March 10, 2008

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

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:18 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)

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: 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: 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)

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)

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)

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)


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)

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)

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

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

SCIENCE: Nov 05, AU Edition

New research says that earthquakes may be contagious, reports Sandi Doughton

Geologists used to answer with an emphatic “No” when asked if mega-earthquakes like the one that hit Southeast Asia last December can trigger temblors on the other side of the globe. Today, some experts are not so sure.

Evidence is mounting that large earthquakes can rattle geologic formations thousands of kilometres away – and perhaps even set off volcanic eruptions days, months or years later.

There’s also an intriguing hint that major earthquakes might occur in clusters: Nearly a third of the biggest quakes of the past century struck during a 20-year span between 1950 and 1970.

After three decades of relative quiet, two massive quakes came in quick succession late last year: the magnitude 9 in Sumatra and a little-noticed magnitude 8.1 off the coast of New Zealand three days earlier.

Do monster earthquakes beget more monster earthquakes? Could the two recent events signal the start of a new destructive cycle? And is it possible the Sumatran quake jolted other geologic plates enough to hasten the day when they let loose, unleashing what geologists predict will be comparable catastrophes? No one knows the answers to the first two questions, which are hot topics of research and scholarly debate.
But scientists are fairly certain people don’t have any more to worry about now than they did six months ago.

“I would venture to say there’s a minimal effect, if any at all, on our region from the Sumatra earthquake”, comments Herb Dragert, a research scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, surveying the seismic risks on his side of the Pacific.

Dragert and his American counterparts operate a network of GPS sensors throughout the region. The instruments can detect even slight movements of land masses, reflecting changes in the amount of stress at the Cascadia subduction zone – a 900-kilometre-long offshore region where the ocean floor is diving under the continental plate.

The measurements show no troublesome blips as a result of the Sumatran quake, Dragert says.

“If we suddenly had a very large earthquake in Alaska, which is much closer, and I saw displacement in my GPS instruments, then I would begin to worry.”

However, there could be ample cause for concern around Indonesia. When the undersea plates there snapped apart, triggering the earthquake, the dislocation almost certainly increased stress and strain on adjacent geologic faults and plate boundaries. Geologists call the pheno- menon “contagion” because it raises the odds of subsequent earthquakes like an influx of germs raises the risk of infection.
“It’s very expected and quite dangerous”, explains Brian Atwater, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher stationed at the University of Washington. “It gives a certain sense of urgency to efforts to get a warning system going around the Indian Ocean.”

Scientists have long known about the contagion effect, which can extend for 100 miles or so from the epicenter of a major quake. It’s the phenomenon that’s responsible for the aftershocks that follow many major quakes.

But most experts were stunned in 1992 when a magnitude-7.2 quake struck the Mojave Desert in Southern California and was almost immediately followed by more than a dozen quakes as far away as Wyoming. A similar thing happened in 2002, when a magnitude-7.9 earthquake in Denali, Alaska, triggered earthquakes and rearranged the plumbing of geyser fields in Yellowstone National Park – 3,000 kilometres away. The same event spawned a couple of small earthquakes under Mount Rainier and set up sloshing waves that swamped houseboats on Lake Union in Seattle and Lake Pontcha- rtrain in Louisiana.

“As people around the world look more carefully, they’re seeing more examples of this kind of (long-distance) effect”, says David Hill, a USGS geophysicist stationed at Menlo Park, California. “At this point there’s really no doubt that it happens.”

Generally, the triggered earthquakes are smaller than the original, though there’s no reason to believe that larger earthquakes couldn’t be kicked off this way as well, says Hiroo Kanamori, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology.

The effect seems to be caused by seismic waves that radiate out from the epicenter of an earthquake, along the surface of the ground. Imperceptible to people, these waves cover a lot of distance.
“The Earth ends up ringing like a bell”, Dragert explains. “You have a surface wave that travels around the globe for hours after the event, and if it passes through an area that is already critically stressed, it can, indeed, trigger an earthquake.”

That is, a fault or plate boundary must already be on the verge of slipping or breaking for the surface waves to push it over the edge.
There’s still no detailed explanation for the way that happens, though, Hill says.

“In a way, it’s frustrating to be doing research on this,” he adds, “because we can’t do it in the lab and repeat the experiment. We’ve got to wait for the Earth to do it, and then have good recording networks in the field.”

There’s even less concrete data to show that distant earthquakes can trigger volcanic eruptions, though the circumstantial evidence is growing, Hill says. One analysis found a high number of volcanic eruptions within a day or two of large earthquakes. Several volcanoes around the world, including Pinatubo in the Philippines, have erupted within weeks or months of major earthquakes.

Indonesia has many volcanoes, none of which has yet erupted in the aftermath of the earthquake – but scientists will be watching closely.
After the Boxing Day tsunami, the Washington Post reported lava was spewing from a volcano on an island in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago off the coasts of Myanmar (formerly called Burma) and Indonesia. Previously, the crater had emitted only gas.

Theories linking distant earthquakes to eruptions and other earthquakes remain controversial. It’s almost impossible to prove what triggered an earthquake or eruption, Kanamori points out.

Researchers look mainly at the timing of events, then do statistical analyses to show that they’re probably linked, not just random coincidences.

Hill does collect some hard data from strain meters buried in 600-foot boreholes in California’s Long Valley Caldera near Mono Lake. The sensitive devices detect changes in the pressures pushing and pulling on the rock, and have clearly shown effects from distant earthquakes, he says.

The statistical jury remains out on the question of whether the apparent cluster of major earthquakes in the middle of the century is significant or simply a phantom.

It certainly looks compelling, Atwater says. Most of the events are clustered around the Pacific Rim, from Alaska to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to Chile.

However, the Cascadia subduction zone off the Northwest coast of the United States was not triggered during that period, he pointed out. The last earthquake there was a magnitude 9 in 1700.

Garry Rogers, a seismologist at the Geological Survey of Canada in British Columbia, says major earthquakes are far too rare and the historical record far too short to be able to draw any conclusion about clusters or large-scale connections.

“In any random process, you will get clusters”, he says.
Hill believes that more data will eventually solve the mystery – and will probably reveal patterns and links no one understands today.

“My own hunch is that there are lots of instances of clusters that are, in fact, related physically. We just don’t know yet what the details might be.”

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Money, Nov 05, AU Edition

i7moneyart1.jpgDON'T CALL US…
…or we’ll call ADMA. Everything you need
to do to parry the assault of the telemarketers

Quiz time: You’ve just arrived home after a busy day and are starting to prepare dinner. You’ve met the challenges of reading the mail, making sure the food doesn’t burn, winding down from work, making sure that others in the house are organised, and changing into something more comfortable. Your about to finally relax when the phone rings. Who is it?

You rang?!
When you answer the phone you are greeted by a detached, shall we say scripted, voice that asks, ‘May I speak to so-and-so?’, or sometimes simply. ‘the householder’.

Now so far you don’t know who this person is or what they want, but before you know it they have become quite persistent. Intrigued, you play along, and once your name is established, the voice on the other end of the line is using it in as if they are a long lost friend or relative. In fact, it seems that every second word is now your first name. You are now caught up in a web of what are known as ‘presumptive close’ questions. Things like, ‘You would like to spend more time with you family... wouldn’t you?’; ‘Would you like to be debt free?’; ‘We all want to earn more money, you agree with that don’t you?’.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: your dinner is burning, the water has dried up in the pot, the hot food is getting cold, the cold food is getting hot, your partner is feeling dejected and unloved and you are not sure who’s more feral – the kids or the dog. Your attempts to politely get out of the conversation are met by more open-ended questions. Finally you announce, ‘I’m not interested!’, but this has no effect either… except to bring on more open ended questions.

Almost everyone has been rung by a telemarketing call centre of some sort. Whether it is to sell them banking products, investments schemes, mobile phone accounts, time shares, wine club memberships, or anything else, it is a very common form of direct marketing. Despite the jokes, annoyances, and threats of legislation that surround the practice, outbound telemarketing is an industry that is still growing – especially with the advent of cheap call centres in places like India. Think about this for a minute: an organisation is attempting to establish or build a positive relationship with you, yet they not only intrude uninvited into your private life but they are also sending vast sums of money out of the country for the privilege.

What rights do I have?
You might well ask: ‘Can I prevent any of this?’. The answer is, of course you can.

The Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA) has developed a Code of Practice in consultation with the Ministerial Council of Consumer Affairs (MCCA), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and consumer and business groups.

This Code of Practice focuses on five key principles that underlie any direct marketing activity including of course, call centres. All members of ADMA agree and must adhere to these principles. What are they?

The first is Privacy Protection. An integral part of the Code is the National Privacy Principles (NPPs). The NPPs give consumers some control over their personal information by limiting the amount of information that companies can collect about individuals. In addition, marketers are required to tell consumers who is collecting the information, how the company can be contacted, and the intended use of the personal information – including whether it will be disclosed to third parties. Consumers must be given the opportunity opt-out of future direct marketing approaches and block transfer of their contact details to any other marketer.

There is also a compulsory Do Not Mail/Do Not Call service. Under the Code, use of the ADMA Do Not Mail and Do Not Call Consumer Preference Services are mandatory for all ADMA members. This requires members to purge from marketing campaigns the names and contact details of consumers who have registered with the service. This ensures that individuals that have indicated they do not wish to be approached are not contacted.

There has to be a mandatory ‘cooling off’ period. When supplying goods or services at a distance, ADMA members must provide a seven-day ‘cooling off’ period during which a customer is entitled to cancel the contract with the direct marketer. In addition, ADMA members must ensure the customer’s right to cancel the contract is specified in any contractual documents.

Additionally, there is an agreement that compliance requirement extension to suppliers and non-members. Members are responsible for the conduct of their agents, subcontractors, and suppliers. This broadens the scope of the Code beyond the membership of ADMA, thus raising standards throughout the direct marketing industry.
And you might find it hard to believe but there are Telemarketing Standards of Practice. Direct marketers who use the telephone must ensure they identify themselves to the person they are calling and state the purpose of the call, among other things.

i7moneyart2.jpgWhat happens if they break the code?
If there is a breach of the Code of Practice by an ADMA member, it is authorised by the ACCC to impose a variety of sanctions. These include requiring a formal apology for the breach, requiring corrective advertising or the withdrawal of offending advertisements or statements, and ecommending a refund or replacement of goods or services where appropriate.

What if they are not a member of ADMA?
The privacy of every Australian is protected by the Privacy Act (1988). This is administered and adjudicated by the Federal Privacy Commissioner. Interestingly, the Privacy Commission released a report in May, 2005, which analysed and made recommendations on the way that the private sector conducted itself when it came to the privacy of you and me. The Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis, explains: ‘The Report contains 85 recommendations stemming from a balanced and pragmatic examination of the Privacy Act, within the terms of reference set by the Attorney General. The recommendations in the report relate to improving the operation of the private sector provisions and are written as actions the Australian Government should consider doing, or as measures the Office could undertake.’ All well and good but what about normal individuals having control over our own privacy?

‘Consumer control over personal information, a key feature of the private sector amendments to the Privacy Act, was addressed in the Review. I have recommended that the control that individuals have over their personal information be strengthened, particularly in relation to information collected about them indirectly or used or disclosed for other purposes such as direct marketing. Simple steps that could be taken to make this happen include measures to promote clearer and more easily understood privacy notices and a general opt-out right for all direct marketing approaches.’

What can I do to stop this?
Clearly, in the case of outbound call centres you can let off some steam when they ring you but abuse might make you feel better but it is only a short term fix and you could possibly be charged under the Telecommunications Act. You could do what one of my friends does and simply says: ‘I’ll get the head of the home now’, and promptly leaves the phone off the hook for an hour, but this is also short-term fix that forces him to change his habits. Ultimately you can complain to the Privacy Commissioner or the ACCC. There are also possible breaches of the Trade Practice Act especially section 60 – Harassment and Coercion, which could result in separate civil action. However, I would like to suggest that before you make a formal complaint you should attempt to resolve the matter with the organisation in question. What should you do?
1. Write a letter or email to the organisation, explain the situation and what you would like to see happen.
2. Give the organisation an opportunity to rectify the situation, 30 days is a reasonable time frame in which they should respond to your initial enquiry.
3. If you are not satisfied with the outcome then you can complain to the Privacy Commissioner by phoning the Hotline on 1300 363 992, or write to GPO Box 5218 SYDNEY NSW 2001. You should ALSO complain to the ACCC, especially if you feel the marketing material may be, or is connected to a scam or other breach of the consumer protection laws, by calling ACCC’s Infocentre on 1300 302 502. Note that 1300 calls cost the price of a local call.

Where to now?
And what about the future, or even the present with the new technology that is available to call centres and other direct marketing activities? Karen Curtis outlines that: ‘…privacy and new technologies warrant further debate. The main recommendation on these issues is that they should be considered in the context of a wider review of the Privacy Act. During the review, it became apparent that while the private sector provisions work well, it may be appropriate for the Government to undertake a wider review of privacy for Australians in the 21st century.’

So if you are sick of the antics of call centres, then take control of your life. Don’t be apathetic do something! Let the relevant organisations know and demand your rights. Simply whingeing will only result in less leisure time, more frustration, less control of your life, and more cold dinners. See you around the traps.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

Nov 05, AU Edition


How Enron hyped global warming for profit

Amidst all the talk about the benefits that Kyoto Protocol is supposed to promote, it is perhaps forgotten especially amongst the greenies how Kyoto was born in the corridors of very big business. The name Enron has all but faded from the newspapers since the company went down in flames in 2001 amidst charges of fraud, bribery, price fixing and graft, and the jailing of founder and chairman Ken Lay. But without Enron there would have been no Kyoto Protocol.

It all started about 20 years ago when Enron was owner-operator of an interstate network of natural gas pipelines that had transformed itself into a billion-dollar-a-day commodity trader, buying and selling contracts and their derivatives to deliver natural gas, electricity, internet bandwidth – whatever. The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments authorized the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency to put a cap on how much pollutant the operator of a fossil-fueled plant was allowed to emit. So, in the early 1990s Enron helped establish the market for, and became the major trader in, the EPA’s $20 billion-per-year sulphur dioxide cap-and-trade program, the forerunner of today’s proposed carbon credit trading scheme. This commodity exchange of emission allowances caused Enron’s stock to rapidly rise.

All this led to the inevitable question, what next? How about a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program? The problem was that CO2 is not a pollutant, and therefore the EPA had no authority to cap its emissions. When Al Gore became Vice President under Bill Clinton in 1993, he quickly became infatuated with the idea of an international environmental regulatory regime. He led a US initiative to review new projects around the world and issue ‘credits’ of so many tons of annual CO2 emission reduction. Under law a ‘tradable’ system was required, which was exactly what Enron also wanted – remember, they were already trading pollutant credits. Thence Enron vigorously lobbied Clinton and Congress, seeking EPA regulatory authority over CO2. From 1994 to 1996, the Enron Foundation contributed nearly $1 million dollars – $990,000 to be exact – to green group The Nature Conservancy, whose Climate Change Project promotes global warming theories. Enron philanthropists lavished almost $1.5 million on environmental groups that support international energy controls to ‘reduce’ global warming. Executives at Enron worked closely with the Clinton administration to help create a scaremongering climate science environment because the company believed the treaty could provide it with a monstrous financial windfall. The plan was that once the problem was in place the solution would be trotted out.

Around this time a lawyer named Christopher Horner was hired who had worked in Connecticut Senator Joseph Liebermann’s Environment Committee. Horner, employed by Enron, became director of relations with the Federal Government. That was in 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was drafted. According to Homer, on the second day at the job he was told that the number one objective was to obtain an international treaty that would impose cuts in CO2 emissions, but at the same time allow the trading of emission rights. Enron was the second-biggest natural gas producer in the world, behind Russia’s Gazprom. Enron was making a lot of money trading with coal, but they had already calculated that the profits they would lose with coal would be more than compensated by the profits derived from its privileged position in other areas. With clever positioning and anticipation Enron had bought the world’s biggest wind power company, GE Wind, from General Electric. They now also owned the biggest solar power company in the world, in society with Amoco (now belonging to British Petroleum – BP). Enron then started to finance everything related to the global warming hype, including grants to scientists – but asking for results favorable to their interest – ‘proof’ that humans were responsible for the excessive emissions of CO2 through fossil fuel burning. The fire of malaise, now lit and kindled, only required feeding.

The expressive term ‘Baptist-bootlegger’ derives from the days of prohibition. Under prohibition bootleggers and those who transported and supplied illegal alcohol made fortunes. One such entrepreneur was Joseph P. Kennedy whose second son, John, became US President in 1961. The bootleggers had allies in the Baptists and other teetotalists, who believed that alcohol was a deadly threat to the social order, and had worked for decades to get prohibition onto the statute books. The Baptists provided the political cover and the bootleggers pocketed the proceeds. In public the two groups maintained a great social distance from each other. Now Enron had positioned itself at the centre of an awesome Baptist-bootlegger coalition. The gargantuan rents which Enron energetically sought could be realized only if the Kyoto Protocol became established as part of US and international law. Ken Lay saw that Enron could not only make billions from sales of the natural gas which was to displace coal as the preferred fuel under the Kyoto commitments, but that as the main (if not the only) international and domestic trader in the new barter world of carbon credits, could realise hitherto unimagined wealth. Such credits, of course, would only become bankable pieces of paper if governments, particularly the US Government, established and policed a global policy of decarbonisation under which a global tax on carbon was to be enforced.
As the movement to establish the Kyoto Protocol developed momentum, it was necessary for Ken Lay to build up alliances with the green movement, including Greenpeace. A 1998 letter, signed by Lay and a few other bigwigs asked President Clinton, in essence, to harm the reputations and credibility of scientists who argued that global warming was an overblown issue because these individuals were standing in Enron’s way. The letter, dated 1 September, asked the president to shut off the public scientific debate on global warming, which despite furious attempts by the green lobby continues to this day. In particular, it requested Clinton to moderate the political aspects of this discussion by appointing a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission. The purpose of this commission was clear – high-level trashing of dissident scientists. Setting up a panel to do this was simple; just look at the recent issue of Scientific American where four attack dogs were called out to chew up Bjorn Lomborg. He had the audacity to publish The Skeptic Environmentalist which demonstrated that global warming fears were overblown, and that the Earth is in much better shape than popularly believed. David Bellamy, the world’s foremost environmentalist also stepped out of line with his widely-distributed article, ‘Global Warming? What a load of old Poppycock.’
In the same way Galileo was forced to publicly utter that the moon had no effect on tides, so Bellamy under pressure backtracked on some of his claims.

Enron commissioned its own internal study of global warming science. It turned out to be largely in agreement with the same scientists that Enron was trying to shut up. After considering all of the inconsistencies in climate science, the report concluded: ‘The very real possibility is that the great climate alarm could be a false alarm. The anthropogenic warming could well be less than thought and favorably distributed.’ One of Enron’s major consultants in that study was NASA scientist James Hansen, who started the whole global warming mess in 1988 with his bombastic congressional testimony.

KYOTO.jpgRecently he published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicting exactly the same inconsequential amount of warming in the next 50 years as the scientists that Enron wanted to gag. They were a decade ahead of NASA. True to its plan, Enron never made its own findings public, self-censoring them while it pleaded with the Bush administration for a cap on carbon dioxide emissions that it could broker. That pleading continues today – the remnant-Enron still views global warming regulation as the straw that will raise it from its corporate oblivion. Some greenie campaigning in America is still directed from this source. On July 7, 2004, Kenneth Lay was indicted by a federal grand jury for his involvement in the scandal.

‘Enron stood to profit millions from global warming energy-trading schemes’, said Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association and American Coal Coalition. The investigation into the collapse of Enron reveals much more about the intricacies of the Baptist-bootlegger coalition which was promoting the Kyoto cause within the Republican Party and US business circles. Coal-burning utilities would have had to pay billions for permits because they emit more CO2 than do natural gas facilities. That would have encouraged closing coal plants in favor of natural gas or other kinds of power plants, driving up prices for those alternatives. Enron, along with other key energy companies in the so-called Clean Power Group: El Paso Corp., NiSource, Trigen Energy, and Calpine – would make money both coming and going – from selling permits and then their own energy at higher prices. If the Kyoto Protocol were ratified and in full force, experts estimated that Americans would lose between $100 billion and $400 billion each year. Additionally, between 1 and 3.5 million jobs could be lost. That means that each household could lose an average of up to $6,000 each year. That is a lot to ask of Americans just so large energy companies can pocket millions from a regulatory scheme. Moreover, a cost of $400 billion annually makes Enron’s current one-time loss of $6 billion look like pocket change. Little wonder Americans and the incoming Bush administration did not want a bar of it.

One needs look no further than New Zealand to see what a disaster the Kyoto Protocol would be in practice. In NZ, the Labour government was forced to agree to the Kyoto Protocol because the Alliance Party self-destructed and Labour needed the Greens for support. The cost of that support was agreement to anti-GE legislation and the Kyoto Protocol. Labour could see that the GE debate had no financial return, but the carbon credit trading game looked much more promising.

Positive credit-trading with all our trees acting as CO2 sinks made politicians see dollar signs. But just as Enron came unstuck mired in financial ruin and scandal, so too is the Kyoto Protocol set to ruin economies and bring down governments and any players foolish enough to be taken in – indeed, it almost brought down Helen Clark at the last election. Enron collapsed in a quagmire of bribery, misinformation, energy price manipulation and the use of political connections to exert pressure on energy boards. Anything connected to the Kyoto Protocol will turn out to be good money after bad, because a scheme instigated by half-truths and hype must eventually collapse under the weight of the spin of its own cover-up. The half-billion dollar debt clean and green New Zealand now owes major polluters like Russia could be just the beginning.

In 2002 Helen Clark said ‘Climate change is a global problem...the Kyoto Protocol is the international community’s response to climate change and New Zealand is playing its part’. This contrasted strongly with Enron’s own internal report expressing doubt that global warming was real. It is hard to accept that Clark, and Kyoto’s boosters in Australia and around the world, do not know that the Protocol only became real because of a bunch of corporate crooks. Real problems are the gullibility of satellite western economies, the dangers of being the tail of giant corporate dogs and the perceived need to appease the EU for trade deals. Global warming itself does not even get a look in.
Despite all the handwringing and increasingly desperate hysteria, where global warming is concerned there has been a failure to force this paranoid religion onto the world. Since the Rio Conference in 1992, the greens have tried using the threat of global warming to induce Protestant guilt in us all, to cap growth, to change lifestyles, to attack the car, industry and the Great Satan of America. They have lost. Only schoolchildren remain rich fodder willing to believe it is up to them now to Save The World, which hasn’t needed saving one iota during the last 4,000,000,000 years or it wouldn’t still be here. Now it is surely time to face the facts: there isn’t a snowflake-in-hell’s chance of global warming altering real life. But the failure of the greens is not just with the public. While playing the climate-change card at the G8 Summit, the final Gleneagles’ declaration shows that the leaders of the developed world have no intention of sacrificing growth and economic success for an ascetic global warming religion. To quote Michael McCarthy, the environment editor of the Independent: ‘The failed agenda that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Wide Fund for Nature and others were complaining of – that the US has still not agreed to cut its carbon dioxide emissions – was the green groups’ own agenda, not the British government’s. At G8 the idea of capping greenhouse gas emissions was cleverly replaced by an emphasis on technological innovation and imaginative development. The Kyoto Protocol is effectively dead.’

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

SPIN CITY: Nov 05, AU Edition


The last thing we need is a politicized judiciary

For politicians and rock stars, publicity is like oxygen. For members of some other professions – central bankers and public servants, for instance – publicity is generally thought of as undesirable. Happily, most Australian judges would place themselves in the latter category. Unhappily, the federal Labor Party has revealed that it would like to alter the method of judicial appointment, with the covert intent of creating a more politicised and activist judiciary.

Most Australians are unaware of how unique our apolitical judiciary is. In the United States for example, the probing public confirmation hearings of new Chief Justice John Roberts before the Senate Judiciary Committee, set to be repeated even more harshly with President Bush’s latest nominee for the Supreme Court, are indicative of the politicised process of judicial appointment to which Americans are accustomed.

The US judicial confirmation process comes complete with intervention from lobby groups and even television advertisements attacking nominees. In some states, judges are directly elected by the voters! Unsurprisingly, the judiciary is a polarised and polarising element of US society.

Australia’s model of judicial appointment is rather different. Cabinet appoints judges to the High Court, usually on the recommendation of the Attorney-General. In practice, the Attorney-General consults members of the profession, but he does so in private and has no legal obligation to do so. This mirrors the traditional British approach, where the Lord Chancellor determines judicial appointments.

While there have been a few appalling appointments, such as former Labor Attorney General Lionel Murphy, governments of both persuasions have generally shown restraint and wisdom in their judicial selections. As a result, polls show that Australian judges enjoy a relatively high level of public respect.

The United Kingdom recently created an unelected judicial appointments commission to determine the criteria for appointment, supplanting much of the role of the Lord Chancellor. This model arose out of the politically correct desire to ensure that the judiciary becomes more ‘representative’, meaning that appropriate proportions of female, gay, black and disabled judges sit on the Bench (judicial conservatives need not apply). Accordingly, it is populated by appropriately bien pensant New Labour types.

In the context of the United Kingdom’s adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights into its domestic law, through the Human Rights Act 1998, judges are being called upon to make an increasing number of politicised decisions. Through the judicial appointments commission, the British Left are successfully entrenching a judicial culture which will ensure that the cases fall their way.

Now Nicola Roxon, federal Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General, has suggested in an opinion piece in the Age that Australia should reform its own judicial appointment processes. Unsurprisingly, Roxon is not impressed with the democracy and transparency of the American system, which has seen Republicans win public support for their promises to appoint judicial conservatives. Rather, she prefers the unaccountable British approach – a commission which will no doubt be stacked with members drawn from left-leaning legal professional bodies and academia, and which will be sure to deliver the sort of activist jurists Roxon would like to see.

Roxon portrays this proposal as a half-way house on the spectrum of transparency, somewhere between the executive secrecy of the Australian model and the robust and often unfair scrutiny of the politicised US model. In truth, a judicial appointment commission is not a compromise position, but an extreme one.

Both the US and Australian models retain a measure of democratic accountability: the people may not elect the judges (though they do in some US states), but they do at least elect those who select the judges. Roxon’s system is designed to add an extra layer between the voters and the judges: voters elect the government which
appoints the commission which selects the judges.

The benefit of this system to the Left is obvious. Where a Labor government would be pilloried for selecting activist judges to overrule the popular will on political issues like aboriginal land rights and asylum seekers, a judicial appointments commission would give it political cover to argue that it had merely implemented the recommendations of its expert commissioners.

Roxon’s article attracted little attention, perhaps because of its absurd context. It commenced with congratulation of Attorney General Phillip Ruddock for his appointment of Justice Susan Crennan, partly on the grounds that she is a good jurist, but principally because she has no penis. Then, having stated what an excellent appointment the current system has yielded, Roxon claimed that it is clearly broken and needs radical reform.

Yet rather than dismissing Roxon’s foray as absurd, conservatives should be grateful for this window into her thinking, and frightened by the implications for Australia’s apolitical judiciary should Labor be elected. Accordingly, conservatives must consider pre-empting Roxon’s proposals with changes of their own.

While the current model of executive appointment has served us reasonably well, it is politically difficult to defend due to its lack of transparency. Instead of allowing advocates of judicial activism the luxury of attacking it on this ground, conservatives should consider a move to defuse the issue by including the legislature in the process of deliberating over judicial appointments, while broadly maintaining the principles of the Westminster system.

Such a model might take the form of insisting upon judicial confirmation hearings in front of a joint parliamentary committee, with the Attorney General retaining a discretion to override the committee. Alternatively, or additionally, parliamentarians might be afforded the opportunity to veto objectionable nominations, although one might make this more difficult by requiring a two-thirds majority in both houses.

There are any number of alternative proposals which might be devised to insert a measure of transparency to the judicial appointment process. By adopting such a proposal now, conservatives would deprive a future Labor government of an excuse to introduce an undemocratic model of judicial appointment which would ultimately entrench the political prejudices of a left-leaning profession in the composition of the High Court Bench.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 03:00 AM | Comments (0)

THE WATCHER: Nov 05, AU Edition

Rudd and the ALP may be having a meltdown – even if glaciers aren’t

National security is too important to tolerate the fundamental misrepresentation of the truth’, shadow foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd solemnly intoned in the Australian a few weeks back. Actually, I always thought it was important not to be too parochial about the truth when your country’s vital national interests are on the line, hence the old aphorism that ‘a diplomat is an honest man sent to abroad to lie for the good of his country’.

Though Rudd is no longer a diplomat, he still gives the profession a bad name. The former China envoy customarily struggles to come to the point, thrashing about in endless pedantry, from arcanum to minutia, from caveat to irresolute, usually petering out somewhere in an elliptical orbit somewhere between meaningless and dull.

Nevertheless, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have some sympathy for Rudd when his former dummy-spitting boss (now dummy-spitting suburban hausfrau) Mark Latham rolled him on Richard Glover’s radio show when he blurted out infamously that he’d have had Australian troops out of Iraq by last Christmas. We have since learned from the so-called Diaries that Latham also thought it would be excellent to ditch Australia’s national security keystone – the US alliance.

When confronted with Latham’s cut-and-run Iraq ‘policy’, Rudd suddenly had some fundamental truths to face. After all, Latham’s ABC radio outburst was not as impulsive as it first may have appeared. Latham had already publicly shown plenty of form on the matter. Moreover, Rudd confessed that he previously had a ‘pretty basic and at times brutal conversation’ about the US alliance with Latham (to little effect; apparently he was not ‘brutal’ enough).

Although Labor opposed Iraq’s liberation – after months of opinion poll-driven shilly-shallying – Rudd consistently pestered the Howard Government over its responsibilities as an occupying power in post-Saddam Iraq. Rudd whipped out the ol’ Fourth Geneva Convention (the one just after the Third and before the Fifth Geneva Conventions) in a Monash University speech:

‘Australia today is conjointly responsible for ensuring the security, health, food, shelter and clothing for 20 million Iraqis. That’s what occupying powers do. Put simply, if you invade a country, you get to run it afterwards until an Iraqi government takes over. And that is a long way off…’

Just in case Prime Minister John Howard wasn’t in the audience, Rudd popped a memo into the PM’s suggestion box in mid-November 2003, urging increased Australian troop strength in Iraq: ‘I understand DOD currently has staff in country assisting with the development of the army. It would be useful’, Rudd helpfully recommended, ‘for the Government to investigate whether this training capacity could be increased’.

Latham was in charge of the show weeks later. Three months later in March 2004, in true populist ‘Goughic’ fashion, without so much as a nod to the trivial – parliamentary convention and shadow cabinet responsibility – Latham yanked the pin out on Australia’s Iraq commitment and with it the rug from under Rudd’s feet. Faced with Latham’s rash move, Rudd had two choices: do the Right Honourable thing and resign on principle or ‘jump in de conga line’.

We didn’t have to wait long for the answer – cue Harry Belafonte.
Rudd’s initial tactic: feign senile dementia, as evidenced by this Lateline interview with Tony Jones:

JONES: So you knew several weeks ago that Mark Latham planned to come out and say ‘troops home by Christmas’, did you?

RUDD: I can’t pinpoint any particular time as far as that’s concerned, all I know is Mark and I had been discussing it for some time.

JONES: The very line we’re talking about ‘troops home by Christmas’ you knew about that?

RUDD: We’d been discussing it for some time.

JONES: Did you know about it when we last spoke to you?

RUDD: I can’t quite recall the chronology.

Rudd and Latham also argued, breathtakingly, that Latham’s
security policy incontinence accorded with Labor’s pre-war no-war position: because Labor decided to side with the French and Chinese at the UN and leave Saddam running his Mesopotamian shop of horrors, Latham’s troops out by Christmas statement had been, well, pre-endorsed, shall we say, by shadow cabinet. That was hooey.

Notwithstanding Rudd’s notably acute memory lapses (all the more remarkable given his amazing ability to remember the Fourth Geneva Convention), it was devastatingly evident that Latham had been caught in flagrante delicto, so to speak, of violating the principle of shadow cabinet solidarity on a matter of vital national interest, i.e., the war on terror and alliance relations with the US. But Rudd, for reasons he has yet to explain, kept up the pretence of unity. And when caught out on one principle, he repeatedly fell back on
another: the confidentiality of shadow cabinet deliberations.

Recently Rudd was given a friendly chance to come clean. Asked by Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7:30 Report if he’d been ‘caught on the hop’ by Latham’s Christmas pullout announcement last year, dissembling, Rudd activated the principle shield again:

RUDD: You know as well as I do, Kerry, when you’re dealing with complex questions of national security and you have a shadow cabinet that is functioning, a range of views are going to be put. There’s an outcome and the leader had a view.

O’BRIEN: And I think you were caught on the hop.

RUDD: I am not about to breach that principle [of confidentiality].

But still, no admission – at least not one according to the ABC transcript. But oddly, Rudd’s complete remarks are missing. What Rudd actually said, grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat, in reply to O’Brien, who was having trouble containing his own amusement, was: ‘And you can draw your own conclusion. I am not about to breach that principle’. Who says the ABC can’t do good comedy?

That’s about as close to an admission by Rudd as you are going to get. But it’ll do. As to why Rudd’s words were dropped from the transcript, well, keeping in mind that the ABC has in the past demonstrated a tendency to be creative with such things, you can draw your own conclusions. Indeed, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to why Rudd has been let off so lightly by the media on such an important matter.

It contrasts rather remarkably with the bollocking given to health minister Tony Abbott earlier in the year when cabinet revised its Medicare safety net calculation, despite Abbott’s pre-election ‘ironclad commitment’. Rudd’s kid-glove treatment also contrasts sharply to much of the media’s shrill ‘we wuz lied to’ over children overboard, Bali terror warnings and supposedly ‘sexed-up’ Iraq intelligence briefings.

And why has not a single journalist, to my knowledge, asked Rudd why he didn’t consider resigning? Why wasn’t Rudd asked why, for example, he hadn’t followed Daryl Melham’s example when shadow cabinet rolled him over aboriginal land claims in 2000? As Melham said then: ‘I did so because as a matter of principle for me, I was unable to support the Shadow Cabinet decision on Queensland native title.’ Carmen Lawrence and Lindsay Tanner, for different reasons, did likewise. But not Rudd. Why not?

Westminster parliamentary tradition holds that should a minister or shadow minister find himself unable in good conscience to abide by the policies adopted by their cabinet, they should find themselves a backbench to warm. It is an obligation that does not arise simply from a sense of honour, though that reason is not to be dismissed. It serves a very important check on cabinet government.

But that check on executive power is only effective so long as each member of cabinet, particularly those holding the key offices of state, has the strength of character to resign when the chips are down. It’s a test of leadership that British Labour politician Hugh Dalton speculated of future Prime Minister James Callaghan: ‘Has he got a resignation in him?’ Callaghan did (in 1967 over the devaluation of the Pound), but it could not be more apparent that Rudd doesn’t have a resignation in him.If Rudd had resigned, he would have alerted the Australian public to the terrible risk Latham posed. But instead, Rudd and his Labor colleagues tried to cover up the dangerous mess that Labor’s shadow cabinet had become under Latham. Fortunately the Australian electorate saw through it.

And now for the weather...

This just in: ‘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…if climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic.

‘“A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale”, warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences…’

Worried? Don’t care? Heard it all before? Actually, you may have – in 1975. The article, appearing in the April 28th edition of Newsweek, went on to warn that unless something was done, we were doomed.

But that was then. This is now, baby. And the media has been in, well, a meltdown when it was reported recently that Nanook’s land values would decline (actually, according to sound economic principles, they would increase because there would be less of it) and the Panama Canal would lose its monopoly cache. Why the hullabaloo? The Arctic ice was reported to be melting. Must be due to the gaseous, hurricane-making ways of President George W. Bush, all agreed.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) sent out the alarm with a media release titled: ‘The Summer Arctic sea ice falls far below average for fourth year, winter ice sees sharp decline, spring melt starts earlier.’ Far below average, eh? Over how many years? How long have they been measuring sea ice accurately?

Well, not for very long as it turns out. These days – and I do mean days – they’ve been doing it with satellites. And as even the New York Times noted, ‘before 1979, scientists estimated the size of the ice cap based on reports from ships and airplanes’.

The key word is estimated. The Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years; the polar ice caps, about 50 million. On that timeline, Kitty Hawk happened in the geologic equivalent of less time than the half-life of gnat flatulence. As for ships keeping an adequate record of arctic ice movements, I can only imagine that the RMS Titanic’s Captain EJ Smith and others wished it had been more science than art or chance.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:52 AM | Comments (0)

THE ARENA: Nov 05, AU Edition


Iraqis have a sturdy constitution

If it bleeds, it leads’ is the old cliché about how journalists, editors, and producers decide what leads the evening news and makes the front page of the morning paper. After all (to borrow another aphorism), it’s not news when an airplane lands safely; it is news when one misses the runway and scatters steel and bodies across an airfield. But what if things were the other way around, and plane crashes were an every-day occurrence? Wouldn’t it be news if the rate of disasters dropped, and things started getting better in the aviation industry, and getting on a plane stopped being a life-or-death matter? That would certainly be worthy of a story.

That’s the situation we are faced with when it comes to the news media and Iraq. On the one hand, yes, parts of Iraq are deadly dangerous, as the regular litany of death tolls from suicide bombers and ‘improvised explosive devices’ makes clear. British journalist Robert Fisk recently said that Iraq ‘is now hell – a disaster. You cannot imagine how bad it is.’ Now Fisk may be a notorious leftist and anti-Bush radical (he was the man who once, after being accosted by toughs in Afghanistan, wrote that he felt that he deserved to be beaten up for being a white European), but his sentiments are a common one in the press. And as a result, the vast majority of reporting we see in Australia (and in other countries’ news outlets) is bad news.

Yet there is another side of the story that is not being covered with anywhere near as much enthusiasm: the growth of a democratic Iraqi civil society, and the increasing failure of the notoriously-misnamed ‘insurgents’ to achieve their tactical or political goals. Did you know that Iraqis recently went to the polls and approved a new constitution? No? You could be forgiven, considering the precious few column-inches in Australian papers that were devoted to this historic event.

Even if you did hear the news, it is likely that it was tempered with well-spun numbers designed to suggest that the balloting was a bloody failure. As a combined AP/Agence France Press dispatch that ran in the Sydney Morning Herald put it at the time of the voting, ‘Nearly 450 people were killed in the 19 days before the referendum, often by insurgents using suicide car bombs, roadside bombs and drive-by shootings.’
Well, yes, fair enough – though these numbers don’t tell us anything about the 19 days previous to that. (Similarly, reporters trumpet the rising death toll of American troops, without contextualizing it by pointing out that casualties have been decreasing month-on-month). What the Herald’s dispatch, and those in most other major news outlets, ignored is that the voting was a tremendous disaster for the terrorists who doing their best to turn Iraq into a swamp of civil war and sharia law.

Yes, Coalition troops did their level-best to secure the country for the voting, including banning on the day to prevent car bombs, but consider this: There were 347 terrorist attacks on polling places in January when Iraqis went to the polls for the first time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Ten months later, when Iraqis once again took to the streets in droves to cast their ballots and get their fingers stained purple, terrorists were only able to pull of a grand total of 13 attacks.

Pretty pathetic on the terrorists’ part, really.

Of course, the institutional bias of most news organisations means that this sort of information is rarely presented. Indeed, ABC’s Media Watch went to great pains recently to take a swipe at a regular feature in the Wall Street Journal – an American newspaper – written by an Australian. It’s title? ‘Good News From Iraq’.

The amazing thing is that this bias, which can broadly be called left-wing, winds up doing such a disservice to the cause of bringing freedom, democracy, and self-determination to a country that had spent the past several decades being crushed under the heel of a brutal tyrant. Loathing of George W. Bush specifically, and broader post-modern skepticism about anything American in general, has placed the left in a very uncomfortable position philosophically when it comes to the liberation of Iraq and the broader Global War on Terrorism.

This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I sat on a panel discussing everyone’s favourite cocktail party subject, ‘why hate America?’. The war was pretty high on my opponent’s writ of indictment, and of course all the usual canards were trotted out: George Bush and Dick Cheney orchestrated the whole thing so that their greedy environment-despoiling pals at Halliburton could take control of Iraq’s oil while at the same time making sure plenty of poor, black soldiers get sent to their deaths and are kept overseas where they were unable to help the Kerry-voting residents of New Orleans…and so on.

And of course, they charged the US with fighting a ‘war on Islam’.

While a simplistic misrepresentation, there is something to that last charge; the war is not a war on a religion, but a particularly political manifestation of it that is generally termed ‘Islamo-fascism’. Where Islamo-fascism flourishes, the very freedoms we all cherish, and which the left has an honourable history of fighting for, die. And thus left-wing opponents of the war – who always go to great pains to say, ‘Of course I didn’t support Saddam Hussein’, before adding the critical, ‘but…’ – effectively align themselves with regimes whose leaders ban representational art, music and dancing, think ‘equal pay’ means that a man has to give the same shopping allowance to all his wives, and stay up all night debating whether stoning or hanging is the proper application of gay rights.

Yes, Iraq still has a long way to go before adventure tourists head there by the planeload to see the ruins of Ninevah. And yes, as the saying goes, war is hell. But as Iraq’s constitutional referendum showed, that country is heading in the right direction.

Too bad that those who should be most supportive of the project can’t see it.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:46 AM | Comments (0)