March 10, 2008
TRAVEL: Sep 05, AU Edition
After a whirlwind trip through India’s sights, smells and sounds, Robert Cross vows to return
AIPUR, India – ‘I was told that the first thing you’ll notice is the smell,’ said my friend Dave with a faint leer. Just a friendly word of warning to get me going on the wrong foot.
My wife, Juju, and I had been hearing a lot of secondhand and even firsthand tidbits like Dave’s almost every time we told anyone about our travel plans. Visiting India? Get ready for a shock: Pollution. Dirt. Poverty. Stifling heat. Noise. Weird behaviour. Those odors.
I’m here to testify that any negatives were far outweighed by the beauty, culture, architectural grandeur and spirituality we were privileged to sample during a brief visit to a few cities in the north.
After we cleared the jetway in New Delhi at 5:30 a.m. on an autumn Saturday, the only smell came from the universal airport brew of electric-light ozone, air conditioning and passenger scents no different from those at Sydney or Heathrow.
Instead, the first thing we noticed was the wallpaper on immigration officers’ cubicles, a darling blue-and-pink-flowered pattern of the sort that might decorate a little girl’s nursery.
The officers’ faces remained properly stern, of course, and they worked deliberately. We heard a constant thumping of rubber stamps and piped-in native music that sounded like the whining of a thousand mosquitoes, and after about 45 minutes, a man in uniform summoned Juju and me to his posy-splashed quarters, examined our documents and pounded on them with his stamps.
Still no smell when we finally carted our luggage to the parking lot. Obviously, Dave had been misinformed.
Our driver, Remish, helped with the bags, and we set off on the five-hour drive to Jaipur and the beginning of our seven-day India adventure. Dawn greeted New Delhi with a gray haze of pollution, and my chest felt heavy. Our little white van seemed to be the only passenger vehicle on a highway filled with trucks and bicycles. Huge cows, some gray, others black, lolled on the median strip.
Those trucks provided some color in the otherwise drab outskirts of the big city. Each one had been professionally painted with garlands of flowers, soaring birds, cartoonish tigers, lovable bovines and complex geometric patterns. Some bore neatly scripted slogans on their sides, like ‘I Love My India’ or ‘The Great Indian Spirit’. On the rear end of each lorry, the artists had painted a fervent plea: ‘PLEASE HONK YOUR HORN’. Remish hit the horn incessantly, sticking to the right-hand lane and passing the endless parade of freighters – India is a left-hand-drive country – while deftly avoiding wayward bikes and meandering cows.
Two hours later, as we drove into the state of Rajasthan, the roadside scene abruptly changed. Our divided highway became a two-laner, adding to our excitement the real possibility of head-on collisions.
In downtown Jaipur, Juju and I felt as if we had been dropped into the middle of a Bollywood epic. Film buffs use the term to describe Bombay’s prolific movie industry, and here we had subcontinental action in three dimensions. We entered Jaipur during rush hour, so some of the streets leading to our hotel had been temporarily declared one-way in the wrong direction, apparently an effort – largely futile – to prevent gridlock. While Remish circled the city at a crawl, trying to find a route, we suddenly were interacting with the people. A few tapped on the windows to beg for money or sell us things. But most were in cars or riding mopeds – intent on honking their way through thickets of traffic, but still taking a moment to smile and wave at Juju’s video camera.
We found ourselves in the middle of an enchanting old city, alive with markets and the brilliant colors of the dresses and turbans worn by residents going about their business. Pedestrians skittered between vehicles, which slowed down only when a cow or two decided to lounge in the middle of the street.
Remish at last found the hotel entrance, a discrete opening in a wall and a long driveway leading to the magnificent, cream-colored Jai Mahal Palace. The 250-year-old building had once served as a palace for one of Jaipur’s many royals. Rajasthan has had a bewildering lineup of rulers and high-ranking court figures through its long history, and we soon lost track of the lineage, despite the best efforts of our local guides. But the maharajas sure had good taste in housing.
We felt entitled to a few hours of leisure. The lawns, pools and statuary of the Jai Mahal Palace invited meditation and brought a welcome element of tranquility to soften the jet lag. A pantalooned and turbaned house musician entertained two children with an old stringed instrument while they frolicked on the grass near a pavilion where we and a few other guests ate lunch. Juju and I still felt dragged down by travel overload. A visitor to India should schedule a day of retreat every so often to avoid becoming overwhelmed by exotica and to think about the meaning of it all. Our tight schedule denied us that luxury.
The next morning, our guide, who introduced himself as G.S. Arora, joined us and Remish in the van for a tour of Jaipur. His eyes sparkled mischievously behind his glasses. We would have other guides in the days ahead – a scholarly gentleman in Agra and at the Taj Mahal; a religion expert amid the Hindu temple carvings (some quite erotic) in Khajuraho; the harried scout who showed us the sights in Delhi.
Even so, Arora was the first, and this is a story about first impressions, so the task of satisfying our basic curiosity about the Indian way of doing things fell to him.
We headed for the heart of Old Jaipur, the walled and picturesque enclave known as the Pink City. Arora explained that in 1876 the reigning maharaja, Ram Singh, ordered all buildings near the palace painted pink to celebrate a state visit from the Prince of Wales, who later would ascend to the English throne as King Edward VII. ‘Pink is the color of warmth and welcome,’ Arora informed us, and pink the old city has remained. The buildings within the wall are repainted every couple of years. ‘People can use different shades of pink, but the basic color has to be pink,’ Arora said. ‘The authorities take care of the painting.’
We paused at Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, for what Arora termed ‘a Japanese stop.’ He said that meant a stop for photographs. Although Juju is Asian, she laughed at the stereotype, one that I thought the world and its technology had obliterated. For a second, the guide’s little joke made India seem even more deliciously anachronistic.
The Palace of the Winds was pink, naturally, a beautiful 204-year-old facade about 5 stories high and dotted with tiny windows. From rooms and balconies on the other side, ladies of the court at the adjoining City Palace could discreetly peek down at the street scene.
On Tripolia Bazaar and other streets of the Pink City, merchants with open-air shops were selling everything imaginable. Although we felt the urge to get out and look at the displays of produce, spices, clothing, tools, toys and all the rest, we had a schedule to meet.
Arora did pause long enough to point out a milk market, where farmers had lined up canisters containing the morning’s output from their goats, cows, sheep and buffaloes.
The guide called our attention to a potential customer dipping his hand into a can. ‘To make the milk more profitable, a lot of water is added to this milk’, Arora said. ‘When the buyer comes in, he will put his hand in the milk, shake it out, rub the milk on his fingertips and see how much fat is in it. So the more hands that go into this can of milk, the better the milk becomes because of this added flavor. Thankfully, this is not the milk supplied to your hotel.’
That led to the subject of cows. ‘Every morning people would milk their cows and then leave them in the street to be fed by people,’ he told us. ‘The cow being a sacred animal, every household would try to feed them. After eating, they stand in the middle of the road or sit in the middle of the road and chew cud. This is good, because it slows and controls the traffic. And the cows like it, because the fumes make them feel high. In India, every animal except the husband is sacred.’
‘How do the cows know how to get home?’ Juju asked.
‘They always know. They are like homing pigeons.’
At the Amber Palace, our next stop, we found it easy to avoid eye contact with the hawkers because the palace itself commanded our full attention. The pinkish-beige structure sprawls across the crest of an imposing, rocky hill about 7 miles north of Jaipur. Begun in 1592 and completed in 1639, it served for more than 100 years as the capital of Rajasthan. In 1727, the reigning maharaja, Jai Singh, moved the capital to Jaipur, but the royal family continues to take up residence in the Amber Palace from time to time, even though the government now owns it.
We decided to ride an elephant up the hill to the palace entrance, a popular if somewhat hokey way to get there. Jeeps were also available, and visitors can hike up the steep ramp if they wish. Juju and I climbed onto a little seat behind our elephant driver. It swayed and tilted, while the driver engaged in a long, loud argument with his supervisor. Evidently, the driver wanted two more passengers for his mount, because the seat can hold four. Juju said, ‘I don’t like this at all. It’s scary. I want to get off.’ But before we could figure out how to do that, the elephant started up the ramp.
Arora, not being a tourist, preferred the Jeep. He met us in the palace courtyard, which was crowded with visitors and the elephants they came in on. He showed us around the wonderfully carved and pearl-inlaid areas where rulers held their audiences. We peeked into the artistically decorated private chambers that housed the maharajas and their concubines. A sandstone garrison stood grimly at a higher level, and both buildings spread their ramparts far along the mountainside like a truncated version of China’s Great Wall. Such a display of power and wealth must have intimidated enemies and subjects alike.
In the days that followed, we moved on to Agra and India’s absolute must-see, the Taj Mahal. After taking in the sights of Agra, we flew to Khajuraho, a relatively tranquil village famous for its beautiful Hindu temples dating back to the Chandela dynasty, which ruled for 500 years until overrun by the Moguls early in the 16th Century. The structures were a pleasant contrast to the palaces, tombs, fortifications and congestion of Rajasthan and Agra. We beheld an array of temple towers surrounded by lawns laced with uncrowded pathways.
Our guide that afternoon introduced himself as Mr. Singh. Immediately, he began to explain at great length the Hindu religion and how the carvings on those temples – built within a 100-year period, starting in AD 950 – illustrated the complexities of Hinduism and honored its divinities in all of their forms. He said the towers had been constructed in this out-of-the-way place to protect the sandstone images from frequent rains and floods that hit the Chandela capitals.
The masterful carvings encircled the towers in rows all the way to the top. They depicted gods and goddesses, of course, but also aspects of everyday life. Animals hauled farm goods, musicians played, soldiers fought, hunters stalked, and beautiful, exaggeratedly proportioned female dancers swayed. Animals both real and figments of artisans’ imaginations cavorted – leopards, elephants, horses, boars and combinations thereof.
Most famously, human couples were shown locked in carnal embrace, striking many of the positions detailed in the Kama Sutra.
‘You know about yoga?’ Mr. Singh asked. ‘There are a hundred kinds of yoga These are the way to reach the ultimate goal of life that is the next incarnation. These poses are a part of it, specific positions. Even sex could be a part of yoga.’
We were still pondering the complexities of the Hindu religion that night, as we dined at the rooftop Blue Sky Restaurant. Below us, merchants sold souvenirs, fabrics, saris, books and miniature copies of temple carvings. Across the street, the actual temples glowed with golden light and a voice boomed in Hindi – a sound and light show. We filled up on helpings of a dish very much like fried rice but punctuated with masala, a mixture of spices that provided a delicious mosaic of flavors.
Up there on the Blue Sky, we met a young couple from France who had been traveling through India for several weeks. They described wonders we would miss, experiences we wouldn’t have. At least not now. They were merchants, buying materials for their shop in Brittany. ‘We did make a short visit one time’, the man said, ‘and it was very difficult and frustrating. Doing it this way can still be difficult and sometimes frustrating, but there is so much to see.’
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, Ranthambhore National Park, Pushkar camel safari, Keoladeo Bird Park, Jaipur, castles
Brief: Rajasthan is home to all the colours of India. On our classic Rajasthan adventure we discover hidden forts, majestic palaces, colourful bazaars and of course enjoy a camel safari. This is the essence of Rajasthan.
Departure: Departs every Sunday from September to April and selected dates in July and August.
Price: AU$1020, plus Local Payment of US$200 per
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Original
Highlights: Delhi, Khajuraho’s erotic temples, the River Ganges, Orchha, Chitrakoot, markets, Varanasi, Taj Mahal
Brief: India is vibrant, intoxicating, inspiring, dramatic and above all, unforgettable. From the Mughal splendour of Delhi and Agra, to the reminders of the Hindu epics in Chitrakoot and memories of prehistoric man in Chanderi, this trip offers it all. Join pilgrims as they undertake their daily rituals on the banks of the Great Mother Ganges.
Departure: Departs every Saturday from September
Price: AU$920, plus Local Payment of US$200 per person
22 days Delhi to Kolkata
Trip Style: Intrepid Basix
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, desert scenery, towns lost in time, palaces, Kolkata
Brief: Chaotic and inspiring, this is the real India. India Unplugged is a far-flung adventure to one of the planet’s most exotic destinations. See towering fortresses and holy rivers, cosy up with camels, try your hand bargaining in bazaars and still have time to check out the Taj Mahal.
Departure: Departs on a Sunday.
Price: AU$1080, plus Local Payment of US$150 per person
India Family Adventure
15 days, ex Delhi
Trip Style: Intrepid Family
Highlights: Delhi, Taj Mahal, Ranthambhore National Park, Bundi, Pushkar, camel safari, Jaipur
Brief: Come and meet India’s people and let them show you their homeland. This itinerary is designed for adults and children alike. Explore some of India’s most famous sights and experience an overnight camel trip into the desert, seek wildlife at Ranthambhore and learn local crafts around Jaipur.
Departure: Departs on a Saturday.
Price: AU$1270, plus Local Payment of US$200 per person
For more information on traveling in India with Intrepid Travel, please visit www.intrepidtravel.com, free call 1300 360 887 or come and see us at 360 Bourke Street, Melbourne.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Best time of year to travel? India’s climate varies enormously from region to region and from season to season. While southern India basks in a reasonably constant tropical climate, the temperatures in the Rajasthan desert can vary from 50 degrees Celsius in July to 0 degrees Celsius at night in January. Monsoons bring torrential rain to most areas between June and August.
Religion: 81% Hindu, 12% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Sikh, 3% other
Language: Hindi (official) plus 12 other official languages and over 1600 dialects
Currency: Rupee (INR)
Visas: India does not offer visas on arrival - they must be applied for prior to travel. Conditions vary with country of origin and they usually take 1-2 weeks to process. In Australia, most travellers will apply for a 6 month multiple entry visa.
Electricity: 220-240V, 50 Hz
Times to avoid: Because climate changes so much within India, times to avoid certain areas will vary according to season. In addition, India is a land of festivals – best to check whether there is a festival going on in the area you want to travel to and book well in advance!
FOOD: Sep 05, AU Edition
Want a fun challenge in the kitchen? Make your own pasta, says Eli Jameson
Ah, the pasta aisle of the supermarket. Fettucini, cavatelli, oricchiette, rigatoni, penne rigate...just reading off the names on the different boxes and bags is enough to make one feel Italian. And so many of these shapes have names that sound cool even in English: Does a plate of priest’s caps (agnolotti) appeal? No? Well, perhaps a steaming bowl of strozzapretti – or ‘priest stranglers’ – will sate your appetite as well as your anti-clerical urges.
But almost every packet of pasta for sale in the supermarket has one thing in common, regardless of shape: it is dried. Which means that it is made by combining water and hard semolina flour and extruded in factories through various shaped dies. Some of these pastas are very good, and indeed gourmet dried pastas are showing up on the shelves of more and more suburban markets (tip: look for noodles that have a particularly rough sauce-holding surface as a sure tip-off of quality), but they lack a certain something. Now, I keep a five kilogram sack of penne rigate in the cabinet because it’s an incredibly economical and convenient base for a huge number of dinners. But there are times that some occasions, and some recipes, that call for more than just a couple of scoops of Barilla tossed into boiling water.
That alternative is, of course, fresh pasta. Contrary to what one might think, fresh pasta is not simply the pre-dried version of what comes in a rectangular blue box with instructions to ‘cottura 11 minuti’. Instead it is made from eggs and flour – which is why the stuff has a pretty firm use-by date – and unlike dried, only takes a few minutes to cook.
So where to get the stuff? Some fresh pasta is available from gourmet Italian delis and even supermarkets, but it is ridiculously expensive considering what goes in to it. Instead, I say, make your own.
I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy out there in the world of TV chefs and cookbook authors to keep certain ideas and techniques just vague and complicated enough so that the average punter remains mystified and unable to fully recreate certain end-products – or at least not regularly enough to become adept at them. I have a fantastic cookbook by the American chef Charlie Palmer which is almost like a detective hunt: every photograph of a finished dish has some extra touch or flourish not included in the printed recipe, and the reader has to study it closely to discern the hidden item. Call it The DaVinci Cookbook school of food writing. The end result is it convinces ordinary home chefs that fresh pasta can only be made with two kinds of imported artisinal flour and lots of kneading, followed by ample time for both chef and dough to have a good rest.
This is, of course, completely untrue, and there is no reason why fresh homemade pasta can’t become part of any home chef’s regular – i.e., at least weekly – routine. The advantages are numerous: though it takes a little longer to prepare on the front end (and we’re only talking about twenty minutes, with a little practice), it takes only moments to cook. One need only be up from the table for five minutes, tops, to knock up a pasta course before rejoining the rest of the party.
Furthermore, the texture is night-and-day to that of dried pasta. It holds sauce much more effectively – one might even say intimately – and as a result, one needs less to coat it. This is where the old adage that pasta is not about the sauce but the pasta comes from, and it’s impossible to understand unless one has experienced the difference. Fresh pasta absorbs sauce in a way dried simply can’t.
To make fresh pasta, one really only needs to get a hand-cranked pasta machine, costing between $60 and $90, depending on brand, at decent homewares stores. Word to the wise: spend the money on the more expensive Italian model if you can. The cheaper look-alike made in Korea will do the job just as well, but doesn’t stand up to regular use over the years, and will need to be replaced far sooner. Beyond that, the only ingredients are flour (I prefer Italian strong, or ‘00’ flour, but the basic house-brand stuff will do just as well) and eggs (see last month’s column on the virtues of fresh eggs – they make a difference here as well). Ready? Let’s begin.
To make a simple pasta like, say, fettucini for two, just place two cups of flour in a bowl, make a well in the middle, and crack the eggs into it. (Rule of thumb: one plate = one egg = one cup of flour). With a fork, begin to combine the eggs with the flour until you have a mass of dough. On a well-floured work surface, knead this well until it becomes a ball, and it starts to get stretchy when worked with the meat of your hand.
Now comes the fun part. Take about a third of the dough, flatten it, and run it through the machine on its widest setting (1). It may take a few goes at this stage to get it fully formed and looking like a square of pasta, but once that is achieved, keep running it through until you reach the second-thinnest setting (generally number 8). Give this sheet a dusting of flour, and repeat with the remaining dough. And when it’s all done, run it through the wide noodle cutters that come with the machine. Presto! You’ve just made fettucini!
So what now? Well, for one thing, it should be lightly dusted with flour and laid out on a sheet so that it doesn’t stick together, and allowed to dry out a bit. One can also make this at lunchtime for an evening’s dinner party without worrying a bit. When cooking time comes, plunge it into a pot of boiling, well-salted water, and let cook for just 2-3 minutes before tossing it into a pan of sauce. Make an alfredo by frying off some finely-diced onion in a large whack (100 grams) of butter, and adding a good slug of cream, a handful of parma cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. (Healthy it up with some greens, asparagus, or mushrooms if you like).
Or make a ravioli – those same sheets can be cut into circles and pressed together around a filling of your own invention, sealed by an egg wash. Use the flat edge of your chefs knife to press them shut so they don’t pop in the water. A favourite stuffing in our house is beetroot, sage, and goat cheese, served in a brown butter sauce jazzed up with beetroot greens.
Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated, and don’t let yourself be constrained by your imagination. Once you’ve got the technique down, you can knock up sheets of the stuff in all of twenty minutes. Your guests – and your palate – will thank you.
Sep 05, AU edition
LOST IN TRANSLATION
She was a Russian dancer. He was a suburban psychopath. IAN WISHART has the story of a paedophile’s manipulation of the law to gain access to children, and a trail of wrecked lives he’s left behind him
Teardrops well, glistening in the soft evening light, but they never fall. ‘I can’t cry anymore,’ she says after a moment, gathering herself again. ‘I don’t cry’, she repeats, softly, more to herself than anyone else. Her name is Elena Reznikova*, and on a cold August night she’s a long way from home, back in the Ukraine. The story of a journey from her life as a Russian ballerina to being surrounded by semi-stacked boxes of files in a tatty suburban law office after hours, is a long and, like many Russian stories, tragic one.
Daughter of a Soviet Air Force pilot, her mother a nurse, Elena Reznikova had a relatively normal childhood in communist Russia. Born in the remote province of Khazakstan – a legacy that would return to haunt her Down Under – Elena’s parents shifted to a home in rural Ukraine, not far from a local nuclear power station named Chernobyl. She draws back the collar of her turtleneck sweater: ‘See, I still have scar from cancer’, she notes, touching her throat. Her voice is hoarse and barely there.
As if sensing the unspoken question, she adds: ‘I have lost my voice, all year. Stress. It will kill me eventually, I think.’
Stress. Now there’s an understatement.
It was back in February 2001 that Elena met Paul Copeland – originally from Australia, now transplanted to New Zealand – courtesy of a Russian bride internet agency.
‘I wanted to get out of Ukraine, out of Russia’, she reflects. ‘I met a person on internet line. He look good. He promised me beautiful life, I would “bloom like a flower”. I fell in love with his photos, I was ready to take care of his children. He said he needs a woman who will look after his children, who will cook, who will clean – and I was the best – and I was ready to be a stepmother, to be friendly with his other partners. Because he was like me, he had three different children from three different relationships. Can you imagine this madness?’
Elena had been married and divorced. Like thousands of Russian women, she was deserted by the men in her life because of appalling economic conditions over there.
‘My friends told me, ‘don’t give up, you can find a good man’. Because it is impossible to find in Ukraine, with children, it is economic, men are unable to provide.’
Copeland, she says, was everything she thought she wanted in a man. ‘All my girlfriends were crazy about him because he was good looking, charming, gentleman, just a little bit drunk, but we just thought he liked his beer, as we do in the Ukraine.’
But Elena had no idea Copeland had a very dark past, despite an incident that ever so slightly foreshadowed what she would later discover.
‘My neighbours came over. We have a tradition in Russia to make a person drunk because we want to know how he acts when he is drunk, because people are different when they are drunk. Paul was drinking and drinking, and he started to try and jump off the second floor balcony, because he said he was trying to escape being locked up.’
In 1989, Paul Copeland hit the headlines throughout New Zealand for trying to murder his first wife with a crossbow in Tauranga. It was a well-publicised court case, with testimony of terror.
A report from his trial in May 1990 recounts the facts: ‘A 32 year old Tauranga man tried to kill his estranged wife by shooting her with a hunting bow and arrow…from only a foot away…the broadhead spear arrow penetrated part of the woman’s liver, stomach and one of her lungs, poking out the other side of her body.
‘She managed to make her way to the kitchen where she tried to use the phone but was prevented by Copeland, who forced her up against a wall in the hallway opposite the kitchen.
‘Feeling dizzy, she had slid down the wall but managed to get up again to make her way downstairs and to her car where her young daughter was waiting for her. She had collapsed beside the car and neighbours who saw her had rushed to her aid,’ the Crown Prosecutor was recorded as telling the High Court at Rotorua.
‘Copeland, from an upstairs window, had asked several times if she was dead yet.’
He was found not guilty by reason of ‘temporary’ insanity. Copeland, you see, had always been troubled. His father was named in investigations as a violent alcoholic paedophile who had allegedly sodomised his young son. In his early teenage years, Paul Copeland allegedly returned the favour by raping one of his younger sisters. There were burglaries, drug use, car thefts and fraud charges. Violence towards animals was also a Copeland trademark – executing cats and other small animals by bludgeoning them, revelling in the gore.
Little surprise that the teenager ended up in the Tokanui mental institution as a result of his behaviour. Family members would later talk of assault incidents in Australia with drink driving and firearms convictions added into the mix.
None of this, however, was contained in the internet dating agency files as Copeland linked up with Reznikova in far off Ukraine. Instead, the New Zealander turned on the charm, promising marriage and more to the former ballerina and mother of two boys.
‘He said he wanted to make me pregnant, that this was beautiful because I need a baby girl, so we need to do it immediately because it would be easier to get visas.’
By August 2001, Elena was pregnant with their child – her third.
‘Paul was very good for about two weeks after I got pregnant, then he started to drink, he said he’d spent all the money for tickets, nearly, and I said, “Listen, we have to have money for tickets to go to your country”.’
In September that year, the couple and Elena’s youngest son, Yuri, landed in Auckland.
‘I couldn’t speak English. None. I couldn’t put sentence together. I couldn’t make myself understood. I left behind my eldest son because the immigration people in Moscow said it would be hard to get him out here, because Paul didn’t have enough money to pay. But he promised me he would bring him out later.
‘I’d always wanted to speak English well, like I do now. I wanted my children to speak English, and I wanted to have a good job and be happy. So New Zealand looked to me like a countryside that I liked, because my family came from the countryside. We had 100 turkeys. My family grows vegetables, we have lots of food, very hard working people.’
Clean and green the countryside in her new home might have been, but behind the four walls of Copeland’s house she began to discover his demons.
‘When I arrived in September I used to clean the house because I was a good cleaner…and I found some photos of other women with children, in Spain, Africa and elsewhere. So I asked him, ‘was this your previous girlfriend?’ He said ‘no, I just used to live with her for a while’. I said ‘why didn’t you bring her to New Zealand?’. He said ‘she wasn’t good, but her children were good’.’
Elena wasn’t quite sure what he meant.
‘When we first arrived, we had sex all weekend, every day, but when his other children arrived he wasn’t interested in me, he doesn’t have sex with me. I’m asking him, ‘Paul, I’m waiting for you upstairs’, but he never came up. I’m four months pregnant but I’m a woman who is still healthy, you know.’
Over the weeks and months of her pregnancy that followed over the summer of 2001, Elena claims Copeland became more and more distant, more focused on the children, including Elena’s six year old Yuri.
‘On the beach I noticed that he was putting his fingers in between the children’s legs every time he picked them up. His children always used to scream in the bath. I said to him, you bath boy, I bath girl. He was always present in the bath when the children were there. I don’t leave babies in the bath alone, but when children are five or older it is a different thing.
‘I often heard the children sobbing, and once [his daughter Amanda, from his second wife] came out crying and I asked “who hurt you”, and she pointed at Paul saying “him”.
‘He used to call me worthless, and good-for-nothing whore. On the few times we had sex after that he became violent, even though I was pregnant. He never kissed me, and turned my face away during the act of intercourse. He was cold and brutal. Then, at the end, he got worse. He had so much sex with me at the end that I had premature baby.’
Their child, Nicholai, was born in March 2002, with complications.
‘When he was born the baby didn’t breathe, and he said “I don’t know why I should have to buy expensive medicine just to keep the baby alive”. He refused to buy medicine, so I used to go to the church, and there was a very good woman there and she gave me $20.’
When the baby had to be rushed to hospital, Paul Copeland allegedly took his time.
‘He wanted the child to die. He told me. He didn’t want to take me to hospital. He went so slow. As a mother, I’m lucky I have medical skills to keep this child healthy and alive, so when he got better – it was four months later – I moved out of the house.
‘There was a neighbour across the road, and everybody knew about his background, nobody told me, it was a huge secret from me. And when I used to speak to people in the church, everywhere, people used to be so nice, they understood my problem and thought they would encourage him to marry me, so I would get residence. But I wanted to go back to Ukraine because I left my son behind and he told me I will never see him. Then he said if I went back he would keep my two other children with him, so I used to carry on in the home, being with him together, and no one could help.’
When she tried to get Copeland to sign their baby’s birth certificate, he spat the dummy.
‘He screamed at me about a former wife who had taken his money. He called her ‘a bitch, a whore and a lesbian’, and swore that no woman would ever get anything from him, although he did eventually sign the certificate.’
During this time, she says, Copeland would often threaten to have her deported back to Ukraine without her children. ‘I’ll keep them, and you won’t be able to go to court because I’ll make you leave the country.’
Copeland also took the unusual step of publishing a photograph of his fiancée onto an internet porn site, along with a story about their sexual exploits when he first met her in Russia: ‘My Elena didn’t like to drink, that was a problem! Still, I had my two beers and the offer of SEX was on, it was the Russian wash down now with no hot water from the tap. So Elena would fill a basin with hot water, and I would sit in the bath. Elena would wet me then with soap wash my body down, then rinse me. Now, guys who haven’t experienced this, it is good, very good to receive this care. So we are clean now, and it’s time to get dirty, so it’s off to the bed again for a lesson in Russian! The sex was good, very good…as will be revealed soon.’
The revelations are too graphic to reprint in a family magazine.
Elena could see no way out. Although her understanding of English was growing, she still found it hard to speak it, and many people simply wrote her off as ‘an over-emotional Russian’. But the woman from the church who’d paid for the medicine to save Nicholai’s life turned out to be a guardian angel.
‘So that woman, she said “I will help you go to a Women’s Refuge”. I said “what is that?” Because we don’t have that in our country. Can you imagine how crazy it seemed for me to leave for Women’s Refuge with four-months-old baby, and leave the man whom I loved, believe me. Later on I realised it was only about that he wants children to abuse.’
Elena fled on a Friday afternoon with baby and older son in tow. She asked the Women’s Refuge to help get her deported back to the Ukraine on the grounds that her immigration status was now void because of the relationship break-up. And she didn’t have the money herself for airfares. But on Monday morning, Paul Copeland had already obtained a court ruling preventing Elena from taking baby Nicholai out of New Zealand.
The Russian mother was trapped. Her own immigration status meant she now had to leave New Zealand; the court order meant her four month old baby son could not go with her. Paul taunted her by threatening to keep Yuri as well.
‘He always told me that he would send me back to Ukraine but he was keeping Yuri with him.’
Even so, Elena Reznikova still had no idea just what her fiancé had done in his past. It wasn’t until Paul’s sister picked her up from the refuge that the missing pieces of the jigsaw began to tumble into place.
‘She told me her brother is a paedophile, and he raped her and two others. And their father was a paedophile. It was like a dream for me because she got my Russian dictionary and she showed me the words. I hadn’t realised then that he had tried to kill his ex-wife. I was more shocked when I found that out.’
It was at this point that Elena was introduced to Copeland’s third wife, a woman named Elizabeth who’s still living in hiding, 11 years after first meeting Copeland. Elena had found a contact number for her and rang her from the Women’s Refuge. Elizabeth says she could barely understand the distressed Russian woman with the thick accent, but she took down bottles so she could feed baby Nicholai. When she heard Elena’s suspicions that the children had been sexually abused, this former Copeland bride heard the penny drop. Elizabeth immediately phoned Copeland’s sister when she got home, who explained that Paul had also sexually abused her when she was a child. ‘You should believe Elena,’ Copeland’s sister told Elizabeth.
It turned out Elizabeth was another foreign woman lured into Copeland’s orbit in 1994, just four years after his trial for trying to murder his first wife. Elizabeth’s own marriage was in difficulty, and she says Copeland was ‘very romantic’ and charming, and convinced her to leave her husband. She says he acted like a father to her two daughters, and ‘got me pregnant two months after we met’.
Sound familiar? Copeland told Elizabeth it would be easier to get residency if she was pregnant.
Once his victim was trapped, Copeland moved from suave suitor to Hannibal Lecter, catching the neighbour’s cat, gassing it, and then burning it in front of his wife despite her pleas to spare the creature.
A recent study suggested people who torture animals are more likely to be sexual abusers. On the Richter scale of deviance, Paul Copeland was already an 11.
After Elizabeth and Paul’s son, Timothy, was born in 1995, he again turned his attention to Elizabeth’s two older daughters, often watching them shower, poking them frequently with a toilet brush while they were naked, assaulting them, verbally abusing them, making one of the girls pick up excrement in the garden using only her bare hands.
Elizabeth worked nights, leaving her husband to babysit six-month-old Timothy and her two daughters. The children’s grandmother would often pop in and find the girls weeping and distressed. He teased one of the older girls about her weight, calling her Moby Dick, and suggested to a family friend the other ‘would be a slut and pregnant’ by the time she was 14.
It was around this time that Elizabeth, wife number three, discovered a box under the stairwell containing files relating to Copeland’s childhood and the fates of wives one and two.
She read of the bow and arrow attack on wife one, the declaration of temporary insanity and the very brief spell in Tokanui Hospital before the psychopathic Copeland had convinced the cuckoo-keepers he was sane enough to fly the nest. She read of how Paul had allegedly been raped by his own father, and the history of sex abuse in his family. She discovered how he’d met wife number two, a German woman (mother of Amanda), and burned her passport and all her papers. How he’d smashed all the windows in his house on one occasion, and psychiatric reports detailing the horrific tortures he’d practiced on animals as a child.
Naturally, after reading all this, Elizabeth became absolutely terrified about what might happen to her and her children.
When she tried to leave, and she did so half a dozen times, Copeland would invariably track her down, stalk her and terrify her until she returned. In the end, however, he booted her out along with her two daughters. Elizabeth says he physically threw them out the door, locked it and stayed inside with Timothy and Amanda. By the time Elizabeth returned with help, Copeland had barricaded both of his biological children in an upstairs bedroom.
Elizabeth staked out the local supermarket and tried to grab Timothy from the shopping trolley while Copeland’s back was turned, but he foiled the rescue by screaming ‘Help, this woman is stealing my son!’ He put Timothy in hiding. Police eventually found the two year old at Copeland’s sister’s house.
The stalking and terror got worse, however, and eventually Copeland managed to convince Elizabeth that he would leave her alone if she’d just give him access on alternative weeks to Timothy.
Mindful of the crossbow attack, Elizabeth signed the custody form.
It was after that, she says, that she noticed her little boy’s behaviour change markedly on his return from access visits; it was, she says unusually aggressive and strange.
This, then, was the story of wife number three.
The woman who would have been number four, Elena, is deeply saddened at the fate of Copeland’s first two children.
‘Last time I saw Timothy and Amanda they put their heads down, they know that I know their problem but I can’t help them. They don’t talk, they’re very embarrassed to tell anybody what’s happening to them because they’re scared that their father will kill them. He told them, “I will kill you if you tell anyone”. He told it to my son but my son is Russian and Russians are very strong. We have a, how do you say, self, self-preservation, as a child when you’re young. You learn to save yourself in a difficult situation, even losing your life.’
In the past year, Elena’s older son Yuri has told of being made to watch naked children on Copeland’s computer during the months that Copeland has had Nicholai in his care, and Elena’s family friends say Nicholai has complained of a “sore bottom”, and “dad touching me in the bottom”.
‘I have three boys,’ says Elena. ‘I have a lot of experience as a mother of boys. When they are small their penises never stand up, they don’t have hormones for sex, but my little boy, his penis is so sensitive. I think it has been massaged. He wakes up at night and says “it hurts”. I am so scared what will happen to him if he goes back to his father. This child has already been damaged.’
Yuri says he and the other children witnessed Paul Copeland interfering with Nicholai’s genitals and bottom – in fact, all the children were made to watch it.
Elena obtained a psychologist’s report on Yuri two years ago, and she says the psychologist was convinced Yuri had also been abused.
She says one of the most frightening things about Copeland is his psychopathic aloofness.
He’s absolutely normal in public, but he’s not normal. His body language is absolutely absent. He doesn’t move, there’s no body language. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a former criminal anymore because I was scared that one day I would have to protect myself and the lives of my children. He told me I would never see my eldest son again, and I haven’t seen him in four years, his threat came true.
‘When I go to bed I feel that I’m already dead or am unable to leave, or help my children to be happy, to be together. The man is killing me psychologically, emotionally. He would like to kill me physically. He has already tried to kill his ex-wife.
‘My second relationship, my partner said “Elena, I can’t pay these bills for lawyers, this is crazy, just give the child away”. I said, “Peter, this is sexual abuse”. He said, “I know”. He said, “sorry Elena, I do love you but with all these problems I don’t want you. I don’t want your children”.’
Nor has the New Zealand Government come to the rescue of the children. The Immigration Service has cancelled Elena’s right to stay in New Zealand, and wants to deport her, if necessary without her children who would be left in the care of Paul Copeland.
‘My application for residence was cancelled because I was born in Khazakstan. It’s another nonsense. Khazakstan is part of Russia and it appears on my birth certificate, but my parents took me out of Khazakstan when I was two months old, so Immigration Service asked me for a police certificate from Khazakstan, and it’s impossible to get! It’s so stupid.’
It wouldn’t be the first time New Zealand’s bureaucrats have been called stupid.
With Copeland continuing to stalk her and harass the men helping her, Elena found herself increasingly isolated. No money to keep up her fight to stay in New Zealand long enough to get the non-removal order lifted, no money to buy groceries. No work permit. She turned, reluctantly, to prostitution to pay the bills.
‘I hated it. I did not want to do. But how else could I survive? How else could I provide?’
Today, she sells other services.
‘My flatmates discover my cooking and cleaning is so good, they pay me to do all of it.’
With the help of a Russian-speaking lawyer, she’s launched a renewed bid to secure New Zealand residency and, as at the time of writing, she has temporarily wrested back control of her children from Paul Copeland and is helping heal their scars.
‘I got Nicholai back two weeks ago,’ she murmurs. ‘He wakes at night, but I think he will get better. I love him. Once I didn’t want to stay in New Zealand. Now I do.’
The most stunning aspect of the whole story, however, is why on earth a man with Paul Copeland’s psychiatric history, a sexual predator who raped his own sister and tried to murder his wife with a bow and arrow, a man who enjoyed killing cats in the cruellest ways he could find – why such a man would be allowed anywhere near a child by New Zealand’s social workers and psychologists.
For Elena, that is the biggest mystery of all.
*All names except those of Elena Reznikova and Paul Copeland have been changed for privacy purposes
DVDs: Sep 05, AU Edition
James Fletcher reports on the latest home-viewing offerings
A Loving Father
Director Jacob Berger, son of well known English writer John Berger, isn’t a man afraid of presenting himself as a target within the subtext of his own films. A Loving Father, or Aime Ton Pere for the traditionalists, is a prime example centering on the emotional turmoil of a son trying to connect with a father isolated by fame. But what makes this film remarkable are the confronting performances he draws from his two lead actors, Gerard Depardieu and his own real-life son Guillaume Depardieu, who have their own dark history inspiring their on-screen conflict.
Gerard plays Leo, a cruel self-absorbed writer who receives news that he is to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Against the wishes of his daughter Virginia, played with nervous intensity by waif like actress Sylvie Testud, Leo sets out on a motorcycle journey across Europe to claim his prize. However his son Paul (Guillaume), fresh out of rehab and having heard the news, attempts to reconnect with the man he hasn’t spoken to in years. Of course things don’t go as planned and Paul finds himself kidnapping his renowned father after a fatal accident leaves the literary world, including his sister Virginia, believing Leo to be dead.
Part thriller, part black comedy and part biopic, Berger infuses the script with all his insecurities, angst and obsession while manipulating Gerard and Guillaume’s flawed relationship (which culminated with Gerard publicly disowning his son a year after the films release) to achieve a captivating honesty that saves the film from becoming over indulgent or satirical.
Now on DVD with English subtitles, A Loving Father has little in the way of extra material with biographies on the main cast offering some interesting background facts on the Depardieus’ murky past. However, the stunning performances and obvious emotional investment allows Berger to deliver a brave and entertaining film which explores the darker side of family dysfunction.
Jonny Wilkinson: The Real Story
With the Tri Nations and the Bledisloe Cup fueling the 2005 Rugby season at the moment, it’s not surprising that Jonny Wilkinson: The Real Story makes its way to DVD this month. What is surprising is just how well made and enjoyable this profile of the Lions’ & Newcastle Falcon’s fly half actually is.
Since scoring the winning goal in the 2003 World Cup against Australia, Jonny Wilkinson has become synonymous with international Rugby, gaining fame well beyond the usual fraternity of sports fans. But for the most part, Wil- kinson has avoided the public eye, doing only the occasional media interview or product endorsement.
Having followed Wilkin- son around over a twelve week period in the lead up to the 2003 World cup, The Real Story delivers an entertaining, humourous and surprisingly intimate profile of the sporting icon which thankfully transcends the run-of-the-mill films typical of sports documentaries. Complementing archival footage of Jonny playing in the under-8s league with hard hitting action from international competition, director Simon Niblett also uses to great effect interviews with Wilkinson’s parents, girlfriend and peers including former Lions captain Will Carling and rugby fan Ian Botham filmed exclusively for the documentary.
However it’s the interviews with Wilkinson himself that establish the core of the show, filmed in candid and unpredictable locations around the UK and on tour, and all designed to capture honest, unrehearsed responses. The result reveals a surprisingly likable and sincere man deftly balancing a professional, sporting and private life with a determined ease befitting a much more seasoned player.
Running just short of an hour with no bonus material, Jonny Wilkison: The Real Story easily stands on its own merits as a simple and entertaining profile filmed for the love of the game and without any tabloid motives. A rare find and well worth adding to
Truth, Lies & Intelligence
Truth, Lies & Intelligence is unique in being the only Australian film to effectively explore Australia’s involvement in the lead up to the Iraq War. Filmed in 2003 by award winning filmmaker Carmel Travers the film recounts the origins of the intelligence fraud surrounding Iraq’s WMDs and its use in achieving the eventual invasion of that country by the US, Britain and Australia.
Featuring insightful interviews from high profile whistle-blowers such as Greg Thielman, the former advisor to the US Secretary of State, Australian ex-intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie and Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to key figures in the Middle East including Hamze Mansour, the head of the Islamic National Front and common truck drivers along Iraq’s dangerous highways, highways they point out, which remained safe under Saddam’s rule, Travers delivers a decisive political documentary rich in journalistic integrity and dramatic revelations.
Now on DVD, Truth, Lies & Intelligence boasts an impressive extras package that opens with an introduction by Travers explaining her motivation in making the film. The usual suspects also appear with the film’s trailer, an image gallery and biographies on the key figures included, however it is the two extended interviews that make this package stand out, the first with Greg Thielman, personal advisor to Colin Powell, and the second with Australian Andrew Wilkie who speaks candidly about his role within ONA and the double-edged relationship Australian intelligence agencies have with their American counterparts. He also elaborates on his motivations in exposing the truth, along with details of his resignation and subsequent treatment by the Howard government.
Although threatened by the Attorney General’s Office and forced to surrender her computer hard drives and personal emails during the films production, Travers has managed to produce an undeniably compelling film and a stunning document of Australia’s current political climate.
BOOKS: Sep 05. AU Edition
MEN BEHAVING BADLY
This month: sickos, school shooters, and English-language abusers – plus a great sea tale
MR MUO’S TRAVELLING COUCH
By Dai Sijie
Chatto & Windus, $39.95, ISBN: 0 7011 7739 X
Dai Sijie’s first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Mistress, was a delightfully written fable which showed how appealing forbidden Western literature (Balzac, Tolstoy, Dickens) could be to people living in an oppressive regime. Sijie’s second novel, also exquisitely written, similarly deploys the encounter of a strand of Western thought with Chinese culture, but this time Western psychology – i.e. psychoanalysis – is depicted to satiric and ironic effect. Mr Muo is a French-educated travelling Freudian psychoanalyst but his dream interpretations are considered by his listeners to be either fortune telling or greeted with howls of laughter. Freud and psychoanalysis are easy targets to mock (Nabokov never spared the ‘Viennese witchdoctor’) and at times I found myself chuckling along with the mockers and knockers.
The plot also oozes satiric mockery towards Chinese society and government. For Mr Muo’s real quest in China is not to spread the ideas of Freud but to find a virgin with which to bribe a corrupt judge to free his first love who has been imprisoned for selling articles to the West that describe scenes of Chinese torture. Believe it or not, Muo has trouble finding a virgin – the villages are filled with old women and young girls – the eligible young women having moved into the cities. In other words, the plot is fanciful and Mr Muo is something of a Chinese Quixote tilting at windmills.
Dai Sijie, let me note, writes safely in Paris and in French. I am reasonably confident this book will not be on sale in China, a land of widespread corruption and censorship, anytime soon. The richly elegant style and the multiple layers of irony (Mr Muo is himself a virgin) make this very much a writer’s book. But it also clearly has a political message – albeit one couched in an ironic fable of folly.
Despite its excellence of style, some of the monologues seem inordinately long and discursive though I suspect Chinese readers (hopefully it will find some) may locate more resonance in them than an Occidental one. Also the basic plot engine is left unsatisfiedly unresolved (a Kafkaesque touch, perhaps) or yet another irony? Readers must decide.
I CHOOSE TO LIVE
By Sabine Dardenne
Virago Press, $29.95, ISBN: 1 84408 2105
In recent times few crimes have been more shocking than those perpetuated by Mark Dutroux, the Belgian paedophile who kidnapped, raped and murdered several girls, two as young as eight.
Sabine Dardenne, a slightly built pre-pubescent twelve-year-old, who by her own description looked about ten, was cycling home from school one day in May 1996 when a van pulled alongside her. She was quickly abducted then chained up naked in a small dirty dungeon-like room where she became prey to Dutroux’s psychopathic lust.
As well as being her physical tormentor, Dutroux played havoc with her fears. He kept referring to a mysterious boss, who, if he was let loose on the hapless Sabine, would torture and murder her. By contrast, Dutroux’s treatment was self portrayed as ‘kind’ – he even tried to portray himself as her saviour and brainwash her that her parents had not paid the ransom asked for her life.
Being young and in fear of her life, Dardenne believed him. His physical power over her was absolute yet he never broke her spirit.
Eventually, desperate with loneliness and thinking she might spend the rest of her life chained up in that dismal room, she asked if she could have a friend. When another girl barely two years older than herself turned up, drugged and chained, she was beside herself with guilt. But this is one contemporary horror that has something of a happy ending for Dutroux was caught and told the police about the two trapped girls. The two eight year olds were not so lucky – they starved to death behind that massive concrete door that secured the makeshift prison.
Dardenne tells her own story in simple direct prose – and it is all the more moving for that simplicity. If there is any reader seeking titillation from these pages they will get absolutely none: there are no descriptions whatsoever of the sexual humiliations Dutroux inflicted on the two girls.
At the time the story broke, speculation was rife about a vast underground network of paedophiles in Belgium. Dardenne always believed that Dutroux was the main protagonist (though he had a couple of accomplices including, incredibly, his wife). Subsequent information indicates that Dutroux did not have a secret boss and his attempt to make out he was a humble cog in a large network, who procured for others, was an attempt to lessen his own guilt.
That the two girls survived was a small miracle; that Dardenne’s resolute strength of character carried her through to a normal adult life and a normal relationship without any help from psychiatrists is perhaps the biggest miracle of all. Her body may been violated, her mind temporarily downtrodden, but her soul stayed pure and strong.
RAMPAGE: The Social Roots of School Shootings
By Katherine S. Newman, Cybelle Fox, David J. Harding, Jal Mehta, and Wendy Roth
Basic Books, $32, ISBN: 0 465 05104 9
I recently read a book called We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, a fictional work which made it plain that Kevin, a fifteen-year-old murderer, was basically an evil kid and his mother’s failings as a parent could not be blamed for his horrible deeds – even though she tortured herself psychologically with the possibility. In Kevin, the psychological, let alone the social, causes of youthful carnage were not presented as the explanation for psychopathic behaviour. Rampage examines psychological factors but seeks to place more emphasis on overlooked sociological factors.
School killers, as the name suggests, perform their mass murders at school. They are disturbingly young and getting younger – Andrew Golden was just eleven when he teamed up with 13-year Mitchell Johnson to shoot dead five people and injure a further ten at his school in Arkansas. Although like most mature men I tell myself I am not easily shocked, an eleven-year-old shooting dead or wounding several people does appal. At that tender age, I was doing projects on tea or sugar, and had never been exposed to a gun more powerful than an air pistol.
Quite often, there aren’t many clues to forewarn. Johnson had been rejected by a girlfriend and Golden was cruel to cats. Hardly sufficient reason or motivation to shoot fifteen people. They, like several such killers, came from a small town. The multiple contributors have tried to find a commonality among school killers by a series of graphs that list factors such as age, ethnicity, urbanity and aspects of social marginalisation such as being a loner, being teased or bullied, or indeed even just feeling marginalised. They also looked at mental illness or family problems, disciplinary history, violent writings, trouble with the law, issued threats, mental illness, suicidality, and depression. Finally, they considered access to guns. Summing up their findings, the authors says that there is not enough commonality to compose a reliable or predictable profile. Depressing news, isn’t it?
My gut instinct is that the sociological explanations offered (structural secrecy, institutional memory loss, loosely-coupled systems, counsellors having too many roles to fill) are weaker and more abstract than the psychological ones. Small towns and being loners seem to figure prominently but also, alas, there are plenty of school killers who had friends and even mentioned their intentions to create havoc – which were of course often not taken seriously.
The authors seem to contradict themselves on pages 268-269 when they write ‘... and they weren’t all bullies or teased either’ which is followed three lines later by the statement, ‘And nearly all of them were bullied or teased.’ So which is it? Were they bullied or not? The table on pages 312-313 shows each of the shooters were either bullied or that there was ‘no evidence’. I know it’s not strictly kosher to say so, but if every known case shows bullying, isn’t it reasonable to suppose that a healthy percentage of the remaining teenagers were also bullied? Not that being bullied is sufficient cause for wholesale murder.
The chapter on prevention offers some cautious measures: keeping better records, more school resource officers, challenging notions of masculinity, zero tolerance policy of disciplinary breaches (how is this ever possible?), encouraging kids to report threats. All very well and good. But I am left with the lingering feeling that this is a study from the inside of American society and to an outsider three factors which, though they are in part included in the book, have a peculiarly American flavour – (a) the wide ownership, obsession and ready access to guns; (b) the status anxiety which makes Americans (especially socially marginalised ones) willing to do anything to achieve fame; (c) a society which accepts adolescence as a zone of complete freedom and independence. America, one could say, is paying a high price for its freedoms.
PASSAGE TO TORRES STRAIT: Four Centuries in the Wake of Great Navigators, Mutineers, Castaways and Beachcombers
By Miles Hordern
John Murray, $39.95, ISBN: 0 7195 6496 4
This is a book to stir the salt in the blood of even the most landbound reader. Isn’t that what shipping clerks and ‘customer sales representatives’ (receptionists, bank clerks, office workers) secretly yearn for – to sail off on a blue ocean and anchor in remote and gorgeous lagoons there to parley with beautiful bronze-skinned inhabitants? In days gone by, your best security measure to obtain a benign reception by the locals was to be alone – a lone survivor is no threat – and not be part of group (certain to be bumped off).
So off we sail with the Waiheke Island-based author and his 28-foot sloop for high adventure and re-exploration of history on the high blue seas. By the way, this is how it starts: ‘At lunchtime I finished a bottle of rum’. That I assume was the dessert – and not the aperitif – following a lengthy journey. Horden’s adventurous sojourn was to take him north of Auckland to the Melanesian islands, west across the Coral Sea to the Great Barrier Reef and into the dangerous maze of Torres Strait, wrecker of ships, killer of men.
In Dillon’s Bay, Eerromango – south of Vanuatu – Hordern outlines the protocol of the Melanesian approach to a lone vessel. ‘They would circle the boat in perfect silence...when ready they made a deliberate noise, slapping the paddle against the surface or clearing their throats. Then they waited for an invitation to come alongside’. After boarding they would make requests, in this case for tobacco.
This happened three times and just as Horden was tiring of the one-way traffic after an exhausting journey, the Erromagans returned with sixty pieces of fruit. Erromango may seem an out of the way place now, but in the nineteenth century these waters saw a brisk trade in sandalwood, used for soap and cosmetics. At first, sandalwood was traded for beads, fish-hooks then saws, tomahawks, carving knives and butchers’ cleavers and still later muskets, powder and tobacco.
Some of the castaways or survivors of shipwreck were treated like kings. For in times of early contact, white sailors were assumed to be spirits or supernatural beings. One character known as Big-Legged Jimmy was plied with feasts, kava and young women and left hundreds of grandchildren. By contrast, others like Leonard Shaw, who survived a massacre in the Kilinailau Islands, New Guinea, was kept as a pet and tortured by children who pulled out his facial hair. Hordern describes the enthralling survival tales of the like of William Lockerby on Fiji, John Young on Hawaii, and Peter Dillon on remote Tikopia, even today without airstrip, wharf, white residents, electricity or telephones. Both Conrad and New Zealand castaways get a look in.
All around the vastness of the South Pacific, Horden narrates, the castaway, mutineer or beachcomber was often the envoy of European culture. First encounters were not as we so often fondly imagine – a high ranking officer (Captain Cook, say) with a formidable well- equipped ship meeting a noble chief on white beach and exchanging gifts, but rather a lone and miserable survivor often seeking advantage and sometimes getting it, sometime not. The somewhat throwaway term beachcomber has been immeasurably enriched for me by reading this book. So we are on double journey with Horden, the still adventurous present – the difficult and complex passage through Torres Strait is thrilling reading – and the even more adventurous past.
I have left the best wine (or swig of rum) to last. Horden, a proven sailor, can also write like the roaring forties. Graham Billing is probably our best naturalist writer but Hordern (English now settled in New Zealand) is running him close. ‘Tepid strings of spray spun into the cockpit as if coughed up from the belly of a waking beast.’ On virtually every page there are descriptions as fine as this. This is an ideal book for either sailor or landlubber.
HOW MUMBO JUMBO CONQUERED THE WORLD
By Francis Wheen,
Harper Perennial, $24.95, ISBN: 0 00 714097 5
I’ve always liked books that take a wide overview (it saves me work) and authors that debunk – for there’s lot in this world that needs debunking. Francis Wheen does rather nicely in both categories. Wheen is firm but fair: he’s tough on everyone. Madame Thatcher, Reagan and the George Bushes cop heavy flak. So do Anthony Robbins and Deepak Chopra. As do Ayatollah Khomeini and Milton Friedman. And readers will be pleased to hear that Holocaust denier David Irving gets a roasting.
On the evidence of quotation, Chopra sounds the daffiest: ‘People who have achieved an enormous amount of success are inherently very spiritual’; this must make Bill Gates the holiest man one earth apart from the Pope and the Dalai Lama. How about, ‘Ageing is simply learned behaviour’? Demi Moore agrees, and she hopes to live to 130. Wheen can be unfairly cruel, as when he quips, ‘Why the longevity formula failed to work for Princess Diana, with whom [Chopra] lunched shortly before her death remains a mystery’. Whether it’s Wess Roberts’ The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun or Mars and Venus’ John Gray or ‘Six Hats’ de Bono, Wheen wraps them all up in a chapter entitled ‘Old Snake Oil, New Bottles’. Wheen summarises them all as writers of ‘lucrative twaddle’ and blames Dale Carnegie for starting the vogue back in 1948. Whereas Carnegie contented himself with phrases like, ‘If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive’, today’s gurus use ‘neologistic jargon’ like ‘re-engineering’, ‘demassing’, ‘downsizing’, and ‘benchmarking’ in an attempt ‘to give their twee clichés an appearance of scientific method and intellectual rigour’. Right on, Francis.
But if the gurus are mouthing clichés and twaddle, how come top management pays them so much to talk to their staff? Good question – and apparently there is an answer. One executive manager explained, ‘What he’s saying is a lot of common sense and not new really. But if I pay him $15,000 to say it, my general mangers and my people listen’. So there you are – it’s not really the message but the messenger – and the high fee.
Moving on from self-improvement, he sideswipes the‘boa-deconstructors’ (Derrida and his ilk) and includes the twitty Luce Irigray who referred to E=mc2 as a ‘sexed equation’ that privileged the speed of light over less masculine speeds. When Allen Sokal, author of the most famous intellectual hoax of our time (and someone of whom Wheen wholeheartedly approves) accused Julia Kristeva of using mathematical terms she did not understand, she conceded she was ‘not a real mathematician’. Derrida cops it for asserting that Paul de Man’s wartime blatant Jew-baiting was somehow an implicit repudiation of anti-Semitism. I’m surprised Wheen didn’t quote American philosopher John Searle whose demolition of Derrida was published in the New York Review of Books, but the field of debunkers – like the producers of bunkum – is richly crowded.
Wheen’s learning is formidable. He cites, usually for purposes of intellectual demolition, dozens of books and authors of which and of whom I am ignorant.
To catch up with his list of targets would mean reading for a couple of years at least. It’s easy at times to have a moment of confusion between George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, Thomas Friedman and Milton Friedman and the two John Grays, one American and one English.
As debunkers go, I rate Francis Wheen up with the best – with Martin Gardener, or H.L. Mencken. I look forward to further books from this acid-penned guru who hates gurus.
Sep 05, AU edition
There’s nothing more red-blooded than a juicy slab of steak, but BARBARA SUMNER-BURSTYN reports that a female sex hormone linked to ‘gay’ behaviour in animals and adverse effects on children is
being pumped into some of our beef cattle – without being disclosed on food packaging labels
Butchers dancing like Hari Krishnas, senior citizens thrashing out hard rock extolling its virtues, meat, especially red meat is hot right now. After years of slow decline prompted by health concerns about cholesterol and ‘lighter eating’ trends, Australia’s meat producers are staging a comeback. By doing everything from rolling back health concerns – pointing out, for example, that lean red meat is less than five per cent fat, and pushing it as a source of iron for potentially anaemic women – to reviving traditional steakhouse dining, meat producers, distributors and sellers are working hard to get back on our plates.
But like ‘fog facts’ – important things known but not known that nobody seems able to focus on anymore – described in Larry Beinhart’s book, ‘Fog Facts’ Politics: What We Don’t Know and Why We Don’t Know It, there’s more going on in the paddocks than just grass munching.
Hormone Growth Promotants for example. Known in the industry as HGPs, the official line is that the sex hormones implanted into the ears of cattle are natural or nature identical substances that simply replicate nature, mimicking the hormones lost through castration and equating to other natural dietary sources of hormones such as eggs or soybeans. And, for the most part, Australians don’t know that these substances are going into their meat – despite HGPs being banned in the EU, a fact which has spawned complex record-keeping and audit trail arrangements to make sure no meat from HGP cattle makes it to Europe.
Question your butcher about HGP’s and he’ll probably look at you blankly – and labels will tell you precious little more. Yet they have been used routinely in Australian beef production since 1979 – and have until recently been thought to be an effective way to improve growth rates and feed efficiency in the stockyards. A $3
implant, for example, can generate up to $25-$30 worth of extra cow at the market.
Across the Tasman, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority recently endorsed food labelling to ensure informed choice, but that call has recently disappeared from the agency’s website. When questioned about the presence of artificial hormones in New Zealand’s meat chain and the lack of labelling Sandra Daly, Director of Communications, said that they are a science-based organisation and based on the scientific evidence, there is no consumer protection basis for banning HGP use for beef production for New Zealand.
Australia endorses that position. In a major report, the Australian Department of Health and Aging found that the human safety and toxicology of HGP’s have been extensively assessed by regulatory authorities in Australia, the USA, Canada and New Zealand, in addition to expert scientific committees from the World Health Organisation. The NZFSA says the report forms a part of the information New Zealand considers in developing their views on HGPs. They comment that all international bodies and national regulatory agencies accept the safety data that residues of registered hormones do not pose a threat to consumers.
All that is, except the European Union. The use of HGPs was banned by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, in 1988. The WTO responded that the ban was unscientific. In 2003 the EU completed a full scientific risk assessment, re-evaluating the potential risks to human health from hormone residues. This resulted in the permanent prohibition of estradiol 17ß. Their so-called ‘precautionary’
approach extends to five hormones (testosterone, progesterone, trembolone acetate, zeranol and melengestrol acetate) that have now been provisionally prohibited. In addition to estradiol 17ß there are seven registered HGP’s in Australia including those containing progesterone and trembolone acetate.
In banning HGP’s the EU say they have considered all social, economic and political factors. They concluded that estradiol 17ß was a ‘complete’ carcinogen and that others such as trembolone acetate, the synthetic equivalent of testosterone, should be viewed as having potentially endocrine-disrupting, developmental, immunological, neurobiological, immunotoxic, genotoxic and carcinogenic effects. The EU claims there is a lack of data to support an alternative view. They also contend that despite the WTO rulings there is limited information available on the levels of the various metabolites, or breakdown products, despite this information being relevant.
The EU also suggests that young children may be more sensitive to low levels of the hormones than previously thought. The authors conclude that in light of recent progress in our understanding of estrogen levels in children, possible adverse effects on human health by consumption of meat from estrogen-treated animals cannot be excluded.
The WTO has consistently ruled against the EU. Despite WTO-approved retaliatory economic trade sanctions imposed by the United States, the EU continues to defy orders to lift the ban. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy stated in November last year that the EU ban on certain HGPs was based on a thorough and independent scientific risk assessment.
The approach exercised by the EU appears to be echoed by a leading comparative cancer research programme at Cornell University in the United States. They say that while there’s no evidence to suggest that eating meat from hormone-treated animals affects breast cancer risks, a conclusion on lack of human health effect can only be made after large-scale studies to compare the health of people who eat HGP meat to people who don’t. These have never been done. Cornell also acknowledges that large epidemiological studies have never been done to assess whether or not early puberty in developing girls is associated with having eaten growth hormone-treated foods.
The Australian report concludes that even with the EU’s latest data supporting the ban they can find no grounds for amending Australia’s regulatory position on HGPs. New Zealand takes the same position.
Derek Moore, New Zealand manager for Elanco, the makers of Compudose, one of the most widely used HGPs in New Zealand, is verbose in his dismissal of any concerns surrounding the products: ‘There is no question that the EU position is a form of trade embargo and market protectionism. It’s a non-tariff trade barrier.’ Moore goes on to describe the precautionary principal (the EU’s better-safe-than-sorry approach to implementing health regulations) as entirely arbitrary. ‘I give it no weight’, he said and added that the science in favour of HGPs was so unequivocal that there was really only one side to this issue, the side of the facts.
Compudose is a controlled-release estradiol. The package insert says Estradiol 17ß is a naturally-occurring substance. In the material safety data sheet published by Elanco, the emergency overview for the product states that estradiol may enter the body through the skin, causes cancer and is highly potent. Fetal changes, reproductive tissue damage, mental disorders are also mentioned, as are increased breast size and other feminizing effects in males occupationally exposed to estrogens. The published warning for the product says that even intermittent absorption of small amounts of estrogen through the skin may result in accumulation of relatively high systemic levels with concomitant negative health effects on children whose parents work with estrogen products. (3) Elanco, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, is at pains to point out that its product does not pose any health risk, either to those handling the product or to consumers who ultimately eat the implanted meat. ‘The data is pointing out the hazards of exposure,’ says Moore, ‘that is entirely different from the risk.’
Compudose is implanted only in the skin immediately beneath the ear of a cattle beast. Disposal of ears of implanted cattle is an issue. NZFSA says they are discarded as waste, rendered or used in gelatin production. Gelatin is made from skin (pigskin and hide split) and bone taken from slaughtered animals that have been approved for human consumption. The resulting gelatin is then used in a plethora of locally produced products. A report by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) said that failure to discard implanted ears could lead to mg amounts of hormone residues to enter the food chain and cause acute toxicity in consumers. The NZFSA responds that Australia allows HGP implantation in other parts of the body. But as Elanco New Zealand points out, the product and all product use guidelines are the same as in New Zealand. Martin Holmes, a spokesperson for the APVMA says that, as in New Zealand, Compudose is implanted only in the ear.
A further issue is the use of antibiotics. Elanco acknowledges that the implant may be dusted with the antibiotic tetracycline. Derek Moore is unsure if the local version contains any antibiotic. He suggests that perhaps the implant is coated in talcum powder.
In the United States the needle used to insert the implant is also often coated with an antibiotic. Vet Services in the Hawkes Bay are adamant they do not use antibiotics to cleanse needles. But either way the trace use of an antibiotic for non-therapeutic purposes is concerning. In the United States a bill currently before the US House of Representatives (The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2005) stated that non-therapeutic overuse of antibiotics in animals was creating severe antibiotic resistance in people. The task force cautioned that if current trends continue, treatments for common infections could become nonexistent. Again the EU is at the forefront of precautionary measures, banning the use of all non-therapeutic veterinary antibiotics identified as similar or identical to those used in humans. Elanco says it has yet to be demonstrated that non-therapeutic use of antibiotics has a detrimental effect on humans.
So why use HGPs at all? The industry calls them ‘quality enhancers’. In one local trial cattle treated with Compudose had an average weight increase of 23.5%. Cattle treated with HGPs grow faster enabling them to be sent to the works in shorter time, lowering the farmer cost of beef raising. It’s estimated that for every dollar spent on an HGP there is a five-dollar return.
Because of the EU ban and restrictions in nine other countries considered minor markets HGPs are strictly controlled in Australia . They include identification prior to or immediately after implantation, double-tagging, strict dose notation, a level of paper work that one vet described as onerous, implantation by trained and certified implanters and a requirement that all lost tags be replaced immediately. Once HGP cattle reach the works they must be separated from other animals and either killed in a separate area or only after all the equipment is completely cleansed. Abattoir workers spoken to described the processes as time-consuming.
Perhaps the most salient point for Australian meat consumers is the fact that all identification procedures and separation effort is designed solely to protect our standing with the EU. ‘There is no emphasis on ensuring the local market can access non-HGP meat,’ admits the NZFSA. They advise that there are three main mechanisms for post-slaughter separation and identification. Organics such as those run by Biogro, the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Marketing Bureau’s domestic Quality Mark and Qualmark. (Qualmark reports that they do not certify meat)
Such is the adherence to the ‘science’ of HGPs and the belief that the EU ban is nothing more than market protectionism, the only risk acknowledged by the NZFSA is a trade risk. Implanted animals in Australia and New Zealand are not tested for residues of any of the registered HGPs. Instead up to 450 non-implanted cattle are tested to ensure compliance with the identification regulations to protect the export market.
NZ Food Safety Authority director of animal products Tony Zohrab was reported recently as saying any decision on the use of HGPs is very much a commercial one between farmers and processors. The organisations official position is that while consumer perception obviously plays a role in decision-making, wherever possible, when that perception is at odds with scientific evidence, they prefer consumer education to scientifically unjustified regulation.
Elanco’s Derek Moore says their own consumer research shows people want safe and affordable food. ‘The use of HGPs and antibiotics in animal production is of very low concern.’ And he comments that banning things is unacceptable in our modern marketplace.
He’s right of course. HGPs should not be banned. The tracking and status of HGP cattle in Australia is comprehensive and effective. Labeling for the local market is no more commercially onerous than separation for the European market. Consumer choice is promoted as the ultimate freedom. It is the market that must test the validity of claims in support of HGPs. It is the market that must sort out whether consumers really want to eat meat grown with growth promoting hormones.
THE LESBIAN GULLS
The issue of estrogen in the diet is a controversial one. Scientists have discovered a number of foods – most notably soy – that contain high levels of phytoestrogens, the plant equivalent of the female sex hormone.
Although initially dismissed by some as ‘soy conspiracy theory’, research on the effects of phytoestrogens and other estrogen compounds on human sexual development is now widespread, particularly because of soy’s use as a milk substitute for infants.
New Scientist magazine reported two years ago that girls raised on soy infant formula are more likely to suffer menstrual discomfort, and boys born to vegetarian mothers are five times more likely to suffer genital abnormalities. Other studies have reinforced suspicions about diets high in phytoestrogens, and some scientists now believe there’s evidence that they could be a factor in causing homosexuality.
The first evidence came in from the animal kingdom, as Science News online reported:
‘While the health community has recently begun a host of studies to explore a possible link between estrogenic pollutants and cancers in women, few researchers have focused on the related reproductive risks such environmental hormones may pose for both sexes. That’s unfortunate says Theo Colborn, a zoologist with the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C., because reproductive effects are likely to be ‘much more widespread.’
‘Indeed, she notes, animal data are beginning to suggest that far smaller exposures are needed to trigger reproductive effects than to induce cancers. And because some of these reproductive changes may be subtle, they could evade detection for decades – even a lifetime – unless hunted for explicitly.
‘Colborn has convened a number of symposia in the past few years for researchers who study reproductively impaired wildlife populations or laboratory animals exposed to environmental hormones. Most of these scientists, she says, describe the links they’re finding between impaired reproduction and ‘hormonal’ pollutants as sobering – if not downright scary.
‘Indeed, she and many other environmental scientists worry that if hormone-like contaminants can feminize male animals, these ubiquitous pollutants may also underlie troubling reproductive-system trends being witnessed in men.’
A University of California, Davis, study by avian toxicologist Michael Fry in the 1980s determined that estrogenic pollution lay behind the ‘lesbian behaviour’ of seagulls. Significantly, to test their theory, they injected normal seagull eggs with estradiol, the additive being pumped into some New Zealand and Australian beef.
‘To connect these effects with estrogenic pollutants, Fry and his colleagues conducted a number of experiments during the 1980s. In one, they injected eggs of contaminant-free gulls with estradiol…When the hatchlings emerged, they exhibited the same array of feminized sex organs as DDT-contaminated Western gulls on Santa Barbara Island, off the coast of California.’
The estradiol, and a range of other estrogenic pollutants like DDT, effectively ‘chemically castrated’ the males, Fry says.
As Science News reported: ‘He suspects the males’ likely lack of interest in mating explains not only why female gulls dominated Santa Barbara Island’s breeding colony in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but also why the females cohabited.’
Increasingly, scientists suspect environmental hormone pollutants caused by human agriculture and industrial waste are working into the animal food chain and creating more instances of so-called ‘gay behaviour’ by animals.
Indeed, the debate over whether homosexuality is genetic, or a lifestyle choice, has raged for decades. But increasingly scientists are discovering evidence pointing to a more complex answer, and one which the estrogen controversy could shed some light on.
If homosexuality were truly an inherited genetic condition, it should have disappeared from the human gene pool thousands of years ago, on the basis of Darwin’s evolutionary theory about natural selection of traits most likely to boost procreation.
Another blow to the simplistic ‘gay gene’ theory are studies of identical twins, which show that where one twin is gay, there is only a 50% chance that the other twin will be as well. Because the genes of identical twins are, well, identical, if a gay gene exists both twins should have it. On that basis, scientists have concluded that homosexuality must not be genetic, given the lower strike rate. Instead, they’re increasingly leaning towards environmental factors during pregnancy.
Subsequent studies, for example, have shown that identical twins were sometimes exposed to differing hormone levels in the womb – one twin might receive higher doses of hormones from the mother, either through diet or the pregnancy itself.
That, say researchers, could explain why one identical twin is gay and the other is not.
Which brings us back to estrogen additives like soy, or estradiol and the lesbian seagulls. Could it be that the increased prevalence of gay behaviour in humans has less to do with “who we are” than what we eat or inhale?
The ethical implications are enormous, particularly if ongoing studies confirm that pollutants and estrogen-laden foods are possible causative factors in both homosexuality and reproductive health problems.
The question is, what are the hormones doing to humans?
DIARY OF A CABBIE : Sep 05, AU Edition
ALL DUE RESPECT
A chance fare leaves our driver wondering if there will always be an England
A week doesn’t pass when my cab radio doesn’t issue broadcasts warning of youths throwing rocks at passing cabs, usually in the housing commission areas of Redfern and Matraville.
Indeed the nightly bus runs out to La Perouse don’t operate without security aboard anymore. The vicious attack I wrote of last month was not an isolated incident in that part of the City, where similar attacks occur on a regular basis. For many of these youths violence is fun. Where once kids were content to get drunk, these days a night out is not complete without proving oneself by smashing someone who can make the simple mistake of looking at them. And in a disturbing portent of things to come, such public violence in Britain has now graduated to sinister new levels, namely, the targeting of the weak and vulnerable in society, in particular the elderly. Labelled low level urban terrorism it has led to the Government instituting a legal instrument called Ant-Social Behaviour Orders.
Recently I picked up a visiting British Labor MP Frank Field, who has been championing the fight against this urban scourge and was in Sydney to deliver a series of lectures for the Centre for Independent Studies. Field says anti-social behaviour stems from the collapse of functional families, the unions and the church, adding that the issue was once taken up squarely by the Left, which ages ago stressed personal responsibility and self-improvement.
Field had just been interviewed on radio when he hailed me outside the ABC in Ultimo. Having listened to the interview I sought to ascertain the extent of the problem. A talkback caller had confirmed it by likening it to A Clockwork Orange, a film which depicted a society spinning out of control. ‘Is it really that bad in your electorate?’ I asked. ‘Absolutely’, Field replied, ‘Pensioners are constantly coming to my office reporting how young lads run across their bungalow roofs, pee in their letterboxes, bang on their windows or jump out at them in the dark’.
Wondering how youth arrived at this point I asked, ‘Do you think it’s to do with the fact many parents simply don’t know how to parent, or won’t parent?’. ‘Most definitely’, he replied, ‘Those parents are failing to nurture their young, to teach them what constitutes civil behaviour’.
When I commented that some parents aren’t fit to breed he replied, ‘Well, you know what the saddest thing I’m seeing is the amount of grandparents forced to raise their children’s children’. ‘Well mate’, I told him, ‘obviously we don’t have the same problem here, yet. But there are certain areas around town I prefer to pick up young adults, such as the Bible belt in the north-west of Sydney where the kids are better behaved than other areas’.
Field noted his seat of Birkenhead was traditionally a Catholic constituency but had now changed to a secular seat. He noted the decline of religion in society had also coincided with the rise in yobbo behaviour. Just then he spotted St. Mary’s Cathedral and requested I drop him off there.
I pulled into the Domain to write up our conversation whilst it was fresh in my mind. Some 15 minutes later I looked up to see Field briskly striding past, heading for the Art Gallery. He saw me and as we exchanged a wave I noted he carried a pained expression. A man on a mission. It seemed as if he bore the hopes of the civilised world. Or at least Britain. Good luck to him.
Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at www.cablog.com.au
The Rough Life
Welcome to Investigate’s new and occasional tribute to the greatest game on Earth
If there were an identifiable chemical compound called golf, it would have been scheduled as an illegal drug by now. To the outsider, a golf ‘user’ getting his fix looks about as bizarre as a heroin junkie doing his thing: an assortment of special equipment, the requirement of a special place (though a golf course is generally a lot nicer for non-participants than a bus station toilet), bizarre contortions all cause others to think, ‘Why on Earth…?’
Golf can be like other drugs as well. It can drain a wallet faster than a coke habit, and turn someone into a crashing bore who thinks he has a lot of deep and profound things to say to people who don’t share his enthusiasm faster than three bong hits of the highest-grade hydroponic.
About the only drug it’s hard to parallel golf with is ecstasy: not much chance of seeing players hugging up on one another under flashing lights while listening to trance music. Of course, you can’t spell ‘clubhouse’ without ‘club’, so I could be wrong.
And yet. Like a drug, once someone gets hooked on golf, it can be a lifelong affair: one that breaks up far fewer families (though some, to be sure!) than the hard stuff, but is just as addictive.
The first time I picked up a club I was hooked. I was in my mid-twenties, and I had been living in a small city – more like a big town – surrounded by golf courses, and where the only two social activities for young men were hitting the bars and hitting the links. So when a few friends said they were heading for the driving range after brunch one Sunday, I asked if I could tag along.
To make a long story short, they handed me a nine-iron, a bucket of balls, and gave me about thirty seconds worth of instruction. Which, considering the amount of money I’ve wasted on golf books, tutorials, and sessions with pros over the subsequent years, makes it far and away the most cost-effictive swing coaching I’ve ever had. If I remember right, it was pretty much ‘OK, stand like this, and then swing’, followed by a lot of impromptu Caddyshack routines. (‘Be the ball, Danny. Be the ball.’)
Of course, the first several balls I managed to hit went skittering off in all sorts of embarassing directions, some of them caroming off the wall of my stall on the range. Then came the moment of connection, when everything aligned more-or-less properly and my clubhead hit that range ball with a quiet, distinguished click and the ball took off on an high and graceful arc, hung for a moment at its apex, and then drifted back down to Earth, landing in a ‘Roadrunner and Coyote’-style poof! on the dusty range.
That was something of a fluke, but that didn’t stop me from beating several more buckets (and tearing up my shoulder and palms in the process) and demanding that we all go and play the following week – an experience better left undescribed.
But that’s what this new column, ‘The Rough Life’ is all about. Average golfers who love the game travelling around Australia to hit some balls on some of our best courses.
It won’t be written from the perspective of a jock who hits 300m off the tee; that’s not most of us. Instead, it is devoted to the hackers, the slicers, and the happy hookers who take mulligans, ride in buggies, and are addicted to this great game, no matter how badly they play it.
See you at the 19th.
Sep 05, AU Edition
A New South Wales abortionist will stand trial in November for manslaughter after an alleged illegal termination that went terribly wrong – the first such prosecution in New South Wales in over two decades. Investigate’s Claire Morrow has the inside story of Dr. Suman Sood’s many brushes with the law, and sheds light on just what happens when young women in crisis get caught up in Australia’s abortion industry
The mother was a 20-year-old woman who had the support of her parents and boyfriend to continue the pregnancy. She was recently employed after a period of unemployment without benefits. She was concerned about money. Her parents offered to raise the child, but the pregnant young woman thought they might be moving overseas, and didn’t want that for her child. ‘I thought about it (having the baby) and knew I wouldn’t be able to raise a child,’ she said. ‘I was sad about that and then angry, I knew what I had to do.’
Thus begins the tragic story of an unnamed young woman whose decision to terminate her twenty-something week pregnancy in the office of Dr Suman Sood has led to manslaughter charges, revelations of fraud, and shed light on what Australian women get when they think about exercising their ‘right to choose’.
The young woman was not even eligible for an abortion when she turned up at Sood’s clinic: after 20 weeks gestation, terminations are only performed in hospital, and only in cases of rare or compelling circumstances. And one can only begin to imagine the storm of emotions surrounding her decision: while on the one hand she clearly cared about the baby, on the other hand, she felt that she couldn’t go through with the pregnancy – that, somehow, it was her duty to abort.
The young woman claims she received little in the way of counseling and that Sood told her the procedure would cost $1,500 (and that she needed some of that money on the day – she only had $400 on her). The young mother alleges that Dr Sood inserted a pessary into her vagina and gave her two tablets ‘to soften up the baby’ to take by mouth, with instructions to return the next day to complete the procedure.
Rather than returning for the ‘completion’, the young woman went into labour early the next morning and her baby was delivered prematurely at 3:30 in the morning, on the toilet, by the distressed and surprised mother, who rushed to hospital shortly thereafter. Before the birth, she alleges that she had called Dr Sood in alarm. Sood’s response was to tell her to take some Panadol; she advised her patient that she was suffering Braxton-Hicks contractions. It was not until the baby arrived at the hospital that doctors realized he was alive. He died around 8 am the same day.
Dr Sood’s defense is an affidavit she wrote weeks after the event. In it, she states that she had seen the patient on a Saturday, advised her that she could not lawfully terminate a pregnancy beyond 20 weeks, suggested she think it over, and if she still wanted an abortion, she should return on Tuesday for a referral to a Queensland clinic, where abortion could be obtained at her stage in pregnancy.
Sood states that on the Monday in question, she was not working at the clinic (this is the day the mother alleges that Dr Sood started the abortion procedure). That doesn’t mean Sood was not around, however: by sheer coincidence, when the patient went to the clinic for tummy cramps that day, Dr Sood was indeed there to ‘fetch something’, and did examine the woman. At this point Sood says she assessed her young patient as having Braxton-Hicks contractions, gave her two ‘Tri-Profen’ analgesics, and told her to go home and take some Panadol. Imagine her surprise when she heard the poor girl went into premature labour and had the baby. Nothing to do with her, right?
Sood’s defense raises a number of questions. Why did she wait weeks to file an affidavit, given the seriousness of the incident? What was she doing at her clinic, randomly fetching something – knowing that she would be at work the next day? And having shown up, what would induce her to see a patient whilst there if she had been well and was due to return the following day if she needed a letter? Unless she was, as prosecutors allege, halfway through an illegal abortion.
Sood’s patient’s baby, meanwhile, being at 21-24 weeks gestation, would have been approximately 20cm long, kicking, sleeping and hearing in the womb, a fully formed human, his gender clear, in miniature. The baby survived his premature delivery but died a few hours later. Premature babies have been known to be ‘viable’ at this stage, if the mother goes into labour which cannot be stopped. Oddly, if Dr Sood had had the foresight to kill the baby in utero and keep a close eye on her patient, she would never have been caught. One wonders – if she was in principle willing to perform a late-term abortion – how much practice she may have had.
So just who is Dr Sood? To make a long story short, she is the owner of the private Australian Women’s Health Clinic in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield, and has what might politely be called a checkered past. People keep alleging that has made money in less-than-honest ways. And she was in fact found guilty on of Medicare fraud (96 counts) earlier this year but went straight back to work.
On the 8th of February this year, Dr Sood faced 96 charges of dishonestly obtaining Medicare benefits. At trial it was revealed that Dr Sood was bulk-billing patients through Medicare and also charging them an out of pocket fee; around $120 for a 12 week pregnancy, and $1,100 for a 19 week pregnancy. Now a doctor can charge whatever she likes for a medical service in private practice, but Medicare refunds a flat $144.30 for an abortion. If a doctor wants to charge $200, $500 or $3,000 upfront, she is entitled to do so. The mother then takes her receipt to a Medicare office and receives $144.30 back. Unless she has reached the Medicare safety net, in which case she receives $144.30, plus 80% of the difference. If the doctor bulk bills the patient (many doctors in private practice bulk bill poor patients) the patient gives no cash up front, Medicare pays the doctor directly, and the doctor is not entitled to receive any more money.
The charges followed a raid on Sood’s practice on 30 October 2001. Moments before her arrest, Dr Sood was seen by an employee shoving bundles of receipts under medical waste. Perhaps she was hoping the Health Insurance Commission investigators would be too squeamish to look there. A nurse at the clinic, Minna Zoretic, testified that she had seen Dr Sood dumping papers in a bin. Ms Zoretic had also worked on reception, and taken money from patients for abortions. Ms Zoretic had worked as a nurse, receptionist and counselor at the clinic, although she had no qualifications in counseling. Dr Sood was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and fined more than $20,000, but went back to work.
The baby who died after a premature birth, allegedly induced by Dr Sood, had a mother who was ‘counseled’ at the clinic by Minna Zoretic, who again has no counseling qualifications.
Investigate has also learned that Dr Sood was once investigated by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission for a kickback scheme wherein she was alleged to have received $25 for each sample she sent to Westpath Services, a pathology company. Dr Raghubir Singh – another doctor working at the clinic – has alleged that Sood received between $8,000 and $10,000 a month from the scheme. And she has been the subject of a number of complaints to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC scheme), but has continued to work.
Under NSW law, one doctor’s opinion that a woman’s physical, mental, social or economic health might suffer as a result of pregnancy or birth is sufficient to warrant a legal abortion. The doctor in question can be the abortion doctor who will profit. Apparently their medical scruples are beyond reproach. To detain someone against their will in a mental health institute because they are a danger to themselves or others requires two doctors, and the case must be heard by a magistrate within 48 hours. To kill a baby, the opinion of a doctor with a vested interest meets the letter of the law.
A doctor who provides abortion is a general practitioner who has decided to provide abortion. Abortion is not routinely taught in medical schools; one must profess an interest, and once one has become a GP, approach a clinic and learn on the job. If a doctor knows what to do in a technical sense, there is no theoretical law to prevent them from hanging up their shingle as an abortionist. There are no licensing requirements. There is an Association of abortion providers, which has voluntary membership. The association sees itself as promoting women’s health, using the safest techniques, and keeping up with ‘best practice’. Dr Sood was not a member. One wonders why.
Dr Sood is not the first person in NSW to be charged under the Crimes Act for performing an illegal abortion, just the first to be charged in more than 20 years. In 1981, Dr George Smart was charged with performing an illegal abortion in circumstances similar to this current case. The teenage girl who he aborted had been refused abortion at other services, and was more than 20 weeks pregnant. Like Dr Sood, Dr Smart was not a member of the relevant professional association, and was on the outer edge of that community. He was reportedly not liked or trusted by other abortion doctors, and could not find other abortionists to testify on his behalf. Smart was found guilty, and lodged an appeal. The case law would have been challenged on appeal, but Smart died before the appeal was heard, so the law was not challenged, and has not been clarified since.
The burden on the prosecution is to prove that Dr Sood was trying to cause a miscarriage (or, more accurately, a stillbirth; babies delivered after 20 weeks must be registered with Births Deaths and Marriages) and gave her prostaglandin. This can be proven or disproven by blood tests the hospital may or may not have run at the time they admitted the young woman. Because it is a criminal case, the standard of proof required is high. The young woman would probably win a civil case. In the civil area, the laws could be tested and clarified. And indeed a number of civil charges have been brought against abortion providers across Australia, for assault (if the woman has not given informed consent, than any contact with her body is presumed to be assault) or nervous shock. These cases have always been settled out of court, meaning that the law is not challenged or clarified in court, and that the woman is bound by a confidentiality agreement not to discuss the case.
Law relating to unborn children is terrifically confused, and varies by state. If a 39-week pregnant woman is stabbed, and the baby dies but the mother lives, no one has been murdered. If a 24-week premmie baby is stabbed, then it has been murdered. Abortion is legal in different circumstances in different states. The majority of general practitioners feel that they do not have a clear understanding of abortion law.
In NSW, counseling is not a legal requirement prior to abortion, although most best-practice publications suggest that it should be available. In order to legally consent to any medical procedure, the patient must give informed consent. The interpretation of this in relation to abortion seems to be that the woman should have an understanding of what will be done to her body and consent to anaesthetic risks and so forth. There is no expressed need to give her any information about the baby.
To find out more about the consequences of terminations on Australia’s women, Investigate spoke to Melinda Tankard-Reist, the author of the 2002 book Giving Sorrow Words and the forthcoming Defiant Birth: Women who Resist Medical Eugenics, and an advocate for Australian women suffering from post-abortion grief. In her 2002 book she discusses the case of the Australian woman who was led into a room for abortion ‘counseling’ and told to press ‘play’ to hear the recorded message.
‘The hundreds of women I have spoke to didn’t feel that they had made an informed choice or gave informed consent…abortion is sold as something quick and simple and easy. The providers’ attitude is that any pregnancy in less-than-perfect circumstances should be aborted. It’s the sensible thing to do’, she says, adding that she believes the fact that so many women ‘choose’ abortion is a sign that there is something terribly wrong with society.
‘This is a Band-aid solution where a woman is abandoned to her so-called autonomy, and if she suffers emotionally after the abortion is told to keep her mouth shut, that she is the ano- maly…this is a sacred right…any questioning or discussion is out of order.’
Tankard-Reist reports that of the hundreds of women who answered her advertisement to talk about grief after abortion, a large number asked if they were the only woman who had felt that way, and called.
In Australia pregnancy decision-making counseling is provided primarily by groups that have a combination of church and government funding. As are, in fact, many other social services such as drug rehabilitation programs, and injecting rooms. The staff at these centres are likely to be pro-life themselves, but have chosen to help women by offering free telephone and face to face support during pregnancy. Investigate test-called two of these services, under the guise of Karen, a 19-year-old student who was 14 weeks pregnant and seeking an abortion. In both cases the counselors took neither a pro Nor con position, and I found ‘Karen’s’ discussions with the services to be sympathetic and focused on providing non-judgemental support to discuss the options.
In NSW, non-directive pregnancy counseling that includes referral for termination is provided by the Bessie Smythe Foundation. Margaret Kirkby, Centre Director for Bessie Smyth spoke to Investigate about abortion and the legacy that counseling, or lack thereof, can create. While Ms Kirkby is resolutely pro-choice, she admits that Bessie Smythe ran an abortion clinic until 2002, but found that it was economically impossible to keep providing abortions to all women in need while also offering ethically adequate counseling: ‘At the end of the day, it is a small business. Running a service in a way that all women have access to extensive counseling is not financially viable. We believe that providing counseling for 100% of clients is good practice. But it’s not covered by Medicare. [These services] do the best they can. They are staffed by people who are caring and committed’, Kirkby said.
In many, but not all cases this would seem to be true. One may disagree with their moral reasoning, but in many cases these individual people are doing the best they can to assist women the way that seems right to them.
But while she admits women may feel grief and loss – she calls it ‘hitting a wall’ – after an abortion, Kirkby resolutely refuses to accept the existence of what many call Post Abortion Stress Syndrome; she claims that it is a right-wing anti-abortion myth designed to scare women and blame abortion providers. Also, it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of mental disorders. (A slightly odd argument coming from someone like Kirkby, in that implies that the patriarchal medical old-boys of the DSM IV are the best judges of womens’ mental health issues.)
Some abortion providers in NSW allow for counseling which is included in the up front fee, if the woman books the counseling ahead. Some providers do this, but if the woman does not have an abortion on the day of the counseling, she is charged an extra $50 fee – and $50 is a lot of money in some circumstances. Other clinics refer women who seem distressed or unsure to a psychologist, who charges his or her own fee. Some clinics, such as the multinational Marie Stopes, provide no counseling at all, under any circumstances. They either send you home or run you through the system. Those are the choices.
In June this year Natasha Stott Despoja tabled a motion in parliament to force pregnancy counseling services to disclose ‘this service does not refer for termination’ in any advertisement. She felt it was misleading women to provide pregnancy advice from a service that didn’t seek to increase the Australian abortion statistics. She did not discuss in the motion any need for abortion providers to advertise that ‘this clinic has a financial interest in your having an abortion.’
Kirkby told Investigate that ‘compulsory counseling would be an insult to women...it could lead to a situation where women were forced by the state to do certain things, such as view pictures of babies, or wait 72 hours after the counseling before the abortion’, as is the case in some American states. ‘Counselling women must be non-directive, and focus on the woman’s needs…It could also create a situation where counseling was about ticking off boxes, not about supporting women’. Tankard Reist agrees that it would be terrible to force women to view pictures or read information against their will but counters that ‘all information should be freely available; it is absurd and shows the poor state things are in that we even need to discuss the need for counseling’.
Regarding the ‘national tragedy’ of abortion rates in Australia, most people would agree that it would be a good thing to lower the rate of abortion. There are tremendously difficult issues involved in thinking about abortion, the least of these being the lack of data. Health Minister Tony Abbott caused an uproar when he suggested that there were 100,000 terminations performed each year, but the fact is that hard numbers are tough to come by. Most Australian states do not keep records of abortions; Medicare data tells us how many women have had procedures for which they claimed a Medicare rebate, but those numbers are fuzzy as well as some of these procedures will have involved women who have had a miscarriage or stillbirth, and many other women will never claim the Medicare rebate. Some trends show the overall abortion rate decreasing, but it is equally plausible that this is a reflection of miscarriage management, which has trended towards a non-interventionist approach over the last decade as women are no longer routinely given D&Cs after miscarriage.
Arbitrary time limits on abortion are also confused. Why 20 weeks, why not 19, or 21? Is a cleft lip enough of a disability to warrant a termination? What about a 90% chance the baby has Down’s Syndrome – versus a 10% chance that the baby is fine? The current government rhetoric on women’s issues is struggles to mash together a jumble of moderate and conservative attitudes into a cohesive policy. So we want less abortions, but we don’t want more women on the single parent’s pension.
The poorest and most disadvantaged women have the hardest time getting access to everything, including abortion and counseling. Yet they have more abortions, and surely would benefit from more counseling.
The abortion debate is too often about choosing sides, and not enough about civilized respectful discussion of the issues by non-like minded people. Fred Nile can’t keep himself from interrupting pro-choice speakers, and pro-choice pollies can’t stop themselves from name-calling in response. The issue is not ‘settled’, and the majority who think they have an opinion haven’t challenged it, and are going on a gut reaction.
We need to think very seriously about how women are treated in our society, and that a NSW abortion clinic advertises ‘Accidental and Unplanned pregnancy is a fact of life. Dealing with it can be emotional and stressful’. The implication would seem to be that abortion is a fact of life, but it’s just one of those crosses we women have to bear. We should accept that obviously we will not be able to finish our degrees, make enough money, achieve what we want and need, if we become pregnant.
I prefer this quote provided by the American organisation Feminists for Life which has as its slogan, ‘Abortion is a sign that we are not meeting the needs of women’: ‘When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society – so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.’
The abortion-breast cancer debate: Is there a link?
Many studies have suggested a link between abortion and breast cancer, to the effect that abortion is a risk factor for breast cancer. Not all women who have abortions get breast cancer, there are a myriad of risk factors, and more than one form of breast cancer. Nevertheless abortion is a modifiable risk factor – unlike family history, for example, it can be avoided.
The Abortion Providers Federation of Australia acknowledges that a number of reputable studies have shown a link, but calls for more studies, and their website implies that no conclusions can be drawn. It is, however, accepted that early first full-term pregnancy (i.e. before 24 years of age), increased number of pregnancies, and length of time breastfeeding all decrease breast cancer risk. This is not debated.
An independent link is thought to be due to the proliferation of new breast cells in early pregnancy. If the pregnancy is continued, these cells become mature and less vulnerable to cancer. In most cases of miscarriage, there is a gradual decline in the hormones that cause this proliferation. In some miscarriages, and all abortions, the hormone change is rapid.
The first study to examine the abortion-breast cancer link among American women was published in 1981 and reported that abortion ‘appears to cause a substantial increase in risk of subsequent breast cancer.’ A 140% risk elevation was reported. [Pike MC et al., British Journal of Cancer (1981;43:72-6]
The only statistically significant study of American women using medical records (rather than histories) reported a 90% increased risk of breast cancer among women in New York who had chosen abortion. [Howe et al. (1989) Int J Epidemiol 18:300-4]
Critics of the link rely on the problem of reported history. This argument supposes that women who are healthy under-report their history of abortion (which is well established), but also that women who have breast cancer defy this general trend and accurately (or with exaggeration) report their abortion history.
MUSIC: Sep 05, AU Edition
VISIONS OF EMBARGOES
Ed Bark is stuck inside a screening room with the can’t-talk-about-this-movie blues again
BEVERLY HILLS, California – Now you see him, or else you don’t. The secretive society known as Bob Dylan and his ‘people’ called the tune for PBS (think ABC, but with explicit corporate sponsorship) last week. It was something of a protest song, but more a marketing ploy tied to September’s DVD and PBS unveilings of the Martin Scorsese-directed No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. Here’s how it went down.
PBS told TV critics in late spring that their only opportunity to see the 3-hour film would be on the night of July 13 at a closely guarded theatre screening in Beverly Hills. No review copies would be sent out between the screening and PBS’ Sept. 26 premiere of the film as part of its acclaimed ‘American Masters’ series. Critics were also strongly encouraged to keep their opinions to themselves for at least the next two months.
This is hardly business as usual. In an increasingly crowded TV universe, PBS and rival networks routinely send shows to critics weeks and often months before their air dates. But No Direction Home would be a glaring exception. Why? Because Dylan and his manager, Jeff Rosen, who interviewed him for the film, are either paranoid or pragmatic about piracy.
‘The Dylan people say that he is the most bootlegged artist in the world’, PBS president Pat Mitchell said in an interview. ‘And they are terrified that if screeners are sent out, the next thing we know it would be all over the Web and everything else. As you might imagine, it’s a challenge working with someone of Bob Dylan’s stature and reputation, and his history of being very much in control of his product.’
There will be plenty of product this spring. An expanded DVD edition of No Direction Home will be in U.S. stores a week before PBS presents its two-part version. A double CD set with ‘key songs’ from the film hits stores around the same time. And ‘The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956-66,’ retailing for $45, is due to arrive shortly thereafter. Still, there’s no official Bob Dylan ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ harmonica coming – yet.
Meanwhile, ‘American Masters’ executive producer Susan Lacy tried to make the best of the situation before last week’s screening at the Zanuck Theater on the Fox Studios’ Hollywood lot. For the record it was preceded by an outdoor Mexican food buffet accompanied by beer, wine and piped-in show tunes.
‘I truly think this film is a masterpiece’, Lacy then told 100 or so critics. Dylan ‘has not seen it. We don’t think he ever will.’
No Direction Home is only about the early performance years, 1961-66, of the now 64-year-old legend. There is ample ‘never-seen’ footage provided with Dylan’s blessing. Much of it is extraordinary, capturing both the tenor of the times and a vibrantly young Bob making his way from traditional acoustic folk tunes to electrified versions that initially stunned and angered audiences.
‘I think he’s prostituting himself’, says a miffed Britisher during Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe.
Joan Baez contributes a new and candid interview while the current-day Dylan’s diction at least is clear. He otherwise reveals little of any real substance about either his music or himself.
Baez says she long since has given up trying to figure him out. About all we really know is that he’s definitely a capitalist.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Sep 05, AU Edition
Child abuse and the nature of evil
Surveys show around 90% of Australians and New Zealanders have a spiritual belief. Many people as part of that belief acknowledge the existence of spiritual evil, whether in the new agey “bad karma” sense or in the traditional Christian, Islamic or Jewish view of evil personified in satanic form. In Europe, however, belief in God is dropping away rapidly as Europeans see themselves as enlightened social liberals. In France, in particular, belief in the existence of the Devil is held by only 17% of the population, compared with 65% in the US.
Is it possible that by abandoning belief in God, people can leave themselves wide open to genuine spiritual evil? That is the question ultimately thrown up by last month’s convictions of 62 people in a French village for “raping, prostituting, molesting or failing to protect 45 children as young as six months old,” as the Belfast Telegraph succinctly summed it up.
The accused villagers, aged between 27 and 73, including 26 women. These people were the parents and grandparents of 45 children from 23 families. As the newspaper notes: “They took part in the sexual assaults themselves or accepted small payments, including cigarettes, drink and food, for the use of their children.”
Some people would have us believe that sexual orientation is something we’re born with. What are we to make of the news that the inhabitants of an entire village were born paedophiles? Do we believe this is a random fluke of nature, or is the cause of this infestation more likely to be a direct result of the culture and belief systems our generation is creating in the West? Like the eagerness of Germans to round up “subhuman” Jews for the final solution, or the speed with which otherwise civilised Los Angelenos descended into brutal bloodlust, rape and riot, burning their central city in 1991; I’m far more inclined to believe that evil is not a “natural” genetic flaw, it is a path we choose. Remember those cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other? What happens when the person in the middle no longer believes in angels – where then does their advice come from?
The answer can be seen in the French town of Angers.
The mastermind of the Village of Paedophilia was a 37 year old with previous convictions, and four children of his own were repeatedly raped and abused by strangers. One 12 year old girl was said to have been raped 45 times.
A mother, Patricia, was found guilty of raping her own daughter, and prostituting 11 neighbourhood children.
The abuse took place in properties owned by the local council, and 21 of the 23 families were under the “supervision” of social workers. In fact, fifteen social workers had been rostered to look after Patricia’s family. Several witnesses testified they saw Patricia’s husband Frank raping his own children, even though one was yelling out, “stop daddy, you’re hurting me”.
One factor that researchers have long known is that people who are sexually abused as children are more likely to become abusers as adults. Patricia and her husband had both been molested as children.
In Christian theology, there is a reason for this: demonic transference. Several times in the New Testament, Christ talks about people possessed by demons, and how unless a person changes their bad habits, the spiritual baggage they cast out will come back: “It goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live in there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”
In the book of Matthew, 8:31, Jesus comes across a possessed man and casts demonic spirits out of him: “The demons begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs’.” And
Christ treated demons, or dark angels, as real creatures, albeit invisible to the eye. If they left a place, they had to go somewhere else. And they had the capacity to invite their mates around for a few cold ones and blue movies.
There have been several Hollywood movies on the premise of demons leaping from victim to victim, and the spiritual sickness in the French village of Angers is stark testimony. Is there a better explanation for why 62 residents of a village should suddenly take up child molestation on masse, passing their own kids around to other villagers and watching six month old babies being sexually violated?
A random fluke of nature or genetics just doesn’t explain it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exculpating these scum by suggesting they’re not really guilty because “the devil made me do it”. The devil planted the idea, but they chose to act on it.
Which brings me to Graham Capill and other men of the cloth, Protestant or Catholic, who have turned out to be child molestors. While it is true that there are infinitely more cases of child abuse outside the church, it is those within the clergy who gain the most media attention.
The reason is simple, in my view. If personal evil exists in the world, and I am convinced it does, then it is entirely logical to expect that Evil to attack those professing to follow the good. Look at the accusations of hypocrisy leveled at Capill by New Zealand’s atheists and secular humanists as a general tarnish against Christianity. Sure – Capill was a personal hypocrite. But what he said publicly about the dangers of pornography and social liberalism is correct. Clearly his message was not hypocritical, unless atheists would now have us believe that child abuse must be alright (some, in fact, do argue this) and Capill was a hypocrite for arguing the contrary. For all I know, Capill’s journey began with pornography or abuse as a child. Maybe in offering the warnings he was in fact speaking from personal knowledge, from what was left of his conscience while he let the darkness consume him.
Whatever, the media frenzy around Capill, whilst justified on one level, was equally hypocritical – given the media’s role in selling sex, liberalism, violence and other nasties to the wider community. There was an element of spiritual cannibalism going on here. Or Pot calling the Kettle black.
If Christ could spend his days on earth being shadowed by Satan, indeed, having the devil offer him every worldly pleasure possible in a bid to tempt him off course, is it any less likely that Satan is doing the same thing to otherwise good people worldwide, every day?
If life, as Omar Khayyam proffered, “is but a chequerboard of nights and days, where Destiny [the final outcome of the battle between good and evil] with Men for pieces plays”, is it really a surprise that some fall by the wayside, taken out of the game because they’ve compromised themselves or their team?
In the West, we’ve been far too quick to abandon belief in not just spirituality, but specifically the Light and the Dark. Even many Christians now believe only in the Light, and don’t think the Dark is real.
Explain that to the 45 abused children in Angers. Tell them that they were mere victims of coincidence, that their parents didn’t really succumb to the darkness. Then click the heels of your nice red shoes and take a trip to Kansas.
RIGHT HOOK: Sep 05, AU Edition
It’s ‘let’s roll’, not ‘let’s roll over’
Since the London bombings, there has been a palpable feeling in the air that another terrorist attack is imminent.
Maybe not as bad as 9/11, perhaps a train or subway bombing. Or maybe something worse. As America’s Republicans were saying repeatedly – captured on Lexis-Nexis for a year before it showed up in a Frank Luntz talking points memo in 2004 – the savages have declared war, and it’s far preferable to fight them in the streets of Baghdad than in the streets of New York (where the residents would immediately surrender). That strategy appears to be working.
Two weeks ago, Gen. Jack Keane, a former deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army, said coalition forces in Iraq have killed or arrested more than 50,000 insurgents in the past six or seven months. It appears the majority of those were captured and released, but that may be good enough.
Consider the intriguing diary entries of British jihadist Zeeshan Siddique, reported in The New York Times this Monday (somewhat less prominently than the 4 billion front-page stories on Abu Ghraib). Siddique was captured last April in Pakistan by that country’s security forces. His diary is a sort of Plan-a-Jihad journal, much like California seventh-graders were required to write in 2002. (There’s also talk of publishing his diary under the title ‘Hello, Allah? It’s Me, Siddique.’)
In addition to heartwarming entries like the one on the pope’s death – ‘Allah will throw him in hell’ – a number of Siddique’s diary entries suggest that it’s not all sunshine and song for the Islamo-fascists these days. For six weeks, it was all bad news for Siddique – except for news of the Pope’s death, Saul Bellow’s death and the Prince of Monaco’s death, all of which cheered him considerably.
A week later, he is informed by someone, probably not the Prince of Monaco, that ‘the situation is really bad’ and he should ‘just sit tight & wait it out until things get a bit better. Before long, Siddique is vowing to make ‘an all out immense effort’ to ‘rejoin my contingent’.
And then he was captured, too, along with his diary and phone numbers for other al-Qaida operatives and his co-religionists in Britain involved in the failed subway bombing. If you made a movie of this bumbling nincompoop’s misadventures, you’d have to call it Dude, Where’s My Car Bomb?
Siddique’s diary entries refer to Iraq Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as ‘the dog of the hell fire’ and Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as ‘Satan’. That’s not the talk of a winner! Siddique’s future as a jihadist may be fading, but he has a good shot at writing speeches for Howard Dean. (He also describes Maya Angelou as ‘America’s national treasure’, so I guess some things are universal.)
Meanwhile, every time Americans get a gander at these lunatics ranting about the ‘Great Satan’ and the ‘Zionist entity,’ we can’t believe we’re at war with such a comical enemy. No wonder they dream of an afterlife with 72 hot teenage girls. These guys are klutzes. Nerds. Dweebs. In the Las Vegas of life they’re at the convention center with the other ‘Star Trek’ fans. Even in Pakistan, Siddique says he is ‘constantly laughed at & ridiculed.’
Ahmed can’t get a date, and now the rest of us have to suffer.
But you will notice, the jihadists are not pouring across the Syrian border to, say, Brooklyn Heights. They are running to Iraq, where they run smack dab into the glorious coalition military forces.
MOVIES: Sep 05, AU Edition
KUNG FU FIGHTING
There’s nothing frightening about a bizarre new martial arts flick. Plus: professional skaters and other kids with too much money
Kung Fu Hustle
Release: July 2, 2005
I had no idea how I was going to review Kung Fu Hustle. I wasn’t sure if it was the best movie I’ve ever seen or the worst. So I tried explaining it to my friends and found each time I talked about it I was smiling and laughing with amazement. So five stars it is.
I have never seen anything like it. Imagine Enter The Dragon, crossed with The Matrix, crossed with Reservoir Dogs, crossed with a Road Runner cartoon. Yeah, it messes with your mind.
I’ll try to explain the plot but I was so wide-eyed during the screening I hardly took any notes. I didn’t want to miss a second of the sub-titles in case it suddenly made sense.
Set in pre-revolutionary China, Kung Fu Hustle tells the tale of a petty crook called Sing, (played humorously by Stephen Chow) who wants to join the notorious Axe Gang. The Axe Gang is running the city and killing people with axes (obviously) while dancing in tails and top hats (betcha didn’t see that coming).
Sing pretends he’s part of the Axe Gang to extort money for the poor folk living in a slum called Pig Sty Alley. But all is not what it seems. Pig Sty Alley is home to some kick-butt Kung Fu masters, including the local gay tailor who uses curtain rings to fend off assailants and swoons after a fight, sighing, “Is it a crime to be good at Kung Fu?”
So along with the screaming landlady and her husband who also happen to be Kung Fu superfreaks this team plans to battle the Axe Gang. Then it all gets a bit Looney Tunes with the use of CGI and an honest-to-God Road Runner homage.
Finally Sing is revealed as a super-SUPER-powered Kung Fu master and he takes on a Kung Fu killer just released from a lunatic asylum who can harness his own powers and turn himself into a fighting bullfrog. The climatic fight scene is an insane building-smashing, CGI-bending, martial arts masterpiece.
Stephen Chow not only plays the lead role, he also wrote, produced, and directed the movie. Whatever he’s on, I’ll have what he’s having.
Release: August 11, 2005
Breath taking, magical, delightful! A family film that is inspiring yet not sickly sweet. Disney you ask? DreamWorks perhaps? Nope. Millions is a Danny Boyle film. Yes, the same Danny Boyle who brought us the drug-fest Trainspotting and zombie flick 28 Days Later has produced one of the most enchanting films of the year. And without an animated animal in sight.
Millions is set in Northern England in the week running up to Britain changing from it’s currency from pounds sterling to euros. Two young boys find a sports bag stuffed with more than £250,000 in cash and, with just seven days before it becomes worthless, have some quick decisions to make.
Anthony (the charming Lewis McGibbon), is nine years old and a bourgeoning capitalist. He plans to buy property and wants to avoid paying tax (“Do you know how much 40 per cent is?” he asks, “Nearly all of it”). His seven year old brother Damian (captivating newcomer Alex Etel), is a more troubled soul who has memorised the names and dates of every saint in the Christian calendar and wants to use the money to help the poor. While his unimpressed older brother tells him there aren’t any poor where they live as the house prices keep them out, Damian’s struggle to do the right thing make him the star of this modern day fable.
This imaginative and incredibly funny film follows the trial and tribulations of the two boys as they deal with their windfall while escaping the crooks who want their stolen loot back. They have to rely on each other as their Mum is dead and their Dad (the adorable James Nesbitt) is lonely and unaware of their money dilemma.
This sophisticated family film uses exceptional camerawork and floating music to show you the world through a child’s eyes. The ending is a little sappy but in a morality tale it’s expected the characters have to choose between right and wrong. And so much of this film is very right.
Lords of Dogtown
Release: August 18, 2005
Lords of Dogtown is a movie based on Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary based on the real lives of the Z-Boys, the famous Cali-fornian skateboard legends of the 70s. But as with any copy, it gets weaker with every reproduction.
It’s the story of the Z-Boys, a group of grommets who muck around with skateboards when the surf is flat. One day the local skate/surf shop owner, Skip Engblom (brilliantly played by Heath Ledger – who I think was channelling Val Kilmer), comes up with a key breakthrough, polyurethane wheels. The trick is they grip. So with the additional traction, the Z-Boys try skating the sides of the big, open drainage canal that runs through the area. Then when locals were forced to empty their pools due to water restrictions the Z-Boys saw those curved pools as cement dreams.
Their freestyling techniques cause such a stir they introduce their own sub-culture to skateboarding. With that the big sponsorship bucks (and the groupies) followed. Of course the money corrupts their friendship and they all go their separate ways, reminiscing of those lazy summers.
The Z-Boys are: Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Stacy Peralta (John Robinson). They all do an OK job but none of them can do the amazing stunts that are in the documentary so it seems like the fuss is all about nothing.
As always, you can’t beat the original.
Release: September 8, 2005
We have some amazing acting talent in Australia. Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill, Martin Henderson even Noni Hazelhurst all shine in Little Fish. Too bad the story sucks. All right, maybe it doesn’t suck but man is it dark! Cate Blanchett is exceptional as Tracy, an ex-junkie working in a video store in a slum-like working class suburb of Sydney nicknamed ‘Little Saigon’.
She’s trying to stay on the straight and narrow and wants to open a business but naturally no bank will give a reformed drug addict a loan. Her stepfather, breathtakingly played by an almost unrecognizable Hugo Weaving, is a gay ex-footy star and a heroin addict. Her brother, played impressively by Martin Henderson, is disabled and looking to make a quick buck by dealing drugs. Her ex-boyfriend, played by Dustin Nguyen, says he’s not in the drug business anymore but is a liar. And her mum, played by the fabulously craggy Noni Hazelhurst, is desperately trying to keep her family’s head above water.
You know it’s going to end in tears. Little Fish is well acted, well told and, well, bleak.
HEALTH: Sep 05, AU Edition
A HEART-MENDING TALE
Turning the growth of blood vessels on and off could treat not just cardiac problems, but many cancers as well
The great elephant descended and left the indentation of its foot upon my chest….a Frankenstein’s monster of zipper scars and pirated body parts. Two heart attacks and two bypass operations – six grafts in all, loops of hosing jury-rigged around my jalopy of a heart. Two major crashes, but the motor still runs.”
One of the most beautiful writers I know was almost killed by that last heart attack. There is a touching, miserable aside in Heart: A Memoir about going on a farewell tour of good food. The author, my father-in-law, barely recalls it. Defending his memory, he points out that the book is ten years old. And the motor still runs.
So you see, I have a vested interest in keeping hearts running. According to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, cardiovascular disease is New Zealand’s biggest cause of death. Now, I’ll grant you, some of those people have reached an advanced age and are in the “gotta die of something” demographic. Unsurprisingly, when very old people are autopsied, examiners tend to find not just lots of things wrong, not just the heart failure that killed them. Cardiovascular disease, however, also takes a lot of lives prematurely. To die at 50 is not a tragedy in the sense that dying at 5 years old is, but it still has the sense of a life cut short about it that dying at 80, for example, does not.
You all know the risk factors, so I will not trouble to mention that being a chain-smoking, salt-shaking, cholesterol-scarfing, diabetic couch-potato booze-hound is not good for your heart. If this is you, you need to find a sympathetic family doctor and explain that you are not quite ready to change yet, but would they be a love and give you a quick once-over. Knowing your cholesterol levels and blood pressure may encourage you to change, but even if it doesn’t, at least you can get on some nice drugs to try and slow down the damage whilst you try to work up the motivation to change.
The heart is a muscle and it pumps blood, just like the Counting Crows song tells us. Let’s simplify it for a minute, and pretend that there is simply a loop of hose going in a circle from one side of the heart-pump to the other. Of course, it is a tricky hose, it narrows into increasingly tiny vessels to supply every bit of you with blood. But it will do, as a metaphor. Blood pressure is a measure of how hard heart-pump needs to work to push the blood all the way around the hose and back to the heart. Hopefully the pump can do this easily. When blood pressure is high, the pump is knocking itself out trying to push the blood around. Probably because there is some kind of gunk (cholesterol) clogging up the inside of the hose. The clog can be in your foot, your brain, anywhere. If there is so much gunk (cholesterol) built up that the blood can’t get through it will swell up and burst. If this happens in our brain, cerebral aneurysm (stroke) ensues.
(Note to guys not motivated to change: you know how if blood supply isn’t getting to your brain, it will loose function? Now replace the word “brain” with other body parts until you feel alarmed. Some causes of impotence are avoidable. Maybe a jog, perhaps?)
If all the gunk is near the heart, and the hose is narrowed, then the heart-pump doesn’t get blood. Your actual heart, not our hypothetical pump, needs oxygen, and blood carries oxygen. If blood is not getting to your heart, it is not getting oxygen. It will alert you by causing pain. In angina, the pain is an alert that the heart is suffering, but getting some oxygen and will be OK with rest or a nitro tablet. Beyond angina, the heart keeps aching. The elephant standing on the chest is a common symptom, but the chest pain may be in the arm, shoulder, back. If you have the slightest doubt about chest pain, call the ambos. They will not be angry at you for being fine. You will be angry at yourself if your heart has been dying while you sat at home with the martyr’s wait-and-see attitude. Some people, especially women and the elderly, report symptoms other than chest pain as the primary symptom, for example sudden shortness of breath, dizziness or extreme fatigue.
We assume, at this point, that you have heeded none of my advice except the bit about calling the ambulance. You are in the cardiac care unit, having had your first or second heart attack. What are your
options? You can have angioplasty, where they get into the hose going into your heart and squash, laser or chop out the offending cholesterol. They can put a nice little stent in to hold the artery open. If things have gone past that point, you can get a CABG (coronary artery bypass graft, known as “cabbage” in the trade). The trick here is to dig up a nice big artery, probably from your leg, and jury-rig a detour for the blood to get back to your heart. Obviously there will be some chest-cracking here – it is not a low-risk procedure. Ah, but that spot of dead lazy heart is still freeloading on the rest of your heart, so you must take care.
Now imagine if you could just get the heart to grow nice new hoses, or blood vessels. Angiogenesis is the word for this, and it is an exciting idea at the bleeding edge of research. If doctors can control the growth of blood vessels then they can do two things: grow new hoses where they are needed (in cases of peripheral vascular disease and coronary artery disease) and stop cancers from growing their own blood vessels. Solid cancers need blood supplies to get oxygen and nutrients to grow. No blood, cancer dies.
Human trials are currently underway in the US to develop gene therapy for treatment of heart disease. It is a complex procedure, done at the research level. It works like this: first, researchers find a useful gene and then try to get a patent on it so that they have the intellectual property rights to develop it. (Yes, a lot of people are opposed to this, but consider the alternative: A research-and-development company thinks they have a gene that might revolutionise cancer therapy. It may take many years and a lot of money to get it to market, and many promising therapies will be dropped well before the end of the race. So, what, they should apply for an arts council grant instead?) Then the researchers trick a bacteria or mammalian cells into reproducing the gene, and then they strain it out and clean it up at a very high level. Then all they have to do is prove that what they have created – complex very large proteins – is what they have the patent for. The only thing left is to make it work.
An Australian company, Amrad, has the rights to something called vascular endothelial growth factor B (VEGF-B) and is developing potential cancer therapies with it. Specialising in cancer treatment themselves, they would license the rights to the gene to develop cardiac treatments. David Crump, Amrad’s medical director, told me, “It’s an area of a lot of interest and theoretically it should work…when it hasn’t we have to find out why. Eventually we will get it to work…but then you’ve got to prove it”. Several American companies have reached the human trial stage with these types of therapies, and there are a few coming on to the market now.
For obvious reasons, researchers are only allowed to trial new medicines in people for whom readily available treatment isn’t working. Over ten years ago, only one of the angiogenesis patients in his trial showed any particularly amazing response, and it was decided that the treatment needed much more work and wasn’t brought to market then.
Overall, it was not a particularly successful venture. But, hopefully not in the too distant future, more patients will be good responders to the new medicines. Like my father-in-law, the one good patient, very much alive today.
LEFT HOOK: Sep 05, AU Edition
Why do conservatives hate this Western success story?
Since September 11, the right has been at pains to argue there is no such thing as root causes for the jihadist terrorism that currently plagues us. To even mention things like US foreign policy as a source of grievance for criminals such as al Qa’ida was to invite ridicule. To this day, John Howard and his supporters attack anyone who dares suggest the invasion of Iraq makes us more of a target. The argument was that these terrorists were simply evil, that their actions were a personal failing that needed no reference to any socio-political context to explain.
But it seems times are changing. Conservatives have decided to embrace the notion of root causes, and a recent spate of op-ed pieces inform us that all our problems are down to (wait for it) multi-culturalism.
Yes, folks, mention that blowing up thousands of civilians in cities like Fallujah might tend to get some Muslims off side and you’ll get called a traitor. Put forward the notion that Western acceptance of religious and cultural practices from around the world in a spirit of liberal democratic tolerance is the problem and you’ll be hailed as an intellectual.
I suspect conservatives like Janet Albrechtsen and others are drawing on The West and the Rest, the recent book by British conservative, Roger Scruton. I’m actually a part-time fan of Scruton’s, but the thrust is the same as Albrechtsen: we have been far too tolerant and all our ills can be traced to progressive social innovations that have undermined ‘our way of life’.
The thing that strikes me about these conservative screeds is that although they purport to be defences of Western culture against the corruption of the so-called postmodern left, they actually glow with their own Western hatred and a blasé dismissal of genuine democratic achievement.
Scruton speaks (correctly) of the need for society to ‘renew itself’, but fails to notice that that is precisely what multiculturalism was: a successful exercise in which the West managed to accommodate the post-WW II changes forced upon it. It was a sign of supreme cultural confidence and generosity which we should be proud of, not looking to scapegoat.
But scapegoat it they will. Australian conservatives also manage to combine a sense of colonial cringe with the dispiriting view of Western achievement they share with Scruton.
Pundits like Albrechtsen wish to abandon Australia’s success because of British difficulties, while Mr Howard takes his lead from Tony Blair rather than having the confidence to suggest that maybe the Brits could take a page out of our own book.
The fact is, conservatives have never liked the idea of multiculturalism, and you can draw a straight line from Enoch Powell, through Margaret Thatcher, to John Howard and Pauline Hanson as indicative of the sort of opposition that has been mounted against commonsense, pragmatic measures that have actually worked very well. The truth is that these attacks on multiculturalism and other social policies are opportunistic and have nothing to do with fighting terrorism and everything to do with gaining domestic political advantage. Why else do they blame Western progressives rather than Islamic terrorists?
In amongst all this ranting from conservatives it is interesting to note the case of Matthew Stewart, a Queensland kid who went to a Lutheran school, loved surfing, joined the army, quit and joined al Qa’ida, and who is currently suspected of being the masked jihadist in a video tape promising to destroy Australia.
SPIN CITY: Sep 05, AU Edition
Blackmail is an ugly word for the Nats’ current strategy. But it fits
One of the hallmarks of the Howard Government has been its willingness to buy off sectional interests in order to make its reform agenda more palatable.
From dairy farmers to ‘grandfathered’ disability pension recipients, a host of minority groups have seen the costs of reform lifted from their shoulders and foisted onto taxpayers and consumers.
This is not necessarily bad policy. The whole argument for reform is that the pain of the few is outweighed by the gain of the many; hence some transitionl contribution from the many makes sense. But when the sectional interest being bought off sits on the Government benches, the spectre of Malcolm Fraser haunts the corridors of power – or impotence.
Barnaby Joyce makes no pretence of being concerned with the broader national interest. ‘I think the job in politics is to acknowledge sectional interests and to try to accommodate them as much as you possibly can’, he stated in defence of his shameless pork-barrelling. The Prime Minister’s model for addressing the problem – appeasement – accepts Joyce’s cynical world view. This strategy is a viable if spineless one in a single-front war.
But if disgruntled Liberals open a second front on Howard, deciding that they also constitute the ‘balance of power’, appeasement will cease to be viable. Howard’s continued indulgence of the Nationals, as the agenda moves onto totemic Liberal issues, can only encourage that to happen.
‘The key is that the PM has an irrationally paranoid fear of people crossing the floor, even in the lower house’, lamented one Howard supporter and long-serving Liberal MP. ‘He has been scarred by his past experience, in the Fraser years. So he wants to seem in total control.
‘The emerging pattern is that perfectly good legislation and policy, with strong support in the party room, or even after having gone through the party room, gets compromised and wrecked. It’s not just the Nationals; that’s what happened to our border protection legislation too.’
The result, according to this MP, is a growing disenchantment amongst the most valuable members of the Government. ‘Those who do the process properly – talking to colleagues, lobbying for support in the party room, arguing the case and, if they fail, giving up quietly and moving onto another issue; people making a positive contribution to the Government – those people are ignored. People are starting to get pissed off; they’re starting to joke that the only way to get things done is to blackmail the PM’.
The irony, in other words, is that Howard’s relentless quest for the appearance of control is giving him less real control than ever, with angry colleagues wondering what principles will next be sacrificed for the sake of a quiet life.
Now the anger has a focus. By capitulating to Barnaby Joyce’s antics, Howard has brought hostile anti-National sentiment close to boiling point at all levels of the Liberal Party.
‘The problem with the Nationals is that we keep building them up’, one Minister told me. ‘We should point out the truth. They are a party with no future. They stand for nothing but self-interest. That is not an attractive proposition in 2005. Their only agenda is to prop up uneconomic industries. We shouldn’t be afraid of them; they should be afraid of us.’
This cynical analysis of the Nationals is, sadly, the only one that fits the facts. It is understandable that the Nationals would go into bat for rural telecommunications. But why on earth do they play games on voluntary student unionism or industrial relations, issues on which all thinking conservatives and liberals should be able to agree? The only possible answer is that they want to secure media attention and bribes; extorting further taxpayer money for doing the job they are already paid to do: to cast their votes in good faith.
Critics of the Nationals are not limited to metropolitan MPs. Rural and regional Liberals are equally angered by them, and by Howard’s tolerance ( even encouragement) of their grand-standing.
One rural Liberal MP expressed it thus: ‘Liberals have more than double the rural seats that the Nationals have. We work hard behind the scenes to resolve policy issues in the interests of rural and regional Australians, as opposed to just looking for giant hand-outs. We’re involved in actually solving problems. But we’re not allowed to take credit. The PM gives the Nationals leave to rebel, so they can look like they are David taking on Goliath, because he’d rather have them as a rump than as another party’.
The Prime Minister would doubtless argue that his hands are tied, as the Nats’ support is needed in the Senate. But is he right?
As a Liberal Senator put it to me, ‘we’ve got a lot of wood on the Nats’. One anecdote illustrates the point.
The Nationals hold twelve lower house seats. Yet when one metropolitan MP visited the then-Minister for Family and Community Services, she showed him two piles of documents on her desk, one several times larger than the other. ‘Those are the community grants to Liberal seats’, she told him, gesturing to the smaller pile, ‘and those are the community grants to National seats’, gesturing at the larger.
Pulling out a single page from the smaller pile, she said, ‘here are the grants for your seat’.
Suppose that the question that confronted the Nationals was not whether they would secure further bribes for their votes, but whether they would keep the existing ones. It seems unlikely that a group which has so successfully blackmailed massive hand-outs from the taxpayer would surrender them simply because they are denied more. After all, as Joyce admitted, their game is simply to squeeze the taxpayer for all they can. It’s as if they are standing on principle.
All that is required to restore genuine, as opposed to apparent, control of the parliament, is for the Prime Minister to have the courage to call the Nationals’ bluff. Instead of greasing the noisiest wheel, Howard should stand firm behind the collective will of the party room, daring renegade National Senators to jump ship, and threatening them with termination of the pork-barrelling that is their party’s only remaining raison d’être.
Of course, there is a risk that a more aggressive stance will see an occasional floor-crossing incident. But the alternative policy of endless concessions makes it inevitable Howard should consider whom he wants sitting on his side.
TECHNOLOGY: Sep 05, AU Edition
Have laptop? Get a PDA smartphone to make yourself fully mobile, suggests Ian Wishart
Stuck in traffic, and desperately trying to remember the name of that Turkish café further up the line so I could phone in an order ahead. Could I recall it? Not in a lifetime. I only did a little hooch in my youth, but I swear I can feel the loss of every single one of those brain cells two decades down the track.
My options were limited: try and play ‘guess the name you’re after’ with Directory Assistance, or simply turn up at the café and wait a further 20 minutes for the kebabs to cook. Neither option appealed.
Enter, the PalmOne Treo 650 smartphone. For a magazine that utilises the latest technology and software, the efficiency gains from making staff fully mobile have been tremendous. Even so, the Treo 650 has been a voyage of discovery. Combining all the bells and whistles of the Palm range with a mobile phone, the Treo range offers a versatility lacking in other PDAs. Frankly, I’d been sceptical of the PDA craze largely because I couldn’t see much point in them. Those who have laptops, use them. Those who don’t, use PDAs. Or so I thought. To a large extent, this remains my perspective. I still can’t see the merit in trying to do screeds of real work on a handheld device – texting is great for teenagers but you’re not exactly going to write King Lear on a mobile phone, are you? Sure, any PDA worth its name offers synchronicity with laptops or desktop PCs, but unless the PDA is fully wireless and independent in its own right then it still relies on said PC or laptop for its internet access which – to me – seems a little like putting an eagle on a leash. Great, so your PDA can link through your PC to go online. Yippee! Why not just use the PC to go online in the first place.
Ah, but the PalmOne Treo is an eagle set to wing.
Stuck in traffic, brain ticking over in that aforementioned mental dash for some kind of solution to my Turkish kebab dilemma, when suddenly a third option springs to mind: use the Treo’s mobile internet to Google a Turkish café in the suburb concerned, and see what turns up. Within seconds, not only had the café-whose-name-escaped-me popped up on the Treo’s screen, but the phone’s intuitive web interface gave me the option of dialling the café phone number at the tap of a stylus. And, after making the call, the experience was consummated by Treo offering to add the café to the address book.
Oh so easy, and it all took about 35 seconds – less time than it takes to navigate Telstra’s service menu.
The beauty of the Treo is that its web browser looks and works like a full monty browser: you get pictures, hyperlinks, the works. The PalmOne software supplied with the 650 optimises the internet so that websites download more quickly than you’d expect to your mobile phone.
As outlined above, Investigate magazine staff are equipped with the latest notebook computers and Telecom’s EVDO mobile broadband (for the NZ edition) and Optus mobile broadband in Australia. Thus, for heavy duty mobile journalism/production demands, we’re generally using notebooks. Where the PalmOne range slots in, however, is on those occasions where a notebook is too bulky or overt to be useful. The supplied software, again, provides an interface for Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel or Powerpoint) to be optimised automatically and uploaded to the Treo, where I can either reference them in meetings or edit them on the run before emailing them to a colleague via the Treo’s online email function.
That email function, in the first instance, is a programme called Versamail 3.0, which comes as standard with the Treo. Others, like SnapperMail, can be purchased for a small extra fee. Initially it was the Versamail programme that gave me some grief on the phone. Thanks to interconnectivity issues between Vodafone (suppliers of the 650) and Telecom Xtra, one first has to purchase an extra service from Xtra for $2 a month before you can download email and – as I was to discover – a technical quirk with the Versamail software meant you couldn’t upload email to send via your Xtra account, you had to find another email provider to do this with. Conveniently, Vodafone allow the use of their own SMTP outgoing mail server so that problem was eventually solved. Alternatively, I could have purchased SnapperMail which works perfectly well with Xtra’s SMTP servers. The software integrates with Microsoft Outlook, although not with Business Contact Manager – if you use BCM you’ll need to select all your business contacts and copy them into the Outlook Contact directory in order for the Treo to see them.
The Treo also comes equipped with a digital camera and VGA video camera – again, a useful function both for home and business. Images and documents are either stored on the Treo’s 32mb internal memory or on an SD expansion card of your choice.
Bluetooth is standard on the 650, making for easy wireless synchronisation with the notebook computer or any other Bluetooth-enabled device you wish.
The 650 isn’t cheap – at around $1,150 plus GST it’s the price of a baseline laptop – but its versatility complements an existing IT setup. You wouldn’t purchase a PDA if you didn’t have a computer, and while you can get great PDAs for $400 upwards, without the mobile phone and internet coverage they’re not necessarily the best value for money if you need portability AND mobility. On the other hand, the Treo also comes in a cheaper format, the Treo 600, which is a similar phone designed for Telecom’s CDMA and 1X networks, rather than GSM. The Telecom version is on offer at $499, but differs slightly in that it doesn’t offer Bluetooth and its battery is built in, which means once the battery’s charge cycle is shot it’s a bit of a mission to fix.
Because of Telecom’s mobile internet framework, the 600 is reportedly slightly faster than the 650 online, but there’s not a lot in it. PalmOne’s agents in New Zealand tested their phones against the state of the art Harrier EVDO unit offered by Telecom, and found that on the Apple site, for example, the Palm units were only around 30% slower to download pages, despite the vast differences between the mobile internet and mobile broadband services on paper. That said, if speed is of the essence then you’re likely to be using a full EVDO wireless card on your notebook anyway and sucking webpages out of the ether at 500kbs. EVDO on handhelds is still not as fast as it is for computers.
Significantly, both Telecom and Vodafone will be offering much faster mobile broadband speeds between now and the middle of next year as network improvements are rolled out. Even so, the 650 is plenty fast enough for my purposes, and I’m an internet speed freak.
THE WATCHER: Sep 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
Recalling Abu Ghraib
The late 19th, early 20th Century French philosopher Henri Bergson contended that there were two types of memory. On the one hand, there is what he termed ‘habit-memory’, which was what we relied upon in daily life. It serves as our auto-pilot, allowing us to fulfill many daily tasks – which bus to take to get to work, where the sugar bowl is kept and so on. Contrasted to habit-memory was true or ‘recall-memory’. Recall-memory, according to Bergson, serves as our archive of experiences. It’s our hard drive of what we are about – the essence of who we are as a civilisation.Another Frenchman – as it happens – former L’Express editor and distinguished essayist, Jean-Francois Revel, argued that Bergson’s memory ‘duality’ was analogous to modern Western liberal civilization. In the bad old days of the Cold War, in the West, communism’s past was located in habit-memory, while capitalism’s was found in recall-memory.
‘As things are now,’ Revel lamented in his survival manual for the Cold War, How Democracies Perish, ‘it seems only the West’s failures, crimes and weaknesses deserve to be recorded by history.’ The Great Depression, domestic anti-communist excesses (even legitimate action against subversion is recalled as McCarthyism) or the overthrow of Salvatore Allende (‘the other September 11’), for example, are each
recalled as an ‘indelible stain’ upon liberal democratic capitalism generally, and the US in particular. No Western enterprise, however just and heroic, escapes this snare. (Only last week, I involuntarily spat my morning coffee all over a story about my local mayor, Peter Macdonald, who took it upon himself to apologise on behalf of Manly residents for the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima – a brutal and unnecessary act he claimed.)
Meanwhile, the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people at the hands of Soviet Communist dictators barely registered in the West’s hazy historical consciousness. Revel maintained that liberal capitalism’s memory ‘duality’ not only accustomed the West to accept profoundly desperate approaches toward human economic development and political freedom; it cloaked communism’s crimes while maintaining the West under a kind of perpetual indictment.
The West won the Cold War despite Revel’s grave concerns. But have we learned? Two current examples demonstrate that we have not.
I watched a recent CNN report from Iraq highlighting the bravery and increasing effectiveness of US Marines in coping with so-called roadside IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), planted by Saddamite holdouts and their terrorist blow-in allies. The Marine platoon, followed by CNN correspondent Alex Quade, had improvised their own counter-IED tactics to protect themselves and to kill those that planted them. But plenty of guts were still required to get the job done.
Over the previous two weeks, Gunnery Sergeant Jeff Von Daggenheart and his comrades had hit 22 IEDs. ‘I took some shrapnel in the leg, and thank God for gear, because I took a piece here, then in my holster and then I got shrapnel across my leg. It’s healing up now. It’s all good. My helmet, you can see my helmet, my eyes through here’, he said nonchalantly.
On one patrol, Daggenheart’s platoon encountered an abandoned car by the side of the road, which bore all the hallmarks of an IED. Believing the car to possibly contain a bomb, a marine gingerly attempted to push it off the road using his armour plated Humvee, when the car exploded. The Humvee was a write-off, but the Marine emerged a little shaken but unscathed.
The report was a welcome, if uncommon, counter to the daily dirge of coalition and civilian casualty reports, often cued with graphic enemy supplied home movies with the familiar pre-detonation ‘Allah Akbar’ whispered voiceover. For a moment, it seemed, the media were clueing in to the public’s demand for an end to negative, biased reporting.
But my budding optimism was itself detonated at the end of the story when the reporter signed-off from ‘near Abu Ghraib prison’. Near Abu Ghraib prison? I was confused. Where exactly is Abu Ghraib prison?
Call me ignorant if you want because I don’t have a clue where the infamous prison of American sado-sexual depravity and stupidity is. Oh sure, I knew it was in Iraq, and somewhere near Baghdad. Well, if you’re not exactly sure yourself, I’ve since checked. It’s about 30 kilometres west of Baghdad – roughly equivalent to Sydney’s outer west.
If the CNN reporter had merely said ‘near Baghdad’, would you have been less informed? The answer is no, and you wouldn’t have been left wondering. But as it was left, one could have no doubt what purpose the infamous landmark reference was intended to serve.
Still not sure? Peter Cosgrove’s recent news-making interview with Andrew Denton, on ABC Television’s Enough Rope should make it clear. Denton wastes no time cutting to the chase with the retired defence force chief.
DENTON: You became Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces in 2002. And big issues started landing on your desk. We’re talking Iraq, we’re talking Abu Ghraib, the US alliance. You’d trained all your life as a solider, now this was a political game...Were you ready for it?
Cosgrove merely points out that, the mission which made him most famous, East Timor – skipped over in Denton’s rush to the juicier end-of-career highlights – gave him a first class honours education in political soldiering. Not satisfied, Denton circles back again to... Abu Ghraib.
DENTON: Of course with these other issues, like the US alliance and Abu Ghraib, highly politicised issues within Australia. Not the same thing and you had to step through that minefield.
Cosgrove expressed his regret but said the low point for him was the Sea King tragedy, during the Tsunami relief effort, when 9 Australian service men and women lost their lives. In fact, Abu Ghraib didn’t begin making headlines until mid 2004 – the third and last year of Cosgrove’s command, and it had virtually nothing to do with the Australian Defence Force. To say, as Denton did, that it was one of the ‘big issues’ that ‘started landing’ on Cosgrove’s desk is a bit of a stretch.
Denton, for whom I have a lot of time (about an hour or so Monday nights on ABC), might have remembered that not only did the Tsunami relief effort factor huge in Cosgrove’s responsibilities, politically and otherwise – as compared to the sadistic and apparently bored buffoons running the night shift at Abu Ghraib – but there was that other minor event still ongoing when Cosgrove took command: the liberation and democratisation of Afghanistan.
Australian SAS and other troops were still in action (having deployed in December 2001) when SAS Sergeant Andrew Russell was killed in action only three months earlier, in February. And, in March, the SAS was involved in rescuing downed US Special Forces from behind enemy lines, in Operation Anaconda. But hey, the ABC can blame the Howard Government for that oversight. How much research can you expect on a meagre $750 million budget?
Having obtained Cosgrove’s agreement that Abu Ghraib was a ‘low point’ in the war on terror, Denton goes for the ‘T’ word – and no I don’t mean ‘Terror’, banned by public broadcasters the world over.
DENTON: In war, is torture a legitimate...
PETER COSGROVE: No, absolutely not.
ANDREW DENTON: Never?
PETER COSGROVE: No, you don’t descend to that level…
Well, good thing Denton cleared that up. Because, you know, most Australians, no doubt, were probably wondering if Cosgrove and the Australian military brass condoned torture. The sexual
humiliation – much of it not much worse than what passes for ‘entertainment’ on New York public access television – at Abu Ghraib was outrageous, but the drumbeat of the Left and its media champions is irrational and disproportionate.
You won’t hear much in the media about what went on in Saddam’s ‘prisons’ before Iraq was liberated. Abu Ghraib held tens of thousands of Saddam’s political prisoners. They were subject to torture, many were used as guinea pigs in Saddam’s WMD programs and perhaps as many as 4,000 were executed (not including the 300,000 uncovered in mass graves throughout Iraq. But that is ancient history. What does it matter? Who can remember what happened at Abu Ghraib under previous management?)
Abu Ghraib – the ‘Animal House’ version – will be repeated ad nauseam in the media in one form or another long after those responsible have been investigated, prosecuted and punished, to remind us that the West is inherently culpable for all that is bad or in bad taste. It has been hard wired into the West’s recall-memory; what happened there before and the bravery, innovation and tenacity of Sgt.Von
Daggenheart’s Marine platoon, to habit-memory, which sadly is to say, to oblivion. In that sense, no matter what the US and its coalition partners ultimately achieve, the dateline will always be, ‘somewhere near Abu Ghraib’.
Sep 05, AU edition
WILL THERE ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND?
British MP Frank Field visited Australia recently on behalf of the Centre for Independent Studies, and took the time to sit down with Investigate editor James Morrow to discuss the growing crisis in English society – from drunken yobs to home-grown Muslim terrorists – and share his ideas on just what can be done to rescue the ‘mother country’.
INVESTIGATE: I’d like to begin by reading the following extract from The Age’s ‘Eye on Britain’ column, and get your reaction to it: ‘Come the weekend, the high streets of Britain are puddled with vomit. It is part of a ritual that begins in the early evening and ends in the wee small hours, when pubs and clubs close. As their patrons pour out, there seems to be a collective loss of control; bellies give up their contents, bladders burst and tempers fray. The action is caught on closed-circuit television and makes grim viewing.
‘As the police try to restore peace, fights break out like forest fires; when one is dowsed, another flares. The night air is putrid with the smell of food you’d think twice about feeding to the Empress of Blandings. Oaths and invitations to engage in fisticuffs ensure that sleep for the unfortunate residents is impossible. Even on the coldest of nights, the population seems to have dressed for the beach. In the morning, you’d think the place had been paid a visit by Vandals and Goths.’ Is this an accurate description of life in 21st Century England?
FRANK FIELD, MP: In my experience of it is, certainly in some areas. It’s not like this every night but certainly towards the weekend and the weekend itself. In my experience the police don’t try and take the licenses away from people who are serving people who are drunk; they say they need more proof than people falling out of pubs at two o’clock in the morning legless to show that people are being served inappropriately. And when the police do do something they then treat it like a military operation, charging up and down the street, some of them on horssback, and then the whole thing cleaned up in the morning and repeated the next night. So yes, for some areas it is an accurate description. And presumably things will become worse when the government gets is new 24-hour licensing scheme approved. That whole approach comes about, to me at least, because a few cabinet ministers have friends who rush to the pub late at night and down a few quick pints before closing, and think that if hours were extended they could drink ina more civilized manner.
INVESTIGATE: Is this happening across all strata of society, or just in poorer areas?
FRANK FIELD: It’s widespread – the aim of many people is not to go and have a drink the aim is to go and get drunk – I know one banker who is on a million pounds a year, and every weekend he goes to the pub with the aim of getting as drunk as possible, and he drinks about 17 pints a session. But this sort of behaviour, when it is in the lower classes, it wreaks much more havoc. And one of the reasons why it makes more of a difference to poorer people is because if they have problems with a neighbourhood, they can’t toddle off and move somewhere else. So maintaining order is more crucial to them than it is to the rest of us.
INVESTIGATE: Can you paint a picture of life in some of these areas and what makes life so intolerable there? It sounds like the social fabric has really been ripped in some places in England in a way we haven’t seen so much in Australia.
FRANK FIELD: Well there are certainly some areas you don’t go into if you don’t want trouble. But what is more important is the sort of low-level terrorism of unacceptable behavior which is making life in poor areas miserable and is now spreading to middle class areas. I thought at first that people were exaggerating about this sort of thing, but I still remember the time ten years ago when a group of very serious working class pensioners came to my offices and described what life is like when there has been a complete breakdown of younger people having any respect for older people. They told me of young lads running over their roofs, peeing in their letterboxes, and smashing on their windows and giving them a heart attack when they were watching TV.
I said, ‘have you been to the police?’ And you can imagine the look of these poor red-strained sleep-deprived eyes looking at me and saying, ‘oh no, we’ve got to go through this again! We went to the police and the police said we have no control of these people.’
I started thinking about what might we do about this and how we could implement government policy to help. At the time I said we needed surrogate parents in society because of the breakdown of the family, and my idea was that we should give the police powers to show warning cards and then be able to show a red card, and the penalty would then be immediate. Now some of that the government did in a convoluted way with the creation of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and the like, in which the criminal justice system gets involved and you go off to collect evidence and they set it up in an adversarial way, but the problem is months and months have gone by since the offense.
The problem with this is that I don’t believe we need to get more people criminal records, but this is what happens now. Often, I just don’t think that the behaviour as appalling as it is warrants the criminal justice system. But people get bored doing one thing, so they ratchet it up, and unless you can nip the in the bud, which I wanted to give the police the power to do, the yobbos will be on to the next thing and on to the next thing – they’ll go from breaking windows to stealing cars. And the horrors that they would visit on pensioners would increase.
INVESTIGATE: And what has happened in these families where there is no control – where are the parents to say, ‘this is not acceptable’?
FRANK FIELD: Oh, you can see even with 3-year-olds which ones able to bully their parents. I was walking through a forest recently and I saw father in what must have been his early 20s, and his young lad ran away by this rocky pool which was really quite dangerous. Well, the dad gave him a whack, and his kid cried, and then he gave him a cuddle and mussed his hair, and the son knew that he wasn’t supposed to do that. I didn’t have courage to say it, but I felt like going up to him and saying, ‘would you like to come sort out the youth of Birkenhead?’
Similarly you need in a community other people in the neighbourhood not being frightened of saying, ‘stop doing that’ so that younger people know that in a public space other people have a say in how you behave.
On the parenting side, we assume that parental skills are passed on by osmosis, just as what makes a civilized nation is passed on. But that respectability that we’re talking about as a nation was built up over 150 years, it doesn’t happen overnight.
INVESTIGATE: The columnist Theodore Dalrymple says that many social problems occur when poor people see rich people acting out certain pathologies, but that poor people are unable to handle the consequences and insulate themselves.
FRANK FIELD: Well, some of the rich can’t handle it either, particularly with drugs. But when you’ve got neighbours from hell and you don’t have a bank balance and can leave, that’s terrible for poor people. Similarly, people who are better off can get their life back together in some way if they have a circle of friends and associates to help, and most of those things are not present in a working class community. The carriers of culture in working class communities are not always in the position to see whether in fact that culture is carried on, and indeed behaviour is often so bad that those who purvey culture do wind up moving out.
INVESTIGATE: In a way it is the downside of social mobility.
FRANK FIELD: One of the things the post-war education
reforms in Britain did is break off the cleverest of the working class, and that certainly had a big impact on leadership in working class areas. I’m not in any way making a plea to turn the clock back, it’s certainly been a good thing, but you used to have the people who would run their trade union or friendly society and other local institutions of culture now running corporations. And I see the impact as I go around the world and I see the number of Birkenhead boys and girls who’ve made their fortune somewhere else – that would have been inconceivable fifty years ago.
INVESTIGATE: What role does deindustriali- zation have to do with all of this? Does the fact that there’s not as much unskilled work around for those left behind make a difference?
FRANK FIELD: When I came to Birkenhead there were 16,000 dockworkers. Today, there are 400 dockworking jobs in my electorate. When you lose unskilled jobs that do pay well, you change the social ecology of the area, not just the economic ecology, in that unless an area pays family wages, you put men at a huge disadvantage in whether they ‘re marriageable or not.
INVESTIGATE: How do the 7/7 tube attacks come in to all this? Those guys had been on the dole for years. Are we creating cultural cesspools that immigrants can come into and get sucked into as well?
FRANK FIELD: Well, we had two bomb attacks, and the ones who failed turned out to have also been the ones who were on welfare. What lessons you draw from that I’m not sure, but it does of course make you think about the success of the welfare-to-work program, through which it was virtually assured that no one remainded more than 6 months on the dole. Now some of these guys had been on the dole for 10 years!
I don’t know whether you saw the recent poll that said that 6% of British Muslims thought the attacks were justified – that’s 90,000 people – and that something like a third sympathize with the attackers who say we’re so decadent that the society should be wiped out. And does all of this come back to the behaviour policies we talked about. We need to have a serious conversation about the our society. What is required in a good life? What sort of qualities do we expect from ourselves and our politicians so that life continues and we’re not blown to smithereens?
That, incidentally, is also the question in international politics in that were are now suddenly confronted with how to stop nuclear weapons from going into the hands of terrorists. The chances are that we will have a nuclear terrorist attack somewhere within the next 10 years – if that doesn’t concentrate the mind, I don’t know what will.
INVESTIGATE: So are we too decadent to defend ourselves, as the terrorists say?
FRANK FIELD: Look at that description of life you gave at the beginning of our talk. If you were an immigrant, would you want your son or daughter to be a part of that? Of course not. We need to have a discussion about what we think about citizenship, and find out what people value about the place they’re in, and I think some of the things we hear will be very unpalatable to the elites. And when you’re a Muslim and you’re trying to save your kids from the barbarism, all around you, that creates an internal tension – the kids must feel that their parents have a point.
INVESTIGATE: What do you think Muslims would say in such a conversation?
FRANK FIELD: ‘How dare you instruct us in civilized behaviour when you allow your young to run in the street and run around drunk and abuse drugs!’
INVESTIGATE: Sounds like we need a rebuilding from the ground up…
FRANK FIELD: That is what is so extraordinary in Britain.
Although the elites built civil society they used national policy as framework, and that translated into character, but then character became a dirty word. And that’s created a big divide with Muslims. But I think the biggest tension there isn’t going to come over civilized values like respect, or hard work, it is going to be about tolerance, and instructing them that tolerance is a two way process, and that that is a virture that has to be universally applied.
SCIENCE: Sep 05, AU Edition
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Researchers have finally discovered the secrets behindthe mysteries of female orgasm, writes Pat Sheil
To the male of the species, being involved in a female orgasm is a wonderfully fulfilling experience. It makes you feel all warm and gooey inside. You may suspect that you weren’t entirely responsible for the successful conclusion of your encounter, but you know that you were a part of it in some small way. Reflecting on what transpired afterwards, you feel much the same as an Amish man walking home from a successful barn-raising.
But what exactly is going on here? There aren’t many men alive who haven’t thought how much fun it would be to actually experience a full-blown female orgasm, if only once. Not so much actually live in a woman’s body for a night, but just to somehow download the sensory data into his skull for a few minutes and feel the heat.
The prospect is some way off, but might just be getting closer. If not quite pinpointing what a woman’s climax is, a researcher in the Netherlands has at least found out what it isn’t. The results are deeply counter-intuitive, and somewhat disappointing for men who like to think that they’re the epicentre of the action.
Gert Holstege, of the University Groningen, recruited 13 heterosexual women and their partners. He asked the volunteers to lie on a scanning machine bed, where they were injected with a dye that shows changes in brain function. Then they were wheeled headfirst into the PET scanner, stark naked and legs akimbo.
Holstege’s team compared the women’s brain activity in four states: resting, faking an orgasm, having their clitoris stimulated by their partner, and clitoral stimulation to the point of orgasm. (This is the kind of research that only gets done in places like the Netherlands – you just can’t imagine it taking place at the University of Kansas, let alone Lahore. Hats must also go off to a group of horny women whose devotion to science was such that they could manage to come in a lab surrounded with researchers and with their heads stuck in a PET scanner.) So what did Holstege find? It turns out that when women approach climax, whole regions of their brains shut down, and the more excited they get, the more functions cease. Speaking at a meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology in Copenhagen last month, Holsteg said that only one part of the brain was more active than normal during orgasm – the cerebellum, which is normally associated with movement. So if you think she’s making lots of noise because she thinks you’re just tops, well, forget it. In women, the parts of the brain involved in emotion shut down the hotter they get. Alertness and anxiety fall to near zero. It seems that when she’s feeling at her very happiest, she’s feeling nothing but the orgasm itself.
Let’s look at the difference between faked and genuine orgasms for a moment. It’s this data that makes Holstege’s conclusions deeply compelling. ‘The fact that there is no deactivation in faked orgasms means a basic part of a real orgasm is letting go. Women can imitate orgasm quite well, as we know, but there is nothing really changing in the brain’, says Holstege. ‘When women faked orgasm, the part of the brain governing conscious action lit up. It was not activated during genuine orgasm.’
The most striking results, however, were seen in the parts of the brain that deactivated. ‘During orgasm, there was a strong, enormous deactivation in the brain’, Holstege said. ‘It looks like to have an
orgasm, you need to not be fearful or full of anxiety.’
Holstege added that he had trouble getting reliable results from another study on men, because the scanner needs cerebral changes lasting at least two minutes in order to record an activity.
THE ARENA: Sep 05, AU Edition
Iraq: For some on the left, it’s the defeat America has to have
Years ago, back when Bill Clinton held the lease to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I had one of the least exciting, yet seemingly most glamorous, jobs in Washington journalism: I was a rotating member of the corps of White House journalists who followed the president whenever he left town.
Once the fun of flying on the president’s jet wore off – the press is sequestered in a small cabin in the rear of the plane equipped with old-school first class airline seats (no sleeper suites here) and a couple of TVs for dialing up movies from a central service somewhere in the bowels of the aircraft – the tedium of the gig set in. A three-day, eight-city fundraising jaunt, listening to the same speech over and over and over again, followed by interminable schedule-destroying waits as the then-president shook every hand in the hall would leave us all exhausted. One of my favourite memories of this chapter of my career was the day the irascible television news presenter Sam Donaldson tagged along and bellowed at each meet-and-greet from our holding pen, ‘Oh, would you just finish up already, so we can GO HOME!’
Why do I bring all this up? Because the patience with which I endured Clinton’s routines was eventually rewarded by my employers, who let me go on holiday with the president. Not holiday in the sense of ‘Clinton and Morrow go cruising on Daytona Beach’, but rather, in that I got to join the rest of the motley crew known as the White House Press Corps in a luxury resort in Florida while Clinton hung out with some friends who had a spread down the road for a couple of weeks. It was one of the great boond- oggles of all time; everyone brought their partners and sat by the pool swilling daiquiris, and the only pretense of work one had to do was occasionally check in with the media centre to see that the announcement ‘Full Lid’ – White House-speak for, ‘ain’t nothing going on here, go play some golf or lie by the pool and have some nice tuna steaks for dinner’ – still applied.
But that was presidential vacation, Clinton-style, and may be one small reason why he got such a free pass from the media for so long. These days, ‘presidential vacation’ duty is a lot less fun, and those ‘lucky’ enough to accompany George W. Bush on holiday get to do so camped out in a tiny town in the middle of Texas in the middle of August with precious few of the creature comforts inside-the-Beltway journos take for granted.
All of this is a very round-about way of getting to the sad story of Cindy Sheehan, which played itself out over the past few weeks on a dirt road outside the Bush ranch. Sheehan, for those not familiar with the story, is the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq; some time ago, she had a ten-minute-long meeting with Bush, after which she said, ‘I now know he’s sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis. I know he’s sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he’s a man of faith.’ Lately, she has taken to demanding another one, simply so that she can berate the commander-in-chief.
Speaking of the way her first meeting with Bush brought her family closure, Sheehan added, ‘That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, the gift of being together’.
Somewhere along the line, though, Sheehan decided to change her tune – from grieving mother respectful of her son’s sacrifice to full-bore, hard-left radical opponent not just of the Iraq War, but, seemingly, everything America stands for. And the place she decided to do this? Camped out in a ditch outside the presidential ranch, where she demanded another meeting (until she upped stumps for a family emergency), surrounded by reporters with nothing better to do than sympathetically cover her ravings. Which, combined with the generally anti-Bush and anti-war tenor of the mainstream media, may explain why Sheehan got such a good run of her fifteen minutes of fame.
But in the midst of Sheehan’s elevation to anti-war movement poster-mum and world-wide front-page story, a few facts have been ignored. Like that before her Texas sojourn, Sheehan spoke at a conference with radical lawyer Lynne Stewart (who defended the Islamists who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993) and announced, ‘America has been killing people on this continent since it was started. This country is not worth dying for…the biggest terrorist is George W. Bush’.
And that she’s been heard to comment that Bush should ‘send his two little party-animal girls to war’. Never mind that with an all- volunteer armed services, Bush doesn’t have the power to send any civilian to war.
And that some of her newfound mates have, shall we say, ‘issues’ when Israel comes up, and that se has allied herself with outfits like United for Peace and Justice and the Crawford Peace House, which mark the entire State of Israel as ‘Palestine’ on their websites and who believe that the romantically-named Iraqi ‘insurgency’ (the same one that killed Sheehan’s son) is only engaged in ‘legitimate’ resistance.
Sheehan herself has said her son ‘was killed for lies and for a PNAC neo-con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.’
Not that either, in Sheehan’s book, are worth defending at all.
Not surprisingly, all of this has stood Sheehan in good stead with the anti-war left. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd announced that because she lost a son – one who, incidentally, volunteered to go to Iraq, and whose memory is now being used for political purposes he might very well disagree with – Sheehan has absolute moral authority, and that there is to be no arguing with her.
Alas, there has to be. For not only does she not speak for all families who have lost relatives to the Iraq War, but she also seeks to dishonour those who are there by trashing the country, the mission, and the president they signed up to serve. More to the point, she also raises points that need to be argued, and forcefully: anti-war types like Dowd cannot throw the Sheehan card down on the table like an ace-high straight and expect to walk away with the pot – namely, a wounded America that hobbles back home to lick its humbling wounds while leaving another country in chaos and to the depredation of psychopaths and tyrants.
Sorry, but the Baby Boomers aren’t going to get to relive their Vietnam fantasies that easily.
Money, Sep 05, AU Edition
THE TAX MAN COMETH
Big brother is watching – here’s how to keep him from taking too much away
Australians tend to like to push the envelope when it comes to authority figures. This is an historical quirk of the Australian ethos and is reinforced by the fact that one of our national heroes is an Irishman who robbed from the rich and was finally caught because he was wearing so much metal that he couldn’t move.
Some of our great Australian traditions include: doing that extra 5 kilometres an hour on the freeway and then claiming no knowledge if pulled over by the police; taking home those few extra pens and maybe a stapler or six from the office supply cupboard at work; and lying about the age of children so that you can still pay half-price at the movies or on the train.
And of course there’s the age-old favourite: embellishing the facts when reporting on your income and expenses at the end of each taxation year. ‘Tax embellishment’ is neither evasion nor avoidance; it’s just…well, it’s just Australian. Now I hate to be the messenger of doom, but it looks like the 2004/2005 taxation year could bring us that much closer to the end of the age of embellishment.
WARNING. WARNING. WARNING.
The Australian Tax Office has recently issued some sombre, and unprecedented, warnings to all Australian taxpayers. In fact, large- and medium-sized businesses, property-related tax issues, those who fail to lodge returns, and people with outstanding debt will all come in for close attention from the Tax Office
It is true that the vast majority of people do the right thing, more or less, and that tax embellishment, as opposed to out-and-out tax avoidance schemes, really doesn’t do all that much harm. Or does it? Tax Commissioner Michael Carmody declared recently that ‘by setting out the risks faced when engaging in particular activities I want to influence the decisions people make about their tax affairs’. But what does that actually mean? And what do we need to do? Well, when speaking to the ATO a few clear directives have come out.
I’LL DO IT NEXT WEEK…
Firstly, people who habitually fail to lodge tax returns, or don’t pay their tax, will come under increased scrutiny this year. In most cases, this is not done with malicious intent, rather it is reflective of another great Australian pastime – apathy! But the ATO does not care one little bit about why you have not lodged a return for five years. ‘I didn’t get around to it’ will probably keep you out of jail but it won’t stop thousands of dollars worth of fines. Oh, and one old wives tale that needs to be untold is: just because you are entitled to a refund does NOT mean that you won’t be fined. It is the act of not lodging, not just the financial consequences, that is frowned upon. The rationale for this is quite logical when you think about it. If everyone in the country lodged a return only every 5 years or so, imagine the financial drain on the nation’s purse strings if huge amounts of money had to paid unexpectedly.
WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY…
1984 has come and gone and Big Brother is watching us now. The debate over national ID cards is, in many ways, futile. It is a fact that we are already on more than one database, and most of us are on dozens. It is also a fact that many of these databases are cross linked and cross matched – and the ATO will be taking full advantage of this technology. In other words, correct reporting of income and deductions must be a focus for all of us. Carmody explains that ‘ensuring the correct reporting of rental deductions, such as claims of capital expenses, will be a focus again this year’, but then this clear warning as well: ‘We will also expand our use of data-matching to check that income from property and share sales is declared, and capital gains tax is paid.’
Remember also that the ATO can prosecute to ensure that defaulters meet their obligations. The latest example of this occurred in August 2005, when the Parramatta District Court jailed a NSW man for 18 months for his role in an income tax fraud totalling $350,000. The man was found guilty on eight charges of defrauding the Commonwealth and aiding and abetting to dishonestly obtain a financial advantage. It appeared that he produced false payment summaries and lodged a number of income tax returns for the 1999 to 2001 financial years resulting in $147,248 in refunds.
WHICH INDUSTRIES IN PARTICULAR?
This year the ATO will especially be looking at people in the construction, food preparation and processing industries; dance, drama and music instructors; healthcare professionals; and teachers and academics to ensure that they are getting their work-related deduction claims right. If you are not sure about claims around motor vehicles or self-education then talk to an expert because they are the areas that will be examined.
The Tax Office will also focus on deductions for work related expenses, rental property expenses and on capital gains from the sale of property and other assets.
GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL…
It is clear that the ATO is toughening up on tax reporting which is not quite ridgy-didge. Deputy Tax Commissioner Michael Monaghan makes it clear that taxpayers who defraud the Commonwealth are involved in criminal activity. ‘As well as using our own intelligence and controls, we work very closely with law enforcement agencies to detect and deal with those who commit fraud’, he says. The extent of this is surprising; according to Monaghan; ‘In the 2004-05 financial year 102 people received prison sentences for tax fraud’. That means courts sit two to three people every week on such charges. Our great Australian pastime looks like it will be lost forever because those who continue to ‘embellish’ are not being larrikins so much as fools.
BIGGER IS BETTER
Now you might be thinking that you are pretty safe when it comes to PAYG tax, especially safe if you work for a large company. But think again. Last year the compliance activities of the ATO raised more than $8.7 billion in additional liabilities, and collections approached $6 billion – the bulk of this coming from big business. Carmody explains: ‘The value of our efforts in the large market is reflected in these results and it will continue to be the area of most intense scrutiny this year.’
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
So say you are involved in a medium-sized business. The pressure is off, right? Wrong. Medium-sized businesses, particularly those with turnovers of between $50 million and $100 million, will face
increased scrutiny this year. There appears to be no respite because Carmody explains: ‘Our audits in this market have confirmed risks around profit-shifting, capital gains tax, and GST.’
GOOD THINGS IN SMALL PACKAGES?
The gatekeepers of our taxation system also think that small business debt continues to be an issue. Michael Carmody has repeatedly said that the ATO does not want to send viable businesses to the wall. However, an official statement from the ATO seems to cover all bets because, ‘out of fairness to others who meet their tax
responsibilities on time, we will be taking firm action against those who fail to work with us to pay their tax debts’. So if you are a small business owner reading this then double-check exactly what your commitments are for this financial year.
NOT SO SUPER
And a general warning for all employers: any organisation, regardless of its size, which fails to meet its superannuation guarantee obligations WILL hear from the ATO this year. They will be devoting resources to ensure that all superannuation responsibilities are fully honoured.
SO A FEW TIPS
1. If you are unsure of your personal position, see an expert. Visit an accountant or tax agent and don’t hide anything from them. Lying to your tax agent is like hiding an injury from your sports coach. Eventually you will be caught out and it won’t effect the agent one little bit.
2. When you do choose a tax agent, make sure they are registered. Only a registered tax agent can charge a fee to prepare and lodge your return.
3. If you are using a tax agent for the first time, or are going to use a different agent this year, you must contact them by Monday 31st October 2005.
4. There are also more than 1,700 volunteers trained by the Tax Office who are now available at 1,000 community centres around Australia to help low-income earners prepare their tax returns free of charge. These volunteers have been trained to help people with straightforward tax returns, baby bonus applications and those eligible for franking credits who don’t have to lodge a return. This free service is in it 17th year and the ATO has to be complimented for this initiative that helps about 70,000 people a year. If you think that these volunteers could help you then this service is available until the end of October. Call the Tax Office on 13 28 61 for further details.
5. The ATO has a website (http://www.ato.gov.au) which I think accountants will keep secret for as long as possible. The site hosts a do-it-yourself personal tax return and does almost everything for you. Even if you have a reasonably complex tax return, this site steers you through ever step of the way. It advises, it calculates, it explains the sort of deductions you are entitled to and even gives you hints on how to claim extras that you wouldn’t have thought about yourself. It offers advice on subjects like capital gains and losses, work-related expenses, and provides links to Tax Office rulings. You can also download welfare payment data provided by Centrelink which you may need to include in your return. Finally, it tells you what you owe, or what you will get as a likely return. It is similar to the software what most tax agents use themselves and it is free to download. Simply go to www.ato.gov.au follow the prompts to download ‘e tax 2005’. Once you have finished, simply lodge your completed return online and you are off the hook. If you are lodging your own return it must be lodged by 31st October 2005.
6. If you are claiming deductions for donations to charity, you must ensure the organisation is a registered deductible gift recipient (DGR) which can be checked on the Tax Office website.
7. If you are really worried, ring the Tax Office itself. They are not as scary as people think, and will generally do as much to help as possible. Call 13 28 61 between 8.00am and 6.00pm weekdays with any questions about income tax.
The larrikin days of snubbing our noses at authority are one step closer to vanishing. Rationally speaking this is a good thing, but I can’t help thinking that it is another part of our Australian lifestyle to add to the ‘vanishing Australian’, and an Australia that is quickly becoming long gone. Nevertheless, don’t do anything silly with your tax this year. Big Brother is watching and you WILL be seen. See you round the traps.
FIRST DRAFT: Sep 05, AU Edition
The latest in lifestyle programming – coming soon to Channel 873!
For vivacious viewers who want to do lunch and learn how it was made!
TV GUIDE 10 September 2005
2:30 pm i The Grate Escape
Celebrity chef Gordon Casein travels the globe in search of the world’s most ornate cheese-shredding implements.
3:30 pm I The Golden Years of Infotainment
Red Eye Spruiking Stars of the Nineties — Where Are They Now?
The creepy hypnotist; the mad, manic chef with the mid-Atlantic accent; that dorky fat guy with the amazing memory ... Anyone who ever had insomnia in the nineties remembers them well.
4:30 pm I I am Spam
Celebrity net geek Horatio L Parthenogenesis reads out 300 of the week’s most amusing “make money at home” ads from his email inbox.
5:30 pm I Mess Busters!
Newlyweds Wayne and Genevieve throw their first dinner party. But nervous Genevieve undercooks the chicken. Stricken with gastroenteritis the guests writhe across the dining room floor vomiting uncontrollably. After the ambulance leaves the distraught young couple survey the devastation. Their once clean and cosy Surry Hills terrace is now a house of horrors.
Who they gonna call? Mess Busters!
6:30 pm I In the Dog House
Celebrity dog breeder Jamie “Jack” Russell and his wacky sidekicks complete another miraculous kennel makeover.
7:30 pm I Stop, I’m in Stitches! (Series Premiere)
Celebrity embroiderer and comedienne Sal “Sassy” Singer takes us on an hilarious journey through the wide world of sewing. See the woman E! described as “a real knit-wit; like Ruby Wax with needles!”. Sew darn funny you might just put an eye out!
8:30 pm I Squad Squad
They do anything, anytime! (Like the Goodies, but serious.)
10:00 pm I Food for Thought
Celebrity psychologist and bon vivant Dr Patricia Foie Gras continues her fascinating series on the celebrity chef phenomenon. This week she looks at the growing number of stalkers fixated on these “gastro-porn stars”. She posits that this alarming social trend is caused by an exploitative media totally fixated on food ... Then Gordon Casein pops in and whips up a scrumptious cheese and truffle soufflé!
As disturbing as it is appetising.
11:00 pm I I am Spam Uncut
Celebrity net geek Horatio L Parthenogenesis reads out 300 of the week’s most amusing “enlarge your penis” ads from his email inbox.