, it is the ABC’s institutional bias and lack of regard for journalistic standards and the ABC’s code of practice which is to blame. How else to explain the rubber glove and cavity search treatment reserved for conservative columnists like Albrechsen or Miranda Devine?

When shown the goods on Adams, McEvoy finds reasons to look the other way. On one occasion he defended Adams by lamely claiming he had ‘sufficiently re-written’ the work (a 2003 NYROB piece) he was alleged to have lifted and that he had cited the work with the words ‘history tells us’.

When Adams is not technically committing plagiarism, even those who share his worldview should feel cheated. Adams is not overworked (he puts in four hours a week on air at the ABC in addition to his newspaper column). Yet his work product is either fundamentally dishonest (i.e., pilfered), or it looks as though it has been.
Here’s one example, provided by the aforementioned Bunyip, involving a piece by Michael Massing in the 29 May 2003 edition of the NYROB, followed by Adams, six weeks later in the Australian. In this case, Adams lets on that he has read Massing’s piece, but he then either paraphrases or copies Massing verbatim:

Massing: The Coalition Media Center is managed by Jim Wilkinson, a fresh-faced, thirty-two-year-old Texan and a protégé of Bush’s adviser Karen Hughes. Wilkinson made his mark during the 2000 presidential election when he spoke on behalf of GOP activists protesting the Florida ballot recount. To run the media center in Doha, Wilkinson, a member of the naval reserve, appeared in the same beige fatigues as the career officers working under him.

Adams: The centre was managed by Jim Wilkinson, a 32-year-old Texan and protégé of the brothers Bush. When last seen, Wilkinson had been speaking on behalf of Republican activists protesting against the Florida ballot recount...In Doha, the Bush activist was repackaged as a member of the Naval Reserve, appearing in beige fatigues identical to the career officers working beneath him.

Adams goes on like this for paragraphs, until near then end when he finally puts quotes around a few of Massing’s words – leading readers to believe everything else Adams has written is his own:

Massing: CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -– a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, US news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see.

Adams: CNN’s international service was repackaged, bearing more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic – and domesticated – edition. Massing emphasises how market driven was the tone and content of the broadcast. ‘For the most part US news organisations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see,’ he says.
Adams’ column is, at the very least, an abject embarrassment to The Australian. That is, unless you subscribe to the Adams school of conspiracy. In which case, Rupert Murdoch has taken a page out of Karl Rove’s play book and instructed The Australian’s editors to keep Adams right where he is in order to discredit the left.

And what of Media Watch? Professional review is one thing, but there is something odious about a state-owned broadcaster sitting in judgment of private news broadcasters and newspapers. Sure, the ABC is not the same thing as the government swinging the billy club. But the ABC is a state habitat, populated overwhelmingly by leftists and funded by taxpayers, and Media Watch uses its resources to advance elite left-wing biases in a shrill, predictable and boring way which no commercial broadcaster would dare do.

Media Watch’s supporters would say that’s precisely why state-owned broadcasting is necessary. Well, no, actually. The ABC enjoys its budget, free of commercial constraints, not so it can fill the airwaves with ‘soft lefty’ attitudes masquerading as upholding professional standards. It is required to be fair. Entertaining would be okay, too.

At the time of this writing, The Australian published another Adams piece, which looks … well, over to you Media Watch. On 4 May, retired U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth died. Hackworth, who became a trenchant Pentagon critic, lived for a time in Australia, where he apparently befriended Adams. Six weeks after Last Post was played for his buddy ‘Hack’, Adams finally got around to eulogizing him. That was a cinch, because Hackworth’s obit writers at the Toledo (Ohio) Blade had done Adams’ homework for him...

Toledo Blade, 7 May 2005
As a 15-year-old orphan in Southern California, Mr. Hackworth joined the Army at the end of World War II, surviving four battle wounds in Korea. His heroics earned him a Silver Star, a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, and his own commando unit.

Colonel Hackworth, then a major, was promoted out of Vietnam in June, 1966 – 11 months before the unit’s first documented war crime. From May to November, 1967, some soldiers turned their rifles on hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children in what became the longest-known string of war crimes by a battle unit in Vietnam.During his fourth tour of duty in Vietnam, he spoke out against the war in June, 1971, prompting an Army investigation of his background.

He and his supporters portrayed the probe as retaliation against a whistleblower, but investigators uncovered widespread rule-breaking, including operating a gambling house and a brothel for his troops.
He defended both, arguing that it kept his soldiers disease-free, and the profits helped buy supplies for his men and local schoolchildren.
However, investigators concluded that the colonel enlisted his men in a black-market currency scheme that netted him tens of thousands of dollars. He would admit only that the men smuggled $100,000 of his poker winnings out of the country.

The Secretary of the Army allowed the colonel to retire to Australia, where he made millions in a restaurant business and duck farm.

Phillip Adams, The Australian, 18 June 2005
Born and orphaned in 1930, Hack was raised by a grandmother whose bedtime stories were about the family’s military history, going back to the American Revolutionary War. Faking ID papers, Hackworth joined the army in 1946, aged 15. He served in Korea and by Vietnam was regarded as one of the United States’ most brilliant commanding officers.

During his fourth tour of duty he went public with criticisms of the Pentagon. The army tried to discredit him, threatening him with a court martial for operating a gambling house and brothel for his men. Hack’s defence? The brothel had saved his men from disease, while profits from the little casino were used to buy supplies for the troops and local schoolkids.

Nonetheless, there was evidence of smuggling $200,000 out of the country.

To avoid scandal, the Secretary of the Army allowed Hack to retire to Australia where he continued his winning ways, making millions out of a restaurant and, of all things, a duck farm…

With Desert Storm, Hack once more became a Pentagon critic. Describing the war as ‘a raging atrocity’, David fought for ‘the young soldiers that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf’…

It seemed that a unit called Tiger Force, established in 1965, had committed escalating atrocities – including turning their guns on more than 100 unarmed civilians…

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

THE ARENA: July 05, AU Edition

july05arenaart.jpgJAMES MORROW
Sixty million Frenchmen – and even several Age readers – can’t be wrong

A good friend of mine recently acquired an antique Atomic brand coffee maker. You know the ones I’m talking about: they’re curvy, stylish and Italian, and have more class in their steam control nozzle than any modern $1,999 job that grinds the beans automatically and can be picked up at any big homewares store has in its entire plastic housing. He was telling me about the great history of the things (during World War II, for example, workers at the Atomic factory in Italy stamped the filter’s drip-holes in a Star of David pattern, in quiet protest against the Nazis), and we mused on how amazing it was that, back when the machine was invented, the word ‘atomic’ was the advertising copywriter’s ace in the hole. The boundless promise of the future, the power of science to solve problems, the latest and greatest in technology and design – all were summed up by that one word: ‘atomic’.

Indeed, we were all supposed to be commuting back and forth to the moon in our atomic flying space-cars by now.

But in 2005, Holden’s not making any nuclear-powered Commodores, car makers still tout road-holding – rather than gravity-defying – ability as a selling point, and the word ‘atomic’ has long-since been hijacked to represent everything bad that the men (and they’re always men) in the white lab coats can come up with.

It is time for this to end. Australia, and the world, are on the brink of serious energy shortfalls, yet one of the safest, cleanest, and even greenest electricity supplies in the country is still only being talked about by most politicians in sideways whispers. Fortunately, since I broached this topic in this column two months ago, things have started to change. The Chicken Little propaganda that has, with the help of compliant journalists, teachers unions, and politicians, scared normally-unflappable Australians into thinking that nuclear power will see mushroom clouds rising over Sydney Harbour, is beginning to come undone.

Without mixing fairy tale metaphors too much, it is becoming ever more clear that the anti-nuclear emperor has no clothes.

It all started when NSW Premier Bob Carr released a trial balloon suggesting that, just maybe, it was time to build a nuclear power plant to help meet the electricity needs of Australia’s most populous state. Of course, the move was exactly the sort of cynical ploy that has made Bob the Builder the longest-serving premier in New South Wales history: what he really wanted, of course, was more coal-burning power plants, and the nuclear option, he figured, would scare voters into sticking with the lung-blackening devil they know.

And just in case people missed the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more nature of Carr’s nuclear option, he underlined it by pointing out that while a swell idea in theory, state law forbade the opening of any nuclear waste dumps in NSW (while at the same time conveniently ignoring his legislative power to change such a rule).

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the furphy: an awful lot of Australians took a look at the idea and said, hey, maybe nuclear power isn’t such a bad idea after all.

The first sign that opinion had changed came from the letters pages of Melbourne’s Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, both left-wing echo chambers where correspondents routinely compete to out-radical each other, and conservative voices are so rare that they deserve endangered species protection. (By way of illustration, the day after Peter Costello delivered his widely-praised budget speech earlier this year, the Herald was unable to find one single correspondent who thought that it was a good idea).

Yet on 15 June, for example, the Herald’s lead letter came from one Richard Paulin of North Ryde, who wrote, ‘Some questions for Professor Stuart White, resident anti-nuclear advocate. If nuclear power is so inefficient, why does France, which is 80 per cent nuclear, export $5 billion of electricity annually? If nuclear power waste is an insurmountable problem, why is that country not a nuclear wasteland? If nuclear power is so expensive, why does [sic] France’s steel manufacturers use electric arc furnaces, powered by electricity, rather than Australia’s coke-fired blast furnaces?

‘We need to be far more energy efficient’, Paulin continued. ‘But [Professor White] has done nothing to disprove the fact that nuclear power remains the single most efficient and sustainable energy source for the future.’

A few days earlier in the Age, columnist Terry Lane wrote that ‘Chernobyl frightens us away from nuclear power, but the Canadian province of Ontario, not unlike the state of Victoria, gets 40 per cent of its power from nuclear plants and, as far as I know, has not had a single nuclear accident…

If the likes of the letters editors at the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are any guide, there is a real shift in sentiment in the community, towards a position that accepts that electricity is needed to run our modern, technological society and that there are trade-offs with any form of electricity generation. Australians recognize that green holy grails of endlessly-renewable power simply don’t exist, that wind farms are ugly and shred kookaburras, solar is impractical, and coal and oil are both dirty and ever-dwindling resources. Under this line of thinking, people recognize that nuclear power might not be perfect either, but that it is well worth discussing.

Indeed, the question of renewability and dependency is one which reverberates through this entire debate. While Australia’s coal resources are abundant, it is hardly a great way to generate power: even clean coal is still pretty dirty, and for all the talk about the potential danger of nuclear power, precious little is said about all those lives lost or shortened due to cancer, in mining accidents, and otherwise as a result of this form of power generation.

Petroleum, meanwhile, is a more complicated question, but there is a growing concern (see Clare Swinney’s feature story, ‘The Good Oil’, on p. 52 of this issue) that mankind may be a few decades away from having seriously depleted the planet’s easily-accessible crude supplies. And while that may seem like a long way away, building infrastructure to cope with a changing energy use profile takes.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Mar 05

PG, 663 Minutes

We have had the book of Alistair Cooke’s America sitting in our living room shelf for as long as I can remember. Its dust jacket is faded and torn in places and I’m not sure how much it’s been read. It should have been; Newsweek described it as ‘The first and maybe the finest tribute to the nation’, and, if this DVD is anything to go by I’d agree.

Alistair Cooke was one of Britain’s best loved American correspondents and for over 50 years he reported on all aspects of American life in his BBC radio series Letters from America. In 1973 he wrote and presented this insightful thirteen part documentary (following closely his same-titled book) in which he provides his own personal history of America, telling numerous interesting stories about the people, places and events that shaped the nation. These 50 minute episodes succeed in covering much historical ground: The past 400 years of American history in fact. In the introductory episode ‘The First Impact’ Cooke visits some of his favourite places, including New Orleans, the home of many jazz greats, Vermont and San Francisco. What is made obvious right away is the passion Cooke has for this ‘adopted’ country and also the effect this country has had on his life. In episode two he discusses the Spanish conquistadors who settled in Mexico, Arizona and Texas, right up to looking at 1972 America in episode thirteen where Cooke visits Hoover Dam which helped transform the desert into a gambling paradise.

Special Features: Interview with Alistair Cooke that took place on the television programme Pebble Mill at One, interviewed by Bob Langley. This documentary series also comes with English subtitles.

Final Word: Certainly more accessible than a daunting 3cm thick ‘coffee table book’. These 13 episodes on 4 disks manage to impressively chart a 400 year history of a nation which most outsiders (and insiders) choose to criticize. On this note it was refreshing to watch and listen to a man who delighted in this country despite its differing views. This is quite possibly the reason he took to this nation like he did.

M, 93 Minutes

As sporting movies go it is not often you find ones that involve the game of lawn bowling and as for playing the game, unless you fit into the ‘acceptable’ age category you might be looked at quite strangely. In the seaside town of Torquay this game is taken very seriously, especially by Ray Speight (James Cromwell) – gifted bowler and club champion for 20 years; a man lacking the conviction to take his skills to the national level, content with his 20 year reign at the local bowling club. Beyond the manicured lawns however, in the run down section of town resides Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) who plies his skills as a bowls prodigy, ready to take on Speight. Armed with his American agent and sportswear executive Rick (Vince Vaughn), Cliff begins to turn the game of Lawn Bowls into quite a spectator sport receiving much attention for his ‘bad boy’ persona. A person Speight seeks to ensure never gets to play in Britain’s championship. Unfortunately for Speight, one of Starkey’s biggest fans is a local teacher named Kerry, Speight’s daughter.

Special Features: Commentary by Director, Mel Smith, Cast & Crew Interviews, TV and Radio Spots, Theatrical Trailer.

Final Word: A ‘family movie’, one which pertains to the familiar theme of good triumphing over adversity. As I uphold the belief that British comedy is the best comedy I have to be honest and say that despite this being a decidedly British movie it doesn’t quite hit the spot.

M, 141 Minutes

Yeah, like you, we never foresaw ourselves reviewing a Metallica DVD. However, this one is different. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky set off to produce a kind of cinematic fanzine about the heavy metal band they loved, but in the process captured on film the disintegration of rock’s bad boys during the recording of their recent album St Anger. The documentary, shot in largely fly-on-the-wall mode throughout, throws up a stark contrast between the carefully manufactured demonic images that music companies use to market their metal bands, and the human fragility of the men in the band itself.Rather than Metallica, the group could arguably rename itself The Lost Boys, because the DVD shows them trying to break free of the marketing machine that grips them.

While playing to concerts of thousands of angry young men thrusting “the horns, man” (a fist with forefinger and pinky raised) into the air, Metallica’s musicians are agonising over how to write lyrics rejecting the anger and violence and drug use of their youth in favour of something more positive. The boys from Metallica, you see, are all grown up. They’re fathers, they’ve kicked the drugs and booze, and they sip Evian water. Heck, the band even hires a motivational shrink to analyse a communication breakdown within the band.

While the language is offensive, the documentary is fascinating.

Special features: 40 additional scenes, intimate interviews with band members about the film, audio commentaries from both the band and the directors.

Final Word: Not a ‘family’ movie, but certainly a deeper insight into the people caught up in the ravenous demands of the heavy metal music biz. - IW

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:27 PM | Comments (0)

BOOKS: Mar 05

A new Wright Brothers biography tackles Pearse, as Michael Morrissey discovers in this crop of the latest literature offerings

By Gerard Hutching, Penguin, $39.95
Some days I think surely we have had enough books about New Zealand flora and fauna and then two counter thoughts come to mind :
a) we can never have enough books about our plants, trees and wonderful birds and insects,
b) if it’s a good book, yes, we can do with it.

The Natural World prompts both of these positive thoughts. And of course new species get discovered and so we need new books to document these discoveries.

This book has two parts – the first part (In the Beginning) is only 26 pages long and the second part (Our Natural Heritage) has 343 pages which at first glance looks a trifle unbalanced but then the second half contains “New Zealand’s Natural World A-Z” which is the central part of the book. This central alphabetised section mixes up fauna and flora which might disquiet some though it makes for easy reference and encourages that free wheeling habit of association and contiguity by alphabet alone which is the hallmark of browsing dictionaries and encyclopaedias.

I’ll start negative and finish positive. There is an entry on snails but none on slugs. (And we have some magnificent slugs.) Naturally, our unique creepy-crawly, the 550 million old peripatus, is well displayed. Alas and alack, no giant centipedes – well, they have become rare. No entry on insects. There is an entry on endangered plants but none on endangered birds though there is a list of rare (ie, endangered) birds on p 380 – but it has only five (why not ten?) Parakeets are listed but not lorikeets. The entries on beetles, mountains and rivers (no mention of braided rivers) are far too short as is, arguably, the entries on dinosaurs. The entry on blue whales states they weigh up to 150 tonnes but it is well known that a specimen weighing 190 tonnes was caught in Antarctic seas in 1947.

Let’s look at the positives. Wetas are well documented – I learnt there are at least four species of giant weta alone. And it was honest of Hutching to note that the giant wetapunga sometimes patriotically claimed to be the heaviest insect in the world is outweighed by the African Goliath beetle. Impressively researched is the note on the huia – often erroneously stated to be the only species where the sexes have different-sized bills (so do the African green woodhoopoe, Hawaiian honeycreeper and the trembler from the lesser Antilles (admit it – you had no idea!). Other choice new titbits of knowledge – the largest extinct gecko (“Two feet long and as thick as a man’s wrist”) used to live in New Zealand; male puriri moths live for only one day; New Zealand has only 10 species of ants while Australia has 5000; New Zealand has 3153 glaciers (I thought it had about 20); Maori called English “cicada language”

because of its harsh sound; Mitre Peak is the highest sea cliff in the world; New Zealand’s wild ferret population is the largest in the world; whales eat an estimated 100 million tonnes of squid a year; and why sleeping fantails don’t fall off branches (you’ll have to buy the book to find out why not).

Photography is excellent – particularly striking shots are those of a wetapunga half covering someone’s face, a trio of spy-hopping orcas, a male kakapo doing a mating dance, the third largest ammonite fossil in the world (as large as a wheelbarrow), and a tuatara snacking on a gecko. Perhaps I have been a mite tough on this book – despite some omissions and overly short treatment of some potentially larger topics, it’s excellent overall.

books_the devil's disciles.jpgTHE DEVIL’S DISCIPLES: The Lives and Times of Hitler’s Inner Circle
By Anthony Read, Pimlico, $34
Adolf Hitler may well be the twentieth century’s most written about person. Logically, that is because, for better or for worse, he is regarded as the individual who most influenced history during that apocalyptic epoch. Less well known are his gang of offsiders – Goring, Goebbels, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Speer, Borman, Heydrich, Hess, Rohm etc. This outstanding, well-researched and well-written multi-biography gives detailed psychological, political and historical portraits of these top Nazi officials both in relation to Hitler and to each other.

Prior to reading Devil’s Disciples, these figures were only known to me as two dimensional cartoon-like characters. Now, regrettably, I know them better. Out of the shadows into the light, they appear morally as dark as ever. It must be said they were all highly competent individuals with the exception of the bumbling Ribbentrop (though even Ribbentrop had his times of triumph) – and, of course, totally ruthless. Goring, in particular, was a man I had conceived as a rather foolish fat guy, morphine-riddled, who got things wrong. Fat he certainly was – in later life (though handsome, lean and dashing in his youth) – foolish he was not. (And apparently not morphine-addicted either.) He wasn’t a coward either but a fearless top air ace, renown for his boldness. Militarily, he was more prudent than Hitler for he opposed the invasion of Russia. A collector – or looter – of top class European art, he lived like a medieval monarch complete with forests, fire-lit castles, baronial halls stuffed with hunting trophies – a vulgar but formidable Teutonic lord. He was popular even in Germany’s darkest hour and when captured had his jailors rocking with laughter. Judge Norman Birkett described him as “suave, shrewd, adroit, capable, resourceful”, though by any moral standards, a monster. Yet (almost) I found myself having a sneaking liking for him. It must be remembered that Hitler, Goebbels and Goring all had great charm as well as charisma.

Himmler, by contrast was a more colourless individual whose Machiavellian ruthlessness eventually ousted Goring as Number Two beside Hitler, though when he betrayed Hitler at the end, he himself, like them all, lost everything. All of Hitler’s cohort – particularly Goebbels and Goring – were engaged in an eternal dance of power around the central focus of Hitler. As has been often commented – and here explored in telling detail – Hitler often encouraged the competition.

No Hollywood mogul ever wielded as much power as the club – footed Goebbels. Unlike family man Goring, he had an insatiable sexual appetite and made full use of the casting couch – as dictator of all art forms he controlled casting for films. Like Hitler, he was a failed artist (ie playwright) who, surprisingly, nourished the delusion that Hitler would emerge as a socialist. Ironically, a Hitlerian ban on any art that wasn’t beautiful and true to nature – which led to an exhibition of degenerate abstract art – proved so popular Goebbels had to shut it down.

Excellent as the histories by Richard Overy and Antony Beevor are, none of their books tops this massive, compelling labyrinth, expertly documented and unravelled by Anthony Read – a drama, which however one may dislike it, is the greatest of the twentieth century, a doomed Gotterdammerung-like tragedy that haunts us still. Though the Nuremberg trials may have seemed like the conclusion of these dark performances, the curtain calls of history continue.

books_the wright brothers.jpgTHE WRIGHT BROTHERS
By Ian Mackersey, Timewarner, $29.95
What are the greatest inventions of all time? I’m going to stick my neck out and say the wheel, harnessed and transmittable electricity and the aeroplane. The aeroplane in its transmuted form, the rocket, will one day take us to the stars...

What this book makes powerfully clear is that the first flight on December 17, 1903 was no accident, no fluke, no product of amateur backyard inventors, but a technologically sound construction – the product of many hours of meticulous, planning, research and always-dangerous trials.

True, the Wright brothers had a bicycle shop (often used by less successful rivals as a put down of their efforts), but don’t kid yourself – these boys were astute and patient engineers/technologists. Of the two, tall ascetic Wilbur was the knowledge-retentive, mathematical one, while girl-shy Orville turned out to be the better pilot. They were both non – drinkers, non-smokers, sons of a venerable but ideologically stormy bishop; upright, morally beyond reproach yet courteous and, when not working with their fabled concentration, friendly. In short, they deserved their success. When international recognition and success came – five years after their first flight – it was overwhelming. In France, a crowd went wild, the French pilots, including Louis Bleriot, had never seen such impeccable flight control, such steeply banked turns.

It had started years before with the lads making experimental flights with engineless gliders. Wilbur grasped firmly the notion that it was control and lift that were the key problems not the engine. Mackersey paces his book expertly so that the long build-up of experimentation and partial success climaxes initially about half way through with the brothers’ first successful flight. This is one of the great technological dramas of history and a defining moment of the twentieth century – the American century.

Three key figures – among many – are well outlined in this enthralling account – Samuel Langley who had $50,000 from the American army to develop a glider that was never to achieve true flight; Octave Chanute, an important pioneer of flight who greatly encouraged the Wright brothers before eventually falling out with them; and Augustus Herring, a confidence man of the worst type who kept trying to cotton on to the tails of Wright brothers – thankfully, he did not succeed though not from want of trying.

Though their initial successes were satisfactorily witnessed, the brothers cagily withdrew from the public eye and got into a Mexican standoff with several governments – the brothers wanted money (lots of it) before they would demonstrate. The governments, understandably, wanted performance first, before any money was handed over. The brothers were overly defensive and poor negotiators – yet they triumphed in the end. For some years, (after Wilbur’s death in 1912), the Smithsonian Institution tried to claim that Langley’s craft had attained flight before the Wright brothers but eventually they backed down. It is gratifying to know that Orville at least survived to see their place in history indisputably confirmed. Footnote: Mackersey, cruelly, though I believe accurately, briefly mentions Richard Pearse as becoming airborne but not an achiever of true controlled flight – a failure that Pearse himself admitted in a letter in 1928.

books_susan sontag.jpgREGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS
By Susan Sontag, Penguin Books, $27
This will probably be Sontag’s last book as this eminent woman of letters recently died of cancer – though, on occasion, posthumous works are quarried from a well known author’s unpublished papers. A New York-based writer, Sontag always seemed more like an essayist who wrote novels than a novelist who composed essays. Despite The Volcano Lover winning the National Book Award, it is her essays which will be remembered and re-read more than her fiction.

Sontag’s early collections of essays – Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will – were dazzling. She was an intellectual of formidable powers who wrote essays which the “average” educated person could understand. Not for her the wilful obscurities of the poststructuralists, though she was a keen admirer of Roland Barthes and edited a reader of his work. Her speciality – in the tradition of the great essayists – was the epigrammatic sentence compressing several notions into a single witty byte.

Sontag’s work also revealed an early obsession with cinematography and photography. In the world of the Sontagian essay, Hollywood did not exist – her preferred choices were European auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and Jean – Luc Godard. In this final book length essay, she combines her fixation on photography with her ongoing moral concern with man’s inhumanity to man – plus as noted by Virginia Woolf and Sontag herself – women and children.

War photography is the central theme. Roger Fenton, official photographer at the Crimea, was the world’s first war photographer – the camera having been invented only a few years prior. Fenton’s brief was “not to photograph the dead, the maimed, or the ill”. The result, as Sontag sardonically observes, was “war as a dignified all – male outing”– complete to carefully rearranged cannon balls showing the aftermath of the doomed charge of the Light Brigade. This sterilised view of war couldn’t hold up for long. Sontag alludes to the conscientious objector Ernst Friedrich who in 1924 published close-ups of soldiers with huge facial wounds and, naturally, to Robert Capa, most famous of all war photographers, killed in action like so many of that singularly dangerous occupation.

Ever the true intellectual – ready to retract earlier ideas if time reveals a different perspective – Sontag pulls the carpet from under ideas she espoused in On Photography, written nearly 30 years ago. There are millions, she says, who are not inured to what they see on television – “who do not have the luxury of patronising reality.” In a rebuke directed at intellectuals (including herself), she insists that images of atrocity continue to remind us, do not allow us to forget, what awful things human beings are capable of. The conclusion of this moving essay rises to a fever pitch of humane pleading that is not found in her earlier work. Perhaps it was her own suffering as a cancer patient that informed these passages. If so, it is a pain Sontag has declined to centre on herself but pass onto us, all humanity, at large. Thus Sontag’s final work concludes on a note of high moral uplift expressed as always in her elegant and eloquent prose. Bravo, Susan!

books_rats.jpgRATS: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
By Robert Sullivan, Granta Books, $35
Rats are usually a non-starter as a dinner conversation topic. Femmes and chaps alike don’t care for the disease-carrying rubbish scavengers as gossip. The Black Plague gave them some of the worst press any animal has had to live with. To call someone a rat is about the worst insult you can dish out. And we’ve all heard those suburban horror stories about rats chewing on babies’ faces. The scene in 1984 where Winston Smith has to face his worse fear – rats – is arguably the most horrible in all literature.

If this is your take on rats, you will probably give this book a wide berth; on the other hand, gnaw your way into it and you might find there’s more to the much disliked rodent then you imagined. For a start they are tough little buggers. Their teeth, dedicated rat-watcher Sullivan writes zestfully, are “stronger than aluminium, copper, lead, and iron. They are comparable to steel ... they can exert a biting pressure of up to seven thousand pounds a square inch”. This compares to 1500 pounds for a wolf and a mere 750 pounds for a German shepherd. No wonder they can chew through concrete.

All your fears about rats are more or less true – rats do bite babies; there have been instances of them attacking fully grown adults; they carry bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, mites, fleas lice and ticks; they spread trichinosis, tularaemia, leptospirosis. (I don’t know what the last two are but they sound bad). And for a bonus – typhus, rabies and salmonella.Reader, there have been no surprises so far but here come three :

1. the author finds rats disgusting (surely he loves them just a bit?)
2. he spent a lot of time prowling around in dirty, dangerous dark alleyways watching them
3. he really doesn’t know why he set out on the rat-watching project.

It appeared Sullivan gathered enthusiasm as he went. Or was that when he had enough information to quit alleys and skulk home to write his very well-written book? Rats of course do die themselves and one of New York’s less savoury nineteenth pastimes was getting tough dogs to kill as many rats as they could in as short a time as possible – the record was 100 rats in five minutes 28 seconds.

The tough Irish impresario drew the line (and please don’t try this at home) at men biting rats’ head off. Amazingly, I learnt from Sullivan’s compendious little book that kiwis are global leaders in rat extermination. In 2002, 120 tonnes of rat poison taken to Campbell Island did in 200,000 rats – a world record!

Sullivan gleefully lists some of the dottier causes of plague before it was discovered (only as recently as 1894) that rat fleas were the culprit – restless night birds, huddling frogs, wormy fruit, large spiders, circling ravens, mad dogs and vapours rising from the earth. To which I say – rats. Rats are renown for their versatile eating habits and you want to encourage them leave cooked rather than raw food. They love scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese and cooked corn kernels but tend to dislike raw beans, peaches and raw celery.

Sullivan is adamant that the notion that there is one rat per person in a city is erroneous – that would mean in New York there were about 8 million. A rat expert has estimated the Big Apple’s quota as 250,000 – which sounds a bit on the low side. Why? Rats have sex 20 times a day.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Mar 05

In Cambodia, the grandest temple of all returns from the ruins, as a nation turns its back on the troubles of the past, reports Alan Solomon

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – The first approach, no matter how you approach it, isn’t all that impressive. From the main road, the profile beyond its moat is low, like a very rough pencil sketch of Parliament along the Thames but less grand and imposing. The three visible spires, leaden in color, plump and oddly mottled at this distance, don’t inspire at all. The camera comes out because it must. Through the viewfinder, it all looks even lower and longer and like less of a wonder.

But then ... wow.

“Where are the words,” wrote French naturalist-explorer Henri Mouhot, who famously happened upon nearly forgotten Angkor Wat in 1861, “to praise a work of art that may not have its equal anywhere on the globe?”

Angkor Wat is a temple. More accurately, it was a temple, built by a Khmer king in the 1100s to honor the Hindu god Vishnu and to hold his own ashes, later rededicated to Buddha as the regional religious dynamic changed, still later a ruin, and today essentially an incense-scented museum.

It is massive. It is magnificent. But it takes a closer look to appreciate. Angkor Wat’s greatness sneaks up on you, comes at you in stages.

That it comes at you at all – that you’re welcome to visit – is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Angkor Wat was built between 1113 and 1150 by Khmer King Suryavarman II, then largely abandoned after Thai armies attacked in 1431. For most of the next 400 years, the temple sat there, watched over by the occasional monk and the odd monkey, looted of its more portable riches and, slowly but literally, falling apart.

When Henri Mouhot sent back excited reports of its grandeur – and as the French (supplanting the Siamese) were establishing a colonial presence in Cambodia in the mid-1800s – more Europeans came to see for themselves.Meanwhile, French archeologists launched restoration efforts at Angkor Wat, at the shrines within nearby Angkor Thom and at others in the region.

That went on, with a few interruptions, until the onset of World War II. The Japanese weren’t much interested in public works during their period in residence. When the French tried to reassert control after the Japanese surrender, pockets of indigenous fighters resisted.
While all this internal skirmishing was going on, and even as the situation in neighboring Vietnam was turning into what it turned into, restoration by the French heroically continued until the communist Khmer Rouge finally booted them back to Paris in 1970.

Over the next 20-plus years, more grief followed for Cambodia. The legacy of two decades’ worth of bombings, coups, invasion, occupation and civil war includes memories of unimaginable suffering and killing, and millions of land mines that, even today, continue to tear limbs off children’s bodies.

Through all this, of course, tourism wasn’t exactly a burgeoning enterprise. “From 1970,” said an information officer with the tourist office in Siem Reap, “no one came to see Cambodia.”With some exceptions.

In 1986, according to government figures, a total of 565 tourists came to see Angkor Wat. Most of the visitors were from Russia and Cuba. Cambodia, at the time, was occupied uneasily by the communist Vietnamese army, which was battling the communist Khmer Rouge and other armies representing other factions.

It was not an easy time – nor an easy visit. Tourists came, when they came at all, on day trips from the capital, Phnom Penh, 250km away.
“You couldn’t spend the night,” said an American-based tour operator who has been bringing people here since 1987. “It was too dangerous.”
The only hotel in Siem Reap – the now-luxury Grand Hotel d’Angkor – “was a $10 hotel that was worth $2. You had to haul water to the rooms to flush the toilets.”

Snipers haunted the jungles on the peripheries of the temples. As recently as January 1995, a tourist from Texas and her driver were shot and killed, and the tourist’s husband wounded, by gunmen near Banteay Srei temple, 30km from Angkor Wat. That year, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) had just completed an 18-month stay that the world hoped would bring a stabilizing presence in this political mess of a country. It didn’t quite – more coups and violence followed – but in 1995, the tourist count had reached 44,808.

In 1999 – a year after the death (of natural causes, maybe) of Khmer Rouge strongman Pol Pot – the total was 85,460. “After he died,” said the tourism spokesman, “we’ve seen major investment.”

What was one badly faded hotel in Siem Reap 10 years ago became, as of late last year, 56 hotels in all price ranges, including backpacker lodges but also two five-stars, for a total of 3,000 rooms. As you read this, almost certainly there are more. Hotel construction was and is ongoing and everywhere.

“It’s good to see the reputation is changing,” said Bruno L’Hoste, French-born operator of Le Tigre de Papier, one of Siem Reap’s more sophisticated watering holes. “It’s good to get out of the `war zone.’”

War zone. In a stone pillar just to the right of the West Gate of Angkor Wat: bullet holes. By the standards of today, they are old.
The moat is more than 200 metres wide and 7km around. Visitors walk a stone causeway over the water to the West Gate, the main entrance. Beyond the gate are what look to be three spires of moderate size, two flanking a central tower.

The West Gate leads to another causeway, this one 10m wide and 360m long over a grass field, the walkway bordered by a series of great carved nagas, the multiheaded snakes linked to Vishnu and found at so many sites here. Two stone libraries, in varying states of disrepair and resembling small museums, stand as sentries on either side.
Only now does the sheer size of this complex kick in. Vatican City could fit nearly five times on the 500 acres within the walls protecting the temple.

Walking along and looking ahead, you get a first good view of Angkor Wat itself. From here, the towers are commanding. And seen from an angle, it becomes clear they are five: Four lesser (relatively speaking) spires boxed around a soaring central tower.

There will be another terrace, and then yet another wall surrounding the temple – this one actually a gallery.

Along its corridors are eight bas-reliefs, carvings in that same gray stone – in all, more than kilometre’s worth – each telling epic stories: of the Battle of Kurukshetra, of the Battle of Lanka, of victories and pageantry, elephants and gods and invasions, of heaven and hell ...

The carvings weren’t always gray, just as the friezes around the Parthenon weren’t always bleached white.

“They were painted at that time,” said my guide, Sokun. “You can still see some color.”

Archeologists estimate it took 37 years to complete Angkor Wat. Its sandstone came from a quarry 40km away, hauled here by elephants and horses and humans, but that was the easy part. As much as the temple’s massiveness, it’s the carvings – in number, in detail and in quality – that boggle. Although to get here we have passed nagas, a few stone lions and not a few celestial dancers (apsaras), this is where they really start to kick in: This is the heart of the structure, the temple pyramid – three levels, each with enclosures, terraces, towers, galleries and quirks (including a “hall of echoes” activated by a firm thump of the chest, ideally your own).

It is useless to try to describe all this in words. Even when on the site, with perspective being provided by a quality guide, it’s impossible to grasp what’s here.

That said, we’re going to try.

Every surface is adorned with something carved by ancient hands – dancers, gods and goddesses, demons and kings. Thousands of them.
All that shapeless “mottle” we see from the road is, seen up close, art.The years have done what years do. The elements have softened some edges. Religious conflicts have left Buddhas damaged and Hindu lingas (ritual phalluses) shattered. Rubbings have done some harm and have left unwanted residue. Pillars are gone.

Heads are missing from torsos, most sold for profit and scattered around the world.

Does that matter? Of course.

But looking up at the central tower from the third level ...
It rises 70m above the ground, just 3m shorter than the towers of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, which was begun soon after the completion of Angkor Wat. The Wat looks higher, probably due to the pyramid arrangement. It certainly feels higher.

The climb up narrow steps to the base of the central tower is frightening to all but those with inordinately fine balance or remarkably small feet. There are four stairways up; at just one, the south stairway, has a railing has been installed to assist descent by the nervous.

Only children and fools bypass the railing.

When this was the sanctuary of Khmer kings, only they and high priests could walk on this higher ground. That we can walk here makes it no less humbling. From that highest point, all is visible.

No wonder the Khmer Rouge army held it for years during the civil war. It was its strategic position, and its emotional position. To Cambodians, there is no more powerful national symbol than this.
In 1992, the year U.N. peacekeepers came in, Angkor was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. When UNESCO speaks of Angkor, it is of an archeological park that includes not only Angkor Wat but hundreds of temples and lesser structures – with restorations in progress by the nations of the world – scattered over more than 230 square miles.
Among them: the shrines of Angkor Thom, notably Bayon, with its own bas-reliefs and its prominent heads emerging seemingly from everywhere; Ta Prohm, still in the grip of strangler figs; Banteay Srei, whose pink delicacy gives it its own charm.

Here in Greater Angkor are terraces etched with elephants and platforms guarded by stone lions, and ruins that once were temples but now are little more than piles of stone blocks in a jungle pocked with red signs warning of land mines ... and soon, perhaps, to be packed with tourists.

“Come now,” urged Canadian ex-pat Michelle Vachon, a reporter for the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. “The place is changing so fast. Come now before they Disney-ize the place.”

Is that possible?

“Our tourism is cultural and natural,” said Thy, another guide, with confidence. “We have learned from other places.”

So that is Angkor.

But here, too, are rice fields and water buffalo and fishermen and thatch houses on stilts, villages where men wear sarongs and mothers nurse as they gossip and where children play naked in the rivers – where they laugh as children laugh everywhere when there is peace and there is food.

This is the Cambodia of today along the roads not far beyond Angkor Wat.

Sometimes it is difficult to know which, truly, is the wonder.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

MONEY: Mar 05

Can a market keep growing? Peter Hensley reckons commentators aren’t factoring in the looming retirement of the baby-boomers

The past five years has witnessed the US authorities conduct a huge economic experiment. In an effort to avoid an economic calamity they have reduced interest rates to a point where they have virtually been giving money away to institutions. That is, banks could borrow funds at 1% interest (from the Federal Reserve) and lend it out to punters for mortgages at 4 and 5%. President Bush and the US Government instituted massive tax rebates whilst at the same time encouraging punters to borrow against the value of their houses (with home mortgage interest being tax deductible in the US). These factors combined ensured that the buying public had enough liquid cash to keep the economy running at full steam.

The side effect of this massive experiment of providing oceans of liquidity has meant that the country (USA) and its buying public have gone further and deeper into debt than ever before. The US budget deficit (difference between income tax and government spending) is the biggest ever recorded. Consumer spending has also created the largest trade deficit ever seen. In the short term the experiment has worked. The stock market has not crashed, people have felt wealthier and the enthusiasm (fuelled by the debt drug) has spilled over into real estate with people holding the mistaken belief that property never decreases in value.

The US Government and the American consumer have been spending beyond their means. Foreign Governments have been buying US Treasuries (ie loaning the US Government money) in an effort to keep them afloat. The saying goes, if a person owes the bank $10,000 and cannot pay it back, the person has a problem. However if a person owes the bank $10,000,000, and cannot pay it back, the bank has a problem. Foreign Governments and institutional economists are watching the situation closely. Generally, if a country’s deficit stretched over 5% of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product), their currency was devalued and their government debt (bonds) was placed into junk bond status. The US deficit is projected to reach 7% of GDP this year and foreign Governments are still queuing up to lend them money. We live in interesting times.

It is obvious now that the US authorities have another problem. They have successfully avoided a stock market crash, but have created a debt bubble that now presents its own problems.

Too much money in an economy typically translates into inflation. The US now has an excess of money in its system with its money supply (ie dollar bills on issue) effectively more than doubling in the last decade. To compound their problem, the 77 million baby boomers have not started saving for their retirement, expecting to either sell their shares or property (or both) to fund their later years. It does not take the brains of a rocket scientist to imagine what could happen next. The first baby boomers start to retire in less than 5 years.

The man on the street is either blissfully unaware or doesn’t care about his nation’s economic problem. He or she is acutely aware of the size of their mortgage payment and has been watching it increase steadily over the past twelve months. Sooner or later they will either make an effort to pay off their mortgage or choose to walk to away from it altogether. Individually, this decision will not impact the community (or nation) however collectively it might be a different story.

The Great American Consumer accounts for over 70% of GDP. If they stop going to the malls or stop paying their mortgage, then all hell is likely to break loose. With the national saving rate close to zero, it is likely that 77 million baby boomers are likely to reduce their spending in an effort to start saving for their pending retirement. A likely scenario is that the average greying American Consumer will alter their spending habits in order to save some ready cash for their pending retirement. They will possibly combine this with reducing their mortgage or debts in general. This change in consumer spending is likely to affect the wider economic landscape in ways they possibly could not imagine. In the words of Rachel Hunter, It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 05

avplanes2.jpgZULU KILO DOWN

The mystery of Joe Lourie’s last flight
They make the news but fade away. Topdressing aircraft that crash in remote countryside. But behind every crash is a story, and behind the crash of ZK-LTF is a story that could shed light on many other similar tragedies. NEILL HUNTER has this exclusive investigation

The topdresser dipped silently into the gully ahead and the group of teenage surfies craned their heads searching for it, some balancing on fence posts along the ridge. Suddenly the plane burst into view and roared over our heads like a great flying beast, its proximity not just palpable, but so real it felt like we were almost wearing the machine. The scene was a remote Northland beach an hour’s walk from the road because the Volkswagens couldn’t handle the mud; the agricultural aviator had no such restrictions as he performed aerial tricks, some especially for us, displaying mesmerising skills.

That was back in the 1960s, but those first visions of a topdresser in action remain indelibly etched in my memory. And the culture surrounding the industry hasn’t changed much either over the four decades hence. The sky jockeys at the reins of these aerial workhorses pepper their speech with jargon like “strap on the aeroplane and take it for a ride”, “turn the plane inside-out”, “inverted”, “critical speed”, “stall”, “situ-ational awareness”. They’re held in such esteem that some call them “Super Pilots”. But it’s a moniker that’s swiftly passing its use-by date, because everywhere you look, from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) and elsewhere, there is one controversial word buzzing the airfields: “fatigue”. And that’s what this story is about, the tale of a pilot, his loader driver, two grieving families and the plane with no name. The crash of ZK-LTF. Although it happened back in 2003, the rumours surrounding the last flight of ZK-LTF continue to swirl at Toko, the tiny farming community on the highway to what some call “the lost world”, that magnificent New Zealand hinterland between Taranaki’s Stratford and Waikato’s Taumaranui. On a soft summer evening, the appearance of a national magazine asking questions in their midst at the small village pub renews debate and rekindles memories.

ZK-LTF, you see, was a mongrel. Not in quality, in make. Once it was a fixed wing topdresser, resembling a Fletcher. But officially it was an FU24-950 born into civil aviation existence in 1973, lived 5332 flight hours and died peacefully when it was put into storage in 1990. This was ZK-LTF in Fletcher guise.

But the plane was, amazingly, resurrected in 1999, extensively rebuilt, and re-registered in March 2000 as a “Falcon”. Farmers knew ZK-LTF. Says one: “it was a Fletcher plane, Cresco wings and Falcon motor – 650 HP.” To experts, it was a Cresco main plane, Lycoming LTP-101-700A-1A turboprop with characteristics of a Cresco with an FU24 hopper capable of disgorging 979kg of fertiliser. Some readers will want to know these things, others will simply need to know it was a topdresser, fixed wing.

When ZK-LTF crashed in Taranaki killing pilot Joe Lourie and his loader driver passenger Richard McRae there were those in the farming community who thought it was the old plane, the one which had two near misses, “flame-outs” they said, which nearly killed Joe Lourie’s brother, they said. A jinxed aircraft, perhaps.

Then another farmer, who had remained silent at the pub back in 2003, spoke up telling his friends it was the “new” plane. The Falcon. He knew this because he and his son found the wreckage that night, and the bodies, nearly two years ago:

At about 6.15pm, on 4 April 2003, Barry Baldock sat on a motorbike near his woolshed about to put the sheep away for the night on an evening fine and clear, when he heard the sound of the plane he knew so well. “I knew what plane it was. I thought, ‘that’s Joe’”. The engine of the Falcon was distinctive and smooth: “it was humming,” he says of the Wanganui Aero Works’ Stratford operation topdresser piloted by his son’s good friend Joe Lourie. It was a sound he had heard earlier that day as well as on preceding weeks. He looked up as it roared into view, climbed steeply above the high green ridge, banked away from the tanned farmer, reverse-turned – in pilot jargon – and disappeared. The tall lean man in his sixties sat on his bike and watched briefly then thought to himself, “c’mon Joe, time to knock off.”

For a brief moment he watched the plane as it emerged again, lunging back up the wide open valley from whence it had come, towards the razorback ridges of high, green, steep jagged hills in the distance, into a narrow pass. The shattered horizon is cut by peaks and pinnacles, like broken glass, except near the Strathmore saddle where the serrated green line breaks form, becoming one long, high, straight, towering wall of land, and the valley begins to close.

Barry Baldock reckons he was the last to see ZK-LTF and says he might have heard the crash were it not for the sound of his bike starting as the plane disappeared. There were sheep to tend in these twilight moments, and no time to stand around daydreaming.

“I thought, ‘that’s Joe.’ Started the motorbike up. Probably the time of the crash was as the motorbike was turning over.”
Engine noises drowning the sound of a distant impact; no explosion, no fire.

At around 10.45 pm, when the All Blacks were playing on TV that night, the telephone rang in the modest Baldock farm house and the lifetime farmer told the caller, Allan Beck, local helicopter pilot and veteran search and rescue operator, that he knew the location of the plane they were searching for.

“If it’s gone down I know exactly where it is. I thought if it was the last flight before he went home…but he’d obviously gone through, turned around and made another approach. I started the motor bike up as I saw him disappear back down over the hill and rode off to put sheep away. Otherwise I would have heard it.”

Later, Search and Rescue headquarters in Wellington were so impressed they asked Beck: “how did you find it so fast”.

It was simple. He asked the farmers.

Although the plane wasn’t operating on Baldock’s farm – that had been scheduled for the following week – Allan Beck had a gut feeling he should call Barry Baldock. With his son and a son in-law, Baldock drove up to the Strathmore Saddle, five kms north east of Douglas in the Forgotten World, and he told the others to be alert for the smell of fumes. Then it came, wafting through their car like an invisible cloud, even before they stopped at the place where Baldock reckoned would be the nearest point in the road to the crash scene: the stench of aviation fuel permeating the still night air.

In the end it was not only the fuel smell, but a flight of others on the wing, which alerted the pilot’s friend to the wreckage of ZK-LTF. Says Barry Baldock: “A couple of ducks flew out of a little swamp and frightened him (his son). He had a torch on his head, spun around and his torch shone on a white thing on the side of the hill. He said ‘here it is up here Dad’,” and the search was over. All seemed very peaceful.

“Joe was still in the belts, up off the ground, very peaceful, not really a mark on him. Richard was lying about 20 metres away. I was glad there was no fire. Joe especially looked very peaceful.”
Richard, Wayne Baldock said to his father, “just looked like he was asleep.”

That was April 2003. On 13 October 2004, New Plymouth Coroner Roger Mori signed off his “Findings Of Coroner Under The Coroners Act 1988”, the official title given to his inquest into the deaths of a topdressing pilot and his loader driver passenger. It was supposed to be the final act of a three part process, of yet another investigation into yet another topdressing accident: (1) a police investigation (2) an aircraft accident investigation by the CAA and (3) an inquest, based upon those investigations, by the coroner. There were failures in all three, some small others substantial, but essentially the process failed to provide the families of those lost in the crash with that state of mind popularly known as “closure”.

For the mother of one of those lost in the wreckage of ZK-LTF, Ann Macrae (her surname is spelt differently to her son’s), closure would have been achieved if the inquest had included a full assessment of work pressure and fatigue, involving the pilot and loader driver, leading up to the time of the crash.

As she sits in her home at Sanson, calmly and clinically describing the failures of those charged with handling the investigation, it seems ironic that near her plain, neat home, is an Air Force base named Ohakea. The place where fighter jets once flew. Now this mother is taking up a fight for a lost son, once an Air Force mechanic, but she refuses to be drawn into arguments of blame.

“It would have been wrong to blame Joe Lourie for crashing the plane.” She says it goes beyond that. “Richard and Joe were right at the bottom of the chain.” The woman who loves to write, and grow huge healthy pot plants, says the investigations failed to examine the issues of work place health and safety.

So Investigate left Ann Macrae behind, and followed our own flight path to examine her assertions. Everywhere, even two years after the event, we found emotions still raw. But farmers and others opened their doors, offered opinions, shed tears, retrieved memories.

At the end of a blistering Manawatu summer day, where temperatures had soared as high as 42 in the shade, faces listen intently and fingers draw lines and shapes in the condensation on their beer glasses as the discussion of the crash and its aftermath swoops and dives with a life of its own.

A journalist’s mind, meanwhile, settles on a topdressing veteran describing his craft.

As Richmond Harding recalls it, crashing his father’s Tiger Moth in the 50’s while spreading grass seed left no time for fear because he was too busy.

“About 20 seconds” is all you have to find a place to land after running out of fuel, he tells me. At 66 he is still young enough to fly topdressers, so too his elder brother at 68, but it’s difficult to extract from the sun-drenched aviator the thoughts of a pilot about to crash. He walked away unscathed but wrote off his father’s plane, and
remembers the aftermath. “I hitched a ride back to Waiouru. Me father growled at me,” he chuckles.

“Why didn’t you bring back the Tiger Moth,” his father had asked, in an aviation variation of a teenager crashing dad’s car.

“I wrote it off.”

It’s a lighter moment, while interviewing the man who used to own – and remains general manager of – Wanganui Aero Works, the company he started after persuading his father to let him and his brother
go top dressing instead of farming. It was a pleasure interviewing the man who speaks in a measured, calm, sensible manner, who later sold the operation, one of the biggest in New Zealand, to Ravensdown Fertiliser.

So how did he crash the Tiger Moth? Focussing on the pattern of the grass seed he was spreading distracted the young pilot from monitoring his fuel consumption. When the penny dropped that he was going down, it was more of a Toyota ‘bugger’ moment than a wild panic.

“You’ve got a job to do…pretty urgent job to do. The crash investigator Paddy O’Brien once said ‘if you can put an aeroplane on the ground and run it say 20 metres you’ll probably walk away’. Control it to the ground, don’t stall it to the ground. If it’s hill country run it up the side of a hill. Run it into the ground, don’t smash it into the ground.”

avplane1.jpgSo what happened to Wanganui Aero Works’ ill-fated ZK-LTF? Timing is everything and the time of ZK-LTF’s crash is relevant to much of this investigation, central to issues of work pressure, fatigue and the demise of New Zealand topdressing pilots (and their families).

First: there are no flight and duty time (hours of working and flying) limitations either under OSH or CAA rules. In fact OSH has no jurisdiction over pilots/aviation employers; that’s done by CAA who have OSH personnel helping them. Truck drivers have limitations. Airline pilots have limitations. Australian ag’ pilots have limitations. But not NZ ag’ pilots. Once they did, 25 years ago, but it was too hard so it got scrapped. CAA recognised that ag’ flying was too dependent upon weather and seasons – “windows” – to have rules for pilots’ health and safety.

Whether that is a sensible stand or a facetious excuse for inaction is the point now thrown up for debate. The argument from those who believe the industry must be flexible enough to work during weather windows is essentially this: overall down time exceeds overall flying time, therefore there is no problem, no fatigue. The argument is based on total annual flying hours.

But in the real world there are those who point out some blindingly obvious problems with that analysis. The weather’s been bad for a month, and suddenly a week of fine weather arrives. A plane can be in the air from dawn till dusk; diving, swooping, landing, taking off, seven to ten days in a row to get the backlog of work cleared.
Was pilot fatigue a bigger factor in the demise of ZK-LTF than police, CAA and coronial investigations had suggested?

It would be fair to say that interviews with some became more “adversarial” as the logic of the counter-position sunk in. Credit must go to Bill Sommer, CAA media liaison and ex-RNZAF man who, after two long interviews, seemed to swing away from the entrenched employer and CAA positions of “downtime” and individual pilot responsibility for their own health and safety. The veterans with whom we went “adversarial” listened, but were basically immoveable.

There are some level heads in the industry who while maintaining their view that fatigue is not an issue, say they strive to teach their pilots good health and safety. Mike Keen of Hamilton’s Superair insists he is being accurate in his view that fatigue is not a problem in the industry, nor is work pressure.

“Where are the facts and figures?” he asks. In two long interviews we thrashed the subject and while the 10,000-hour veteran admits that there may have been cases in the past, it is not prevalent now. He says there is too much down time, they may work, say, a 14 hour day, but only fly for six hours and spend the remainder “sleeping under a wing or having a cup of tea with the farmer.” He insists that his company regularly reminds their pilots to take breaks and manage their work load and says most operators are the same. He recently sent a memo reminding pilots of summer temperatures and rest. Of a Pacific Wings magazine story about fatigue and stress, he says it’s inaccurate because there is no data to back it up. He rubbishes the reference to an “appalling” accident rate but admits at times, “it’s bad.”

Investigate’s argument: forget about annual flying hours and down time. We asked the question: “what is going to happen when, as exists now with companies three weeks behind in their work due to weather, suddenly the weather comes right, there’s a flood of work, and it’s game on, work ‘til you drop, pilots working / flying 14 hour days and taking one 15 minute meal break (we sighted records proving it)? It’s not the big picture (annual hours, down time etc) – it’s the micro one, of suddenly going for it over three days (or longer).”

“It’s a fair point you make,” says CAA’s Sommer, adding, “Everyone else has got responsibility as well. Not just us. The pilot has that responsibility to say ‘I’m too tired’. Now that’s clearly drummed into the guys who are flying passengers around. The safety of those passengers lies specifically with them. [But] In the case of the ag’ operator, well the feeling of responsibility that the pilot feels may be quite different.”

Is that “feeling” called peer pressure and subtle work pressure? Sommer believes things will change: “I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, I’m sure it will be. I’m sure it’ll be examined but I don’t know if it’s going to be that easy to do.”

So why not take advantage of a crash investigation and coroner’s inquest, go proactive, highlight the awareness? Our answer: You can’t if the crash investigator seems to pull punches, saying there may have been work pressure, might have been fatigue. There’s talk of reviews of working conditions pending, but apparently no real investigation into fatigue and work pressure until after the Coroner’s hearing.
You read correctly. Arguably crucial evidence was not obtained by CAA until after the Coroner’s investigation had wrapped up.

“It’s in writing on your own letterhead” we remind CAA. A clearly concerned official says he can’t comment because the staff involved are away and efforts to date by Investigate to contact them have been unsuccessful due to leave and overseas commitments we are told. More about the CAA bombshell soon.

Cut to the numbers, fatal and injury, what are they?

“Appalling…bad…trending upwards” are the various descriptions from CAA, aircraft magazine writers and the industry. Bill Sommer: “it’s trending up for ag’ ops and trending down for others…you can see it’s really quite something.”

One veteran said he thought about four were killed over about the last three years, perhaps about 15 accidents in total over that period. He knows that 200 have died since the 1940s when the industry began. This man has been flying for 40 years, operated a company for 23 years which had no accidents until 2001 when they suddenly had 3 in one year. (None were fatal and one of them was his first which he attributes to not flying for three weeks, not fatigue.) Veterans say CAA is fudging the numbers. CAA denies this, and says it has the graphs to prove it, that the accident numbers are climbing.
CAA admits that fixed wing topdressers combine with other light aircraft stats which, say some in the industry, is the reason the numbers aren’t accurate.

“That’s not correct, we can separate them out,” says Sommer of criticism that topdressers join hang gliders and balloons. CAA say they can extract the numbers and have done so on “ag’ ops” and besides, everyone in the industry knows the situation is bad.

Arguably though, it’s not the numbers, but the fact that flight and duty limitations do not exist for topdressing, except “civil twilight”: 30 minutes before/after sunrise/set. According to CAA technical examinations, 11 minutes had remained under the civil twilight rule for ZK-LTF to finish and go home. The device giving that data in ZK-LTF was a pseudo-cockpit recorder, a type of global positioning system (GPS), which could have been switched off due to screen glow distracting the pilot. “1826:50”, the last entry, may be early. The crash investigation says sunset was 1811hrs, “end of daylight” was 1838hrs, crash time “1830 approx”.

Says Mark Ford, a helicopter operator flying over ZK-LTF before the crash, “It was starting to get dark in the valleys, shadow-up. Fifteen to twenty minutes and it would’ve been pretty dark.” Ford believes he saw ZK-LTF well before it crashed because it was spreading on another farm, so by the time it finished that run, landed, reloaded, waited for the loader to park and lock up, transited to the farm and crash scene for its last job of the day, we estimate it could have consumed most of the “15 to 20 minutes to dark” that Ford says was remaining. But there is a variable. The CAA report says Ford told them the time was 5.45pm. Ford told Investigate he was only “five to six” minutes from home, which would mean his sighting was well before sundown at 6.11pm. Even considering the diminished light in the valleys, one would expect there to have been ample light, if Ford’s original sighting time was correct. In the final analysis, according to the technical data, the crash happened just on dark.

Mark Ford is a veteran helicopter logging operator but initially nobody knew where we could find him. In the end of course it was easy, his is the only place in NZ with an ex-RAF Wessex military helicopter, in full camo, parked out the back, with another “squadron” of them in storage – plus the world’s supply of spare parts, literally, 100 containers-worth to be precise. His Wessex helicopter logging operation is as huge as the scrap he is embroiled in with CAA, an organisation he accuses of being rife with corruption.

Ford is one of those larger-than-life Kiwi blokes, a bull of a man and in his no-nonsense way and office, he shared his views of a topdresser crash. Unfortunately CAA, according to Ford, only briefly interviewed him on the side of the road near the crash scene and appeared to focus on an issue which Investigate elects to cover, despite its controversial significance, especially to bereaved families. We do so for completeness, and in the end we say it needs to be viewed in context: was it causative, or distraction from the real issues of pressure and fatigue? It concerns the flying style of the pilot.

Friday evening, nearly two years ago and two men in a helicopter are almost home, flying about 500 feet over the mottled greens of the Forgotten World, when they suddenly see ZK-LTF below them.

“You see an aircraft flying, doing its normal stuff, you think nothing of it, you fly across, see it, oh yeah, just another aeroplane, helicopter or whatever, but for something like that to take my specific bloody attention away, and think to myself, struth, look at that thing, that thing’s near inverted, because it’s frickin’ flying almost upside down. The turns were really tight. That’s why I noticed it…it made me look twice. For me to look back twice and say sheesh that guy’s turning it inside out. That’s exactly what I thought.”

And Ford knows all about fatigue after once taking off with running wheels (removable) still attached and on another occasion, nearly taking off with two heavy truck batteries on the ground, still attached to the helicopter. He says they now “run co-pilots and stop for lunch and breaks after about two hours”, and although it’s his own business he doesn’t pressure his pilots to keep working, “not at all.”
When asked his opinion on the difference between his industry and fixed wing topdresser he replies: “I believe there are a lot more getting killed in aeroplanes than helicopters.” (They’re not, but that’s another story.)

Others say it is not work pressure or fatigue. Hallett Griffin is a 40-year veteran who says his only accident came after three weeks of no flying and at an Australian Conference heard a military pilot lecture on BITS – “back in the saddle” – and its dangers. Griffin also acknowledges that things are not good but insists neither are they bad or appalling as alleged by others. Companies watch their pilots to ensure safety; he says he knows of pilots who have been grounded. So what does he do to instil safety and health, if a pilot is over-doing things? “Keep an eye on him. Bit of a cuff over the ear.”

We don’t know why ZK-LTF smashed into the side of a high buttress-like hill, yet there are clues. Experts have offered opinion: “The aircraft had struck the ground in an attitude that suggested it was pulling out of a dive, but with insufficient height for terrain clearance.

Possible reasons for the manoeuvre include a pull-out from a reversal turn…the aeroplane struck the ground very heavily on a heading of 210 degrees M while on a 55 degrees bank to the right and on descent path of at least 30 degrees…after rebounding and crossing an intervening small gully, the wreckage again collided heavily with the ground some 47m further on, coming to rest in several sections… The high ground surrounding the valley where the accident occurred would have increased the effects of the fading light, making height judgement progressively more difficult”, writes Alistair Buckingham, CAA crash investigator.

Ask the farmers and they say ZK-LTF was simply spreading the last of the fertiliser across the face of rising ground, wings at an angle matching the lower slope but in the darkening conditions, struck one of the low ridges of the small gullies near the base of a nameless hill. A farmer standing on the side of the road points to a patch of thistles as evidence: “you see those Kellies Thistles, he shaved them off like a mower, he skipped into the ground.” That from Barry Baldock, the farmer who found the wreckage; who knows his planes, and the land.

So would a diving heavy impact, offered by CAA, be consistent with shaving thistles? Despite that, for now we confirm that the CAA investigation was otherwise reasonably thorough and “exhaustive”, as they remind the reader.

There are other factors which investigators and the coroner say may have caused or contributed to the crash such as illegal carrying of a passenger during spreading; “exuberance of the reversal manoeuvres”; “sense of urgency to complete the job…”; “pilot’s judgement may have been further eroded by fatigue and a degree of carbon monoxide absorption (cma).” Let’s deal with the latter briefly for clarification. It relates more to internal rather than external (e.g. fumes) sources of toxicology, of blood saturation levels where normal
levels are 1% to 2% cma, 5% to 10% may affect the heart, 15% to 20% dizziness and nausea, 50% may kill. The CAA report includes findings relating to the pilot’s forensic results therefore it can be safely assumed that the cma was relevant, by virtue of the statement “…eroded by fatigue and a degree of carbon monoxide absorption”.

Those and other issues had to be considered by the coroner.

It is 9.30am, another fine day in the ‘naki, already signs of a scorcher but Coroner Roger Mori is happy with a simple desk-top fan in his office at the end of a long corridor in the chambers of Nicolsons, Lawyers and Notary Public. The tall lean father of a representative basketballer, calmly and fully expounds on the coroner’s role generally, and the inquest into the deaths of Richard Sinclair McRae and Jonathan Peter Lourie, ages 30 and 29 respectively.

“I’m required to make recommendations or comments in the avoidance of circumstances similar to those in which the death occurred, or in the manner in which any persons should act in such circumstances, that, in the opinion of the coroner, may if drawn to public attention reduce the chances of the occurrence of other deaths in such circumstances. So, there we are and of course it is only the sudden and unexpected deaths that are reported to me and of course obviously air accidents fall very fairly and squarely into that category.” He has dealt with about six air crashes over the 21 years but can not remember clearly if any included topdressing but may have. Sitting relaxed behind a large desk, in a casual shirt, no tie, one cannot help but be impressed with his professional yet open manner. Despite issues, some controversial, arising from this case, one of which he is unaware until informed in this interview, he clearly conveys an empathy of understanding towards families in grief. He has never lost a son or daughter and can not imagine the hurt, he says. He is probably being humble for someone having presided over countless enquiries and currently awaiting reports on the latest aircrash in Taranaki, that of a plane which slammed into such a precarious part of Mt Taranaki’s summit, two helicopters were required. “I try to keep myself as remote as I can from families”, ‘he says,but then explains examples of where that “rule” has been broken.

avchopper2.jpgZK-LTF’s case has at times been controversial. The families accuse authorities of prejudging “cause and effect” and to a degree, Mori even agrees: “to that extent they’re right because all the evidence is prepared in writing in advance.” While the coroner may direct further investigations after receiving reports, it is the police responsibility to call evidence, liaise with families and prepare the evidence in advance for examination at the inquest.

Mori is well versed in issues of fatigue, both professionally, and personally from a near-tragedy which could have had fatal consequences when a member of his own family, suffering fatigue, crashed a vehicle, escaping uninjured.

An expert from Massey University presenting evidence in Mori’s court about fatigue in another case, testified how physical functions may carry on normally until suddenly the brain literally stops.
“You get tired and the brain will shut off for some seconds… suddenly you’re out of control”, the coroner recounts.

But it is the question of whether the Civil Aviation Authority lost control of its own investigation that now rears its head. You see, at the end of the day a coronial inquest is only as good as the evidence that Coroner gets to see. If one of the investigating agencies gets facts wrong, or doesn’t cover all the bases, a Coroner may end up delivering an unsound report. And that’s what the families of Joe Lourie and Richard McRae are alleging.

The most telling piece of potential evidence in this regard is a letter written by a CAA investigator (the “bombshell”) which confirms crucial documents, the actual “flight records”, were not uplifted by CAA until “the day after the inquest”.

The letter goes on to confirm that CAA had vastly underestimated the actual flight hours of the pilot for the preceding days, and that an amended report would be filed by last December. As of the time of going to press, no such amended report has been filed that we can establish. So how could CAA get it so wrong, why do they appear to have not done the enquires “by the numbers”, checked the pilot’s flying hours, why change a report after an inquest? Because that is what this investigation reveals.

CAA’s Bill Sommer was unaware of the letter until Investigate raised it, but says he’s sure that if their investigator changed his report, they would “tell the coroner”.

Well, the investigator has changed his report; according to the document, he admits virtually (to his credit) that he got it wrong, but hasn’t told the coroner about his failure to properly investigate the issue of work pressure and fatigue, nor his amended report (after the inquest). Another expert witness present at the inquest has told Investigate that the coroner specifically asked the CAA investigator if he was sure the numbers (flying hours) were correct. According to the source, CAA replied they were. But they are not and Investigate has a copy of the CAA document to prove it. What is the significance of that to a re-hearing?

Mori has signalled he is open to a re-hearing and even quoted the rules allowing it but emphasises the application must come from the Solicitor-General. He cannot initiate it himself.

Quotes Mori: “Section 38… if satisfied that since an inquest was completed new facts have been discovered, make it desirable to hold another, the Solicitor-General may order another to be held and in that case another shall be held.”

So sayeth the Act. And the new facts (as well as breaches and failures under the Coroner’s Act) are these:

The CAA crash report states the pilot “had not flown on any of the seven days immediately preceding the accident date.”

New facts, verified by Investigate sighting documents and interviews: The crash was on Friday 4 April. On Wednesday 2 April the loader driver and pilot worked/flew from 0500hrs to 1900 hours with one 15 minute meal break! Thursday 3 April, the day before the crash: 0600 to 0645, then 0830 to 1945hrs and one 15 minute meal break! They were averaging twelve-and-a-half hour days with one quarter-hour break. The loader driver worked 25 out of 28 days, taking one small break per day and if the loader driver was working as the pilot’s loader, so was the pilot.

Investigate’s copy of a CAA document shows the agency admits not examining flight records fully until after their report was completed and after the inquest. That document proves that their statement about no flying by the pilot before the crash was wrong, by at least 17 hours. Why?

Because they didn’t investigate fatigue and work pressure properly.
While the CAA could argue that it doesn’t matter as work pressure and fatigue are mentioned in the report anyway, that would be disingenuous. It does matter, substantially. The CAA report forms the basis of the Coroner’s finding and recommendations. It makes minimal mention of pressure and stress, mixing them with items of blame on the pilot as possibilities only. So the Coroner accordingly agreed. It is like saying a driver may have had a bit to drink, but we didn’t take a blood/alcohol measurement so we’re only mentioning the “possibility” in passing.

The CAA report does at least acknowledge, “the accident occurred at the end of a long working day. The pilot had been on duty over 12 hours…80 take-offs and landings…carbon monoxide…a degree of fatigue…potential to dull the edge of the pilot’s skill and judgement.”

It’s all minimalist jargon; understandable, given the investigator is working on the premise the pilot hadn’t worked before the day of the accident. But, if one day’s long work hours were enough to warrant mention, what does the new evidence of flying almost all week do?
Second new fact: the police statement given in evidence at the inquest is that the passenger was sitting behind the pilot.


The CAA report states they were abreast. Which is it? We don’t know because nobody appears to have asked the question. In fact from enquiries, the passenger was beside the pilot, but it casts more doubt on the thoroughness of the original investigations.

Approximately one week prior to the accident Joe Lourie was so exhausted from working from dawn to dark that he sent his friend, a farmer, to get food and drink for him. On another occasion he called Stratford Aero Club and asked them to turn on the lights of their building as a navigational point for landing at night, illegally.

Self-imposed bad practice? Or signs of a responsible, well trained pilot under pressure? Farmers close to Joe Lourie and Wanganui Aero Works say that prior to him becoming manager of the Stratford operation it was losing business, attributed to the previous pilot nearing retirement and no longer buying into the work/fly-until-you-drop (or die) culture. That is not a reflection on the retiring pilot but rather a sign of pressure.

“The previous pilot was a lot older and probably ready for retirement,” opines a farmer. “The difference was one wanting to work and the other being very cautious. But they did lose a bit of business because they weren’t getting the manure on…Joe’s thing was to get that business back, plus a bit more.”

Topdressing companies are paid when all the fertiliser bought by the farmer has been spread. So if the job becomes disjointed, broken by weather, including wind, mechanical failures and the like, there is no income, no progress payments. Pressure may come from farmers, “standing over” the pilot pressuring him into flying to their farm “right now” because it looks fine and they want their fertiliser on the ground, now. The plane arrives and, as the pilot suspected, so too does the wind. He tries for half an hour, then flies home again, expenses soar, and net profit plummets.

“It happens,” says a farmer. “It’s pressure from farmers, not all…they want it on now…the job has to be finished, no manure on the ground, no money …weather can hold things up for quite a few weeks sometimes,” he explains.

Then a commercial pilot, after much procrastination and on condition of anonymity comes forward through a third party at first, and then speaks to Investigate directly.

Three weeks before ZK-LTF’s crash Joe Lourie was “doing stunts after work”. While that in itself is not bad he says, because most pilots do it, especially at the end of a day, if conditions are safe, but if a pilot is tired, the consequences may be fatal.

“It’s usually ridge-running, not barrel rolls.” It’s like a release from all the pressure which they say “will kill people”. He exclaims, when told of the flying hours, take-offs and landings logged by Lourie:

“I find that incredible”. Then he pauses and says he knows it’s happening. “Some of them are doing huge hours (flying time). I’ve done eight hours and even that’s too much.”

avmcrae.jpgWith 1400 hours logged, he rubbishes the veterans who say flying is no more complicated than driving a car. Investigate has been told on several occasions that for an experienced pilot, flying is easier and less tiring than driving. Our informant says that driving can be “automatic” but “in flying you’re constantly thinking and when you land you feel exhausted”.

When Investigate re-interviews a veteran about the informant’s statements, he scoffs and even laughs and we are told again, fatigue is not an issue. But, says our informant, six hours topdressing flying time in a day… “it’s big.” When a pilot gets tired they “get lazy and don’t pay attention.”

Make no mistake, Investigate accepts Lourie broke rules. Carrying a passenger restrained only by a lap belt (both were big men) while spreading was dangerous. Operating just on dark, soaring up into lighter conditions above the hills and back into dark valleys where shadows obscured the smaller ridges, was reckless.

But why, once again, was this experienced, well trained pilot making such mistakes? Was it pressure, squeezing in one more run just on dark, take the pilot home with him and save time, get back on the job early next morning, take him on the last spread instead of returning to the field, collecting him and flying straight home to Stratford, only minutes away by plane, perhaps an hour in an old slow loader on a narrow twisting country road punctuated by more stop signs and railway crossings than a Monopoly board?

We investigated suggestions it was all Lourie’s own fault: a pilot out of control, cavalier in approach. But to the farmers who knew the quiet pilot it was the opposite. “Very quiet,” is their description, “he would say what he had to and that was it kind of thing”. His employers, to be fair, are reluctant to blame Lourie but in interviewing them there is a clear perception that they discount fatigue, and blame pilot error. “He had been warned…” they explain but say no more, out of respect they say for the families.

Joe Lourie had to take responsibility, says a reliable neutral source in Manawatu (not the employers) who once met the young pilot.
He was closely supervised for six months at Hunterville with a veteran, where they say he was groomed for the Stratford position as manager/pilot. The source says he was very impressed after meeting the big, tall pilot whom he described as “the future of the industry.” Which again begs the question: what went wrong with the 1000 hour-plus, groomed pilot?

More enquiries and again the veterans say they know the cause and it wasn’t work pressure because there is nothing wrong with squeezing in one last load before dark. One says that if the conditions are perfect, as they were this day, then evening is the ideal time to fly, and goes on to describe the joy of doing the last loads late in the day, not because of pressure, but the elation of flying.

Farmers experienced in topdressing say Lourie was a good pilot. None say he was reckless, one talks of his so called exuberant flying (as in the CAA report where technical data confirms “exuberant” manoeuvres) adding that “he could fly, he could handle it, he was a bloody good pilot” but admits he was “starting to take a few risks.” A farmer who had watched him weeks before the crash thought to himself “take it carefully, Joe”, even telling his wife, but says it was paying off commercially: “he picked up a lot of work.” But it was reaching the point where it was raising concerns. A farmer says “a lot of people commented that Wanganui Aero Works should have pulled the pin on him and cut back his hours…they must have known how many tonnes he was putting on so they should have known the hours (the pilot would need to do) to put that tonnage on. It was a waste of two good lives, I know that,” he muses.

There is another reason for the Solicitor-General to re-open the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Lourie and McRae. The last error in the CAA report, perhaps only small, perhaps not. The crash report says “…both occupants were ejected from the cockpit.”


New fact: Witnesses to the crash scene, those who found the wreckage, say the pilot was in the wreckage, “Joe was still in the belts, up off the ground, very peaceful, not really a mark on him. Richard was lying about 20 metres away…”

Barry Baldock then went on to describe the state of the wreckage, and the pilot’s position in it which, for brevity and sensitivity, we have condensed as above. Investigate received allegations that Lourie was not the pilot. McRae, the loader driver was a trained pilot, with aspirations of becoming an ag’ pilot and it is not unusual for official and unofficial training to take place on the job. After enquiries however with police, crash scene witnesses and anonymous witnesses who have no agenda, we are reasonably satisfied that Lourie was the pilot. But cumulatively, the CAA report errors are such they raise substantial doubts about the integrity of the inquest.
So what does the Coroner think of all this?

Roger Mori hints that he is less than happy with the situation. Investigate contacted the Coroner again about the evidence, including the bombshell CAA admission that they got it wrong over the “the pilot hadn’t flown during the week”, and that CAA was intending to amend its accident report. His reaction? A typical no-nonsense one: “S**t, that’s all been done subsequent to my report!”

He adds, incredulously, “they (CAA) can’t change a report once it becomes an official document in a Coroner’s inquest.” He tells Investigate “it’s something that should be investigated.”

We then discuss apparent breaches in the Coroners Act about the informing of parties, such as families and employers. Neither family or employer were informed of the inquest and although blame for that falls on the police, Mori typically doesn’t duck the issue and talks about it being “extremely rare” and “system failure.”

He evinces clear frustrations over certain parties, such as the pilot’s wife, being inadvertently excluded from the inquest.
“I was bloody annoyed”.

Investigate explained to the Coroner the results of enquiries to date and the evidence that proximate cause could more strongly be fatigue. In legal terms, more commonly associated with the insurance industry, proximate cause means after weighing-up all other possible contributory causes, in the final analysis there is one direct, stronger cause. Mori replies with talk about that being “logical …best explanation…what you’re doing is researching and asking ques- tions…probably the answer is yes…I would say that’s fairly accurate”. If nothing else, let that at least be of some comfort to the families because blaming the pilot, as hinted in the CAA report, and by some industry members, is an easy assumption.

But it’s up to the Solicitor-General’s office to apply to the High Court, as provided for under the Coroners Act, on the grounds that there are sufficient new facts from the formal evidence: changes to CAA report after the inquest; their admission to erring; breaches of the Act due to the exclusion of families’ members; evidence presented but rejected without being heard.

A re-opened coronial investigation could not only put the pilot’s actions in a clearer light, but also bring an end to commercial and peer pressures that many in the agricultural aviation industry say are killing pilots.

“It was a beautiful sight,” says a farmer’s wife, describing ZK-LTF approaching their farm air strip in the low light of predawn. She says the combination of the plane’s lights, the early dawn colours, vapour streaming off the wings of the white Falcon like long white ribbons, was something she will never forget. The interview turns quiet as she recalls the image, describing it again, painting a word picture that stays in the mind. Later she says that I should go to a small airstrip, at night.

A quarter after nine pm on a country airstrip in Taranaki, and the pilot from the big Cresco topdresser, 3714kg fully laden, parked on the grass, walks through the darkness, and looks puzzled to find a journalist. There are no lights and nearby buildings are in darkness; the place is abandoned apart from pilot and scribe.

He says he landed about 8.15pm, is happy to talk about his job, a tall solid man who now leans over the roof of his car, slumping his body in a sign his day is over. He shares things like hours, working conditions and the importance of the industry.

“Seven hundred thousand tonnes of fertiliser per year, we have more turn-over than any other industry, it’s important we don’t fall over.” He says he manages his fatigue, “you’re not always flying…”, then hesitates. Later he says he’s off to the central North Island and as we talk more there’s a distant rumbling growl, rising like rolling thunder in the still night. From the track leading to the airfield, a monster lumbers suddenly into view, headlights blazing like eyes, a creature common to rural New Zealand: a topdressing loader. Truck-cab at the front, loader-cab and bucket at the back, Kiwi ingenuity at its best.

“My loader driver, he’s coming with me,” says the pilot. Then an older man in a black singlet climbs down and wanders over. The pilot and I exchange farewells, the other looks on silently, confused, then both get into the pilot’s car, and drive away, leaving me alone in the dark, imagining a different scene, two years ago, when pilot and loader took another way home, via grassy slopes of a valley, on a night in the Forgotten World.

The distant silhouette of a giant mountain looms, with snow still present where weeks earlier it too became a place of tragedy, scene of a fatal air crash. Time to go. I’ve booked a cabin overlooking the ocean hoping to enjoy the view but it won’t be, because it’ll be 10.10pm, and I’ve had no dinner, only a quick lunch and the first interview was at 9.30pm, later than the others on this long week when a chief reporter said they too “hate the early morning interviews.” Twice during the 45 odd minute drive to New Plymouth street lights from small towns in the distance seem like approaching car lights, illusions, eyes tiring, itching, then the realisation: could be fatigue.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition


We’re coming to get you

Earlier this month the terror group Jemaah Islamiyah hit Bali again. Now, in this exclusive interview for Investigate magazine in Australia and New Zealand, given shortly before the latest bombings, alleged terror leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir tells TAUFIQ ANDRIE and SCOTT ATRAN there’s no place to hide from militant Islam in the Pacific, and no hope of peace. Ever.

This interview was conducted on August 13 and 15, 2005 from Cipinang Prison in Jakarta. Questions were formulated by Dr. Scott Atran and posed for him in Behasa Indonesian by Taufiq Andrie. The
interview took place in a special visitor’s room, where Ba’asyir had seven acolytes acting as his bodyguards, including Taufiq Halim, the perpetrator of the Atrium mall bombing in Jakarta, and Abdul Jabbar, who blew up the Philippines ambassador’s house. The transcript follows the short introduction below.

In this interview, the alleged terrorist leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir provides his justification for waging jihad against the West. He also explains the calculus of suicide bombers and discusses his interpretation of Islam concerning war and infidels. Despite accusations that he is head of the al-Qa’ida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organization and has planned the most lethal terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, Ba’asyir has only been convicted on conspiracy charges in the 2002 attack on a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people. His 30-month sentence for his role in that bombing, which included scores of Australian tourists among the casualties, was recently reduced by four months and 15 days.

Just outside the visitor’s cell is Hasyim, who runs Ba’asyir’s daily errands. Hasyim is a member of Majlis Mujahidin Indonesian (MMI), the country’s umbrella organization for militant Islamist groups headed by Ba’asyir. Like many Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members, including Ba’asyir and JI founder Abdullah Sungkar, Hasyim originally came from Darul Islam, a post-independence group banned by the Suharto regime that has operated semi-clandestinely in Indonesian society much as the Muslim Brotherhood has in the Middle East.

In 1993, Sungkar split from DI, bringing with him most of the Indonesian Afghan Alumni that he and Ba’asyir had sent to fight the Soviets. Until Suharto’s downfall in 1998, Sungkar and Ba’asyir
expanded their network of Islamist schools from exile in Malaysia, funnelling students to training camps in Afghanistan and the Philippines, and expanding JI’s influence across Southeast Asia. After Sungkar’s death in 1999, Ba’asyir became “Emir” of JI – a position and organization whose existence he publicly denies but for which there is overwhelming evidence, including from current and former JI members Dr. Atran has interviewed. Although Sungkar himself established direct ties with bin Laden, it is under Ba’asyir’s stewardship that JI has adopted key aspects of al-Qa’ida ideology and methods, targeting the interests of the ‘far enemy’ (the U.S. and its allies) with suicide bombings (Bali, Marriot Jakarta, Australian Embassy, Bali again) in support of global jihad.

Referred to as Ustadz (“teacher”), Ba’asyir is surrounded by visiting family and students who offer him a daily assortment of news magazines and foods, especially dates, his favorites. His disciples tend to be well-educated, often university graduates, and they wash his clothes. Ba’asyir’s wife visits him once a month, and Ustadz offers to share the food she prepared with his prison mates, including Christians. He is a lanky, bespectacled Hadrami (a descendent from the Hadramawt region of Yemen, like bin Laden and Sungkar) who fasts twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. He is 66 and seemingly in good health. Dressed in a white robe, red sarong and white cap, he is sitting on a wooden chair, one foot up perched on the edge. He exudes politeness and is all smiles, with a strong voice and easy laugh he answers questions as if teaching.

London-Keeps-Tight-Security.jpgQ: You say that it is fardh ‘ain [an individual obligation] for Muslims to wage jihad against Infidels.

A: There are two types of infidels. The infidel who is against Islam and declares war on Islam is called kafir harbi [enemy infidel]. The second type is kafir dhimmi [protected infidel]. These are people who don’t fight against Islam, but don’t embrace it either and basically remain neutral.

Q: When in Cipinang, did Ustadz meet Father Damanik? [1] Is he kafir dhimmi?

A: Yes, I was visited and was respected by him. I have a plan, if Allah allows me, to pay a visit to his house. That’s what I call “muamalah dunia,” daily relations in the secular life. Because al-Qur’an sura 60 verse 8 says that “Allah encourages us to be kind and just to the people who don’t fight us in religion and don’t help people who fight us” so we are encouraged by Allah to be good and just to them. It means that we can help those who aren’t against us. On these matters we can cooperate, but we also have to follow the norms of Shari’ah. If Shari’ah says not to doing something, then we shouldn’t do it. Shari’ah never prohibited business in the secular world except in very minor things. So it is generally allowed to have business with non-Muslims. We can help each other. For example, if we are sick and they help us, then if they become sick, we should help them. When they die we should accompany their dead bodies to the grave though we can’t pray for them.

Q: What is the principle of Hudaybiyah [the covenant between prophet Muhammad and the People of the Book]?

A: Hudaybiyah means different things according to the legal situation. When Islam is strong, we come to the infidel’s country, not to colonize but to watch over it so that the infidel cannot plan to ruin Islam. Everywhere, infidels conspire to ruin Islam. There is no infidel who wouldn’t destroy Islam if they were given even a small chance. Therefore, we have to be vigilant.

Q: What are the conditions for Islam to be strong?

A: If there is a state, the infidel country must be visited and spied upon. My argument is that if we don’t come to them, they will persecute Islam. They will prevent non-Muslims converting to Islam.

Q: Does being a martyr mean being a suicide bomber?

A: As I explained [the day before] yesterday, there are two types of infidel terms for suicide: first, those who commit suicide out of hopelessness, second, those who commit suicide in order to be remembered as a hero. Both are types of suicide and there is no value in it.

In Islam there are also people who commit suicide out of hopelessness and we call this killing oneself. But if a person defends Islam, and according to his calculations must die in doing so, although he works hard in life, he will still go and die for Islam.The consideration is: “if I do this, will Islam benefit or lose? If I must die and without my dying Islam will not win, then my dying is allowed.” Because to die in jihad is noble. According to Islam, to die is a necessity because everyone dies. But to seek the best death is what we call “Husn ul-Khatimah,” and the best way to die is to die as a shaheed [martyr].

Q: Is it acceptable to postpone a martyrdom action in order to make the hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca]?

A: A martyrdom action cannot be postponed in this case because jihad is more important than making the hajj. For example one of most revered ulema, Ibn Taymiyya, was asked by a rich person:

“O Sheikh, I have so much money but I’m confused about donating my money because there are two needy causes. There are poor people who, if I don’t help, will die of starvation. But if I use the money for this purpose, then the Jihad will lack funding. Therefore, I need your fatwah [religious decision] O Sheikh”

Ibn Taymiyya replied: “Give all your money for jihad. If the poor people die, it is because Allah fated it, because if we lose the Jihad, many more people will die.”

There is no better deed than jihad. None. The highest deed in Islam is jihad. If we commit to jihad, we can neglect other deeds. America wants to wipe out the teaching of jihad through Ahmadiyah [an Islamic school of thought that believes that Pakistan’s Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the Prophet Muhammad’s successor]. Through this organization, America works. Why? Because Ahmadiyah prohibits its followers to undertake jihad because [they argue] jihad is the teaching of Christians. This organization originates from India. Its headquarters are in London, funded by America. Ahmadiyah is America’s tool to destroy Islam, including JIL [Jaringan Islam Liberal, Islamic Liberal Network], an NGO in Jakarta that advocates a liberal form of Islam. It is funded by USAID.

Q: So is the idea to postpone is not allowed in any circumstances, even in order to visit sick parents?

A: No, no. If we are in jihad, the jihad must come first. Unless jihad is in [the state of] fardh kifayah [a collective duty, for the nation]. If jihad is in [the state of] fardh ’ain [an individual duty], jihad must be number one. There is no obligation to ask permission from one’s parents. But even if jihad is still in the fardh kifayah state, such as jihad to spy on infidel countries, Muslims don’t require their parent’s permission.

Q: Can a martyrdom action be permanently abandoned if there is a good chance that the martyr’s family would be killed in a retaliation action? similarly if the community where the martyr is from will also experience retaliation and casualties?

A: That is the risk and the consequence of jihad. If the martyr’s family understands Islam deeply, they will obtain many rewards. Their reward will come, if they understand. A martyr must have ikhlas [sincerity]. The parent who understands this concept must be thankful to Allah. This is the spirit of jihad that most scares the infidels. This is a moral force. According to General De Gaulle, moral force is 80% and actual action only 20% [of successful combat]. For infidels the motivation is to be a hero or [to die for] the nation. Some are even encouraged to drink [alcohol] so that they can become brave.

Russia was badly defeated in Afghanistan. [Afghanistan] is different than Eastern Europe which could be conquered in only a month or two. Russians thought [that they could conquer] Afghanistan in two weeks maximum because its people were backward, isn’t that right? That was Russia’s calculation based on their experience in Eastern Europe. But Afghanistan fought Russia back with their aqidah [by following Islamic doctrine] in the way of jihad. I’ll tell you a story so that you’ll understand. There was an Afghan mother who made cakes. She asked her children to distribute the cakes to the mujahideen. One by one her children were hit by shells on their way to deliver the cakes. When the mujahideen informed her they said : “Dear mother, please be strong because your children are martyred.” [The mother replied]: “I’m not crying for my children but I’m crying because I don’t know who’ll bring my cakes to the mujahideen.” Then one of the mujahideen agreed to replace her children. So, this is the spirit of jihad. You find ikhlas and willingness. Prophet Muhammad said: “I want to make jihad then die, then live again, then do jihad again, then live again, then jihad – for ten times.” This is because of the noble status for Muslims who became shaheed.

Q: Do you think the community which believes in martyrdom
actions cares if the martyr only manages to blow up himself/herself and fails to kill any of the enemy?

A: No, [provided that] the ni’at [intention] to be a shaheed must be for Allah. During battle it is different. Istimata is also different. Still, the whole notion revolves around martyrdom. But in places like London and in America there must be other calculations. In battle it is best to cause as many casualties as possible.

Q: Do you think God favors or cares more for the martyr who manages to kill 100 enemies or one enemy?

A: The value [nilai] and reward [pahala] is the same.

Q: In regard to the global condition, what kind of things can the West, especially America, do to make this world more peaceful. What kind of attitudes must be changed?

Bali-Bomb-Attacks-Kill-25a.jpgA: They have to stop fighting Islam, but that’s impossible
because it is “sunnatullah” [destiny, a law of nature], as Allah has said in the Qur’an. They will constantly be enemies. But they’ll lose. I say this not because I am able to predict the future but they will lose and Islam will win. That was what the Prophet Muhammad has said. Islam must win and Westerners will be destroyed. But we don’t have to make them enemies if they allow Islam to continue to grow so that in the end they will probably agree to be under Islam. If they refuse to be under Islam, it will be chaos. Full stop. If they want to have peace, they have to accept to be governed by Islam.

Q: What if they persist?

A: We’ll keep fighting them and they’ll lose. The batil [falsehood] will lose sooner or later. I sent a letter to Bush. I said that you’ll lose and there is no point for you [to fight us]. This [concept] is found in the Qur’an. The other day, I asked my lawyer to send that letter to the [U.S.] embassy. I don’t know whether the embassy passed on my letter to Bush [telling him], “You are useless, you’ll lose.” There are verses in the Qur’an that say, “You spend so much money yet you’ll be disappointed.” The verse is clear so I’m not some one who can predict the future but I get the information from Allah, so I’ll never be sad because I believe the time will come. Still, I feel that the Ummah [Muslim community] has a problem now. If the Ummah loses the [current] battle it isn’t because of Islam. A Muslim, as long as he is not “broken” [and remains committed to Allah’s rule] will get help from Allah.

Q: How about using nuclear weapons by Muslims, is it justified?

A: Yes, if necessary. But the Islamic Ummah should seek to minimalize [the intensity of the fighting]. Allah has said in verse 8 chapter 60 that we should equip ourself with weapon power – that is an order – but preferably to scare and not to kill our enemy. The main goal is to scare them. If they are scared they won’t bother us, and then we won’t bother them as well. But if they persist, we have to kill them. In this way, Prophet Muhammad sought to minimalize the fighting.

Q: In your personal view, what do you think of bombings in our homeland, namely the Bali, Marriott and Kuningan bombings?

A: I call those who carried out these actions all mujahid. They all had a good intention, that is, Jihad in Allah’s way, the aim of the jihad is to look for blessing from Allah. They are right that America is the proper target because America fights Islam. So in terms of their objectives, they are right, and the target of their attacks was right also. But their calculations are debatable. My view is that we should do bombings in conflict areas not in peaceful areas. We have to target the place of the enemy, not countries where many Muslims live.

Q: What do you mean by “wrong calculation,” that the victims
included Muslims?

A: That was one them. In my calculation, if there are bombings
in peaceful areas, this will cause fitnah [discord] and other parties will be involved. This is my opinion and I could be wrong. Yet I still consider them mujahid. If they made mistakes, they are only human beings who can be wrong. Moreover, their attacks could be considered as self-defense.

Q: Does that mean you think they didn’t attack?

A: No, they didn’t attack because they defended themselves. They shouldn’t be punished. In Bali where 200 people died, it was America’s bomb. That was a major attack and Amrozi [the Bali plotter who bought the explosives] doesn’t have the capability to do that. [2]

Q: Did Amrozi tell you this himself?

A: He himself was surprised to see the explosion. When he said that it was Allah’s help he was right but he didn’t make that bomb. America did. There is much evidence to this effect and so the police dare not continue their investigations. According to England’s expert, that bomb was not Amrozi’s bomb. You should ask Fauzan. He knows this subject. That bomb was a CIA Jewish bomb. The Mossad cooperates with the CIA. [3] I had an exchange of views with the police and they didn’t say anything. I said to them, “You are stupid to punish Amrozi if he really knows how to make such a bomb. You should hire him to be a military consultant, because there is no military or police person [in Indonesia] who can make such a bomb.” However, when I asked Ali Imron [4] in the court he said: “Yes, I did it” I believe him [that he made one of the smaller bombs that went off]. A bomb expert from Australia said that anyone who believes that Amrozi and friends made that [bigger] bomb is an idiot; [this is also the opinion of] a bomb expert from England whose comments I read in a magazine. If Amrozi really did make that bomb, he deserves the Nobel Prize. So, the death penalty is not fair.

Q: I want to ask your opinion of Nasir Abas’s book where he said that you are the Emir of JI? [5]

A: This is a traitor, a betrayer. I was in Malaysia and I had a jama’ah [congregation] the name of which was Jama’ah Sunnah. We just studied Islam.

Q: Were you aware that Nasir Abas was your student?

A: Yes, I was. But he was not the only one there; he also studied with Ustadz Hasyim Gani. I joined his group. He died. I think Nassir Abas’s book is [written] on orders from the police and for money.

Q: According to you, the book is incorrect, especially on Jemaah Islamiyah and you being its Emir?

A: This is not a court and the real court has failed to prove it. [6]

Q: What was Nasir Abas’s motivation in writing that book?

A: I don’t know. But basically he got orders from the police and received some money. I think that was his motivation. He doesn’t have the courage to meet me. If I meet him, I’ll send him to do jihad in Chechnya or to the Southern Philippines so that Allah will accept his remorse [taubah]. He invented his own story.

Q: I heard that Nasir Abas came here. Did he meet you?

A: No, he came here to meet others.

Q: If I may know, when was the first time you heard the name

A: After the police questioned me; during the time I was filing a law suit against TIME magazine. Do you remember when I did that? They wanted me to take 100 million rupiah to stop the case but I didn’t. But I don’t know anymore about the case. During that time, I was under suspicion but I wasn’t arrested. That was the first time I heard the name al-Qa’ida. [7] A policeman from the intelligence section whose name I forget interrogated me from morning until afternoon. He asked about that name [al-Qa’ida]. That was the first time I heard of it. Before, I never heard of it. I went to Pakistan but I didn’t hear that name. I went there to accompany my son [8] and meet some Arabs but I never heard that name.

Q: How about Shaykh Osama bin Laden?

Over-180-Dead-After-Bombing.jpgA: I heard his name a long time ago. I read his writings, saw his tapes and met Arabs in Pakistan who talked about him when I accompanied my son, Abdur Rahim. Who didn’t know Osama? He was a mujahid against the Soviets and he had his own military that he funded by himself. He was a hero who America also praised. He was then also supported by America. America was piggybacking on him because America didn’t have the courage to fight against the Soviets. They were afraid of the Soviets and they relied on the Afghans.

Q: Have you ever met him?

A: No, no. I want to though. After my release, I hope I can meet him. [9]

Q: Where will you find him?

A: If he still exists – but how could I? On Osama, my stand in court was clear. I have sympathy for his struggle. Osama is Allah’s soldier. When I heard his story, I came to the conclusion that he’s mujahid, a soldier of Allah.

Q: So you will always be on his side?

A: Many say this and Osama is right. His tactics and calculations may sometimes be wrong, he’s an ordinary human being after all. I don’t agree with all of his actions. He encouraged people to do bombings. I don’t agree with that. He said that JI followed his fatwah. His fatwah said that all Americans must be killed wherever they can be found, because America deserves it. Therefore [according to bin Laden] if Muslims come across Americans, they have to attack them. Osama believes in total war. This concept I don’t agree with. If this occurs in an Islamic country, the fitnah [discord] will be felt by Muslims. But to attack them in their country [America] is fine.

Q: So it means that the fight against America will never end?

A: Never, and this fight is compulsory. Muslims who don’t hate America sin. What I mean by America is George Bush’s regime. There is no iman [belief] if one doesn’t hate America. There are three ways of attacking: with your hand, your mouth and your heart.

Q: Does this mean America’s government? Its policies?

A: If its citizens are good that’s fine, especially the Muslim citizens. They are our brothers. Non-Muslims are also fine as long as they don’t bother us. A witness at my trial, Frederick Burks, wrote that he’s against Bush. [10]

Q: How can the American regime and its policies change?

A: We’ll see. As long as there is no intention to fight us and Islam continues to grow there can be peace. This is the doctrine of Islam. Islam can’t be ruled by others. Allah’s law can’t be under human law. Allah’s law must stand above human law. All laws must be under Islamic law. This is what the infidels fail to recognize, that’s what America doesn’t like to see. You should read a book, “The Face of Western Civilization” by Adian Husaini. It’s a good book, a thick one. The conclusion of the book is that Western scholars hold an anti-Islamic doctrine. It is true there will be a clash of civilizations. The argumentation is correct that there will be a clash between Islam and the infidels. There is no [example] of Islam and infidels, the right and the wrong, living together in peace.


1. Father Rinaldy Damanik is the leader of the Christian community in Poso District, Sulawesi where violence between Muslims and Christians led to hundreds of deaths on both sides between late 1998 and 2002 (and where intermittent violence continues to this day). I interviewed Father Damanik in his home in Tentena on August 10, 2005. It turns out that Father Damanik shared the same jail cell block successively for some months (September 2002 – January 2003) with Reda Seyam (legendary Al-Qa’ida film-maker), Imam Samudra (the JI computer expert condemned to death for planning the meetings and choosing the targets for the Bali bombings) and Ba’asyir. Damanik befriended all three. There are smiling photos of Reda and Damanik together, and Samudra and Ba’asyir have both confirmed their warm feelings toward Father Damanik. Damanik used to call Ba’asyir “Opa” (grandfather) and Ba’asyir’s wife would bring gifts of food to Damanik. They discussed
injustice, Shari’ah, faith in God, suicide attacks and opposing America. According to Dam- anik, they found much agreement on the sources of injustice but disagreed strongly over the means to overcome it.
2. Amrozi bin Nurahasyim was sentenced to death by an Indonesian court for having plotted the bombing of the Sari Club in Kuta, Bali along with Imam Samudra and Amrozi’s older brother, Mukhlas.
3. The story about the CIA-Mossad conspiracy is widespread among JI leaders and foot soldiers and (usually with a laugh) used to illustrate that that JI is itself a concoction of “Jewish Intelligence.”
4. Ali Imron, the younger brother of Mukhlas and Amrozi, was sentenced to life in prison for the Bali bombings after having
expressed remorse for his role in the attacks.
5. Muhammad Nasir bin Abas, who trained Bali bombers Imam Samudra and Ali Imron, received his religious instruction from Sungkar and Ba’asyir in Malaysia before they sent him in 1991 for three years to Towrkhan military camp in Afghanistan. He became a top JI military trainer but also gave religious instruction. In April 2001 Ba’asyir appointed Abas head of Mantiqi 3, one of JI’s strategic area divisions, which covered the geographical region of the Philippines and Sulawesi and was responsible for military training and arms supply. Abas turned state’s evidence in Ba’asyir’s trial, outlining the structure of JI and Ba’asyir’s position as Emir. But Abas refused to openly condemn Ba’asyir or accuse him of ordering any terrorist operations, always respectfully referring to Ba’asyir as Ustadz. In July 2005 Abas published Membongkar Jamaah Islamiyah (Unveiling Jamaah Islamiyah). The first part of the book details JI’s organization, ideology and strategy. The second part is a rebuttal to Samudra’s own book, Aku Melawan Terroris, and what Abas believes to be a tendentious use of the Quran and Hadith to justify suicide bombing and violence against fellow Muslims and civilians.
In between my interviews with Ba’asyir I interviewed Abas, who says that he quit JI over Ba’asyir’s refusal to condemn or contain the operations and influence of Riduan Isamuddin (aka Hambali). In January 2000, Hambali hosted a meeting in an apartment owned by JI member Yazid Sufaat in Kuala Lumpur that included 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 9/11 highjackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf
al-Hamzi. As Abas tells it, Hambali, who was JI’s main liaison with Al-Qa’ida and a close friend and disciple of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, was given control of Mantiqi 1, which covered the geographical region of Malaysia and environs and was strategically responsible for JI finances and economic development. But Hambali was dissatisfied being saddled with the “economic wing” (iqtisod) and wanted to play a more active role in the conflict zones. The then-leader of Mantiqi 3, Mustafa (now in custody) blocked Hambali from muscling in on his area but Hambali was able to send fighters to fight Christians in Ambon (Maluku) in 1999, which was under Mantiqi 2 (covering most of Indonesia and strategically responsible for JI recruitment and organizational development). Encouraged by success in heating up the Maluku crisis, Hambali decided first to extend his (and al-Qa’ida’s) conception of jihad to all of Indonesia
(including the 1999 bombing of the Atrium Mall in Jakarta, the August 2000 bombing of the Philippines Ambassador’s house, and 17 coordinated Church bombings on Christmas eve 2000) and then to “globalize” the jihad by enlisting suicide bombers to hit Western targets and interests (including a failed plot to blow up Singapore’s American, Australian and Israeli embassies in
December 2001, and the successful 2002 Bali bombings and 2003 suicide attack on Jakarta’s Marriott hotel). Although Abas argues that JI shouldn’t be outlawed because many in JI reject Al-Qa’ida’s vision of global jihad, in fact JI’s infrastructure and leadership continue to protect (with safe houses) and condone (as “self-defense”) efforts by the likes of master-bomber Dr. Azhari bin Hussain and his constant sidekick, JI’s top recruiter Nurdin Nur Thop, who some tell me recently established a suicide squad, called Thoifah Muqatilah, for large actions against Western interests.
6. According to Abas, JI’s essential organization and ideology is outlined in a set of general guidelines for the Jemaah Islamiyah Struggle (Pedoman Umum Perjuangan
al-Jamaah al-Islamiyah, PUPJI), a 44-page manual that contains a constitution, outlines the roles of office bearers and gives details of how meetings must be organized (e.g., about what to do if a quorum cannot be obtained in the leadership council). The guidelines declare that anyone who adheres to fundamental Islamic principles that are devoid of corruption, deviation (e.g. Sufism) or innovation, can take the bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Emir of JI and become a JI member. Although JI would be, in principle, open to anyone who meets these conditions, in fact only carefully selected individuals, including the Mantiqi leaders, were allowed to take the bayat and obtain copies of the PUPJI. Such individuals generally (but not always) would have undergone previous training in Afghanistan or graduated at the top of their class in courses that Sungkar and Ba’asyir designed for JI recruitment (though designation of courses as JI was unknown to potential recruitees). Abas fulfilled both conditions. Although many people (including some Afghan Alumni I have interviewed) think of themselves as JI, or are not certain of whether or not they
belong to JI, Abas insists that if they did not formally take the bayat they are considered sympathizers or supporters of JI but not members (just as some prisoners at Guantánamo are sincerely uncertain as to whether or not they belong to al-Qa’ida if they did not formally take the bayat to Bin Laden).
Abas says the PUPJI was drafted by a committee, including Ba’asyir, and then formally approved by Sungkar as the basis for JI. When asked about the PUPJI in an earlier (untaped part of the) interview, Ba’asyir claimed, on the one hand, that the PUPJI manual was planted by police and intelligence services but, on the other hand, that it contains sound principles modeled on the doctrine of the Egyptian Islamic Group (Gama’at Islamiyah). Abas says that the manual also contains elements of Indonesia’s military organization, particularly in regard to the ranking of personnel (binpur) and responsibility for territory (bintur). He adds that although the PUPJI allows the JI to conduct itself as a “secret organization” (tanzim sir) – and conceal its doctrine, membership and operations from public view – it does not allow the practice of taqiyyah (dissimulation) to extend to lying to the (Muslim) public (another reason Abas gives for his leaving JI).
7. Other members of JI who openly
acknowledge sympathy with bin Laden and Qa’ida say much the same thing. For example, I interviewed the JI member who founded the first mujahidin training camp in 2000 for the conflict in Poso, Sulawesi. He had earlier been sent by JI founder Abdullah Sungkar during the Soviet-Afghan War to train in Abu Sayyafs’s Ihtihad camp in Sada, Pakistan and to study with Abdullah Azzam, Bin Laden’s mentor and the person who first formulated the notion of “Al-Qa’ida sulbah” (“the strong base”) as a vanguard for jihad. This JI member also acknowledges hosting Khalid Sheikh Muhammad at his home in Jakarta for a month in 1996. Yet, he claims never to have heard of “al-Qa’ida” applied to a specific organization or group headed by Bin Laden until 9/11.
8. Ba’asyir sent his younger son, Abdul Rahim, to the Afghanistan border during the Soviet-Afghan war to spend time under the wing of Aris Sumarsono (aka Zulkarnaen, who became JI’s operations chief) later enrolling Rahim in an Islamic high school in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Seeking a stricter salafist education for his son, Ba’asyir directed Rahim in the mid-nineties to Sana’a, Yemen, to study under Abdul Madjid al-Zindani (like Abdullah Azzam, Zindani was a legend among self-proclaimed “Afghan Alumni” who fought the Soviets). By 1999, Rahim was in Malaysia and soon under Hambali’s stewardship. Abdul Rahim now operates freely in Indonesia (reports in August 2005, place him in Aceh, heading a new charity, Camp Taochi Foundation) but he is suspected of having taken over JI’s contacts with Al-Qa’ida remnants after Hambali’s capture.
9. Ba’asyir’s statement that he never met bin Laden is contradicted by testimony from other JI members, both free and in custody. In the following letter (authenticated by Indonesian intelligence) dated August 3, 1998 and addressed to regional jihadi leaders, Ba’asyir and Sungkar state they are acting on bin Laden’s behalf to advance “the Muslim world’s global jihad” (jabhah Jihadiyah Alam Islamy) against“ the Jews and Christians:” Malaysia, 10 Rabiul Akhir 1419 [August 3, 1998] From: Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir To: Al Mukarrom, respected clerics, teachers (ustadz), sheikhs All praises upon God who has said: “The Jews and Christians will never be satisfied until you follow their way of worship” Al Baqarah: 120 Praise and peace upon Prophet Muhammad who has said: “If I’m still alive, I’ll surely expel the Jews and Christians out of the Arabian peninsula” And may God bless us and any of his followers who want to follow his orders.Respected clerics, teachers and sheikhs. This letter is to convey a message from Sheikh Osama Bin Laden to all of you. We send you this letter because we can’t visit and see you directly. However, we send our envoy, Mr. Ghaus Taufiq [a Darul Islam commander in Sumatra], to bring this letter personally to all of you. We also attach Bin Laden’s written message in this letter and Bin Laden also sends these messages to all of you:
1. Bin Laden conveys his regards (Assalamu’ alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh)
2. Bin Laden says that right now, after “Iman” (to believe in God), the most important obligation for all Moslems in the world is to work hard to free the Arabian Peninsula from the occupation of Allah’s enemy America (Jews and Christians).
This obligation is mathalabusy syar’i (a consequence of the shari’ah) that every Moslem must not consider this obligation to be a simple matter. Prophet Muhammad, although he was sick, ordered the Muslim Ummah to prioritize their obligation to expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, as the Prophet has said, the Muslim Ummah must take this obligation seriously. It is very important for the Muslim world to work very hard to free the Arabian Peninsula from colonization by the infidel Americans.
If we can free the Arabian peninsula as masdarul diinul Islam (the source of Islam) and makorrul haromain (Holy Mecca) from occupation by the infidel Americans, Inshallah (God willing) our struggle to uphold Islam everywhere on God’s land will be successful. Stagnation and the difficulty in upholding Islam at present stems from the occupation of the Arabian Peninsula by the infidel America. This great struggle must be put into action by the Ummah (Muslim community) all over the world under the leadership and guidance of clerics in their respective countries. Under such leadership, we will prevail.
The first step of this struggle is issuing fatwah (Islamic edict) from clerics all over the world addressed to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The edict must remind the King what Prophet Muhammad said about the obligation for the Muslim Ummah to expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula. Otherwise, this world will suffer a catastrophe. These edicts will give strong encouragement and influence to the King of Arabia. This is the message from Osama bin Laden conveyed to all of you.
Sheikh Osama bin Laden really wants to visit all clerics and Islamic preachers everywhere in the world to share his views so that there will be a common understanding about this momentous struggle. In the end, we will have similar movements simultaneously across the world. However, Bin Laden realizes that the situation outside his sanctuary is not presently safe. He also awaits your visit with his deep respect so that this great struggle may proceed. These are Bin Laden’s messages that we convey to all of you.
We take this opportunity to explain certain facts about Bin Laden:
• At present, Sheikh Osama stays in Afghanistan, in the Kandahar area, under the protection of Taliban
• He doesn’t oppose either the Taliban or Mujahideen. He’s trying to unify both groups.
From his camp in Kandahar, Bin Laden organizes plans to expel infidel America from the Arabian Peninsula by inviting ulemas and preachers from all over the world. In this camp, Bin Laden is accompanied by a number of Arab mujahideen, especially those who previously fought in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and these mujahideen prepare to form “jabhah Jihadiyah Alam Islamy” (The global jihadi coalition in the Moslem world) to fight against America. The above information is about Sheikh Osama Bin Laden that you should know.
If you have the time and commitment to visit Sheikh Osama, Inshallah, we can help you meet him safely.
We praise God to all of you for your attention and cooperation.
Jazakumullah khoirul jaza (Thanks to God the best thanks) Wassalamu’alaukim, Your brother in Allah
Abdullah Sungkar Abu Bakar Ba’asyir
10. Frederick Burks appeared at Ba’asyir’s trial testifying that he had interpreted at a 2002 meeting about Ba’asyir between an envoy of President George W. Bush and Indonesia’s then-president Megawati Sukarnoputri. Burks said the unidentified envoy accused Ba’asyir of involvement in a series of church bombings in Indonesia in 2000 and asked for the cleric to be secretly arrested and handed over to US authorities. Megawati declined, he said.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

March 05

The heavyweight courtroom title fight of the world

As a journalist, one’s job is to remain impartial. But MARIA SLADE admits she’s never struggled so hard to retain her objectivity as she did covering the High Court hearing into heavyweight professional boxer David Tua’s bitter and expensive dispute with his former manager Kevin Barry, and former business manager Martin Pugh

I came to the Tua story cold. I knew little about the case, and even less about the venality of the professional boxing world. But it was decided in the newsroom that this was a news, as opposed to a sport, story, and I was dispatched to Auckland’s High Court.

“Take what boxing people say with a grain of salt and keep your hand on your wallet,” joked a sports journalist colleague.

But this is New Zealand. The David Tua/Kevin Barry partnership, albeit now soured, was kiwi sporting salt-of-the-earth. The dirty dealings of the boxing ring had surely no more taken hold here than the Mafia had.
One look at the way Barry and his cohort Martin Pugh had dressed to come to court and I realised I didn’t know what I was dealing with.

Bleached and greased hair, gold medallions, winkle-picker brogues with white socks and shirts more suitable for a night out clubbing. If they’d wanted to portray the image of wily, slimy creatures that had crawled out from beneath boxing’s nasty underbelly, they were going the right way about it.

Contrast this with the Tua entourage. David Tua and his cousin-turned-manager, former rugby and league star Inga Tuigamala, turned up each morning like five-year-olds on the first day of school. Neatly pressed in business shirts and ties atop black ie-faitagas (formal skirts worn by Samoan men), they sat through every minute of the proceedings. At their sides were their smartly dressed wives, and constantly surrounding them was a guard of friends, family members and boxing comrades. Supporters came and went as the week wore on. David Tua long ago won the public’s hearts and minds in what it perceived as his greatest fight.

Baby-faced, he told the court he was “just a fighter” and that Kevin Barry attended to every other detail of his professional boxing life. “You rely on your manager so you can just fight. I signed things exactly as they were put in front of me. Kevin was my trusted manager.”

David Tua said Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh had a plan. “They talked about a company, but I didn’t know what that was all about.”

What that was about was the trio’s Exclusive Management Agreement which states the company, Tuaman Inc, is owned 50% by David Tua, and 25% each by Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh. Tua was under the impression Tuaman Inc was his company. So was company accountant Jennie Grant. “I was led to believe that the company was David Tua’s, and only his,” she told the court. “For that reason alone the books I was trying to keep were misconceived.”

The boxer described the day in April 2001 when he went with Martin Pugh to look at the asset at the heart of the dispute – the multi-million-dollar, 51 hectare beach front property at Pakiri, north of Auckland. “I thought it was heaven, it reminded me of home in Samoa. Right away I wanted to buy it. I wanted it for myself and my family. I could see myself retiring there and growing a bit of taro.” Tua said Pugh told him to buy it through Tuaman Inc for tax purposes. “He said he was trying to protect me. But I never knew how that was supposed to work.”

The Pugh and Barry camp argue through their shares in Tuaman Inc they own equivalent slices of Pakiri, and that the trio’s plan had always been to invest Tuaman Inc funds in property.

David Tua maintains there was no talk of Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh buying the property with him. “There was never a ‘me and you’ or a ‘we’ll buy it’. The conversation was about the land being bought for me.”

As he spoke to the court I thought, can a man who earned millions of dollars by knocking people out really be that naïve, or is this beguiling innocence a great act?

Trying to remain objective, I also thought that perhaps there’s a certain style one becomes accustomed to living in Las Vegas, and this could explain the impression of Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh. After all they move in the sorts of circles where people keep tigers as pets. Then Barry and Pugh opened their mouths.

Throughout his lengthy cross-examination by David Tua’s lawyer Tony Molloy QC, Martin Pugh was petulant and argumentative. He sat virtually with his back to the lawyer and refused to look at him. At times he patronisingly repeated his replies syllable by syllable as if Molloy was unable to understand them. Kevin Barry was defiant. Both frequently attempted to hammer home a point by talking on and over their cross-examiner. The irritated Molloy raised his voice on more than one occasion, and at one point shouted at Barry: “Will you answer the questions I ask and be quiet the rest of the time!” To which Barry cheekily replied: “I’ve never seen you so angry.” Tony Molloy later remarked, “You have more soliloquies in you Mr Barry than Shakespeare.”

A lot of what Martin Pugh said was nonsense.

Molloy questioned Pugh closely on what he knew of his responsibilities as sole director and therefore the board of Tuaman Inc. Tony Forlong, the accountant Tua hired in July 2003 as the relationship between boxer and managers dissolved, had earlier given evidence that Martin Pugh was “well out of his depth” in running a company. He needn’t have bothered.

It was a truth Pugh revealed all by himself as Molloy’s cross-examination progressed.

Pugh disputed the court-appointed accountants’ calculation that between 2002 and 2004, he and Kevin Barry respectively took $1.4 million and $1.2 million out of Tuaman Inc. The QC queried him about the absence of signed and audited accounts for Tuaman Inc for those years. Molloy asked him if he’d had alternative accounts prepared by professionals of a comparable stature to the court-appointed ones, to support his argument.

Pugh claimed that he had but that the court would not allow him to produce them.

Martin Pugh: “The figures I put in front of the court I provided to Price Waterhouse Coopers for their validity check which this court has ordered me not to refer to.”

Tony Molloy: “Where are the accounts? I’m not asking you about validity checks, whatever they are”

SPORTS-BOXING-5-PH.jpgLater in the exchange he asserted that no professionally prepared and audited accounts were done because “taxation is decided by the shareholders of the company. The court-appointed accountants have taken the view of undoing three years of methodology of accounting the company followed.” Molloy was moved to remark that it was a stance every New Zealand company would love to take.

When Tony Molloy asked him if he’d ever taken expert tax advice he replied yes, from myself. When then asked what qualified him to provide such advice, there followed a long discourse on how there’s a simple principle involved of paying a percentage of the company’s income in tax, and standard tax return forms are available on the internet. Pugh claimed he adopted a “no harm, no foul” policy with the IRD.

Kevin Barry’s knowledge of company law was little better.
Tony Molloy: “You poured scorn in your brief on the idea that David Tua didn’t understand about shares in the company. What I would like to know is whether you understand. The impression I get from your affidavits is that you think a 25% shareholding in a company entitles you to 25% of the company’s income and 25% of its profit. Is that what you think?”

Kevin Barry: “Yes that’s right.”

The proceedings came down to credibility. It was clear Tuaman Inc was owned half by David Tua and a quarter each by Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh, and that Pakiri was owned by Tuaman Inc. The nexus of the Tua case was the legal principle of express trust – that David Tua had conferred trust on Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh to buy the land on his behalf. The heart of the Barry and Pugh argument was that this had never been put in writing – indeed, it had never even been expressed in those terms.

Martin Pugh’s questionable accounting was therefore not directly relevant to the issue of who owns Pakiri, but it served to highlight the kind of person before the court.

As such, his habit of forging signatures and creatively moving Tuaman Inc funds around were central to their case.

Martin Pugh admitted to Tony Molloy that he had forged signatures on at least two occasions. Once was when he forged Tuaman company accountant Jennie Grant’s signature on a Companies Office document. On another occasion he ‘cut and pasted’ middleweight boxer Maselino Masoe’s signature on to a fight promotion agreement.

The admissions came with no apparent shame. “I received no benefit,” Pugh said. “In closing,” he said grandly, and tried to raise the saga of Prime Minister Helen Clark signing an art work she had not created. Presiding judge Justice Williams cut him off.

Another incident raised by Tony Molloy went to the heart of Martin Pugh’s credibility. In December 2001 around $925,000 was transferred from Tuaman Inc to a company in Vanuatu called Sports Tech set up by Richard Gregory, a friend of Pugh’s. Some of that money was used to set up debit cards for Pugh, his partner Sally Cross, Kevin Barry and his wife, and others.

The sum remaining was around $809,000. The next month $809,000 was transferred back to Auckland to the Baron and Lunar Trust, a family trust associated with Sally Cross. Sally Cross then paid off business debts amounting to $809,000. Martin Pugh conceded the matching amounts looked strange, but said there was nothing “sinister” about it. He claimed he had 200 pages of documents to explain the deal, which he would present at a future trial. “Once you see the documents it will make sense to the court. I do not wish to play my hand in regard to that.”

Martin Pugh variously described the steps in the transaction as a loan, a bond, and then a guarantee. Molloy put it to him that this story was a cover-up for the misappropriation of funds from Tuaman. He denied it.

Tua 003.jpgDavid Tua told the court he had “a funny feeling” about Martin Pugh. He said it was Kevin Barry’s idea to involve him. “He (Kevin) said he was a smart businessman, and could be the ideal guy to manage the
finances and make investments for me. I trusted Kevin. He really wanted Marty on board, so I gave in.”

In his closing address, Tony Molloy said: “Having seen and heard Pugh and his admissions of forgery and lying, and his disdain for the laws of the land that ordinary conscientious citizens regard as an obligation to observe, let alone company directors, it is not at all surprising that Mr Tua didn’t like Mr Pugh.”

Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh fought back hard on the credibility battlefield. They claim it was the Tua camp which was planning to shaft them. The Tuas came to the management duo in January 2001 wanting changes to the EMA, such as the inclusion of a clause allowing David Tua to get a lawyer’s approval before any contract relating to his affairs was concluded. “Unbeknown to Kevin Barry and I, David Tua with his parents and their lawyer were plotting since September 2000 (the Lennox Lewis fight was in November 2000) to terminate the EMA and deprive Tuaman Inc and Kevin and I of our shares and substantial earnings,” Pugh said in his brief of evidence. “No wonder David Tua performed so poorly in losing his World Title Fight against Lennox Lewis,” Barry said. “He must have been feeling guilty as hell.”

They also claimed there were no missing Tua millions, that David Tua had spent it all, and in fact he owes Tuaman Inc. “David told us that he did not want his family, or the family solicitor or his Church, knowing how much money he had as they would have spent it all and that’s a fact (in the end the family and David spent it all anyway),” Kevin Barry states in his brief.

Martin Pugh claims David Tua’s now wife, Robina Sitene, gave the government an old address so she could continue to collect welfare while living with and being well supported by the boxer. “David would get request from Bina or his family all the time, and I mean all the time, to pay bills,” he said.

Jennie Grant sees matters another way. She told the court Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh simply helped themselves to Tuaman funds. In contrast she said David Tua had to come to her for every small amount of money he needed. “How degrading, that man who had earned millions, doesn’t even have his own money.”

Martin Pugh and Kevin Barry allege that matters deteriorated to the point of a High Court hearing because of “women’s scorn”.

“The only conclusion that I can see is that it now seems to be about Jennie Grant, Robina Sitene and their need to “beat him” (Martin) at something, I don’t know what, and trying to justify their belief that David still had millions that he hadn’t spent,” Kevin Barry said.
“I was adamant that this huha had arisen because of Jennie’s sacking and Bina’s finding out that she couldn’t get her hands on David’s money (because he and his family had spent it).”

And so the personal insults flew. The Tuas no doubt had plenty they would have liked to fling back, but they didn’t. Not once.
The court will no doubt decide on sound legal principles who the rightful owner of Pakiri is. Having sat through the week-long hearing, I have a firm view of who morally should win this most colourful of bouts.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)


We’re all fundamentalists now

They’re just another raving bunch of fundamentalists! Now there’s a phrase you’ll hear on talk radio if you listen hard enough. Fundamentalist. The very word, in its modern context, sounds kind of hick, kind of backwoods Kentucky. Kind of downtown Mecca. It is used, primarily, as a pejorative – an insult against those deserving of the label ‘fundamentalist’. Heck, I’ve even taken a liking to it myself as a means of describing diehard secular humanists: atheist fundamentalist fruitbats.

But what does ‘fundamentalist’ really mean? It means somebody with a strong worldview. Somebody who is confident that they understand the world and their place in it, and therefore somebody not likely to be swayed from that worldview easily. A fundamentalist is someone who believes in the reality of objective truth.

At a shallow level, every single one of us is actually a religious fundamentalist. That’s because whatever you believe about the universe and your own place in it, your belief is a faith-based one even if you are an atheist scientist. You may fervently believe that life is a product of random evolution and natural selection. But in a billion lifetimes you will never be able to absolutely prove it. You may believe that God created the earth in six days, but this too is ultimately a matter of faith. You may believe in reincarnation, karmic destiny and the alleged wisdom of Shirley Maclaine and whatever she’s channeling this month. This too is a matter of belief.

You may believe that ‘fundamentalism’ should be discouraged by the government, perhaps even banned, because it threatens your own ideals of tolerance and good vibes. But you too would be guilty of fundamentalism, of imposing your own desire not to be exposed to someone else’s beliefs above another person’s right to listen to free speech.

You see, there is no one in your home or office who, deep down, is not a religious fundamentalist of some kind. Once you scrape away the layers and the distractions, you are left with a person’s core beliefs about how the world is or how it should be. You might be a gay fundamentalist, or a green fundamentalist, or a New Age fundamentalist. Every time you stand up and venture an opinion on how things should be, you are vocalizing your fundamentalism.

So is that wrong? No. To deny our inherent rights to our fundamental beliefs is to deny that which makes us human, rather than slaves.
How then, do we tackle fundamentalism that manifests itself in a bad way, like Islamic fundamentalism? Only by recognizing that while everyone is fundamentalist, not all fundamental beliefs are right. Once upon a time, it was an established religious belief to conduct human sacrifice, even cannibalism. Should we shy away from confronting such evils just because we might offend a cannibal? Clearly not. Is the evil of cannibalism any less evil if we’re dealing with an army of 100,000 cannibals instead of 10? Does the fact that something evil is popular make it inherently right all of a sudden?

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing, the saying goes. The truth is, though, that if they did nothing then they were not truly good.
We are all fundamentalists. Nothing wrong with that. But not all fundamental beliefs are created equal.

Here’s a cold hard truth: the only hope for disarming Islamic fundamentalism lies in the advance of Christian fundamentalism. The Passion of the Christ was a huge hit in the Arab world, because it was the first time they’d seen forgiveness, instead of eye-for-an-eye. Mel Gibson struck a bigger blow for world peace in one movie, than all the Middle Eastern summits put together.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

HEALTH: May 05, AU Edition

may05healthart.jpgTYPE-A FOR EFFORT
A little hard work never killed anyone, but coping poorly with it can do some real damage

Keep working like this and you’ll give yourself an ulcer!’ The year is 1982, and all they do is work, work, work. Late into the night and early into the morning on this damn fool scheme of theirs. These are driven men, mavericks, pursuing their research until finally one of them gets an ulcer.

And what was the grail these blokes were chasing? Proof that stress and personality are not the major factor in the development of peptic ulcers. The men were Australian doctors J. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, and they intentionally gave Marshall an ulcer to prove their hypothesis, namely, that the bacterium Helicobacter Pylori (and not worry or stress) is what causes ulcers. It took a long while to persuade the medical world of this, so it is little wonder that many amongst us still believe stress causes ulcers, amongst other things.
Science has been hard at work on the stress-and-health connection for some time now, and it’s now very clear that – for rats – being confined in a small cage with lots of other rats, an unpredictable food supply, and the odd electric shock is definitely not a healthy way to live.

Human studies are not nearly so conclusive. For every study that sees a link, another one doesn’t. Time for some hair-splitting.

So-called ‘type-A’ personalities are hostile, impatient and competitive. Picture a red-faced fellow running across the road (can’t wait for the traffic lights), yakking into the mobile phone that is wedged between his shoulder and ear while at the same time shoveling a burger and coffee into his mouth. This type of individual is often described as a workaholic. He (or she) is also probably very good at his or her job, very likely feared and reviled by employees and underlings and, in all probability, proudly describes himself (or herself) as a ‘Type-A personality’. Everyone he or she knows warns them of their health risk. (Then again, when did you last meet someone who described themselves as calm and worry free? I just took an on-line stress test, and apparently my low score indicated that I am in severe denial about my stress. I think they were trying to sell me something.)

But if this hard-charging type-A isn’t destined for a stomach ulcer, then what kind of problems does he or she face? Although it runs contrary to conventional wisdom, having a ‘Type-A’ personality in itself has also repeatedly been shown not to cause heart disease. (In hospitals the joke is that this must be true, because cardiologists do not, as a rule, have particularly sanguine personalities). More often than not, it is how people choose to cope with the stress that brings them to grief.

Aggressive and high-energy workaholics do many of things to deal with their stress, and smoking and drinking (often a lot) is at the top of many a type-A’s list of hobbies. Thus high stress often appears to cause illness, when in fact it doesn’t. The stress causes bad behaviours, and the bad behaviours cause health problems.

Did I mention that there would be hair-splitting?

But this is a useful distinction, because behaviours like smoking can be changed. Of course, if society stopped rewarding angry men who work hard with nice jobs and lots of money that kind of behaviour might also diminish, but that’s another story.

The counter-argument that turns this on its head is one I hear a lot, and basically goes like this: ‘If I don’t deal with my aggressive feelings by yelling at people and slamming my phone down, all those repressed feelings will make me even more sick, even give me cancer’. Nice try, but no. Instead, it’s the same old story: genetics, diet, environment, smoking, booze, plus some other factors for some specific types, all cause cancer. Personality doesn’t.

But, despite the lack of a connection to heart and stomach problems, too much stress is definitely not healthy. Remember learning about the body’s fight or flight response in high school biology? Sense danger; flood body with stress hormones like adrenaline; in crease heart rate; make breathing rapid and shallow; constrict arteries near the skin (to curtail blood loss); increase blood pressure; release energy stores. All very, very good things to do if you happen to be cornered in a dark alley or need to flee a lion on the African veldt. But these physical responses to stress are of very little help in most offices – unless it is a particularly bad day.

One stress hormone that does have an impact on health is cortisol. This stuff raises blood pressure, increasing the work the heart has to do (fine in the short term, bad in the long) and suppresses the immune system, which means that it can lead to more infections and the like. Lots of cortisol, lots of the time, leads to lots of irritating colds and flus. So chill out. Take a deep breath and breathe out slowly. Now try to keep your blood pressure low and brace yourself for one last little nag.

And don’t even bother with ‘I don’t have time to…’ speech. If you’re a busy person, you don’t have time to be sick either, so take the time to look after yourself now.

Here’s the deal: Stress isn’t good or bad. But lots and lots of stress is bad. Go fix it so that disasters don’t happen constantly in your life, or failing that, teach yourself to cope better when they do. Practice saying the words, ‘thank you for telling me,’ instead of ‘what!!!!! How the !@#$...’ This works equally well for ‘Mummy, the dog did a poo on the sofa’ as, ‘Sweetheart, I love you, but I’m moving to Rio with the tennis pro’.

Also, stop doing all the things that really will shorten your life, and maybe even make it unpleasant while it lasts. Sorry. Let’s do that again. The cardiologist is going to say that. I’m going to say this: do one thing to be healthier. Maybe it’ll be enough. Maybe it will lead to other lifestyle changes. If you know you eat terribly, and you don’t want to change, at least take the odd vitamin. Run to the shops for your smokes, instead of driving. Drink with dinner, instead of for breakfast, that kind of thing. For my money, I’d start with exercise.

Even if it feels terrible the first twenty times, it will actually start to make you feel good. You will enjoy it, your mood will brighten, and you’ll sleep better. Maybe you’ll smoke less and eat healthier as well. It’s also easier to start doing something and make a new habit than it is to break an old one. If you think you might be getting a bit overwhelmed with stress or have some niggling physical problem, see the doctor. She’ll probably say what I said, only in a bossier tone, but better safe than sorry.

Look, you know what you’ve gotta do, so do I. I’m just going out for a run. To the shops…

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:55 PM | Comments (0)

RIGHT HOOK: Nov 05, AU Edition

George W. Bush’s court pick alienated even his friends

Supreme Court nomination may not have been the ideal time for Laura Bush to start acting like ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ Hillary Clinton. Between cooking segments on the American ‘Today’ show recently, Laura rolled out the straw-man – sorry, ‘straw-person’ – argument that the criticism of her husband’s pick for the high court, Harriet Miers, was rooted in ‘sexism’ (which is such a chick thing to say). I’m a gyno-American, and I strenuously object.

The only sexism involved in the Miers nomination is the administration’s claim that once they decided they wanted a woman, Miers was the best they could do. If the the top female lawyer in the US is Harriet Miers, we may as well stop allowing girls to go to law school.

Ah, but perhaps you were unaware of Miers’ many other accomplishments. Apparently she was the first woman in Dallas to have a swimming pool in her back yard! And she was the first woman with a safety deposit box at the Dallas National Bank! And she was the first woman to wear pants at her law firm! It’s simply amazing! And did you know she did all this while being a woman?

I don’t know when Republicans became the party that condescends to women, but I am not at all happy about this development. This isn’t the year 1880. And by the way, even in 1880, Miers would not have been the ‘most qualified’ of all women lawyers in the U.S., of which there were 75.

Women have been graduating at the top of their classes at America’s best law schools for 50 years.

Today, women make up about 45 percent of the students at the nation’s top law schools (and more than 50 percent at all law schools).

Which brings us to the other enraging argument being made by the Bush administration and its few remaining defenders – the claim of ‘elitism.’ I also don’t know when the Republican Party stopped being the party of merit and excellence and became the party of quotas and lying about test scores, but I don’t like that development either.
Contrary to the Bush administration’s disingenuous arguments, it’s not simply that Miers did not attend a top law school that makes her unqualified for the Supreme Court. (But that’s a good start!) It’s that she did not go on to rack up any major accomplishments since then, either. Despite the astonishing fact that Miers was the first woman to head the Texas Bar Association, Miers has not had the sort of legal career that shouts out ‘Supreme Court material’! That is, unless you think any female who passes the bar exam has achieved a feat of unparalleled brilliance for her sex.

There are more important things in life than being Supreme Court material, but – oddly enough – not when we’re talking about an appointment to the Supreme Court. Sen. Arlen Specter defended Miers on the grounds that ‘Miers’ professional qualifications are excellent, but she lacks experience in constitutional law’ – and Specter ought to know. This is like recommending a plumber by saying, ‘He’s a very professional guy, but he lacks experience in plumbing.’

The other straw-man argument being hawked by the Bush administration is that Miers’ critics object that she’s never been a judge. To quote another Bush – read my lips: No one has said that.

I genuinely feel sorry for Miers. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman, and well-qualified for many important jobs. Just not the job Bush has nominated her for. The terrible thing Bush has done to Miers is to force people who care about the court to say that.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:53 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: May 05, AU Edition

may05scienceart.jpgSMART OF DARKNESS
You’d have to be pretty dim to buy the latest scare story being pushed by the greenies

Nobody knew it at the time, but thirty years ago the environmental movement suffered the greatest blow to its credibility since a grumpy 19th Century Scottish churchman named Malthus made his now-infamous prediction that, due to a lack of ‘moral restraint’, the world’s population would soon outstrip food supplies. For it was on 28 April 1975 that the American magazine Newsweek ran a story on the new ecological scare that was sure to doom the human race: not overpopulation, but global cooling.

That’s right, cooling.

Here’s how their package, ‘The Cooling World’, began: ‘There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production–with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas – parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia – where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.’

What a difference a few decades make. Not only is the U.S.S.R. a thing of the past, but global cooling is an all-but-forgotten article of the greenie faith, consigned to the dustbin of embarrassing eco-history – along with predictions that the world would run out of fossil fuels by the year 2000 and that mass famines would trigger global conflagrations and economic catastrophe throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Instead, doom-mongers have spent the last decade focused on global warming, using language surprisingly similar to that of Malthus (‘an angry Gaia will smite us for not having the moral restraint to resist buying 4WDs’). And in a day and age when the Bureau of Meteorology can’t reliably predict on Thursday whether Saturday’s barbeque will be a washout, the Kyoto treaty holds a gun to the heads of Western economies – all based on what are essentially some very long-range weather forecasts.

Which is why the latest nightmare scenario to make headlines around the world is particularly – one might even say darkly – amusing. According to a handful of scientists, life on Earth is actually getting dimmer. Here’s how a BBC report recently aired in Australia put it: ‘Noticed less sunshine lately? Scientists have discovered that the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface has been falling over recent decades.

‘If the climatologists are right, their discovery holds the potential for powerful disruption to life on our planet. Already it may have contributed to many thousands of deaths through drought and famine, and that even the direst predictions about the rate of global warming have been seriously underestimated.’

It gets better. According to this handful of experts (cut from the same cloth as the boffins who, thirty years ago, predicted we would all be taking ski holidays in Fiji when not clouting each other over the head for the last handful of maize), global dimming is a double-edged sword. This sudden bout of planetary mood lighting is bad, they say, but without it things would be a whole lot worse: ‘By allowing less sunlight to reach the Earth, global dimming is cushioning us from the full impact of global warming, climatologists say. They fear that as we burn coal and oil more cleanly, and dimming is reduced, the full effects of global warming will be unleashed.’ In other words, when we’re not making the world hotter, we’re making the world … cooler. We’re damned in both the doing and the don’t-ing, but either way, as the narrator of the BBC’s program on dimming put it in the conclusion, ‘we have to take urgent action to tackle the root cause of both global warming and global dimming - the burning of coal, oil and gas.’

We may have to make very difficult choices about how we live and how we generate our electricity. We have been talking about such things for 20 years. But so far very little has been done in practical terms. The discovery of global dimming makes it clear that we are rapidly running out of time.’

This is the same sort of end-is-nigh apocalyptic language that environmentalists (and their philosophical ancestors) have been preaching for centuries. Malthus told us all to practice some “moral restraint” and stop procreating, lest we all die from mass starvation. Today’s greenies frame the debate in the same moral terms even as journalists and scientists vying for headlines and grant monies out-do each other in trying to freak the public out.

Global dimming is the latest attempt to give some scientific ballast to global warming, which has never borne a lot of close scrutiny.
Indeed, many environmentalists now like to call it ‘climate change’ instead – a deft semantic shift that means just about any freak storm can now be blamed on John Howard and George W. Bush. And it is pretty clear that the science behind dimming is overhyped bunk as well; as Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies put it recently after seeing the BBC documentary, ‘The suggested “doubling” of the rate of warming in the future compared to even the most extreme scenario [is] highly exaggerated. Supposed consequences such as the drying up of the Amazon Basin, melting of Greenland, and a North African climate regime coming to the UK, are simply extrapolations built upon these exaggerations … while these extreme notions might make good television, they do a disservice to the science.’

So what is it that is so attractive about global dimming to its supporters? As with Malthus, the answer is not so much scientific as moral, and an underlying discomfort with modern life and all its trappings. Just look at some of the other rhetoric of radical greens these days: people consume too much, waste too much, products come in too much packaging, our food comes from too far away and all this divorces us from one another and the Earth. But this ignores the fact that all this economic activity is actually good for people and, ultimately, the environment: when I got married four years ago in New York City, for example, New Zealand lamb was the main course. This may horrify some as wasteful, but their outrage ignores the fact that those few dozen plates of lamb, multiplied countless times every day, help pay the wages of hundreds of farmers, abbatoir workers, drivers, pilots, fuelers, mechanics, loading dock workers, chefs, and so on – in other words, the sort of ordinary people whom we are supposed to be more in touch with.

The problem with environmentalists is that, after thirty-plus years, it gets awfully hard to take anything they say seriously. Yes, the outdoors is lovely and nature spectacular, and no one wants their kids to grow up breathing thick and smoggy air – which is why economic development is the key to cleaning up pollution, not relying on a bunch of spurious climate models and a distrust of capitalism. When people are allowed to get rich, they can not only desire a cleaner environment, but do something about it as well.

In the meantime, the environment is too important to be left to environmentalists.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE: Apr 05, AU Edition

Two different fares prove the point that Sydney’s streets can always be dangerous – especially at night

Around 9pm two young blokes in shorts, singlets and barefeet flagged me down on a residential street in Coogee. One had an old fella propped up against a fence. The other opened the cab door and said, ‘Mate, this gentleman has fallen over and hit his head - would you mind taking him home?’ ‘Yeah, righto’, I replied, thinking he was drunk.

In fact he could barely move due to a deformed leg. He also carried a shortened left arm tucked tightly into the body, with a contorted claw fist. The young fellas helped him to the cab, carefully lifting each foot.

‘He’s got money in his wallet’, the Samaritans said, ‘and his address is __ _____ Street. You got that?’. ‘Yeah’, I told them, ‘I’ll get him home’. From then on it felt like a mercy trip. The man was well over 70 years old, in shock and disorientated.

Slowly he came around, checking his pockets and patting the back of his head. ‘You sure you don’t want to go for a check-up at Saint Vincent’s?’, I asked. ‘I’ll be alright’, he said. ‘Just take me home’.

Within fifteen minutes, he freshened up enough to demand we pull over. ‘But you don’t live here’, I said, but he insisted. What could I do? As he was conscious enough to pay the fare, I hopped out and went around to help him. ‘Mate, this ain’t home! What are you getting out here for?’

Eventually he agreed he was in the wrong street.

Climbing back in the cab I drove to his address a few blocks away. We stopped outside a shabby unlit boarding house opposite the Hard Rock Café. As I helped him out onto his feet, my spotlight bathed the back of his head. It was covered in wispy strands of snowy hair, half covered in dried blood. ‘Jeez, mate’, I said, ‘you’ve given your noggin a real crack. There’s a cut and some blood there’.

Despite his proud assurances, I grabbed him under his good arm and we made our way up the dozen steps of his boarding house, gingerly dragging his gammy leg. After fishing around for his key, he opened the door to a gritty darkened corridor. There was no one there for him. But he point-blank refused any further help beyond the door, and thanked me in a strong dignified voice. Five minutes later I returned and drove past to see a light on in the unit directly opposite the front door.

A good result, I thought, and with luck a community nurse will come around and clean up the wound.

Speaking of wounds, in an amazing coincidence a few hours later, I was hailed in the very same block by a tall, barrel-chested bloke, around 30, wearing a sleeveless muscle shirt. I pinned him for a gym jockey. His left arm was heavily wrapped in bandages from the hand to above the elbow. Climbing in he said, ‘It’s just a short trip up to
Oxford Street. My arm’s throbbing too much to walk’.

‘What happened to you?’, I asked. ‘Mate’, he replied, ‘did you read about an attack early last Saturday morning? Back there on William and Bourke Street?’ This was the Ferrari dealer corner, a notorious night-time haunt of hookers and pimps.

According to my passenger, he and his girlfriend were approached by two Persian males and asked for a cigarette. The request was declined, unambiguously. One of the males then allegedly produced a machete and proceeded to attack my passenger about the head.

In defending himself my passenger raised his left forearm and sustained numerous gashes from contact with the blade. These required some 150 stitches to close. Plus he lost 1½ litres of blood.

After resisting the initial attack, he was able to disarm and ‘subdue’ the assailant, whose mate ran off. Five days later, the assailant remains in hospital, facing a possible 20-year jail term.
And he didn’t even get the cigarette. Dope.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at www.cablog.com.au

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBY: Mar 05, AU Edition

The truth may set you free, but when your passengers are on drugs, sob stories get the fare paid

I was working a big hotel in the Eastern Suburbs a few Saturdays ago when three young men and a girl, all skippies in their twenties, approached the cab and asked if I wanted to go up to the Northern Beaches.

Although the fellas were firing on all cylinders, I quickly noted the absence of alcohol odor. That meant only one thing: drugs. I wondered if they had enough for the $70 fare, or if they would run. With half the night’s earnings at stake, one can’t be careless, and I braced myself for the psychological warfare to come. It began quickly when I noticed the lead male muttering something to the girl in the back before calling out, ‘Hey cabbie! Do you ever get women offering you favors for the fare?’ In other words, they were debating whether or not to pay.

‘Nah, never’, I lied, thinking he must be pretty gone.
Then the alpha male got on the phone, ‘Steve-o! Whaddya doin’? I’ve got a gram for ya! Meet us in half an hour’. Then he turned his attention my way: ‘Hey cabbie’, he called. ‘Feel like joining us for a few lines?’

‘Nah, not for me thanks mate,’ I laughed, waving away the offer as we whizzed across the Harbour Bridge, but he wasn’t convinced.

‘Ah, he says “no” but you can see he’s itching for a line. Come on mate, spark up!’

‘Mate’, I called over the thumping music, ‘I’m already sparking on caffeine and nicotine!’

‘Yeah’, he shot back, ‘but wait ‘til ya see this - it’s the best coke in Sydney! Put a real edge on your night’. I just laughed and watched my speed as we shot past a tunnel camera.

‘Even if I wanted to,’ I said, pointing at the discreet interior camera, no bigger than a cigarette pack.

My passengers were chastened for all of five seconds, concluding that if not for the camera, I’d be interested. ‘No worries mate’, they assured me, ‘we’ll talk about it later’. My move had backfired – if I didn’t quickly recover the initiative, I’d lose.

‘Listen’, I told them, killing the music, ‘I’ve been there and done all that. I was once like you guys, partying every weekend. Until my girlfriend got cancer and died. That’s when I said enough...’ It was a total line, but they fell for it.

‘Mate, that’s terrible. We’re sorry for pushing you...’.
Having gained the advantage I moved to consolidate: ‘Nah, that’s okay. But let me tell you, cocaine is just as addictive as heroin. Except you don’t know it until you’re using it everyday...’.

‘Yeah, that’s just like Snowy..’, said one of the boys, quietly.
I continued, seeing I’d hit a nerve: ‘...Next thing you know, you’re 40 years old, looking like 50, with no money and driving cabs...if you’re lucky!’.

We pulled up outside a house in Dee Why with the meter showing $62. From the subdued mood in the cab, I was confident my tale had worked. ‘Anyway, you guys are still young, but don’t waste it. That’ll be $62 plus seven more for the tolls’. They all chipped in and handed me $70 – the full fare, plus a dollar tip.

They made one last attempt to entice me: ‘You sure you won’t come in?’
‘No thanks mate’, I answered, ‘you guys party on, but do it safely, OK?’

‘Yeah, it’s under control mate, it’s all good. Nice meeting you’. Breathing a sigh of relief I drove away wondering if they’d intended to run. One can never be certain in this game.

Read more of Adrian the Cabby at www.cablog.com.au.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

DIARY OF A CABBIE : June 05, AU Edition

Lousy hours, bad tips, the threat of not making a penny – what is it that keeps a cabbie going?

Cab driving is a funny game (to paraphrase a well-worn cliché). Regardless of what mood one starts a shift with, it can instantly change to suit a particular passenger.

On Saturday night I went to work late, tired and dispirited, due to a small personal brush fire. To start some four hours late on a 12-hour shift is largely a pointless exercise. Barely worthwhile. I was resigned to just making my pay-in, gas and dinner money, and little else. Plus the forecast of a quieter-than-average night only served to compound my dejection. I figured I would simply go through the motions.

In keeping with my mood I opted for a dead rank at Ashfield station, rather than head for the City. A young couple approached and immediately I was wary. Why? The girl had given me a friendly wave from some ten metres away. As no one ever does this, my cynicism sprang to the fore. Was I being set up, I wondered, lulled into a false sense of security?

These things ran through my mind as they climbed in the back and started questioning me on my night, my hours, my localities, and so on. ‘No’, I replied, ‘I’ve only just started but I should’ve started at 3 pm. I’m being just lazy tonight’. Jaded as I was, I played the proverbial dead bat to their questions.

It turned out there was no need to worry: she was a local girl and he an Irish/Canadian, and both very much in love. They were happy and drunk on the intoxicating power of new love. It wasn’t long before their friendliness had rubbed off on me and I warmed to their conversation.

So much so, by the time I delivered them to a City hotel, introductions were made and we exchanged handshakes. They were complete strangers when they boarded the cab yet in the space of 20 minutes, we parted company promising to make further contact. This is a big reason I drive cabs. It reminds me that despite my lousy mood, an overwhelming majority of people are innately kind and decent souls. Hence in this game, passenger encounters are frequently positive and sometimes therapeutic.

I explained as much to a woman last night, off to work the graveyard shift at the taxi base. She had inquired why I still drove cabs, when like so many drivers I’d only ever intended it to be a fill-in job. ‘I was seduced’, I replied, ‘as much by the freedom and flexibility of the job as by the positive interaction with passengers’. It certainly wasn’t for the money.

Earlier I had elaborated on the subject with a passenger traveling from the Airport to Kings Cross. He was an Irish comedian on tour of Australia with an international comedy troupe. After traveling all day from rural Victoria he boarded the cab tired and flat. Yet he sparked up when I mentioned my cab stories. ‘Though it’s ironic…’, I laughed. ‘Now I’m making a name for myself, I’m often asked will writing allow me to quit driving. Yet all my content comes from driving!’

Given that both of us worked creatively from social and personal interactions, we swapped stories. Once again, the conversation had commenced in a perfunctory manner only to terminate on a high. He gave me a tip he couldn’t afford and I slipped him a copy of Investigate. After which we both parted with a warm farewell.

There are plenty more stories along these lines from a weekend which threatened to be boring, depressing and a real chore. Sure I’m tired after a long night’s work, but it’s a contented tiredness. Made all the better knowing I have regular readers logging on and keen to read my stories. Without these readers I would simply be talking to a void, working just another job. So it’s g’day to you and goodnight from me.

I thank you all.

Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at www.cablog.com.au

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

TECHNOLOGY: May 05, AU Edition

Television-showroom.jpgMUST-SEE TV
Josephine Cooper reports that Pioneer’s latest plasma TVs are finally living up to the technology’s promise

Plasma screens are the trophy wives of the television world. Seductive in their shiny slimness, deep-pocketed men (often in league with their partners) have been damning the cost and throwing over their old, boxy boob tubes for these new, younger, skinnier models from almost the first day they came on the market.

But that doesn’t mean these new relationships have always been happy: along with the initial entry price, flat-panel plasma units generally require expensive accessories such as tuners to get them out of bed in the morning. What’s more, while they start out as bright young things, the dirty little secret of this wall candy is that they are also subject to burnout: leave it on too long, or with the contrast set too high, and the bright, vibrant colours of the unit’s first heady days start to go drab and fade. Furthermore, from their first day out of the box, plasmas have a problem handling dark colours, especially black, properly: because every gas cell in a plasma unit is on all the time, and because there is no black backdrop as in a standard TV, it takes a lot of power to come close to displaying the dark range of the spectrum properly. Even at the best of times, plasma owners have for years had to live with blotchy being the new black.

Plasmas have what might be called a long memory as well; many users report that just a couple of weeks of watching, say, CNN is enough to burn the network’s logo into the screen for good. (Think of how a bank’s logo and welcome message is always faintly visible in an ATM screen, no matter what is being displayed. Now imagine having spent several thousand dollars for the privilege of that burn-in.) Part of this has been avoidable by keeping contrast set low and the channels flipping during the first few weeks of a unit’s life, when such burn-in is most likely to occur, but until recently, it’s also just been a problem that plasma users have had to either learn to live with or figure out tricks to avoid.

And in what may be the ultimate insult, many plasma buyers are discovering that despite all the money they spent on them, their new loves aren’t really up for a long Sunday afternoon watching sports.

Although manufacturers have been struggling with the problem for years, until recently, most plasma units suffered from all sorts of unpleasant (and unpleasant-sounding) syndromes when they tried to handle fast-motion action of sport, such as jitters and smearing.

Unlike a standard TV, the plasma screen simply can’t keep up with the action, which means that on many units, a flying football or cricket ball will appear like a comet, complete with tail. It can also mean problems with lip-syncing: depending on the quality of image
being fed it, sound doesn’t always keep up with motion, and everyone starts to look like they’re in a poorly-dubbed old Japanese movie.

On the flip side, the good news is that this young technology is great with the kids: plasmas are absolutely tailor-made for digital productions such as Pixar movies, which explains why flicks like Finding Nemo and Toy Story get so much play at the electronics retailers.

It’s all almost enough to make a plasma buyer want to go back, tail between his legs, to his old conventional unit: ‘I want you back. I’m sorry I dallied with that new technology. Remember all the great times we had watching the Ashes together?’

Or, as one online commentator put it recently, ‘Plasma TVs cost a hilarious amount of money, and are ridiculously non-durable. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to my still-good-looking, several-years-old rear projection big screen TV.’

Plasma screen manufacturers have started to realize that they have a real problem, both in terms of the real limitations of their product and, just as if not more important in the tough world of the marketplace, reputation. Makers of plasma units at all price and size levels are all waking up to the fact that they need to either lift their game, or get out of it. Sony, for one, has reportedly decided to withdraw its plasma screens from the market, and Fujitsu has sold half its own plasma business – there were just too many problems.

On the other hand, electronics maker Pioneer has decided to take things in the other direction and break through some of the barriers that have become all too apparent in the flat-panel market and create what might be called next-generation plasma TV. And it seems to be working: their latest models, (the PDP505HD and PDP435HD, coming in at 50 and 43 diagonal inches respectively) received top honours from EISA, the largest editorial multimedia organisation in Europe.

Pioneer has so far succeeded by tackling head-on the biggest problems of plasma TVs thus far. For one thing, the whole issue of colours and skin tones and natural-looking reproduction has been solved through what they call their ‘Advanced Super CLEAR Drive System’: basically, this means that their panels can recreate a ridiculously huge number of colours, 2.79 billion to be exact. This is a huge advantage when it comes to faithfully reproducing colours at the dark end of the spectrum, ensuring that blacks are truly black. Unlike previous plasma units, which were great only for certain limited types of programming (especially those demonstrated at the shop), these are screens that really are good for everyday TV watching.

A second advantage of Pioneer’s new product is that they have ditched the traditional glass panel filter that traditionally sits on the front of plasma units. Because the glass filter often had the annoying side effect of creating multiple reflections between the filter itself and the display unit, Pioneer developed ‘direct colour filter’ technology that not only is crisper (and lighter) than old-fashioned glass panels, but also improves contrast, making images clearer in bright locations.

One more thing that Pioneer has done right: They’ve recognized that there are more places for a flat-panel unit to go then just on a wall, and as such have come up with a pretty schmick-looking stand to hold the thing. Free speakers are a nice extra touch, too, even though the recommended retail price of the two units have just dropped by a thousand dollars a piece – the 43-inch model clocks in at $6,999, while the top-end 50-incher will set you back $8,999.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

LEFT HOOK: Nov 05, AU Edition

Schools can play a bigger role promoting democratic values

The last 30 days or so have seen Australians come to grips with a diverse range of challenging images. We have been traumatised by scenes of bomb victims in Bali and intrigued by reports of asylum seekers recanting core claims. University students demand change and industrial relations debates create new coalitions of interest amongst old enemies. Claims that non-compulsory voting is bad for our civil society contrast with champions of choice seeking freedom in social behaviour or consumer purchase.

It is no wonder that most primary school children I talk to, and I have visited an awful lot of schools for my work, are bemused by the idea of democracy. They seem to think it is a ‘good’ but are unsure what it entails.

The Constitution Education Fund – Australia, CEFA for short, has gone to the trouble of researching the ‘five pillars of Australian democracy’ for the purpose of getting primary school aged kids excited about this thing called Australian democracy. The research has come back and the results are clear: neither fashionable words like ‘multiculturalism’ or conflict-orientated ideas like ‘class struggle’ mean anything to today’s youth.

What young Australians aged 10 or 11, from the 350 student sample involved in our pilot programs this year, seem to identify with democratic values are both obvious and simplistically sensational. They talk about ‘rules’ and ‘laws’ in the same breath as they discuss what their parents talk about regarding the evening television news.
Rights and responsibilities are ‘cool’, whereas dopey adults with ideas about changing the world are suspect unless or until they gain young Australians trust. Traditions are a fluid concept: a girl with a Greek surname is just as likely to be into Scottish Highland dancing as the boy with the Chinese surname is to be into surfing.

In 2004 a study commissioned by the government found some interesting things: only about 45 percent of 17-year-olds intend to register to vote, whereas about 85% of 18-year-olds would vote if enrolled. Less than 60 percent of young adults believe that they have the knowledge to understand political issues and only about 41% of female first-time voters say they have the knowledge to make decisions when voting.

The top sources of information that young people declare they trust about voting or elections are parents, the media, and school teachers. Religious groups and the internet fall at the lower end of the scale.
When asked if people in government can be trusted to do the right thing about half of 18 year olds agreed. When asked if the people running government are smart or clever, ‘yes’ answers fell to around 35%.

What these and other sources say to me is that the five pillars of democracy are: the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, federal power sharing, rights and responsibilities, traditions and opportunities. They are not foreign to what older Australians understood from their schooling.

If teachers and the school experience are so critical to students, what are we doing as a society to make their transition to adult political life worthwhile, effective and smart? These questions are being examined around the country today. The answers to these challenges may shape the effectiveness of our responses to terror, trauma and tedious global economics.

Noel Hadjimichael is Director of the Governor-General’s Prize Program. More information about CEFA can be found at www.cefa.org.au.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

MUSIC: Apr 05, AU Edition

Chemical Brothers’ new dance album starts out slow,
plus, it’s a spice world – we’re still living in it

EB_FM.jpgEmma Bunton
“Free Me”, 19
2 stars

Does the world really need a new Spice Girls? Of course! Then thank the “reality” TV gods for Girls Aloud, five saucy femmes brought together in 2002 by the British show Popstars: The Rivals. Their second album, What Will the Neighbours Say? is everything prefab pop should be: fun, cheesy and, of course, maddeningly infectious. Songs such as “The Show” and “Thank Me Daddy” channel the giddiness of teen-age lust and rebellion through sleek, jittery dance beats. The cover of the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You” is pure slow-dance-at-the-prom schlock.

As they yearn for the same bad boys they insult for playing too rough, Girls Aloud exude PG-rated sexiness and grade-school feminism – an irresistible combination, as anyone who ever sang along to “Wannabe” knows.

What the world doesn’t need is the old Spice Girls, if Free Me, the second solo album by ex - “Baby Spice” Emma Bunton, is any indication.
Seemingly aiming for a more “mature” audience, Bunton coos wispy pledges of love over breezy soft pop that’s as pleasant as an afternoon spent sunbathing on the beach, and just as boring. The gently pulsating “Maybe” and “Breathing,” as well as her cover of Marcos Valle’s “Crickets Sing for Anamaria,” indicate that Bunton and her collaborators have been listening to a lot of bossa nova, but her expressionless voice makes you yearn for Astrud Gilberto. It all sounds flat, lifeless, and in desperate need of – dare I say it? – spice.
Reviewed by Amy Phillips

chemical_bros_pushbutton.jpgThe Chemical Brothers
“Push the Button”, Astralwerks
3 stars

It’s hard work to stay at the top of a field as mercilessly mutating as dance music. And “Galvanize,” the first track on the Chemical Brothers’ fifth full-length, suggests that, eight years after their mainstream breakthrough, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons might finally be ready for the cut-out bin.

“A Tribe Called Quest’s Q Tip” delivers a dull, witless rap over a relentlessly repetitive 6-minute big-beat groove that fails to get the party started.

So skip it. And don’t worry: They may not be innovating anymore, but the Brothers still know how to work it out. Because starting with “The Boxer,” a stuttering groove with vocals by Tim Burgess of Charlatans U.K., and the thumping “Believe,” with Kele Okereke of Bloc Party, Rowlands and Simons get back on track.

Stepping into the role usually reserved for Beth Orton, Anna-Lynne Williams does the ethereal female vocal turn on “Hold Tight London,” which starts in the chill-out room, then makes its move to the dance floor.

The Brothers would do well to note that Button’s finest creation, the elegantly paced closer, “Surface to Air,” takes care of its trippy, ecstatic business without the distraction of a guest vocalist.
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

Feb 05

Residents accuse their council of dirt tricks

Four years ago New Plymouth District Council, in a joint venture with private enterprise, closed their six year old, pollution-causing transfer station at the city’s landfill and built a new one, just down the road. Residents nearby called it a cover up, to spread the dump operation either side of them, without consultation. This is the story of the Colson Road Landfill, as NEILL HUNTER reports.

Stories abound about landfills yet here is more to this one than just another ‘dump story’, it is about power-players, manoeuvrings, fairness, and pollution. New Plymouth has had more than its fair share of controversy lately with health scares over dioxin, controversy at nearby Waitara, and recently: a dodgy power company deal. Yet ask anyone living in the region and they will extol the virtues. At New Plymouth journalism school experts lectured students about the area’s uniqueness: the cleanest air in the southern hemisphere, exceptional natural water reservoirs, snow and surf less than an hour apart.
On a nearby snow-caked mountain the multitude of rivers, streams and creeks spread like a never ending cobweb of crystal clear veins, beyond the ring plain. The quality of these waterways, near a landfill on Colson Rd, is Taranaki Regional Council’s (TRC) responsibility. Rate payers next to the landfill, are New Plymouth District Council’s (NPDC) responsibility, which is how this story begins and ends, with neighbours, and water.

Research for the story began in 2001 and ranged from Whangarei to Christchurch. It confirmed that New Plymouth wasn’t alone in ‘bad tip’ history. Councils break rules. A recent investigation for example by Waikato Times journalist Simon O’Rourke exposed multiple compliance breaches by councils in his region.

Originally designated a refuse site in 1974, New Plymouth’s landfill is situated in 8.5 hectares of rural valley, near the suburbs of Fitzroy and Glen Avon, nestled amongst farmland and streams about 4km from the city centre. Access is via the quiet rural lane of Colson Rd, barely one kilometre long and bearing no hint of controversy. Zoned both industrial and rural, Colson Rd has some nine immediate dump neighbours. Among the inhabitants are a small ostrich farm, plant nursery and domestic residences. The notion that there is a landfill here could escape the visitor, were it not for the odd sign. Certainly that was the impression this journalist formed on a first visit, wondering, was this the wrong road to the dump? At the end, before the trees which hide the dump from view, the RSPCA have their sanctuary for the lost, injured and abused. In 2001 the neighbours counted themselves as abused, after a new transfer station got added to their quiet rural sanctuary but, unlike the animals, they could only run to the people both charged with their care, and at the centre of the abuse. And in 2004, abuse of Taranaki’s clean water, got a little bit worse.

But first, a little history. Cut to 1996 and an Environment Court Judge told New Plymouth District Council to be more realistic towards its neighbours and on page eight of the judge’s decision, said “get approval first”. Neighbourly relations, approval, such small things.
The tenacious battler who once led the fight to improve things for the neighbours is small in stature – Kathy Lovell describes herself as ‘five foot nothing,’ then hands over a box. “Here, you can have my whole file. I won’t be needing it.” The teacher was relinquishing everything she had fought for, over a landfill. While ostriches walked nonchalantly about her farm, a warm wintry sun shone on a rustic, timber home built by Kathy and her partner, from timber they milled themselves in this quiet place. No hint of the rumblings of machinery in a landfill next door, or of discontent.

Kathy Lovell is an athlete. The 47 year old winner of countless marathons, national kayaking events, to name a few, when first interviewed was about to leave for Malaysia’s ‘new airport city’ to teach Asians English and sport.

And so began a long investigation, of laborious hours examining documents from a cardboard box, searching mounds of files in council offices, attempts to get more by Official Information Act, and countless interviews, all for the sake of a small story, about the small things, at Colson Rd.

In 1999, the Environment Court moved to protect things small around New Plymouth’s landfill, especially the neighbours, the “sacrificial lambs”. Operations at Colson Rd Landfill, as it is officially titled, should be strictly controlled,the court said. “We accept the landfill is now under the control of the council (previously under control of a contractor) but we are still extremely concerned that after the 1987 hearing the council still appears prepared to operate the tip with financial expenditure considerations to the forefront and the environmental concerns of the neighbours subservient to the economic pressure of ratepayers. We make it clear that if the council wishes to operate a landfill in proximity to neighbours then those neighbours are not to become the sacrificial lamb to the ratepayer population in general.”Records showed the old tip was plagued with problems: “Colson landfill has had a chequered history….operation has from time to time infringed conditions of consent…concern with recent operations of the landfill caused by inexperienced landfill contractors…we record without any hesitation that the City Council cannot expect neighbours to suffer the effects of a learning curve if that results in environmental degradation….affected by slack landfill management…”
To be fair, the council did dispense with a contractor at the tip who was being blamed for problems. But, that did not satisfy the court with its aforementioned warning about putting “financial expenditure considerations to the forefront and the environmental concerns of neighbours subservient to the economic pressure of ratepayers…”

“We are perfectly satisfied from the evidence,” continued the court, “…the number of incidents were greatly in excess of those recorded. …The question of poor historical management and construction practices certainly have put the tribunal on alert …We accept that the council have not been able to control flying rubbish, gases, or dust…
One aspect which appears difficult to control is the question of odour, particularly in the evenings where there may be temperature inversions…”

In March 1999 a frustrated Environment Court stated in key words: “the airing of concerns of the neighbours to the Colson Rd landfill and to ensure that the landfill’s neighbours are kept abreast of the development of the landfill site…” In other words, liaise with your neighbours. Subsequently NPDC took the initiative and established the Landfill Liaison Committee. It was more than a name. It formed an integral part of a much greater process, including a management plan. In 1999 an application by the council to change the landfill operation included conditions relating to community liaison. The committee was required to meet at least every two months.

The management plan emphasised a co-operative approach. Other documents examined on council files also referred to the plan. One said: the ‘Plan forms the bottom line.’ But like the bottom of an old transfer station, best laid plans leak, and the victims here were the little stream called the Puremu, beside the landfill, and the neighbours. But, like the Puremu’s once pristine waters, the council’s track record of keeping its neighbours informed became a little muddy. During an important period when liaison should have worked, the liaison group minutes were not distributed. This at a time of apparent behind the scenes activity over the then secret, proposed new transfer station site. The council blamed the neighbours’ representatives on the committee, who may or may not have heard what council staff were saying, and did not ask the right questions. That was one perspective. To those most affected by the station’s location, not sending out the minutes was like rubbing leachate into the wound. Things became septic. The council apologised and said it was due to staff shortages, the minutes were only sent to those who wanted them. That was contrary to rules. All the neighbours were supposed to receive the minutes.
Then, when no meetings at all were held, or called, like snow on a spring Mt Taranaki, the council’s defence began to melt. During another critical part of the process, there was a huge gap of six months between the normal two-monthly meetings.

DUMP_P74.jpgEnter the woman unafraid of challenges, or their size, who began to fight. Kathy Lovell fired her first salvo at the frequency of the meetings: “They seem to stretch it out four or five months apart.” She alleged that this was to lay a smoke screen over the issue of the transfer station location. Then in a meeting in February 2001 it “was absolutely glossed over.” She says that by the time the mayor was about to sign the contract for the station it was a done deal and none of the residents knew about it. Colson Road was never discussed or considered as a location. On the last day of February 2001, Lovell wrote to the mayor complaining that the location of the proposed transfer station was never mentioned except as being on the landfill itself. There was no reply. Lovell conceded there was also talk of another site but that was completely remote, at another, remote, industrial zone.

The liaison group’s role was clear. In July 1999 NPDC had circulated the group’s main functions: “Disseminate information concerning the operations and the proposed development of the landfill, to hear concerns of residents and to discuss ways of alleviating those concerns…The subjects discussed by the committee will be those matters that are of interest to local people and interested parties.” Those were good intentions, but when it came to its first real test, the good intentions decomposed under the heat of big business interests and ‘commercial sensitivity,’ over a new transfer station site.

It is one thing keeping your neighbours informed, it is another not to do it on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity”, a one-phrase-fits-all. That was the reason, the council said, they could not tell their neighbours they were going to move a transfer station from inside the landfill, to the other side of the neighbours. Most believed that a new station was going to be built on another part of the landfill. They had good reason. A search of NPDC records showed a consultants plan for a new station well inside the landfill. So when NPDC finalised a deal for a new station beside the neighbours without consulting them, there was pandemonium. Public meetings and protests ensured, with ugly scenes of abuse against council staff. Local media went front page with a lead story and pictures of angry neighbours. But no investigation and when this journalist began enquiring, veiled intimidation followed from council staff, such as: ‘I suggest you get legal opinion before you make any allegations in that area and I’d get a specialist planning lawyer as well…neighbours are complaining about your enquiries…” and this pearl: “he’s a sh** stirrer.”

The council tried to pacify with “commercial sensitivity,” and the successful tenderer’s “need for confidentiality.” The tenderers had selected the site, said the council and if other tenderers had got wind of the strategically important location, next to rail yards and a possible future rubbish transporter (rail), their position could have been compromised.

Tranz Rail owned the land where the site was located.
Lovell: ‘A while back there was talk about railroading the waste to Hamilton. They are in a pretty good position to do that.’ She accused the council of conveniently using ‘commercial sensitivity’. The council said it wasn’t up to them to specify where the station should be built. It was entirely over to the tenderers. Theoretically it could be built anywhere in New Plymouth, the choice was up to the tenderers.

Let’s examine that: For years the old landfill operated without any transfer station. People simply turned up and dumped their rubbish at the tip face. Neil Fagan, New Plymouth District Council’s management services engineer puts it succinctly: “Previously it was dig a hole and put stuff into it and make sure someone shoots the rats.”

Then the council built their first transfer station at the landfill, just inside the gate. As transfer stations went, it was ugly. In fact to those accustomed to places where you pull up and off load into bins, gleefully smash bottles into appropriate receptacles amid self doubts of green or brown glass, throw cardboard onto overfilled containers then move on to other Saturday ventures, it was disappointing. In 2000 this journalist proudly took his first load of rubbish to the New Plymouth dump and had a transfer station experience. Long before any controversy, I broke the dump rules by merrily driving straight past the so called transfer station, followed a dirty dusty road up and over a hill and dumped my refuse at a tip face. Upon returning I noticed a place for recyclables, stopped and off loaded empties. A dump guy approached and said, ‘first time here?’ ‘Yep,’ I replied. Then he politely and patiently explained the rules. I stared blankly, between him, a hole in the ground, and a jumble yard, he called a transfer station.

I watched those who didn’t need polite instruction, deposit their rubbish into the trench in the ground and throw their empties into an assortment of messy cages, bins, and old containers. I was expertly told that at the end of the day, the refuse in the hole would be scooped out and taken to the tip face. All this, for a city’s refuse.

The point however, was not the quality of the six year old transfer station, but the fact that it formed an integral part of the dump operation, as ordered by the environment court, and that it was within the dump boundary. The council’s own plans, as well as Resource Management Act (RMA) application documentation showed the location: inside the landfill. The council defence to this apparent sleight of hand: The documents were like any other permit, anybody applying to build something was not compelled to proceed. If the council decided to build it on railways land, near the neighbours, where no permit was required, that was council’s choice. The suggestion here: the permit issue related not to building standards, but environment issues, including nuisance. Enter Taranaki Regional Council (TRC).

In March 2001 TRC wrote to Kathy Lovell, saying no permit was needed provided there was no dust, noxious or toxic levels of airborne contaminants. Was that the same as saying, ‘you don’t need a permit to build a house unless it might fall over?’ Choice was a privilege the council seemed to enjoy, and the neighbours lacked.

Enter Manawatu Waste. They operated a transfer station in Palmerston North, were experienced players in waste management, and they knew how to tickle the taste buds of the council. As tenderers they selected a proposed site, part of railways land on the other side of the neighbours. When NPDC heard of the idea, they were ecstatic. Neil Fagan said he wished that he had been able to grab the railway site for council’s own purposes. So they did. They bought the site lease.

The deal became one where Manawatu Waste leased the whole operation off the council. The wheels of big business went into top gear, all to the ignorance of the neighbours. Lovell believed the railways deal may have even been signed a lot earlier, “the guy from the railways was overseas,’ she said.

The defence of commercial sensitivity appeared to crumble further when the council entered the arena of literally buying up the whole proposal, lock stock and barrel, leasing the railways land, paying for and owning the station then leasing it all back to private enterprise. Further more it smacked of back room deals at the expense of court imposed neighbourly relations.

Questions also arose over whether or not the council appeared to be calling tenders for the construction of a business (transfer station) then helping the successful tenderer set up that business by becoming the leaseholder. Kathy Lovell claims the council effectively subsidised Manawatu Waste to set up business. Another source, already involved in transfer stations, said the council didn’t pay them to set up their business. “The council paid for it (new transfer station) before it was set up,” The source said of Manawatu Waste’s proposal. “If you want to start a business, is the council going to pay for the land and the buildings and set it all up for you?” NPDC deny any wrong doing. They say they did everything they could to inform the neighbours, once commercial sensitivity was over. A town planner also said New Plymouth District Council did not need permission legally for the transfer station, but chose to include the public anyway. Well, seemed someone forgot to explain the term inclusion, to the neighbours.

Lovell points to the arrogance of the council whom she says tried to claim credit for setting up a public meeting once the location was divulged. “I phoned around all the residents to see if they had heard anything (about the location). I rang up Neil Fagan and he said ‘sounds like I need to do some damage control here, perhaps I should call a meeting.’ ” She says if she hadn’t “called around the residents there would never have been a meeting.”

The council says it was a balancing act between being good neighbours and trying to keep everyone happy. That seemed to ring hollow when one council staffer said: ‘why should the rest of New Plymouth suffer because of a few?’ An environment court had earlier disagreed, referring to the need to prevent the neighbours from becoming scapegoats. “Sacrificial lamb” was another term used. Sacrifice: often a small burnt offering. The ancient Hebrews sometimes did it after a victory. Once, someone small won a battle, a shepherd boy named David. When he felled Goliath with a single stone to the head, the giant stayed down, and out. Then again David had it easy. One fight, done. Kathy Lovell’s giant went down but her battle was far from over, the giant kept getting back up.

She points to the fact the council were heavily criticised by the courts over their handling of previous landfill cases. “They got their hands well and truly smacked over their dealings with us, by the Environment Court the last time. We were not to be made a scapegoat.” She quotes the courts again: “Judge Treadwell says, ‘the question of whether an extension to the destination is contrary to actual assurances given to residents when the landfill was originally established is of concern to this tribunal.’ ”Given this track record of scathing court commentary, small wonder the neighbours cried foul, at the explanation of “commercial sensitivity.”

DUMP_P78.jpgAllegations of a cover up by council to get their new transfer station with as little fuss as possible seemed to take on substance in the face of a statement from anonymous sources. They saw contract documents early in the process and alleged the contract for the new transfer station was virtually a done deal, before the council were forced to tell its neighbours. “I rang the council and they said no plans had been submitted to anybody, yet that same morning there were plans out for pricing for the transfer station.” They spoke to council staff and asked if any plans had been submitted and were told, “ ‘oh no, no.’ So I said why are their plans at my place of work for pricing?” He said ‘who are they for?’ I said X, and there was silence on the end of the phone. Obviously I had tripped him up.”

They thought it was deception by NPDC “because in the original draft for Colson Rd Landfill the transfer station was going to go up at the landfill. Instead of car traffic we are going to get truck traffic. Just imagine the price of our property, will be worth nothing.” The council denied any intent to deceive.

Time to examine more closely the time line leading to the station’s site selection. The history as far as the liaison group is concerned is this: In June 2000, the contractor for the new station was selected. There was no mention of a site to the liaison group; no further details were given to the group, which begs the question: why was it still commercially sensitive if the contractor had already been
selected? The lease for the new transfer station deal had not been signed. Contractor selected, but no site. In September 2000 the liaison group met and there was mention of difficulties about signing a lease arrangement. The significance of this was lost on the neighbour’s delegates. Three months after selecting the contractor, the location surely was no longer commercially sensitive. Still details were withheld. Why? The people at railways, required to sign the lease, were unavailable. And of course once the lease is signed it is a done deal. The council wanted the site secured before they alerted their neighbours to the location.

At the September 2000 meeting, there was no mention of which lease or where. Nothing to alert the very people that the council is charged to liaise with. Certainly there was nothing to suggest a new transfer station being built ‘next door’ or splitting the dump operation into straddling the neighbours.

NPDC seemed to adopt an inclusion policy only when convenient. For example, April 1999, they wrote to the neighbours: “Dear neighbour, Transfer Station Near Main Gate. …it is possible to vary the resource consent without formal hearings if the written consent given by …” Here they were happy to include the neighbours in an operational matter (for the previous transfer station), but not in 2000.

On 22 February 2001 “commercial sensitivity” ended. The council, at a liaison group meeting, announced that the tenderer for the new transfer station had identified the site, explaining that the tenderer did not want to tell anyone about the location until agreement was reached on the site land. The land, that is, leased by the council.

Were the neighbours lulled into apathy? They seemed to drift into accepting that the dump operation was going to change by virtue of the transfer station possibly being built in another area, outside the landfill, or so some thought. But, it wasn’t until it was ‘next door’ that reality hit. So what? If some had accepted that a new transfer station was going to be built outside the landfill anyway, did it matter where it was going to be built? Therein lies another story about noise, traffic, litter, dust and other nuisances, too much for one story. Perhaps it depended upon definition. Were landfills and transfer stations both dumps? Not so on both counts said NPDC. Dumps once came under Health authorities but now those authorities are only involved in waste if it is collected and disposed. Transfer stations do not need to be licensed under the Health Act because they do not “collect and dispose.” You read correctly. A transfer station is not an offensive trade under the Health Act, because it does not collect and dispose waste. Certainly the station receives waste but that is different from collecting it. Certainly it then transfers it to a landfill, but that is different from disposing of it.

And permits? Well, NPDC are police, judge and jury. The new transfer station was outside the landfill, no permit required. Why? Because it is all a question of town planning zones, two– rural and industrial, and the twain shall meet, at Colson Rd. In planning jargon the place is called: interface. Here, the mystery for the neighbours both deepens, yet sheds light. The new transfer station is in the industrial zone and transfers refuse to the landfill - in the rural zone. Between the two, for a half km, are the neighbours, at the interface. And it is a case of what comes out must not go in. NPDC’s engineer Neil Fagan saw no problem over planning rules. The new station is in the industrial zone, with fewer rules than where it was previously, at the landfill which is rural and falls under the Resource Management Act. For example there was no rule regarding traffic. In rural zone, things like management plans and all manner of rules, including: consultation, abound. A transfer station outside the landfill and beyond the rural zone was not so shackled. Or so it would seem.

When we spoke, Fagan agreed that where something was built on a boundary between two zones, “the rules are slightly changed.” He said that the effect outside the boundary could only be the effect that it was allowed in the zone outside. For example, “the noise in an industrial zone must be reduced by the time it reaches the next zone.”
Ralph Broad, senior planner for NPDC, with 30 years experience, says the issues between the two zones are not simple. But he agrees on one thing, the link between the transfer station and the landfill was like an umbilical cord. And nobody could deny that in its embryo stage, the station would belong to the landfill, owed its birth to the landfill, and the baby could not survive without it, without being breast fed by a mother of a landfill. Unlike the newborn, this baby needed to keep its cord, the only cut would be to an opening ceremony ribbon. To suggest it was not bound to the landfill rules was perhaps suggesting the newborn infant was not linked to its mother, or parental rules. Without the rules, would the other kids on the block (the residents) get hurt?

At the beginning of this story, there was a reference to water and during the investigation, among the vast array of documentation, were found technical reports by TRC. And “technical” they were. Reading them was torture but the pain was nothing compared to the damage done to the small stream, by an old transfer station, called the Puremu,. Many years ago a biologist for the Taranaki Regional Council carrying out a routine examination of the Puremu discovered zinc and ammoniac traces. Mystified he went searching. The source was found: leachate.

Consequently the council essentially were ordered to build a new transfer station on the existing site of the landfill, within 18 months. This was the previous transfer station, completed in 1994. It had to be a full transfer station operation. It wasn’t, it was a pit, dug into the ground, near the landfill gate as described earlier. Only the ground was not what it seemed. The ground was old refuse. And old refuse was where the monster they call leachate lived and every time refuse was dug out of the pit, leachate was disturbed. And leachate has only one way to go: down, into the Puremu again.

TRC hierarchy denied during interviewing that the Puremu was poisoned. A slightly agitated senior TRC engineer emphatically refuted the suggestion. You decide. Here is the exact wording: “…the most notable of which was the continuing contamination of the Puremu Stream by leachate contaminated ground water flow.”

In 1994, an application by the NPDC under the RMA, for changes and discharges at the landfill said the Puremu would not be affected. A 1997-98 report said the stream was fine. A 98-99 report said it wasn’t and in 2000, it was contaminated by leachate.

And near the end of the TRC report “executive summary,” it said: “…source of the contamination is to be removed with the closure of the on site refuse tipping pit” — the old (1994) transfer station. There was no proof that both councils were in collusion. No proof, that the reason for the new transfer station to be built outside the landfill boundary was because, having poisoned the Puremu with the old transfer station, NPDC were breaking the law. Like a child caught raiding the cookie jar, quietly putting the lid back on, they ran out the gate and built a new one, beside the neighbours. Water can be synonymous with peace, which is all one neighbour wanted. Poignant words were found on one of many forms filled in by the neighbours: “The only quiet days of the year,” …they were words written in upper case by a Mr ‘R Philp,’ with a solid writing hand. His words were in reply to NPDC intentions (before the transfer station issue) of extending the landfill operating hours on holidays and weekends. Compared to comments written by other neighbours, Philp wrote in a short, simple style. Others wrote long, with explanations, of facts and reason. But not Russell Philp. His took up one line. Perhaps it was written on one of his only quiet days, taking time to fill in a yet another form. His words somehow resonated. Russell Philp said all he needed to say. Then he died a short time later, casualty of a work accident.

It is no accident that the tip face at Colson Rd keeps growing and expanding. Like lava spewing from a Taranaki mountain in a bygone era, consuming and cutting deeply everything in its path, forging a
new landscape. But like a passing volcanic era where life forms, flora and fauna replacing red rock and hissing sulphur, perhaps the land now enveloped by waste at Colson Rd will become scenic. How much fire, brimstone and the gnashing of teeth will continue, is anyone’s guess.I called at the brand new transfer station back in 2001, just before leaving town. There was much fanfare over its opening. All was shiny and new, new machines, new staff, people taking an interest. There were even staff showing visitors around and explaining how to use a new transfer station. The staff were vibrant, animated and enthusiastic. Someone almost ran up to me, to help unload my rubbish. This was service, with a smile.

I wandered around and was almost embraced again, by someone who seemed to be in charge this time, who led me around and explained things, eagerly.

Then he moved off, to operate one of the new machines, a natty little digger scampering around, the new dumping bay, a long shallow concrete affair. At the end was a huge concrete pit where a truck waited, below ground level. The natty wee digger was racing around again scooping up refuse and shovelling it off the edge of the bay, into the truck below. Men cheerfully smiled at me again and soon they were all off in the truck to take a load to the landfill.

I looked down into the concrete pit, below ground level, from where the truck had emerged. The clean, new concrete surfaces were already filling with remnants of litter, spilling from the bay above, some dropping between the lip and the top of the truck before it departed. And it was also finding its way into a large drain hole, at the bottom of the truck pit. Through the hole I could see the clear running water, of a stream.

Since leaving New Plymouth I have returned a number of times and usually I highlight it with a trip to the now, not so new, transfer station. Things have changed, since those mad heady, public relations filled days. The staff no longer beam happily at the visitor and nobody helps me unload. Things are looking more untidy with each visit, this is a place getting used, a lot. It is after all, a large city refuse transfer station. And it has been operating now, for more than four years.

The truck pit has become a very dirty, grimy, littered affair. The drain hole at the bottom is cluttered now, with rubbish. It’s hard to see the little stream, at the bottom of the pit with its long angulated, concrete ramp running down from the work area above, like a giant sluice, for the truck to climb out, with each new full load of rubbish.

I wonder if the council will fit a little fish emblem, at the bottom of the pit, at the end of the ramp, beside the drain hole, over the little stream, at a city refuse transfer station.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

DVDs: Sep 05, AU Edition

James Fletcher reports on the latest home-viewing offerings

DVD_ALFslickthumb.jpgA Loving Father
Rated: M
4 stars

Director Jacob Berger, son of well known English writer John Berger, isn’t a man afraid of presenting himself as a target within the subtext of his own films. A Loving Father, or Aime Ton Pere for the traditionalists, is a prime example centering on the emotional turmoil of a son trying to connect with a father isolated by fame. But what makes this film remarkable are the confronting performances he draws from his two lead actors, Gerard Depardieu and his own real-life son Guillaume Depardieu, who have their own dark history inspiring their on-screen conflict.

Gerard plays Leo, a cruel self-absorbed writer who receives news that he is to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Against the wishes of his daughter Virginia, played with nervous intensity by waif like actress Sylvie Testud, Leo sets out on a motorcycle journey across Europe to claim his prize. However his son Paul (Guillaume), fresh out of rehab and having heard the news, attempts to reconnect with the man he hasn’t spoken to in years. Of course things don’t go as planned and Paul finds himself kidnapping his renowned father after a fatal accident leaves the literary world, including his sister Virginia, believing Leo to be dead.

Part thriller, part black comedy and part biopic, Berger infuses the script with all his insecurities, angst and obsession while manipulating Gerard and Guillaume’s flawed relationship (which culminated with Gerard publicly disowning his son a year after the films release) to achieve a captivating honesty that saves the film from becoming over indulgent or satirical.

Now on DVD with English subtitles, A Loving Father has little in the way of extra material with biographies on the main cast offering some interesting background facts on the Depardieus’ murky past. However, the stunning performances and obvious emotional investment allows Berger to deliver a brave and entertaining film which explores the darker side of family dysfunction.

DVD_JWTRSslickthumb.jpgJonny Wilkinson: The Real Story
Rated: Exempt
3 stars

With the Tri Nations and the Bledisloe Cup fueling the 2005 Rugby season at the moment, it’s not surprising that Jonny Wilkinson: The Real Story makes its way to DVD this month. What is surprising is just how well made and enjoyable this profile of the Lions’ & Newcastle Falcon’s fly half actually is.

Since scoring the winning goal in the 2003 World Cup against Australia, Jonny Wilkinson has become synonymous with international Rugby, gaining fame well beyond the usual fraternity of sports fans. But for the most part, Wil- kinson has avoided the public eye, doing only the occasional media interview or product endorsement.

Having followed Wilkin- son around over a twelve week period in the lead up to the 2003 World cup, The Real Story delivers an entertaining, humourous and surprisingly intimate profile of the sporting icon which thankfully transcends the run-of-the-mill films typical of sports documentaries. Complementing archival footage of Jonny playing in the under-8s league with hard hitting action from international competition, director Simon Niblett also uses to great effect interviews with Wilkinson’s parents, girlfriend and peers including former Lions captain Will Carling and rugby fan Ian Botham filmed exclusively for the documentary.

However it’s the interviews with Wilkinson himself that establish the core of the show, filmed in candid and unpredictable locations around the UK and on tour, and all designed to capture honest, unrehearsed responses. The result reveals a surprisingly likable and sincere man deftly balancing a professional, sporting and private life with a determined ease befitting a much more seasoned player.

Running just short of an hour with no bonus material, Jonny Wilkison: The Real Story easily stands on its own merits as a simple