March 10, 2008
LINE ONE: Mar 05
A state-sponsored frontal lobotomy
How do you finally discover that you have crossed the threshold as it were and become, irrevocably, a grizzly old bastard? Could some of the signs, for instance, be somehow linked to the old chestnut theories that the Coppers now seem indecently young, that Americans rejoicing in names like Snoop Dogg, Eminem and the like who wail frequently obscene or incredibly violent doggerel to a sort of ghetto-like primeval beat is now akin to the prophesied effect that Rock and Roll would have on my generation, (a notably accurate prophesy when you come to think of it.) That women and wimps have taken over our world. That we now live in times where the number one objective of every good person must be, at all costs, to avoid ever letting a word or a phrase cross your lips that may give offense to a fellow human being, or for that matter any living thing that could be thought to have an IQ higher than that of a common amoeba.
Having studied at some length our society since the beginnings of the new millennium, the term dinosaur I have now discovered is no longer a strong enough description to accurately portray the likes of such as I.
Indeed so decrepit have become my mental processes and general inability to accept change, that together with my plainly unacceptable desire to hold on to such antediluvian principles regarding such matters as the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, truth versus lies etc, this should, without any doubt at all, make me an instant candidate for a state-sponsored frontal lobotomy. Worst of all, and this is a terrible admission to make I’m sure you will agree, I don’t personally give a big rat’s bottom as to either my supposed mental decay, current thought processes or – worse – frequently rabid utterances.
Since liberal socialism and all of its mind numbing, institutionalised gray-matter-destroying rubbish infiltrated our previously very well balanced and indeed pleasant little country, you may be absolutely assured that anything at all that you may say, do, or even think, will be contrary to this brave new world where euphemism, spin, and downright deception is not only the norm, but where advanced practitioners of these new age black arts are rewarded almost beyond measure.
Of course, should you retain, even after some years now of social re-engineering, some small vestige of morality, a lingering perception of what is genuinely right or wrong, even worse the temerity to voice in a public place an opinion or an idea based on these now officially discredited ageist/sexist/racist/homophobic/ etc thoughts or ideas, (and believe me such is the lexicon of the liberal abuse vocabulary that every time you say anything you will be bound to fall foul of one or perhaps all of these catch-all labels), then very quickly you will see the sense in simply joining the mainstream, saying nothing, and indeed most probably earning social promotion to the ranks of the “Metro sexual”, a term that as I understand it describes fairly accurately, anyone at all who has cast aside such unhealthy notions of being either male or female with a normally operating brain and adopting instead the thought patterns and world view probably best described as being that of an earthworm.
Having achieved, well certainly from our metro sexual politicians’ point of view in any case, this most desirous state of near social nirvana, we may then be almost completely relied upon to vote in the expected fashion, although should a last little nudge be required to maintain the sisterhood’s largely undeserved position of power and influence, then common voter bribery using the peoples’ own tax monies you can absolutely guarantee will retain St Helen’s place in this odd-ball political firmament. All of this, even as a self-confessed grizzly old social dinosaur, scares the hell out of me, not so much on my own behalf, but even casting my mind back just a couple of decades, this quickly accelerating decline in just about everything that we all once held to be an integral part of our national character appears to be all just going down the toilet, right under the very noses of people who, like me have had kids, yet appear to have no conception at all as to how we, as parents, should be guarding, if necessary with our very lives, what little that now remains untouched by a series of politicians, who if there was ever any justice at all, would be behind bars for the common good.
Good God, we voters really do have a lot to answer for do we not? In fact, I really do believe that before anyone is allowed to cast a vote at any upcoming elections that it should be made law that each individual voter should have to prove that they have spent at least several hours watching and listening to the people that collectively we have recently chosen to represent us.
It is fair to say that amongst the Members of Parliament there plainly are some good people, but sadly these folk are working in an environment that more commonly resembles a Victorian mad house. The standard of debate is at best puerile and frequently descends to a level where an onlooker might seriously believe that they had stumbled upon an episode of Animal House, where various wild-eyed actors are competing with one another to amuse the watching audience with feats of studied idiocy that – if not genetically based – at least call into severe question the current state of our mental health service.
Ever watched the Rocky Horror Picture Show? The parallels are “astounding,” from the Speaker playing the part of commentator, to the various MPs braying their own particular interpretations of everyone from Odjob to Frankenfurter. I tell you, rent and watch the movie, then sit down and watch Parliament in action, and I’ll guarantee you that apart from the sycophants in the Press Gallery, no one will ever take our current Parliament seriously, ever again.
Which point, one must observe, is in fact no laughing matter at all, because, quite plainly, it is from this appallingly dysfunctional organisation that the very laws that increasingly control our lives are formulated and then enacted, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why it is that the much better organised Government Departments have increasingly taken over the role of Ministers and the MPs by simply being forced to fill the vacuum that their supposed masters have provided by their collective ineptitude.
Our democracy now appears to have devolved to the point where Parliament simply applies itself to the task of prying enormous amounts of tax monies from the people at large, at which point unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucrats spend up large, usually in the time-honoured manner of increasing the size of their staff levels and therefore power structure, consolidating their increasing grip on the throats of the citizens that they are meant to serve and be working for.
Certainly we still have elections, indeed we all are looking forward to one at the end of this year, but have little doubt at all that when our votes have been cast, little of any worth will have changed, Justice, Health, Education, the Police and various other Departments and Ministries are now, quite clearly self-sufficient unelected entities and most certainly well beyond either censure or the control of the common herd, which I might add is self evident in the cavalier fashion in which they effectively carry on their own sweet ways regardless of which Government we choose to elect. All of which thoughts and observations I freely admit can only really come from a Grizzly old curmudgeon, the younger more liberal freethinkers amongst us continuing to largely believe that Democracy, like Freedom, is simply a word ... perhaps they are right.
DOUBLE SPEAK: Mar 05
Killing us softly with their song
Cellphones kill 17 in road crashes”, screamed the newspaper headline, or something like it. I almost choked on the latte (come on, I live in Auckland). Seventeen people a year being killed because drivers are using cellphones, I thought to myself. Almost enough to warrant reconsidering my “yeah, right” attitude to the problem. And then I read on. It was actually 17 deaths over seven years. And on the strength of that, the Nanny-State brigade are calling for a blanket ban on the use of cellphones in vehicles, including a ban on the use of hands-free kits.
“It’s not the cellphone that’s the worst problem,” they wail to sympathetic, liberal, control-freak journalistic lap-puppies, “it’s the conversation. People can’t drive and talk at the same time. It’s not safe!” No. Apparently not. Not with a rampaging death rate of two and a half people per year. What’s next, a lead story in the Herald telling us, shock horror, “100% increase in cellphone-related fatalities prompts call for Government to introduce emergency regulations…”?
Ah, they’re a right little bunch of comedians, these.
It’s almost enough to make me think Darwin might actually have been right. Perhaps a segment of our population, mainly in the left-wing liberal camp, really are the natural descendants of apes and that’s why we’re fast becoming a banana republic. Buried, a week later, in a much smaller story in the paper was Matthew Dearnaley’s brave attempt to provide some much needed balance. He reported that the biggest distractions for drivers in road smashes were passengers talking and/or drivers reaching for or looking for something while they drove.
Add to that the third-largest factor in road smashes – fiddling with those pesky, all-the-bells-and-whistles-you-can-afford car stereos with the really really really small buttons and even tinier writing on the knobs – and you’ve got a whole heap of bigger causes of road fatalities than cellphones.
You are actually more at risk, in Auckland anyway because I’ve seen it happen, of being pinged in a cellphone drive-by where - either as pedestrian or fellow passing motorist – you’re clouted around the head as a result of another enraged driver throwing their malfunctioning phone with the fiddly buttons out the window.
Cellphones are a distraction for drivers, don’t get me wrong. They can, in some cases, lead to road accidents. But how many more accidents are caused by three year old twins Amanda and Timothy in the back screeching like proverbial banshees because one bit the other or you didn’t go the route they wanted or you just passed an icecream shop without stopping – need I go on?
Then there’s autocide – suicide by car. It’s a fair bet that a large chunk of our road fatalities each year are people who’d had enough of the screaming in the back seat, or anywhere else for that matter.
Frankly, I can’t see why the Government is even bothering with this half-baked plan to ban cellphones and headsets when Frau Clark could simply wave her dictatorial finger and get the thought police in Labour’s Cabinet to adopt the full-baked version and simply ban road accidents. Fullstop.
We could have the police officers currently manning speed traps reassigned to ride shotgun in ambulances, where they could sternly admonish and occasionally administer a jolly good kicking to victims of roadcrashes, and slap ‘em with an instant $500 fine before they even reach the hospital.
Because let’s face it: if the logic behind banning cellphones is to ensure drivers don’t get distracted by conversations, then we may as well ban passenger seats in vehicles. Only then could you reduce the likelihood of a conversation breaking out. Governments introduce stupid laws by first creating a climate of fear and then milking those fears for all they’re worth. And the biggest tragedy is that New Zealand’s Fourth Estate is complicit in the crime.
BREAK POINT: Mar 05
The problem of fruitbat university lecturers…
University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill has written that “unquestionably, America has earned” the attack of 9/11. He calls the attack itself a result of “gallant sacrifices of the combat teams.” That the “combat teams” killed only 3,000 Americans, he says, shows they were not “unreasonable or vindictive.” He says that in order to even the score with America, Muslim terrorists “would, at a minimum, have to blow up about 300,000 more buildings and kill something on the order of 7.5 million people.”
To grasp the current state of higher education in America, consider that if Churchill is at any risk at all of being fired, it is only because he smokes.
Churchill poses as a radical living on the edge, supremely confident that he is protected by tenure from being fired. College professors are the only people in America who assume they can’t be fired for what they say.
Tenure was supposed to create an atmosphere of open debate and
inquiry, but instead has created havens for talentless cowards who want to be insulated from life. Rather than fostering a climate of open inquiry, college campuses have become fascist colonies of anti-American hate speech, hypersensitivity, speech codes, banned words and prohibited scientific inquiry.
Even liberals don’t try to defend Churchill on grounds that he is Galileo pursuing an abstract search for the truth. They simply invoke “free speech,” like a deus ex machina to end all discussion. Like the words “diverse” and “tolerance,” “free speech” means nothing but: “Shut up, we win.” It’s free speech (for liberals), diversity (of liberals) and tolerance (toward liberals).
Ironically, it is precisely because Churchill is paid by the taxpayers that “free speech” is implicated at all. The Constitution has nothing to say about the private sector firing employees for their speech. That’s why you don’t see Bill Maher on ABC anymore. Other well-known people who have been punished by their employers for their “free speech” include Al Campanis, Jimmy Breslin, Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy the Greek and Andy Rooney.
In fact, the Constitution says nothing about state governments firing employees for their speech: The First Amendment clearly says, “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.”
Firing Ward Churchill is a pseudo-problem caused by modern constitutional law, which willy-nilly applies the Bill of Rights to the states – including the one amendment that clearly refers only to “Congress.” (Liberals love to go around blustering “‘no law’ means ‘no law’!” But apparently “Congress” doesn’t mean “Congress.”)
Even accepting the modern notion that the First Amendment applies to state governments, the Supreme Court has distinguished between the government as sovereign and the government as employer. The government is extremely limited in its ability to regulate the speech of private citizens, but not so limited in regulating the speech of its own employees.
So the First Amendment and “free speech” are really red herrings when it comes to whether Ward Churchill can be fired. Even state universities will not run afoul of the Constitution for firing a professor who is incapable of doing his job because he is a lunatic, an incompetent or an idiot – and those determinations would obviously turn on the professor’s “speech.”
If a math professor’s “speech” consisted of insisting that 2 plus 2 equals 5, or an astrophysicist’s “speech” was to claim that the moon is made of Swiss cheese, or a history professor’s “speech” consisted of rants about the racial inferiority of the n....s, each one of them could be fired by a state university without running afoul of the constitution. Just because we don’t have bright lines for determining what speech can constitute a firing offense, doesn’t mean there are no lines at all. If Churchill hasn’t crossed them, we are admitting that almost nothing will debase and disgrace the office of professor (except, you know, suggesting that there might be innate differences in the mathematical abilities of men and women).
In addition to calling Americans murdered on 9/11 “little Eichmanns,” Churchill has said:
1. The U.S. Army gave blankets infected with smallpox to the Indians specifically intending to spread the disease.
Not only are the diseased-blanket stories cited by Churchill denied by his alleged sources, but the very idea is contradicted by the facts of scientific discovery. The settlers didn’t understand the mechanism of how disease was transmitted. Until Louis Pasteur’s experiments in the second half of the 19th century, the idea that disease could be caused by living organisms was as scientifically accepted as crystal reading is today. Even after Pasteur, many scientists continued to believe disease was spontaneously generated from within. Churchill is imbuing the settlers with knowledge that in most cases wouldn’t be accepted for another hundred years.
2. Indian reservations are the equivalent of Nazi concentration camps.
I forgot Auschwitz had a casino.
If Ward Churchill can be a college professor, what’s David Duke waiting for?
The whole idea behind free speech is that in a marketplace of ideas, the truth will prevail. But liberals believe there is no such thing as truth and no idea can ever be false (unless it makes feminists cry, such as the idea that there are innate differences between men and women). Liberals are so enamored with the process of free speech that they have forgotten about the goal.
Faced with a professor who is a screaming lunatic, they retreat to, “Yes, but academic freedom, tenure, free speech, blah, blah,” and their little liberal minds go into autopilot with all the slogans.
Why is it, again, that we are so committed to never, ever firing professors for their speech? Because we can’t trust state officials to draw any lines at all here? Because ... because ... because they might start with crackpots like Ward Churchill — but soon liberals would be endangered? Liberals don’t think there is any conceivable line between them and Churchill? Ipse dixit.
Universal Press Syndicate
EYES RIGHT: Mar 05
A burning question
A millennium dawns, and a power and environmental crisis beckons. Or does it? The globe is warming, oil is running out, and it’s all our fault, apparently. Mankind’s fondness for fossil fuels spells doom for us all, or so we are told. The earth will warm, the seas will rise, crops will fail, coastal lowlands will be inundated, polar bears will die out, and yada yada yada. This is partly true. The climate is changing. Temperatures worldwide are increasing. It is happening; it just isn’t happening for the reasons that that Greenies tell us it is.
I was raised as an environmentalist. I love the earth. Like most farmers, and most hunters, I’m a true Green, and proud of it. But unlike the ultra-far-red-leftists of the party which bears the same name, Greenies like me prefer to base our opinions on fact, rather than on dogma, ideology, and bad science.
We are in good company. British botanist, Professor David Bellamy, has published a paper outlining how it is that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing because of global warming, and not, as the flat-earth zealots of the Kyoto Cult claim, the other way round. His findings are based on thirteen thousand years’ worth of archaeological data since the last ice age.
Bellamy refers to the Milankovitch cycles, which measure changes in the earth’s climate brought about by variations in the tilt of our planet’s axis and her orbit around the sun. These changes occur gradually over long periods – up to 100,000 years – and their effects, along with those of the known 300-year and 22-year weather cycles generated by sunspot activity, have been inscribed not only in the fossil record, but also in human history. 1000 years ago, the Vikings grazed cattle on the lush green pastures of what are now the frozen icy wastes of Greenland, and Britain had a wine industry. 750 years later, the climate had cooled to such a degree that people could ice-skate on the River Thames in London.
Bellamy also quotes from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, whose petition against the Kyoto Protocol has been signed by some 18,000 scientists worldwide. Its central claim is simple; “Predictions of harmful climatic effects due to future increases in minor greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide are in error, and do not conform to experimental knowledge.”
Kyoto proponents would do well to acquaint themselves with a little of that experimental knowledge. We are told that melting ice caps will cause sea levels to rise. This is patently untrue, and easily demonstrated. Fill a glass to about three-quarters with water. Drop in a few ice cubes. Mark the water level with a felt-tipped pen.
In an hour or so, when the ice has melted, come back and check the level. You will discover that it hasn’t changed.The science behind this is very, very, third-form simple. Ice is less dense than water, which is why it floats. Because it floats, it displaces water, pushing the water level up. As the ice melts, the displacing ice is replaced by water, of increasing density, at lower volume, meaning that the overall level remains the same. Melting ice caps will have no effect at all on sea levels.
For the record, the Northern ice cap has no land mass under it. It is all floating sea ice. Most of the icebergs released by the Antarctic, are also sea ice, from such reservoirs as the Ross Ice Shelf. Such land-based ice as is released, by retreating glaciers and continental ice masses, is utterly insignificant relative to the volume of the oceans. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sit down with a map of the world and a pocket calculator to work that one out.
Sea levels will, however, rise with increasing global temperatures. This is because a warming of the oceans causes their waters to expand. Low-lying countries are at risk, unfortunately, and this is a great tragedy of our time; but a greater tragedy still, is the unfettered willingness with which so many otherwise ostensibly intelligent people leap blindly onto a popular bandwagon founded on theory and science which is, plainly and simply, wrong. The burning of fossil fuels by Western nations is not causing the rise in global temperatures, and their cessation in so doing will not halt it, nor will it save those nations which are at risk.
We are also led to believe that methane emissions from New Zealand’s three-odd million cows are irrevocably harming the atmosphere, and that we must purchase “carbon credits” from some other country in order to overcome this.
The authors of this particular chapter of the Kyoto fantasy have obviously not thought far enough outside the box to give consideration to the effects which must, by their logic, have been caused by the up-to-75 million bison which roamed North America until the 1830s, or the huge African wildlife herds that existed up until modern human predation. One would presume, in keeping with their argument, that the globe should now be in credit from that period.
The fantasists also appear to ignore the fact that the atmospheres of the northern and southern hemispheres mix only at the equator, and even then, by only a minute percentage every year. Even if the “carbon credit” theory were anything other than simplistic misinformation, several centuries would have to pass before the effects of carbon emissions “saved” in one hemisphere, had any measurable effect on those “spent” in the other.
And as an aside, forests are not the “carbon sinks” which the Protocolers claim them to be; living plants emit almost as much CO2 as they take in. The only effective way to turn a forest into a carbon sink, is to cut it down for timber, or mill it into paper.
As I write this, on the evening of Wednesday 16th February 2005, the Government of New Zealand is committing the latest in its long litany of ill-informed, incompetent, or deliberate and ideologically-driven blunders. It is ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.
Even as it does, professional activists, from the internationally-franchised business Greenpeace, are occupying the site of this New Zealand Government’s single most intelligent and sensible action – the commissioning of the mothballed Marsden-B power station, as a coal-fired electricity generating plant.
They are doing so because they, and the Greens, and any number of other highly-opinionated yet poorly informed protesters, are opposed to the use of coal as a fuel for electricity generation. It is their claim that the burning of coal, or any other fossil fuel for that matter, in spite of a wealth of informed scientific opinion to the contrary, is a contributing factor to the current cycle of natural climate change. I do beg to differ. Mankind, for all his faults, is just not that significant. We are not affecting our planet’s climate. It is changing all by itself, without our help, as it has done since time immemorial, not just in the couple of hundred years since modern record-keeping began.
A single volcanic eruption on the scale of Taupo, or Krakatoa, or Mount St Helens, or Pinatubo, releases more particulate and oxidative matter into the atmosphere, than has been created by the whole of mankind since the discovery of fire, modern wars included. Sorry, Kyotoers, but once again, this is verifiable fact.
Ice ages come and go. After them, indeed between them, the climate warms again. Greenhouse fanatics choose to ignore this natural phenomenon, because they have no pseudo-scientific way of explaining it.
Though generally short on alternative solutions, in this case, as an alternative to coal, the protestors make some timid noises in favour of natural gas. This is a curious position. The exhaust products from the burning of natural gas (primarily a mix of propane and butane, with some methane, a little ethane, a smattering of pentane, and a dash of carbon monoxide), are mostly water vapour (the single most effective greenhouse gas, which also sustains life on our planet, and staves off ice-ages), and carbon dioxide.
Strangely enough, the exhaust products from a modern coal-fired thermal power station are also, primarily, water vapour and carbon dioxide.
The reality of black gold today, is a long way from the grim memory of its industrial past. Fly ash is caught by filters. Sulphur dioxide is neutralised with lime, and the resultant calcium sulphate is extracted to be used as a fertiliser. After these processes, there is very little left.
Their other preferred alternatives appear to be the continued destruction and flooding of South Island rivers and wilderlands, and the proliferation of ugly, noise-polluting wind farms – which Europe, incidentally, having had much experience of, is now in the process of dismantling.
Nobody wants pollution. There are very good reasons for mankind to pursue an alternative to oil as a source for transport fuels. But just for the record, oil is never going to run out. Contrary to popular myth, it isn’t fermented dinosaur juice. Oil is one of the products which the earth produces all the time, albeit slowly. When we tap into an oil strike, some of the oil comes out under its own pressure, and the next fraction is displaced with water, either sea water or fresh water, depending on whether the find is on land or offshore.
But oil isn’t so much pumped, as collected. Oil companies prefer not to spend unnecessary money on extracting this free and plentiful product; when the easy stuff runs out, the well is capped, declared “dry”, and the company moves on to the next find. At that stage, the reservoir usually still contains around 80% of its original oil.
Oil is handy and versatile stuff, providing us with plastics, artificial fibres, and a host of other products, from cosmetics, to agrichemicals, to road-building materials.
That said, it isn’t the cleanest thing we can put into our fuel tanks; but neither is it, nor coal, the cause of global warming.
Worldwide, a commercially-driven and media supported campaign of mass hysteria over climate change is using fraudulent science and bogus evidence to convince foolish Greenies and ignorant politicians to spend vast amounts of money on solving a problem which doesn’t exist. It is reminiscent of those other great bogeyman stories, about Y2K, SARS, Nuclear War, werewolves, vampires, and Asian Bird Flu.
I end as I began, by quoting Professor Bellamy: “The link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming is a myth. It is time the world’s leaders, their scientific advisers and many environmental pressure groups woke up to the fact.”
(With acknowledgement to David Bellamy, and special thanks to Allen Cookson for some additional information.)
LAURA’S WORLD: Mar 05
Identifying and eradicating unwanted pests
New Zealand Customs officers are among the world’s most rigorously protective. We love to keep things out of our remote little country. I quite frequently fly around the world carting some odd items that barely raise an eyebrow until I land here, whereupon I am funnelled toward MAF and Customs scrutineers who treat me as if I am very odd indeed.
“Why would I want to bring such things into the country? Does the country need such things? They have never heard of items like these, so surely I am hiding some ulterior motive?” I have an interest in different healing techniques and pick up the odd foreign implement and herbal remedy. At first the insinuation that this made me a suspicious oddity upset me. How dare they make such judgements? I found it very small-minded indeed.
Often my goods are taken for further testing and I receive them weeks or even months later, purged of every possible evil. This simply does not happen elsewhere, unless you have a firearm. But ask most New Zealanders about Customs and they will back up this mentality of exclusion. We want the right to shape our country the way we want, not have it shaped by outside influences flooding in at the will of foreigners whose alliance lies not with the heart of this nation.
We are quite clear when it comes to excluding undesirable substances, but not so undesirable attitudes. This becomes an issue of human rights, as if we do not have the right as a country to judge an attitude or a behaviour undesirable and keep it out. We will protect our flora and fauna from contamination with the greatest of measures, but not our culture.
A few countries have the shoe on the other foot. Bhutan, for example, allows only tourism, no immigration. Tourists pay US$250 a day to visit, allowed only two weeks in a guided tour of designated areas. While Bhutan is an extreme example, it is by no means unique. Many countries have almost no immigration allowance – it is simply something they do not want. Nepal, for example has a few foreign residents, but all are there on shonky student visas that require constant renewal. Try to even find an Immigration Department, and then try to ask for a residency application form, and you will be laughed back to your country.
I estimate that in approximately two-thirds of the world’s countries, immigration is nigh impossible. The countries that do allow it are predominantly Western. In Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand the attitude to giving foreigners entitlement to dwell and even become nationals, is entirely different. Even countries that are over-full to bursting still take in thousands of immigrants. Why the differences?
Obviously, more people want to get out of a poor country and into a comparatively rich one, than the reverse. But there is another reason, one which Western nations scorned long ago. Protectivism. Even the poorest of countries like Nepal and Bhutan are passionate about their identity and protect it at great cost. They want tourism and they want money, but they do not want outside customs taking root and potentially taking over their sovereign ways.
Try similarly to immigrate to a Muslim nation. Even marrying a national does not afford you residency or citizenship. They are absolutely protective, and unashamedly proud of it. But observe the outcry if any Western country attempts in even the meekest way to protect itself by suggesting for example that it is overcrowded and needs a break from the tide of immigrants. This country will be in the headlines, whichever politician dared to voice this opinion labelled a racist, conservative bigot, or as in the case of Pym Fortuyn, Dutch Opposition Leader, simply shot to death.
I have never been a part of any organisation, be it religious, political or philosophical. I have no criminal history, no world-changing goals, and no particular axe to grind yet immigration to a non-Western country would be no easy task as most simply do not want me. They most certainly feel no kind of moral obligation to take me in simply because I ask nicely! Even if I had fled New Zealand, pursued by the IRD or the Mongrel Mob I would find they have no such thing as ‘claiming refugee status’ because I fear for my livelihood or life.
The very fact that New Zealand is taking its time to consider whether to grant residency to a foreign man with a strongly political-religious-activist past who entered the country illegally under false pretences, is causing moral outrage. Not moral outrage that New Zealand is being taken advantage of, but outrage that it dares to harbour doubts about this man and even greater outrage that it dares to suggest it has the right as a nation to protect itself from individuals, ideas or situations that could harm the way of life here.
What on earth is all this about? How dare Amnesty International lambast the government in full page Herald ads for crimes against humanity? Have we not a right to even consider protecting ourselves?
If New Zealanders don’t want Nukes, they are kept out. We don’t like snakes, even if they are at risk of becoming extinct in their own land we would not consider harbouring them. Customs have every right to treat me, a New Zealander with suspicion, to detain me, test me, question me for as long as they like because their business is protecting the country. Why is it not equally important to protect this country’s culture, as its nature?
When Bhutan wants to protect itself from unwanted influence it is seen as a charming, endearing quality and a bold move by a proud people who have something worth protecting. Bhutanese do not lack compassion, but had some of New Zealand’s high-profile refugee claimants gone to them for refuge, they would have politely declined. The world media would not have berated the Bhutanese government for this. In fact no one would have seen it as other than their personal right to choose. Why on the one hand would people uphold Bhutan’s right to self-determination through protection and exclusion, and not New Zealand’s? Why are we bigots for excluding an Algerian whilst Bhutanese are heroes for excluding an American? Clearly our attitude towards protection and preservation is two-faced, confused and heavily coloured by the unconscious prejudice that Westerners owe something to the rest of the world.
I have spent much of my life travelling, often involved in voluntary schemes to alleviate suffering, to bring health and education to people whose governments either can’t or don’t care to provide for. I do not lack compassion but one thing I have learned about the world is that poverty, disease, and most forms of suffering I have witnessed stem from attitude, culture, belief and behaviour, not by an accident of nature, and not by Western greed.
New Zealand is a safe, healthy and caring place to live because of a culture we have carefully cultivated, argued over and altered over generations. Now we take this culture for granted, as if it is not a creation, a possession of ours. Rather, we see only a land that we possess by dubious rights, that we have little right to restrict others from.
In Bhutan culture is seen as their greatest asset, coming before land, before wealth. Part of treasuring this is in saying the word no.
If it is New Zealand’s choice to become multi-cultural then I support that. This also is our right. But let us not think it is our obligation. Unwise immigration schemes are crippling countries and diminishing cultures that seem to have no right to protect themselves. We must be able to do both; celebrate and protect our way of life as well as invite other cultures and expand our boundaries. To do this we inevitably have to say no along the way, in between the yes’s.
Simply Devine: Mar 05
Wolfe howls at loose moon units of the Left
After thoroughly enjoying Tom Wolfe’s latest novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, it came as some surprise to read review after review that panned the book. Wolfe has had negative critiques of his earlier work, the smash hit Bonfire Of The Vanities and the more recent A Man In Full; during a celebrated literary bitchfight with a jealous Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, Wolfe wrote an essay titled “My Three Stooges”.
But there was nothing like this near-universal condemnation by the literary establishment, so spiteful and so personal.
Wolfe “has become an old fart, and the worst kind of old fart, too: a right-wing scold, a moralising antique”, wrote Henry Kisor of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Wolfe “has grown into an unremitting scold, excoriating perceived depravity”, wrote The Washington Post’s Michael Dirda. The book is, “a (slightly disguised) hellfire tirade, a vision of students who belong in the hands of an angry God”.
Wolfe is “irredeemably, programmatically super-ficial” wrote Theo Tait in the once-great magazine The Spectator.
Many reviewers sneered about Wolfe’s age, 73, as if it somehow disqualified him from writing about young people.
“What can be expected when a novelist in his 70s takes on the subject of undergraduate life? Mainly voyeurism,” wrote Princeton professor Elaine Showalter in the Chronicle Of Higher Education. Wolfe was “titillated by the sexual revolution that has arrived on campus since his own student days”. There must be a reason for such spite which goes beyond the pages of Wolfe’s new book. And, of course, it is politics. The day before the US presidential election last November, Wolfe was quoted in The Guardian as saying he might vote for George Bush. Social death!
What’s more, he poked fun at the Bush-hating New York liberal dinner party set, to which he belonged.
“Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing ...what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And ... Tina’s reaction is: ‘How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?’ I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election. I have never come across a candidate who is so reviled.”
Wolfe’s book is about a high-minded 18-year-old virgin, Charlotte Simmons, from a conservative hillbilly family, the first to go away to a prestigious college. But instead of an intellectual Shangri-la she found a shallow, status-obsessed world of rampant sex, crudity and drunkenness, where her virginity was a joke and being “cool” was everything.
It explores social status and the primal human need to belong to a group. How ironic, then, that the book was the trigger for Wolfe to become a pariah within his own group, the New York liberal elite.
“I cannot stand the lockstep among everyone in my particular world,” he told The Guardian. “They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not one of them.”
Wolfe also accepted an invitation from Laura Bush to the White House last year to speak at a literary function.
But the final affront to his peers was when The New York Times discovered President Bush loved I Am Charlotte Simmons.
“It is unclear exactly what Mr Bush liked so much about the book,” wrote the newspaper’s Elizabeth Bumiller. Shock horror, the President was even, “enthusiastically recommending it to friends”.
“Does Mr Bush like the book because it is a journey back to his keg nights at Deke (his jock fraternity at Yale), or because it offers a glimpse into the world of his daughters’ generation?” Miaow.
Then, to make matters worse, another British paper, The Sunday Times, revealed Wolfe’s daughter, Alexandra, 24, had confessed that she, too, was intending to vote for Bush. “If I say it out loud, it’s death,” she whispered to writer Sarah Baxter at a Manhattan black tie arts party. “In a place like this, people look at you like you are a freak.
I believe in abortion and I totally believe Kerry is right on some social issues, but I just don’t trust him on terrorism.”
Maybe this determination to escape intellectual lockstep and think for oneself is hereditary. Or, scary thought, for Wolfe’s detractors, maybe it is contagious.
MOVIES: Feb 05
“DOOR” BORES, SEX SELLS
Great acting belies the controversy over “Kinsey”, while Kim Basinger’s latest is just plain creepy.
Door In The Floor
Released: February 3, 2005
Sure, Door In The Floor is a sad story. A couple’s two boys are killed in an accident and their parents, children’s writer Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) and wife Marion (Kim Basinger), are torn apart with grief. So much so they have another child to make up for the loss (as if that’s going to work). Next they decide to separate and sleep around (okay…). Then they invite a 16-year-old intern who looks like one of their dead sons to work for them.
Can anyone else see trouble brewing here?
One could understand this amount of destructive behavior had the accident occurred a month or a year ago, but we meet the characters a full five years after the fact. Somewhere along the five stages of grief these two got stuck on the step known as, “numbingly vacant yet destructive and willing to leave human carnage in their wake”.Yet for such an un-likeable story the cast is top notch.
As the adulterous artist and grieving father Ted, Jeff Bridges’ is superb – but his acting is wasted on such an obnoxious character. He’s supposed to be free and creative but he’s really just selfish and uncaring.
Kim Basinger plays Marion, the sexy yet emotionally numbed mother. And I have to admit, she can pull off a stone carving impression very well. But things get creepy when she decides to take a page out of
Mrs. Robinson’s playbook and pursue their teenage intern, Eddie (Jon Foster), who looks like one of her dead sons.
The director, Tod Williams, has adapted the movie from John Irving’s novel A Widow for One Year. It’s beautifully and artistically filmed – or, to put it another way, pretentious. Without a doubt, Williams wanted to make a “deep” film, and every lingering shot and every line screams not just “look at how deep this is”, but, “but wait this makes it deeper still!”
This film exaggerates the weight of grief without ever bothering to realistically confront the unavoidable process of healing. For me it was as entertaining as watching an open wound. If you want to watch two hours of a marriage falling apart, child neglect and pseudo-incest, be my guest, but Door In The Floor wasn’t my cup of tea.
Released: January 27, 2005
For all the controversy surrounding it, Kinsey is not much more than a bio-pic of Alfred Kinsey who, in 1948, published the controversial book Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male. It sold like gangbusters, and shocked society with its detailed scientific evidence about our rude bits and what we do with them.
Originally a zoologist studying wasps, Kinsey was drawn to exploring sex when one of his biology students asked him, “If a husband gives his wife oral sex will that make her infertile?” and “Does masturbating make you lose a pint of blood? ” Kinsey decided to put a stop to this nonsense by finding out the facts, helped by a team of young researchers to help him carry out in-depth sex surveys. Lo and behold, it turned out Americans in the 1940s were having much more sex and in more ways than anyone ever imagined! Who woulda thunk it?
I’m putting my neck out early here but I think Liam Neeson has an Oscar smell about him. He has a captivating take on the nutty, sex-obsessed professor. Laura Linney plays Kinsey’s free-thinking wife with just the right amount of enthusiasm and fragility. Together they pull off one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes ever filmed as they portray two virgins fumbling on their wedding night with embarrassing realism. I was squirming in my seat. Neeson is well supported by Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard and Timothy Hutton as his research assistants. They quickly become cult followers of their awe-inspiring boss, shaking off Victorian sexual constraints and exploring everything from same-sex relationships to wife-swapping — all, of course, in the name of science. Such forward thinking wasn’t exactly welcomed in the ‘40s and by the time his book on women arrived in 1953, the sexual revolution was getting underway and Kinsey being blamed for the whole kinky mess.John Lithgow is impressive as Kinsey’s conservative father and Lynn Redgrave shows why she’s an Oscar nominee with her show-stealing and thought-provoking cameo as one of Kinsey’s patients.Writer/Director Bill Condon has created another champion script to follow up on his mesmerizing screenplay for Gods & Monsters, a gentle handling of the story of James Whale (most famous for
directing “Frankenstein”), which won him an Academy Award.
BOOKS: Feb 05
A FONT OF KNOWLEDGE?
Edited by David Crystal, Penguin, $75
What can you say about an encyclopaedia that gives 12 lines to Alexander the Great and 16 lines to the Beach Boys? Clearly, the pop present is being privileged over the classical past. However, this 1698-page tome is often factually inaccurate when dealing with the present (20th century). Under Mexican Art, David Alfaro Siqueiros has his last name omitted so he becomes David Alfaro; Booker Prize winner Keri Hulme is credited with the 1992 publication of Bait, a novel that she has yet to publish; Postmodernism only deals with architecture, ignoring the fact it is de rigeur in literature and art. Spelling mistakes include the Mexican president’s first name printed as Vincente instead of Vicente and painter Jose Clemente Orozco’s second name spelt as Clementi.
The omissions are a wonder indeed. Mick Jagger is in, Keith Richard is out; Al Capone is in, Lucky Luciano is absent; Keri Hulme is in, Janet Frame is not; Stalingrad is in, Kursk (world’s greatest tank battle) is missing; Michael Jackson is in, Peter Jackson is not; Everest-conqueror Edmund Hillary is necessarily in but Reinhold Messner, the world’s greatest mountaineer is not; Saddam Hussein is in and Osama bin Laden, as always, is invisible. Structuralism is in but astonishingly poststructuralism is not (though it is sneakily mentioned under Deconstruction with which it is mistakenly identified). I was surprised to find Timothy Leary, Peggy Guggenheim, Bryce Courtenay, Pierre Bourdieu (renowned anthropologist) Takla Makan desert and Google absent (though Desktop Publishing is in).
Another anomaly - perhaps common in other encyclopaedias - is contradictory entries. The Aborigines entry has them arriving in Australia 60,000 years ago while the Australian history section has a figure of 40,000. (Some have advanced the figure to 100,000 BC — shouldn’t all three estimates have been discussed?) The entry on Australian literature make no mention of Judith Wright, yet she merits a separate entry under her own name. This inconsistency of analysis is possibly explicable by two different people doing the two entries. But shouldn’t there be a match up? Similarly, William Burroughs is not mentioned under Beat Generation but under his own entry is declared to be a “spokesman of the Beat movement”. Also, stingily, there is no colour in any of the maps and no portraits (though that does allow more text).
Now for some appreciation. There are compendious lists of phobias, popes, highest mountains, deserts and, best of all, Crusades which includes sub headings under Background, Leaders and Outcomes — though
regretfully no Nobel Prize listings. Listings of musicians, artists and scientists are generally good. The quality of the paper and binding is excellent. Some may be wondering - in this Internet age do we still need encyclopaedias? I, for one, would not like to see them become obsolete because they present the opportunity par excellence for browsing by association and the alphabet. Also an encyclopaedia offers greater authority than the crackpot and often wildly inaccurate entries frequently found on the Internet. It cannot be repeated too often that an encyclopaedia, being a book, can never have power failure, a virus, intrusive advertisements or the irritatingly busy format deployed by many website homepages. However, the Penguin Encyclopedia needs a clean up on accuracy, improved expansion and consistency of inclusion and could do with some colour in its bland white pages. Hey, it’s still an encyclopaedia, my favourite kind of book for browsing new arcana and esoterica.
THE LIFE OF GRAHAM GREENE Volume Three: 1955-1991
By Norman Sherry, Jonathan Cape, $79.95
At 906 pages, this is the largest of the three volumes of an ongoing Greene biography that now totals 2251 pages — possibly the largest biography in history. It is a labour beyond love — 27 years in the making — and, to be honest, it is somewhat of a labour to read it.
Sherry’s ultraviolet style contrasts uneasily with Greene’s always clipped, spare prose. In contrast to the trouble-seeking journalist— novelist Greene, Sherry is an academic obsessive — he had already written five books on Conrad — and he surmises it was his dedication to Conrad (a kind of early Graham Greene) that may have helped in his selection as his biographer. Plus his hands-on willingness to go to exotic countries as part of his research. Following the wide-ranging peripatetic trail of Greene and his work has meant Sherry has been to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Kenya, Panama, Mexico, Barbados, France, Switzerland, Argentina, Paraguay, Ireland and Spain - bravo! (And shouldn’t Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba be added?)
This biography is of the Boswellian type — no detail omitted. No pithy one liners when a paragraph will do the job - Sherry uses large half page (or more) quotes. When he deals with some of Greene’s major novels, such as A Burnt Out Case, he gives us three chapters whereas one would have sufficed. The overall effect is one of sauntering excess and under-editing. While it is arguably in order to refer to Greene as a maverick, loner, provocateur, rebel and anarchist, the description of Green as politically immature, unripe, callow and jejune looks like three adjectives too many.
Sherry works assiduously, and a trifle over-gleefully, in identifying originals for Greene’s characters, marking him as a biographer of the old school and not a text only postmodernist. His actual literary approach to Greene - influence of cinematic techniques or Hemingway (say) — in the light of contemporary trends of biography, is surprisingly limited.
Having detailed — elaborately as always — Greene’s stubborn inability to quite believe in hell, heaven, angels, heaven or Satan (though he does think of God as Christ), Sherry concludes in somewhat exasperated tones, it’s difficult to buttonhole Greene as either Roman Catholic or Christian - yet there is Green’s oxymoronic statement that he is was a “Catholic agnostic”(or worse still “Catholic atheist”) plus the agonised arguing that occurs so powerfully in Greene’s novels about the nature of evil, God, sin etc. For this reviewer (and I suspect for many more than fully admit it), this agonised I-want-to-believe-but-can’t-quite-believe strikes a resonant chord. Certainly, it is clear—and I am at one with Sherry on this — that Greene is pro-victim which can render his ideological stances fluid, rather than consistent.
Two of the most interesting matters dealt with are Greene’s clash with corruption in Nice - his tough dedicated fight on behalf of his daughter-in-law against a local thug and a corrupt mayor which alas, ended in legal failure - and his failure to win the Nobel prize. I am convinced by Sherry’s account that it was a dedicated Greene-opponent on the controversial committee, one Arthur Lundkvist, who vowed never to vote for Greene because his play The Living Room, was Catholic “propaganda of the most vulgar type”. Even if this were so, the large amount of brilliant work that flowed from Greene’s busy pen plus general world literary opinion should have prompted the committee to press for Greene’s strongly merited award. Unsurprisingly, the English literary establishment considered Greene the most deserving of the writers who had never won the world’s most prestigious literary prize.
While it frequently gives off the sanctimonious odour of hagiography, Sherry does reproach Greene from time to time — e.g. for being a supporter of Castro after executions became commonplace. Despite its stylistic infelicities, tortured metaphors, lapses into banality, embarrassing asides to the reader, excessive detail, over extended treatment, and its occasional presumption to read Greene’s mind too dogmatically, this biography is a must read for any Greene fan.
TOLKIEN’S GOWN & Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books
By Rick Gekoski, Constable, $34.95
In general, I have regarded book collectors and first edition freaks as fetishists who are more interested in the wrapping than the present, brassieres instead of breasts. Having enjoyed Mr Gekoski’s lucid prose and accumulation of delightful anecdotes, my previous value judgment has been white-anted somewhat. Despite his eye for the deal, the multi-talented Gekoski also has an ear for the interesting human story, hence this witty and attractively presented book (which I am hoping will one day prove a valuable first edition).
The book kicks off with a chapter on the controversial Lolita, Nabokov’s sordid tale of a middle-aged lecher’s seduction of a barely pubescent girl. Shocking as this relationship might be, Nabokov’s exquisite prose turns it into a tragic love story. In his cheerfully lucid style, Gekoski relates how after he sold a first edition of Lolita for $4900, he received a letter from Graham Greene asking how much he (Greene) could get for a copy inscribed to him by the Russian author.
Apparently, this in an example of what rare book dealers call an “association copy”, one presented by the author to someone of importance. As Greene eminently qualified, Gekoski insisted on paying him $7200 (Greene wanted less!), and sold it for a profit (mysteriously, or tactfully, not revealed). When Gekoski last heard, the on sold book fetched $264,000 which left him “sick with seller’s remorse”. Since reading this revealing anecdote, I have been urging my friends at launches of my books to hurry up and become “persons of importance” so I can buy the book back off them and resell it for a whacking profit. So far, the scheme has yet to take off. And is unlikely to, for almost none of my books have that piece de la resistance, a dustwrapper, which rockets the price for any rare book into the ionosphere.
If over a quarter of million dollars sounds like big money, it has been topped by Gekoski’s estimate for a first edition Lord of the Flies - $450,000. A first edition inscribed Ulysses actually sold for $460,000 - the highest price thus far. Touchingly, Gekoksi admits that Ulysses is a tough read, even though he considers it the greatest book of the twentieth century. This promisingly profitable spiral was recently put in the shade when the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road sold for $2,430,000 which makes me wish cryonic preservation really works and poor old Jack could return and feast off the posthumous profit.
Packed with colourful stories of famous writers, this book is surely one of the more notable of the 110,000 books published in England last year, most of which, Gekoski reminds us, will soon be forgotten. I am hoping the first edition of his book will soar in value — when Gekoski soon visits the Antipodes I must ask him to inscribe it.
THE FACTS BEHIND THE HELSINKI ROCCAMATIOS
By Yann Martel, Canongate, $29.95
The Life of Pi was such a delightful book I vowed I’d read anything else that came from the pen of Yann Martel. As is often the case, the massive success of one book prompts an issue (or reissue) of earlier titles. Helsinki consists of two novellas and two short stories published earlier in the author’s career.
The title short novel is by far the most significant work of the quartet. Of the remaining stories, the formally experimental “Manners of Dying” which presents postmortem letters about an execution as variations on a theme of what the condemned man ate and the manner of his death, is the most interesting. The star of the collection is without question the Helsinki novella.
A well-known literary phenomenon is that a grand (as it were) disease eventually prompts the creation of some grand literary masterpieces. Among these are - The Magic Mountain (tuberculosis), Doctor Faustus (syphilis), A Burnt Out Case (leprosy), Awakenings (sleepy sickness). When AIDS played its dread hand in the early 80s, I was (almost) morbidly waiting for the appropriate literary work to do it justice. Several plays and films have so far appeared but none as powerful or skilful as this novella. It could not be validly claimed that this work is a grand masterpiece but it is a minor one, relentless in its grim clinical detail.
However, Helsinki offers more than just pathological footnotes.
Inspired by the story-telling in the face of the Black Plague in Boccaccio, a nameless narrator puts the proposition to his blood transfusion-infected friend Paul that they should mutually invent stories to, as it were, defeat the doom of the encroaching disease. One event chosen from each year the century thus far — 86 stories in all — would form the narrative backdrop. The stories would centre around a Canadian family in a city neither of the two story tellers had ever been to Helsinki. The combination of factual base combined with an imaginative family in an “imagined” though real city, would form a satisfyingly solid tapestry. It may sound a bit contrived but it makes a compelling counterpoint to the deepening and irreversible manifestations of the disease.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone who has not heard of AIDS. Yann Martel’s short powerful novella tells us of the brutal destruction wrought by the disease and of how two friends responded to it with “narrative therapy”.. If art does not work a physical miracle, it can provide the next best thing - a compensatory defeat by the imagination.
HELL OR HIGH WATER: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River
By Peter Heller, Allen & Unwin, $35
Until the arrival of maturity and arthritis, I used to nourish the fantasy, however remote, that I might one day go kayaking, preferably on some previously unkayaked river. This would prove to myself (and to others) that I had at last acquired the warrior manhood that my prior dismal performances at football, fighting, and free climbing had failed to evidence; that I might at last be redeemed by one all out fluke performance on raging white water. A fantasy I can no longer sustain. Instead, I can now recline on my sofa, sip the “white water “off my beer” and read about how real men do it. Among these intrepid dudes are two New Zealanders - Mike Abbott, said to be the best paddler in the world, and Dave Allardice. When Abbott won a big cash prize he shared it with his broke mates.
Like so many exponents of extreme sports, participants peak early 25-30 (say). It’s not an activity for one’s middle years (though there are exceptions). Just to reach the Tsangpo river is a feat in itself. It’s buried at the bottom of a 15,000 foot gorge at the eastern end of the Himalayas and has defeated earlier explorers for more than a century. Heller vividly revisits Victorian times when fearless Indians (who came to be called Pundits) crossed the border into forbidden Tibet as pilgrims and proceeded to map the terrain for the British by walking 2000 measured steps per mile, using modified prayer beads as pedometers, carrying prismatic compasses inside their prayer wheels and thermometers in hollow walking sticks in order to obtain hypsometric altitude readings. James Bond’s 007 antics were just a feeble continuation of this daring nineteenth century espionage ingenuity. These early measurements ascertained just where Lhasa was situated and established that the Tsangpo met the Brahmaputra.
Heller, who is a kayaker himself, describes the phenomenon of white water with a specialist vocabulary - “wave trains”, “mean comber”, “boulder garden”, “center of the tongue”. The prose, like the river, is wild but also like the paddlers, controlled. Almost beyond imagining, is an exhilarating though arguably insane activity called squirt boating where the kayak becomes submerged and then pops out - squirts back into the air. Another exhibitionist variety is freestyle or rodeo kayaking where the kayak “catapults forward in a series of fast end-over-end cartwheels” — I think I’ll take another sip of my beer, thank you. Though some consider freestylers made the best river runners, Scott Lindgren, one of the best paddlers in the world, asserted that the opposite was the case. His view was that “riding holes” would be worthless on the mighty Tsangpo.
The first Victorian explorers hoped to find a cataract as mighty as the Victorian falls but it turned out to be a “mere “ 150 feet high - now shrunk to 112 feet. For kayakers, the glory of the Tsangpo river is its wild white water, gloriously rendered in the controlled tumult of Heller’s expert prose.
Beside the wonder of the world’s most terrifying foam piles, wave trains and rolling haystacks, there is also the ferocious and lyric beauty of the landscape, rebellious porters who want more money and the ominous possibility of being eaten by a Bengal tiger. An intoxicating broth of a book.
TRAVEL: Feb 05
TO THE EDGE OF THE EARTH
Phil Marty charts America’s less-travelled canyons
Escalante, Utah — We were relaxing in the shade at a table outside the Trailhead Cafe and Grill here while smoke from burgers drifted away from the gas grill into a brilliant blue sky. On the road into Escalante, brilliant blue met reddish orange, compliments of otherworldly red-rock formations.
As if on cue, the radio, set to an oldies station somewhere bigger than Escalante (pop. 900), began to pour out Billy Joe Royal’s lament, Down in the Boondocks.
It’s not hard to consider this southern third (or maybe the whole state) of Utah to be the boondocks. After all, there aren’t many people (only 2.3 million for the whole state - a half million less than Chicago alone). Consequently, there aren’t a lot of fine-dining options.
Or high-brow cultural events.
So, yeah, this probably is the boondocks. But, man, what beautiful boondocks they are.
It was the national parks and their close proximity - five of them, each less than 250 kilometres from the next - that lured my wife, Bonnie, and me here last September. The parks - Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion - share some of the same geology. In this area “you’re getting 600 million years of Earth history with very few pages missing,” says Kevin Poe, a park ranger/naturalist at Bryce.
Most of these parks have the same buff-colored Navajo sandstone and salmon-colored Entrada sandstone. But each has its own idiosyncratic delights: Arches’ namesake weathered rock arches. Canyonlands’ aptly named Island in the Sky. Capitol Reef’s 100-mile-long rocky wrinkle called Waterpocket Fold. Bryce’s fantastically shaped and wildly colored hoodoos. Zion’s massive and (hate to be repetitive, but...) aptly named Checkerboard Mesa. Now that should be enough for any lover of sensational scenery. But there’s more. How about Kodachrome Basin State Park? It got its name from the color film, and for good reason. And guess where Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park got its name?
Impossible to ignore is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which, with 1.7 million acres of cliffs, mesas, buttes and canyons, is big enough to swallow the state of Rhode Island and still have a little room left.
Truth be told, after you look at a road atlas and see how many routes here are designated as scenic byways, you begin to wonder why all of southern Utah isn’t one big national park.
And, oh, if that isn’t enough of an enticement, it’s not much of a jog over the border into Arizona to sample the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then meander back toward Utah through Monument Valley, whose towering buttes and mesas have been the background for many Western movies.
In short, this is one doozy of a road trip that packs a lot into only about 2,100 kilometres.
Fly to Las Vegas and rent a car or SUV. From there, it’s only about 260 km to Zion National Park and the beginning of a circle drive that will leave your jaw dropping. And because it’s a circle drive, you can, after hauling out your road atlas, route it however you like.
This is simplified, to a certain extent, because Utah, like most of the American West, doesn’t have a profusion of paved roads, owing to those pesky mountains and canyons and deserts that we want to see but that can make road-building daunting.
That mammoth Grand Staircase-Escalante, for example, has only two paved roads that skirt just a teeny bit of its edges. So if you want to explore it more in depth, you need to choose from what a brochure describes as “five secondary roads of varying character (that) traverse the monument from north to south.”
What makes the character of those roads vary? Well, the weather for one. All of these roads are dirt and/or gravel. And that means that if they’re wet, you don’t want to be on them - certainly not in a car, but probably not even in a four-wheel-drive SUV, like we were driving. Keep an eye on the weather forecast. One morning after leaving Bryce Canyon, we stopped at the Bureau of Land Management’s new visitor center in Cannonville to inquire about the state of the Cottonwood Canyon Road. It cuts 80 km through the west central part of Grand Staircase from Cannonville to U.S. Highway 89 on the monument’s southern edge, near the Arizona border. July and August are the most likely months for thunderstorms here, but it’s always best to check road conditions with the people in the know. They’re the ones, after all, who put out that aforementioned brochure that also refers to this as “a fierce and dangerous land.”
The beginning and ending sections of Cottonwood Canyon Road might make you glad you’re driving a rental vehicle. Their washboard surface will rattle your fillings whether you drive 10 km/h or 30.
Just before we got on that section of road, though, we made a stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park, which got its name in 1949 when photographers from National Geographic were so impressed by the colors that they named it after the new color slide film they were using. The park, at 4,000 acres, isn’t all that large, but it impresses with a profusion of towering reddish sandstone chimneys that change hue depending on the vagaries of the lighting. A one kilometre nature trail, one of eight in the park, does a good job of explaining the geology of the area and its flora and fauna.
Heading south, we got our fillings rattled before making a turnoff to the towering double arch known as Grosvenor Arch, for the president of the National Geographic Society at the time of that 1949 trip.
Cottonwood Canyon Road smooths out in the middle section and at a couple of locations there are minor fords across streams, but nothing a car couldn’t handle. After one of those fords, at Round Valley Draw, we topped a hill and found a large flock of roadrunners doing what they do best — running across the road.
At other places, dirt tracks meandered off to the left or right for intrepid four-wheelers.
I wish I could say the two-hour drive across Cottonwood Canyon Road was worth it, but the last 10 kms or so seemed to go on forever. I wouldn’t do it again. At least not the whole road. But certainly Kodachrome Basin and Grosvenor Arch are worth the effort.
A few days before, we had some white-knuckle views of another area of Grand Staircase as we drove Utah Highway 12 (another of those roads the atlas marks with dotted lines to show a scenic route) from Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, to Bryce. Just south of Boulder, about midway through the 170k drive, we cut through a small piece of Grand Staircase and found ourselves atop what’s called The Hogback. Here, the two-lane paved (thankfully) road perches on a very, very narrow ridge. So narrow, in fact, that there’s just the road ... and then nothingness on either side for at least a hundred metres down. At least that’s what I was able to see as I kept my eyes glued to the road with only a few quick, furtive glances to the side. Exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
It’s the out-of-the-blue surprises like The Hogback that punctuate a drive and make you say, “Whoa, did you see that?” A few others:
The landscape along Utah Highway 24 south of Interstate Highway 70, through the San Rafael Desert, is one of bluffs and mesas, sand and cactus. Then ... bang ... a sea of green, leafy trees crowds into a large area along a dry creekbed, roots reaching deep to tap into the moisture that feeds this unexpected oasis. Then as quickly as they appeared, they’re gone.
A bit farther on, the relative flatness of the scenery is suddenly interrupted by out-of-this-world red-rock formations that reach probably 30m into the air. There are no other geological oddities here. Just these spires that look like they were discarded by some massive toddler at play in this sandbox.
Along Arizona 12, south of Escalante, mile after mile of otherwise tan-colored landscape glows like gold from the yellow flowers of hundreds of rabbitbrush that blanket the ground.At Capitol Reef, as the sun dips toward the horizon, its rays bounce off orange-red cliffs and paint the waters of a gently flowing stream a lovely copper color.
At the Mossy Cave turnout in Bryce, we make the very pleasant acquaintance of Terry and Pat Norman of Surrey, England. Terry (him) and Pat (her) like the U.S. - a bunch. How much? Well, for the past nine years they’ve been coming here twice a year, two months at a time, to wander in the RV they bought and store in Orlando when they’re back in England. This trip they’d planned to tour the East Coast, but worries about hurricanes canceled that, and they ended up in southern Utah after taking the advice of a woman they met in Indiana. “I guess you have to like a place a lot to keep coming back year after year,” Terry said of our country.
And that could be said of these boondocks called southern Utah. Even a trip of nearly two weeks leaves a yearning: Just one more trail to hike...Just one more glowing sunset ...
Just one more ...
(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune
Money, Feb 05
DEBT IS A FOUR LETTER WORD
Had your email inbox fill up with Nigerian scams lately?
Well, now there’s a new scam doing the rounds called ‘watch this stock’…
Jim rang his financial adviser to place an order for some shares. He had just received an amazing tip. He had run into his old friend Neville down at the club and found out that he had been making a lot of money on the stock market. This came as a surprise to Jim as he had known Neville for many years and had come to learn that Neville could not be described as the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was one of nature’s plodders, a real battler who never seemed to attract good luck. Well, it seemed that good fortune recently took a liking
It started about seven months ago. He received a personalised letter marked private and confidential. The letter introduced a fail safe system of selecting individual shares that were due to increase in value. It did not ask for money, only privacy. The letter was unsigned and Neville had no idea who sent it. It suggested that Neville watch the share price of ABC Ltd as it was about to go up. On the first of the following month a similar letter arrived, again unsigned, suggesting that the share price of DEF Ltd was about to decrease in value. Now Neville was not a fan of the share market, however he did note the prices of the shares highlighted and sure enough ABC Ltd went up in price and DEF Ltd went down. At the start of the next month he received another letter suggesting that GHI Ltd was due to increase in value. Well this had gone on for eight months and each time the information was correct. The anonymous share tipster had grabbed Neville’s attention and by the end of the fourth month Neville had opened an account at the local broker.
Neville’s problem was that he could never keep a secret and was happy to share his good fortune with anybody prepared to listen. Jim thought that it would be a crime not act on such a sure fire tip and promptly phoned his investment adviser to place an order. He also shared his enthusiasm and source of the information. If someone could get eight tips in a row correct, surely they must have some insider knowledge or superior skill. Jim was tempted to find out more about this mysterious tipster and was seriously thinking about changing permanently to this new adviser.
Jim thought that it was too good to be true and listened patiently while his adviser explained the scam. The scammer would source large mailing lists of like-minded individuals, preferably greater than 20,000 which was typically an industry trade list. The first letter is simply one of introduction, in the second he splits the list in half.
He tells one half that ABC Ltd’s share price is going to go up, the other that it is going to go down. The next month he would only write to the half which received the correct information. He would select a different share and advise half of the (reduced) data base that the share would increase in price, the other half that it would decrease.
Typically by the eighth letter he offers to sell them a share trading system for a grossly inflated price and then leaves the area before they discover that it is a scam. Neville’s only luck was in being part of the surviving group. A cynical person would suggest that Neville’s bad luck streak was continuing as he was likely to pay the $35,000 asking price for the useless software and become the victim yet again.
Jim’s adviser always says that punters should always be wary of schemes that appear too good to be true and be especially alert if secrecy is actively encouraged. He went on to explain to Jim that although scams were important, he should be aware that larger issues were requiring attention. He suggested that personal debt levels for New Zealanders could be the next warning sign that investors need to take heed of.
A study undertaken by the Ministry of Social Development in 2004 titled “When Debt Becomes a Problem” suggests that one in six New Zealand households have negative net worth. It goes on to suggest that 17% of the population believed they could not obtain $1,500 in an emergency (51% for those on income-tested benefits) and 36% could not obtain $5,000 (76% for beneficiaries). This includes sourcing it from credit cards and extended family. The study indicates that the above figures are about average for the rest of the western world.
If one in six households are experiencing trouble meeting their debt obligations, then punters have to question if the recent increase in house prices is sustainable. The average income for most New Zealanders is still between $40 and $50 thousand per year. Where the average debt level for an Aucklander is in excess of $73,000. In the USA the figures are similar. In Denver, Colorado mortgage foreclosures are up 30% on the previous year. Experts indicate that risky loan strategies such as no-money-down loans and a year of low housing appreciation contributed to the rise.
Parents have an obligation to teach their children that the first step to financial security and independence is to spend less than they earn. It is common for the financially unskilled to cross this line during the festive season at Christmas. Recent reports from the USA show that January is peak season for those registering with financial counsellors. Courses supported by churches have attracted unprecedented demand.
Those in debt have turned to religion for support. In New Zealand, Citizens Advice Bureau is filling that gap. They cover a wide range of legal, personal, housing and vehicle topics, however they are more commonly known for their budgeting skills.
When it came to selecting share market winners, Jim wanted to believe that some one else had an inside edge and was disappointed to hear that Neville’s secret adviser was just another scam artist. For Jim and his faithful companion Moira, the figures about those in financial hardship came as a surprise. They had learnt sound financial practices from their parents and were excellent students. They did everything within their power to pass these skills onto their children. They were unaware that almost 20% of the population were close to, or suffering, financial hardship. People should be in a position of telling their money where to go, rather than spend time wondering where it got to.
DVDs: Mar 05
ALISTAIR COOKE’S AMERICA
PG, 663 Minutes
We have had the book of Alistair Cooke’s America sitting in our living room shelf for as long as I can remember. Its dust jacket is faded and torn in places and I’m not sure how much it’s been read. It should have been; Newsweek described it as ‘The first and maybe the finest tribute to the nation’, and, if this DVD is anything to go by I’d agree.
Alistair Cooke was one of Britain’s best loved American correspondents and for over 50 years he reported on all aspects of American life in his BBC radio series Letters from America. In 1973 he wrote and presented this insightful thirteen part documentary (following closely his same-titled book) in which he provides his own personal history of America, telling numerous interesting stories about the people, places and events that shaped the nation. These 50 minute episodes succeed in covering much historical ground: The past 400 years of American history in fact. In the introductory episode ‘The First Impact’ Cooke visits some of his favourite places, including New Orleans, the home of many jazz greats, Vermont and San Francisco. What is made obvious right away is the passion Cooke has for this ‘adopted’ country and also the effect this country has had on his life. In episode two he discusses the Spanish conquistadors who settled in Mexico, Arizona and Texas, right up to looking at 1972 America in episode thirteen where Cooke visits Hoover Dam which helped transform the desert into a gambling paradise.
Special Features: Interview with Alistair Cooke that took place on the television programme Pebble Mill at One, interviewed by Bob Langley. This documentary series also comes with English subtitles.
Final Word: Certainly more accessible than a daunting 3cm thick ‘coffee table book’. These 13 episodes on 4 disks manage to impressively chart a 400 year history of a nation which most outsiders (and insiders) choose to criticize. On this note it was refreshing to watch and listen to a man who delighted in this country despite its differing views. This is quite possibly the reason he took to this nation like he did.
M, 93 Minutes
As sporting movies go it is not often you find ones that involve the game of lawn bowling and as for playing the game, unless you fit into the ‘acceptable’ age category you might be looked at quite strangely. In the seaside town of Torquay this game is taken very seriously, especially by Ray Speight (James Cromwell) – gifted bowler and club champion for 20 years; a man lacking the conviction to take his skills to the national level, content with his 20 year reign at the local bowling club. Beyond the manicured lawns however, in the run down section of town resides Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) who plies his skills as a bowls prodigy, ready to take on Speight. Armed with his American agent and sportswear executive Rick (Vince Vaughn), Cliff begins to turn the game of Lawn Bowls into quite a spectator sport receiving much attention for his ‘bad boy’ persona. A person Speight seeks to ensure never gets to play in Britain’s championship. Unfortunately for Speight, one of Starkey’s biggest fans is a local teacher named Kerry, Speight’s daughter.
Special Features: Commentary by Director, Mel Smith, Cast & Crew Interviews, TV and Radio Spots, Theatrical Trailer.
Final Word: A ‘family movie’, one which pertains to the familiar theme of good triumphing over adversity. As I uphold the belief that British comedy is the best comedy I have to be honest and say that despite this being a decidedly British movie it doesn’t quite hit the spot.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER
M, 141 Minutes
Yeah, like you, we never foresaw ourselves reviewing a Metallica DVD. However, this one is different. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky set off to produce a kind of cinematic fanzine about the heavy metal band they loved, but in the process captured on film the disintegration of rock’s bad boys during the recording of their recent album St Anger. The documentary, shot in largely fly-on-the-wall mode throughout, throws up a stark contrast between the carefully manufactured demonic images that music companies use to market their metal bands, and the human fragility of the men in the band itself.Rather than Metallica, the group could arguably rename itself The Lost Boys, because the DVD shows them trying to break free of the marketing machine that grips them.
While playing to concerts of thousands of angry young men thrusting “the horns, man” (a fist with forefinger and pinky raised) into the air, Metallica’s musicians are agonising over how to write lyrics rejecting the anger and violence and drug use of their youth in favour of something more positive. The boys from Metallica, you see, are all grown up. They’re fathers, they’ve kicked the drugs and booze, and they sip Evian water. Heck, the band even hires a motivational shrink to analyse a communication breakdown within the band.
While the language is offensive, the documentary is fascinating.
Special features: 40 additional scenes, intimate interviews with band members about the film, audio commentaries from both the band and the directors.
Final Word: Not a ‘family’ movie, but certainly a deeper insight into the people caught up in the ravenous demands of the heavy metal music biz. - IW
BOOKS: Mar 05
RICHARD PEARSE DIDN’T FLY
A new Wright Brothers biography tackles Pearse, as Michael Morrissey discovers in this crop of the latest literature offerings
THE PENGUIN NATURAL WORLD OF NEW ZEALAND
By Gerard Hutching, Penguin, $39.95
Some days I think surely we have had enough books about New Zealand flora and fauna and then two counter thoughts come to mind :
a) we can never have enough books about our plants, trees and wonderful birds and insects,
b) if it’s a good book, yes, we can do with it.
The Natural World prompts both of these positive thoughts. And of course new species get discovered and so we need new books to document these discoveries.
This book has two parts – the first part (In the Beginning) is only 26 pages long and the second part (Our Natural Heritage) has 343 pages which at first glance looks a trifle unbalanced but then the second half contains “New Zealand’s Natural World A-Z” which is the central part of the book. This central alphabetised section mixes up fauna and flora which might disquiet some though it makes for easy reference and encourages that free wheeling habit of association and contiguity by alphabet alone which is the hallmark of browsing dictionaries and encyclopaedias.
I’ll start negative and finish positive. There is an entry on snails but none on slugs. (And we have some magnificent slugs.) Naturally, our unique creepy-crawly, the 550 million old peripatus, is well displayed. Alas and alack, no giant centipedes – well, they have become rare. No entry on insects. There is an entry on endangered plants but none on endangered birds though there is a list of rare (ie, endangered) birds on p 380 – but it has only five (why not ten?) Parakeets are listed but not lorikeets. The entries on beetles, mountains and rivers (no mention of braided rivers) are far too short as is, arguably, the entries on dinosaurs. The entry on blue whales states they weigh up to 150 tonnes but it is well known that a specimen weighing 190 tonnes was caught in Antarctic seas in 1947.
Let’s look at the positives. Wetas are well documented – I learnt there are at least four species of giant weta alone. And it was honest of Hutching to note that the giant wetapunga sometimes patriotically claimed to be the heaviest insect in the world is outweighed by the African Goliath beetle. Impressively researched is the note on the huia – often erroneously stated to be the only species where the sexes have different-sized bills (so do the African green woodhoopoe, Hawaiian honeycreeper and the trembler from the lesser Antilles (admit it – you had no idea!). Other choice new titbits of knowledge – the largest extinct gecko (“Two feet long and as thick as a man’s wrist”) used to live in New Zealand; male puriri moths live for only one day; New Zealand has only 10 species of ants while Australia has 5000; New Zealand has 3153 glaciers (I thought it had about 20); Maori called English “cicada language”
because of its harsh sound; Mitre Peak is the highest sea cliff in the world; New Zealand’s wild ferret population is the largest in the world; whales eat an estimated 100 million tonnes of squid a year; and why sleeping fantails don’t fall off branches (you’ll have to buy the book to find out why not).
Photography is excellent – particularly striking shots are those of a wetapunga half covering someone’s face, a trio of spy-hopping orcas, a male kakapo doing a mating dance, the third largest ammonite fossil in the world (as large as a wheelbarrow), and a tuatara snacking on a gecko. Perhaps I have been a mite tough on this book – despite some omissions and overly short treatment of some potentially larger topics, it’s excellent overall.
THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLES: The Lives and Times of Hitler’s Inner Circle
By Anthony Read, Pimlico, $34
Adolf Hitler may well be the twentieth century’s most written about person. Logically, that is because, for better or for worse, he is regarded as the individual who most influenced history during that apocalyptic epoch. Less well known are his gang of offsiders – Goring, Goebbels, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Speer, Borman, Heydrich, Hess, Rohm etc. This outstanding, well-researched and well-written multi-biography gives detailed psychological, political and historical portraits of these top Nazi officials both in relation to Hitler and to each other.
Prior to reading Devil’s Disciples, these figures were only known to me as two dimensional cartoon-like characters. Now, regrettably, I know them better. Out of the shadows into the light, they appear morally as dark as ever. It must be said they were all highly competent individuals with the exception of the bumbling Ribbentrop (though even Ribbentrop had his times of triumph) – and, of course, totally ruthless. Goring, in particular, was a man I had conceived as a rather foolish fat guy, morphine-riddled, who got things wrong. Fat he certainly was – in later life (though handsome, lean and dashing in his youth) – foolish he was not. (And apparently not morphine-addicted either.) He wasn’t a coward either but a fearless top air ace, renown for his boldness. Militarily, he was more prudent than Hitler for he opposed the invasion of Russia. A collector – or looter – of top class European art, he lived like a medieval monarch complete with forests, fire-lit castles, baronial halls stuffed with hunting trophies – a vulgar but formidable Teutonic lord. He was popular even in Germany’s darkest hour and when captured had his jailors rocking with laughter. Judge Norman Birkett described him as “suave, shrewd, adroit, capable, resourceful”, though by any moral standards, a monster. Yet (almost) I found myself having a sneaking liking for him. It must be remembered that Hitler, Goebbels and Goring all had great charm as well as charisma.
Himmler, by contrast was a more colourless individual whose Machiavellian ruthlessness eventually ousted Goring as Number Two beside Hitler, though when he betrayed Hitler at the end, he himself, like them all, lost everything. All of Hitler’s cohort – particularly Goebbels and Goring – were engaged in an eternal dance of power around the central focus of Hitler. As has been often commented – and here explored in telling detail – Hitler often encouraged the competition.
No Hollywood mogul ever wielded as much power as the club – footed Goebbels. Unlike family man Goring, he had an insatiable sexual appetite and made full use of the casting couch – as dictator of all art forms he controlled casting for films. Like Hitler, he was a failed artist (ie playwright) who, surprisingly, nourished the delusion that Hitler would emerge as a socialist. Ironically, a Hitlerian ban on any art that wasn’t beautiful and true to nature – which led to an exhibition of degenerate abstract art – proved so popular Goebbels had to shut it down.
Excellent as the histories by Richard Overy and Antony Beevor are, none of their books tops this massive, compelling labyrinth, expertly documented and unravelled by Anthony Read – a drama, which however one may dislike it, is the greatest of the twentieth century, a doomed Gotterdammerung-like tragedy that haunts us still. Though the Nuremberg trials may have seemed like the conclusion of these dark performances, the curtain calls of history continue.
THE WRIGHT BROTHERS
By Ian Mackersey, Timewarner, $29.95
What are the greatest inventions of all time? I’m going to stick my neck out and say the wheel, harnessed and transmittable electricity and the aeroplane. The aeroplane in its transmuted form, the rocket, will one day take us to the stars...
What this book makes powerfully clear is that the first flight on December 17, 1903 was no accident, no fluke, no product of amateur backyard inventors, but a technologically sound construction – the product of many hours of meticulous, planning, research and always-dangerous trials.
True, the Wright brothers had a bicycle shop (often used by less successful rivals as a put down of their efforts), but don’t kid yourself – these boys were astute and patient engineers/technologists. Of the two, tall ascetic Wilbur was the knowledge-retentive, mathematical one, while girl-shy Orville turned out to be the better pilot. They were both non – drinkers, non-smokers, sons of a venerable but ideologically stormy bishop; upright, morally beyond reproach yet courteous and, when not working with their fabled concentration, friendly. In short, they deserved their success. When international recognition and success came – five years after their first flight – it was overwhelming. In France, a crowd went wild, the French pilots, including Louis Bleriot, had never seen such impeccable flight control, such steeply banked turns.
It had started years before with the lads making experimental flights with engineless gliders. Wilbur grasped firmly the notion that it was control and lift that were the key problems not the engine. Mackersey paces his book expertly so that the long build-up of experimentation and partial success climaxes initially about half way through with the brothers’ first successful flight. This is one of the great technological dramas of history and a defining moment of the twentieth century – the American century.
Three key figures – among many – are well outlined in this enthralling account – Samuel Langley who had $50,000 from the American army to develop a glider that was never to achieve true flight; Octave Chanute, an important pioneer of flight who greatly encouraged the Wright brothers before eventually falling out with them; and Augustus Herring, a confidence man of the worst type who kept trying to cotton on to the tails of Wright brothers – thankfully, he did not succeed though not from want of trying.
Though their initial successes were satisfactorily witnessed, the brothers cagily withdrew from the public eye and got into a Mexican standoff with several governments – the brothers wanted money (lots of it) before they would demonstrate. The governments, understandably, wanted performance first, before any money was handed over. The brothers were overly defensive and poor negotiators – yet they triumphed in the end. For some years, (after Wilbur’s death in 1912), the Smithsonian Institution tried to claim that Langley’s craft had attained flight before the Wright brothers but eventually they backed down. It is gratifying to know that Orville at least survived to see their place in history indisputably confirmed. Footnote: Mackersey, cruelly, though I believe accurately, briefly mentions Richard Pearse as becoming airborne but not an achiever of true controlled flight – a failure that Pearse himself admitted in a letter in 1928.
REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS
By Susan Sontag, Penguin Books, $27
This will probably be Sontag’s last book as this eminent woman of letters recently died of cancer – though, on occasion, posthumous works are quarried from a well known author’s unpublished papers. A New York-based writer, Sontag always seemed more like an essayist who wrote novels than a novelist who composed essays. Despite The Volcano Lover winning the National Book Award, it is her essays which will be remembered and re-read more than her fiction.
Sontag’s early collections of essays – Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will – were dazzling. She was an intellectual of formidable powers who wrote essays which the “average” educated person could understand. Not for her the wilful obscurities of the poststructuralists, though she was a keen admirer of Roland Barthes and edited a reader of his work. Her speciality – in the tradition of the great essayists – was the epigrammatic sentence compressing several notions into a single witty byte.
Sontag’s work also revealed an early obsession with cinematography and photography. In the world of the Sontagian essay, Hollywood did not exist – her preferred choices were European auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and Jean – Luc Godard. In this final book length essay, she combines her fixation on photography with her ongoing moral concern with man’s inhumanity to man – plus as noted by Virginia Woolf and Sontag herself – women and children.
War photography is the central theme. Roger Fenton, official photographer at the Crimea, was the world’s first war photographer – the camera having been invented only a few years prior. Fenton’s brief was “not to photograph the dead, the maimed, or the ill”. The result, as Sontag sardonically observes, was “war as a dignified all – male outing”– complete to carefully rearranged cannon balls showing the aftermath of the doomed charge of the Light Brigade. This sterilised view of war couldn’t hold up for long. Sontag alludes to the conscientious objector Ernst Friedrich who in 1924 published close-ups of soldiers with huge facial wounds and, naturally, to Robert Capa, most famous of all war photographers, killed in action like so many of that singularly dangerous occupation.
Ever the true intellectual – ready to retract earlier ideas if time reveals a different perspective – Sontag pulls the carpet from under ideas she espoused in On Photography, written nearly 30 years ago. There are millions, she says, who are not inured to what they see on television – “who do not have the luxury of patronising reality.” In a rebuke directed at intellectuals (including herself), she insists that images of atrocity continue to remind us, do not allow us to forget, what awful things human beings are capable of. The conclusion of this moving essay rises to a fever pitch of humane pleading that is not found in her earlier work. Perhaps it was her own suffering as a cancer patient that informed these passages. If so, it is a pain Sontag has declined to centre on herself but pass onto us, all humanity, at large. Thus Sontag’s final work concludes on a note of high moral uplift expressed as always in her elegant and eloquent prose. Bravo, Susan!
RATS: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
By Robert Sullivan, Granta Books, $35
Rats are usually a non-starter as a dinner conversation topic. Femmes and chaps alike don’t care for the disease-carrying rubbish scavengers as gossip. The Black Plague gave them some of the worst press any animal has had to live with. To call someone a rat is about the worst insult you can dish out. And we’ve all heard those suburban horror stories about rats chewing on babies’ faces. The scene in 1984 where Winston Smith has to face his worse fear – rats – is arguably the most horrible in all literature.
If this is your take on rats, you will probably give this book a wide berth; on the other hand, gnaw your way into it and you might find there’s more to the much disliked rodent then you imagined. For a start they are tough little buggers. Their teeth, dedicated rat-watcher Sullivan writes zestfully, are “stronger than aluminium, copper, lead, and iron. They are comparable to steel ... they can exert a biting pressure of up to seven thousand pounds a square inch”. This compares to 1500 pounds for a wolf and a mere 750 pounds for a German shepherd. No wonder they can chew through concrete.
All your fears about rats are more or less true – rats do bite babies; there have been instances of them attacking fully grown adults; they carry bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, mites, fleas lice and ticks; they spread trichinosis, tularaemia, leptospirosis. (I don’t know what the last two are but they sound bad). And for a bonus – typhus, rabies and salmonella.Reader, there have been no surprises so far but here come three :
1. the author finds rats disgusting (surely he loves them just a bit?)
2. he spent a lot of time prowling around in dirty, dangerous dark alleyways watching them
3. he really doesn’t know why he set out on the rat-watching project.
It appeared Sullivan gathered enthusiasm as he went. Or was that when he had enough information to quit alleys and skulk home to write his very well-written book? Rats of course do die themselves and one of New York’s less savoury nineteenth pastimes was getting tough dogs to kill as many rats as they could in as short a time as possible – the record was 100 rats in five minutes 28 seconds.
The tough Irish impresario drew the line (and please don’t try this at home) at men biting rats’ head off. Amazingly, I learnt from Sullivan’s compendious little book that kiwis are global leaders in rat extermination. In 2002, 120 tonnes of rat poison taken to Campbell Island did in 200,000 rats – a world record!
Sullivan gleefully lists some of the dottier causes of plague before it was discovered (only as recently as 1894) that rat fleas were the culprit – restless night birds, huddling frogs, wormy fruit, large spiders, circling ravens, mad dogs and vapours rising from the earth. To which I say – rats. Rats are renown for their versatile eating habits and you want to encourage them leave cooked rather than raw food. They love scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese and cooked corn kernels but tend to dislike raw beans, peaches and raw celery.
Sullivan is adamant that the notion that there is one rat per person in a city is erroneous – that would mean in New York there were about 8 million. A rat expert has estimated the Big Apple’s quota as 250,000 – which sounds a bit on the low side. Why? Rats have sex 20 times a day.
TRAVEL: Mar 05
In Cambodia, the grandest temple of all returns from the ruins, as a nation turns its back on the troubles of the past, reports Alan Solomon
SIEM REAP, Cambodia – The first approach, no matter how you approach it, isn’t all that impressive. From the main road, the profile beyond its moat is low, like a very rough pencil sketch of Parliament along the Thames but less grand and imposing. The three visible spires, leaden in color, plump and oddly mottled at this distance, don’t inspire at all. The camera comes out because it must. Through the viewfinder, it all looks even lower and longer and like less of a wonder.
But then ... wow.
“Where are the words,” wrote French naturalist-explorer Henri Mouhot, who famously happened upon nearly forgotten Angkor Wat in 1861, “to praise a work of art that may not have its equal anywhere on the globe?”
Angkor Wat is a temple. More accurately, it was a temple, built by a Khmer king in the 1100s to honor the Hindu god Vishnu and to hold his own ashes, later rededicated to Buddha as the regional religious dynamic changed, still later a ruin, and today essentially an incense-scented museum.
It is massive. It is magnificent. But it takes a closer look to appreciate. Angkor Wat’s greatness sneaks up on you, comes at you in stages.
That it comes at you at all – that you’re welcome to visit – is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Angkor Wat was built between 1113 and 1150 by Khmer King Suryavarman II, then largely abandoned after Thai armies attacked in 1431. For most of the next 400 years, the temple sat there, watched over by the occasional monk and the odd monkey, looted of its more portable riches and, slowly but literally, falling apart.
When Henri Mouhot sent back excited reports of its grandeur – and as the French (supplanting the Siamese) were establishing a colonial presence in Cambodia in the mid-1800s – more Europeans came to see for themselves.Meanwhile, French archeologists launched restoration efforts at Angkor Wat, at the shrines within nearby Angkor Thom and at others in the region.
That went on, with a few interruptions, until the onset of World War II. The Japanese weren’t much interested in public works during their period in residence. When the French tried to reassert control after the Japanese surrender, pockets of indigenous fighters resisted.
While all this internal skirmishing was going on, and even as the situation in neighboring Vietnam was turning into what it turned into, restoration by the French heroically continued until the communist Khmer Rouge finally booted them back to Paris in 1970.
Over the next 20-plus years, more grief followed for Cambodia. The legacy of two decades’ worth of bombings, coups, invasion, occupation and civil war includes memories of unimaginable suffering and killing, and millions of land mines that, even today, continue to tear limbs off children’s bodies.
Through all this, of course, tourism wasn’t exactly a burgeoning enterprise. “From 1970,” said an information officer with the tourist office in Siem Reap, “no one came to see Cambodia.”With some exceptions.
In 1986, according to government figures, a total of 565 tourists came to see Angkor Wat. Most of the visitors were from Russia and Cuba. Cambodia, at the time, was occupied uneasily by the communist Vietnamese army, which was battling the communist Khmer Rouge and other armies representing other factions.
It was not an easy time – nor an easy visit. Tourists came, when they came at all, on day trips from the capital, Phnom Penh, 250km away.
“You couldn’t spend the night,” said an American-based tour operator who has been bringing people here since 1987. “It was too dangerous.”
The only hotel in Siem Reap – the now-luxury Grand Hotel d’Angkor – “was a $10 hotel that was worth $2. You had to haul water to the rooms to flush the toilets.”
Snipers haunted the jungles on the peripheries of the temples. As recently as January 1995, a tourist from Texas and her driver were shot and killed, and the tourist’s husband wounded, by gunmen near Banteay Srei temple, 30km from Angkor Wat. That year, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) had just completed an 18-month stay that the world hoped would bring a stabilizing presence in this political mess of a country. It didn’t quite – more coups and violence followed – but in 1995, the tourist count had reached 44,808.
In 1999 – a year after the death (of natural causes, maybe) of Khmer Rouge strongman Pol Pot – the total was 85,460. “After he died,” said the tourism spokesman, “we’ve seen major investment.”
What was one badly faded hotel in Siem Reap 10 years ago became, as of late last year, 56 hotels in all price ranges, including backpacker lodges but also two five-stars, for a total of 3,000 rooms. As you read this, almost certainly there are more. Hotel construction was and is ongoing and everywhere.
“It’s good to see the reputation is changing,” said Bruno L’Hoste, French-born operator of Le Tigre de Papier, one of Siem Reap’s more sophisticated watering holes. “It’s good to get out of the `war zone.’”
War zone. In a stone pillar just to the right of the West Gate of Angkor Wat: bullet holes. By the standards of today, they are old.
The moat is more than 200 metres wide and 7km around. Visitors walk a stone causeway over the water to the West Gate, the main entrance. Beyond the gate are what look to be three spires of moderate size, two flanking a central tower.
The West Gate leads to another causeway, this one 10m wide and 360m long over a grass field, the walkway bordered by a series of great carved nagas, the multiheaded snakes linked to Vishnu and found at so many sites here. Two stone libraries, in varying states of disrepair and resembling small museums, stand as sentries on either side.
Only now does the sheer size of this complex kick in. Vatican City could fit nearly five times on the 500 acres within the walls protecting the temple.
Walking along and looking ahead, you get a first good view of Angkor Wat itself. From here, the towers are commanding. And seen from an angle, it becomes clear they are five: Four lesser (relatively speaking) spires boxed around a soaring central tower.
There will be another terrace, and then yet another wall surrounding the temple – this one actually a gallery.
Along its corridors are eight bas-reliefs, carvings in that same gray stone – in all, more than kilometre’s worth – each telling epic stories: of the Battle of Kurukshetra, of the Battle of Lanka, of victories and pageantry, elephants and gods and invasions, of heaven and hell ...
The carvings weren’t always gray, just as the friezes around the Parthenon weren’t always bleached white.
“They were painted at that time,” said my guide, Sokun. “You can still see some color.”
Archeologists estimate it took 37 years to complete Angkor Wat. Its sandstone came from a quarry 40km away, hauled here by elephants and horses and humans, but that was the easy part. As much as the temple’s massiveness, it’s the carvings – in number, in detail and in quality – that boggle. Although to get here we have passed nagas, a few stone lions and not a few celestial dancers (apsaras), this is where they really start to kick in: This is the heart of the structure, the temple pyramid – three levels, each with enclosures, terraces, towers, galleries and quirks (including a “hall of echoes” activated by a firm thump of the chest, ideally your own).
It is useless to try to describe all this in words. Even when on the site, with perspective being provided by a quality guide, it’s impossible to grasp what’s here.
That said, we’re going to try.
Every surface is adorned with something carved by ancient hands – dancers, gods and goddesses, demons and kings. Thousands of them.
All that shapeless “mottle” we see from the road is, seen up close, art.The years have done what years do. The elements have softened some edges. Religious conflicts have left Buddhas damaged and Hindu lingas (ritual phalluses) shattered. Rubbings have done some harm and have left unwanted residue. Pillars are gone.
Heads are missing from torsos, most sold for profit and scattered around the world.
Does that matter? Of course.
But looking up at the central tower from the third level ...
It rises 70m above the ground, just 3m shorter than the towers of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, which was begun soon after the completion of Angkor Wat. The Wat looks higher, probably due to the pyramid arrangement. It certainly feels higher.
The climb up narrow steps to the base of the central tower is frightening to all but those with inordinately fine balance or remarkably small feet. There are four stairways up; at just one, the south stairway, has a railing has been installed to assist descent by the nervous.
Only children and fools bypass the railing.
When this was the sanctuary of Khmer kings, only they and high priests could walk on this higher ground. That we can walk here makes it no less humbling. From that highest point, all is visible.
No wonder the Khmer Rouge army held it for years during the civil war. It was its strategic position, and its emotional position. To Cambodians, there is no more powerful national symbol than this.
In 1992, the year U.N. peacekeepers came in, Angkor was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. When UNESCO speaks of Angkor, it is of an archeological park that includes not only Angkor Wat but hundreds of temples and lesser structures – with restorations in progress by the nations of the world – scattered over more than 230 square miles.
Among them: the shrines of Angkor Thom, notably Bayon, with its own bas-reliefs and its prominent heads emerging seemingly from everywhere; Ta Prohm, still in the grip of strangler figs; Banteay Srei, whose pink delicacy gives it its own charm.
Here in Greater Angkor are terraces etched with elephants and platforms guarded by stone lions, and ruins that once were temples but now are little more than piles of stone blocks in a jungle pocked with red signs warning of land mines ... and soon, perhaps, to be packed with tourists.
“Come now,” urged Canadian ex-pat Michelle Vachon, a reporter for the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. “The place is changing so fast. Come now before they Disney-ize the place.”
Is that possible?
“Our tourism is cultural and natural,” said Thy, another guide, with confidence. “We have learned from other places.”
So that is Angkor.
But here, too, are rice fields and water buffalo and fishermen and thatch houses on stilts, villages where men wear sarongs and mothers nurse as they gossip and where children play naked in the rivers – where they laugh as children laugh everywhere when there is peace and there is food.
This is the Cambodia of today along the roads not far beyond Angkor Wat.
Sometimes it is difficult to know which, truly, is the wonder.
MONEY: Mar 05
THE GREAT EXPERIMENT
Can a market keep growing? Peter Hensley reckons commentators aren’t factoring in the looming retirement of the baby-boomers
The past five years has witnessed the US authorities conduct a huge economic experiment. In an effort to avoid an economic calamity they have reduced interest rates to a point where they have virtually been giving money away to institutions. That is, banks could borrow funds at 1% interest (from the Federal Reserve) and lend it out to punters for mortgages at 4 and 5%. President Bush and the US Government instituted massive tax rebates whilst at the same time encouraging punters to borrow against the value of their houses (with home mortgage interest being tax deductible in the US). These factors combined ensured that the buying public had enough liquid cash to keep the economy running at full steam.
The side effect of this massive experiment of providing oceans of liquidity has meant that the country (USA) and its buying public have gone further and deeper into debt than ever before. The US budget deficit (difference between income tax and government spending) is the biggest ever recorded. Consumer spending has also created the largest trade deficit ever seen. In the short term the experiment has worked. The stock market has not crashed, people have felt wealthier and the enthusiasm (fuelled by the debt drug) has spilled over into real estate with people holding the mistaken belief that property never decreases in value.
The US Government and the American consumer have been spending beyond their means. Foreign Governments have been buying US Treasuries (ie loaning the US Government money) in an effort to keep them afloat. The saying goes, if a person owes the bank $10,000 and cannot pay it back, the person has a problem. However if a person owes the bank $10,000,000, and cannot pay it back, the bank has a problem. Foreign Governments and institutional economists are watching the situation closely. Generally, if a country’s deficit stretched over 5% of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product), their currency was devalued and their government debt (bonds) was placed into junk bond status. The US deficit is projected to reach 7% of GDP this year and foreign Governments are still queuing up to lend them money. We live in interesting times.
It is obvious now that the US authorities have another problem. They have successfully avoided a stock market crash, but have created a debt bubble that now presents its own problems.
Too much money in an economy typically translates into inflation. The US now has an excess of money in its system with its money supply (ie dollar bills on issue) effectively more than doubling in the last decade. To compound their problem, the 77 million baby boomers have not started saving for their retirement, expecting to either sell their shares or property (or both) to fund their later years. It does not take the brains of a rocket scientist to imagine what could happen next. The first baby boomers start to retire in less than 5 years.
The man on the street is either blissfully unaware or doesn’t care about his nation’s economic problem. He or she is acutely aware of the size of their mortgage payment and has been watching it increase steadily over the past twelve months. Sooner or later they will either make an effort to pay off their mortgage or choose to walk to away from it altogether. Individually, this decision will not impact the community (or nation) however collectively it might be a different story.
The Great American Consumer accounts for over 70% of GDP. If they stop going to the malls or stop paying their mortgage, then all hell is likely to break loose. With the national saving rate close to zero, it is likely that 77 million baby boomers are likely to reduce their spending in an effort to start saving for their pending retirement. A likely scenario is that the average greying American Consumer will alter their spending habits in order to save some ready cash for their pending retirement. They will possibly combine this with reducing their mortgage or debts in general. This change in consumer spending is likely to affect the wider economic landscape in ways they possibly could not imagine. In the words of Rachel Hunter, It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
ZULU KILO DOWN
The mystery of Joe Lourie’s last flight
They make the news but fade away. Topdressing aircraft that crash in remote countryside. But behind every crash is a story, and behind the crash of ZK-LTF is a story that could shed light on many other similar tragedies. NEILL HUNTER has this exclusive investigation
The topdresser dipped silently into the gully ahead and the group of teenage surfies craned their heads searching for it, some balancing on fence posts along the ridge. Suddenly the plane burst into view and roared over our heads like a great flying beast, its proximity not just palpable, but so real it felt like we were almost wearing the machine. The scene was a remote Northland beach an hour’s walk from the road because the Volkswagens couldn’t handle the mud; the agricultural aviator had no such restrictions as he performed aerial tricks, some especially for us, displaying mesmerising skills.
That was back in the 1960s, but those first visions of a topdresser in action remain indelibly etched in my memory. And the culture surrounding the industry hasn’t changed much either over the four decades hence. The sky jockeys at the reins of these aerial workhorses pepper their speech with jargon like “strap on the aeroplane and take it for a ride”, “turn the plane inside-out”, “inverted”, “critical speed”, “stall”, “situ-ational awareness”. They’re held in such esteem that some call them “Super Pilots”. But it’s a moniker that’s swiftly passing its use-by date, because everywhere you look, from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) and elsewhere, there is one controversial word buzzing the airfields: “fatigue”. And that’s what this story is about, the tale of a pilot, his loader driver, two grieving families and the plane with no name. The crash of ZK-LTF. Although it happened back in 2003, the rumours surrounding the last flight of ZK-LTF continue to swirl at Toko, the tiny farming community on the highway to what some call “the lost world”, that magnificent New Zealand hinterland between Taranaki’s Stratford and Waikato’s Taumaranui. On a soft summer evening, the appearance of a national magazine asking questions in their midst at the small village pub renews debate and rekindles memories.
ZK-LTF, you see, was a mongrel. Not in quality, in make. Once it was a fixed wing topdresser, resembling a Fletcher. But officially it was an FU24-950 born into civil aviation existence in 1973, lived 5332 flight hours and died peacefully when it was put into storage in 1990. This was ZK-LTF in Fletcher guise.
But the plane was, amazingly, resurrected in 1999, extensively rebuilt, and re-registered in March 2000 as a “Falcon”. Farmers knew ZK-LTF. Says one: “it was a Fletcher plane, Cresco wings and Falcon motor – 650 HP.” To experts, it was a Cresco main plane, Lycoming LTP-101-700A-1A turboprop with characteristics of a Cresco with an FU24 hopper capable of disgorging 979kg of fertiliser. Some readers will want to know these things, others will simply need to know it was a topdresser, fixed wing.
When ZK-LTF crashed in Taranaki killing pilot Joe Lourie and his loader driver passenger Richard McRae there were those in the farming community who thought it was the old plane, the one which had two near misses, “flame-outs” they said, which nearly killed Joe Lourie’s brother, they said. A jinxed aircraft, perhaps.
Then another farmer, who had remained silent at the pub back in 2003, spoke up telling his friends it was the “new” plane. The Falcon. He knew this because he and his son found the wreckage that night, and the bodies, nearly two years ago:
At about 6.15pm, on 4 April 2003, Barry Baldock sat on a motorbike near his woolshed about to put the sheep away for the night on an evening fine and clear, when he heard the sound of the plane he knew so well. “I knew what plane it was. I thought, ‘that’s Joe’”. The engine of the Falcon was distinctive and smooth: “it was humming,” he says of the Wanganui Aero Works’ Stratford operation topdresser piloted by his son’s good friend Joe Lourie. It was a sound he had heard earlier that day as well as on preceding weeks. He looked up as it roared into view, climbed steeply above the high green ridge, banked away from the tanned farmer, reverse-turned – in pilot jargon – and disappeared. The tall lean man in his sixties sat on his bike and watched briefly then thought to himself, “c’mon Joe, time to knock off.”
For a brief moment he watched the plane as it emerged again, lunging back up the wide open valley from whence it had come, towards the razorback ridges of high, green, steep jagged hills in the distance, into a narrow pass. The shattered horizon is cut by peaks and pinnacles, like broken glass, except near the Strathmore saddle where the serrated green line breaks form, becoming one long, high, straight, towering wall of land, and the valley begins to close.
Barry Baldock reckons he was the last to see ZK-LTF and says he might have heard the crash were it not for the sound of his bike starting as the plane disappeared. There were sheep to tend in these twilight moments, and no time to stand around daydreaming.
“I thought, ‘that’s Joe.’ Started the motorbike up. Probably the time of the crash was as the motorbike was turning over.”
Engine noises drowning the sound of a distant impact; no explosion, no fire.
At around 10.45 pm, when the All Blacks were playing on TV that night, the telephone rang in the modest Baldock farm house and the lifetime farmer told the caller, Allan Beck, local helicopter pilot and veteran search and rescue operator, that he knew the location of the plane they were searching for.
“If it’s gone down I know exactly where it is. I thought if it was the last flight before he went home…but he’d obviously gone through, turned around and made another approach. I started the motor bike up as I saw him disappear back down over the hill and rode off to put sheep away. Otherwise I would have heard it.”
Later, Search and Rescue headquarters in Wellington were so impressed they asked Beck: “how did you find it so fast”.
It was simple. He asked the farmers.
Although the plane wasn’t operating on Baldock’s farm – that had been scheduled for the following week – Allan Beck had a gut feeling he should call Barry Baldock. With his son and a son in-law, Baldock drove up to the Strathmore Saddle, five kms north east of Douglas in the Forgotten World, and he told the others to be alert for the smell of fumes. Then it came, wafting through their car like an invisible cloud, even before they stopped at the place where Baldock reckoned would be the nearest point in the road to the crash scene: the stench of aviation fuel permeating the still night air.
In the end it was not only the fuel smell, but a flight of others on the wing, which alerted the pilot’s friend to the wreckage of ZK-LTF. Says Barry Baldock: “A couple of ducks flew out of a little swamp and frightened him (his son). He had a torch on his head, spun around and his torch shone on a white thing on the side of the hill. He said ‘here it is up here Dad’,” and the search was over. All seemed very peaceful.
“Joe was still in the belts, up off the ground, very peaceful, not really a mark on him. Richard was lying about 20 metres away. I was glad there was no fire. Joe especially looked very peaceful.”
Richard, Wayne Baldock said to his father, “just looked like he was asleep.”
That was April 2003. On 13 October 2004, New Plymouth Coroner Roger Mori signed off his “Findings Of Coroner Under The Coroners Act 1988”, the official title given to his inquest into the deaths of a topdressing pilot and his loader driver passenger. It was supposed to be the final act of a three part process, of yet another investigation into yet another topdressing accident: (1) a police investigation (2) an aircraft accident investigation by the CAA and (3) an inquest, based upon those investigations, by the coroner. There were failures in all three, some small others substantial, but essentially the process failed to provide the families of those lost in the crash with that state of mind popularly known as “closure”.
For the mother of one of those lost in the wreckage of ZK-LTF, Ann Macrae (her surname is spelt differently to her son’s), closure would have been achieved if the inquest had included a full assessment of work pressure and fatigue, involving the pilot and loader driver, leading up to the time of the crash.
As she sits in her home at Sanson, calmly and clinically describing the failures of those charged with handling the investigation, it seems ironic that near her plain, neat home, is an Air Force base named Ohakea. The place where fighter jets once flew. Now this mother is taking up a fight for a lost son, once an Air Force mechanic, but she refuses to be drawn into arguments of blame.
“It would have been wrong to blame Joe Lourie for crashing the plane.” She says it goes beyond that. “Richard and Joe were right at the bottom of the chain.” The woman who loves to write, and grow huge healthy pot plants, says the investigations failed to examine the issues of work place health and safety.
So Investigate left Ann Macrae behind, and followed our own flight path to examine her assertions. Everywhere, even two years after the event, we found emotions still raw. But farmers and others opened their doors, offered opinions, shed tears, retrieved memories.
At the end of a blistering Manawatu summer day, where temperatures had soared as high as 42 in the shade, faces listen intently and fingers draw lines and shapes in the condensation on their beer glasses as the discussion of the crash and its aftermath swoops and dives with a life of its own.
A journalist’s mind, meanwhile, settles on a topdressing veteran describing his craft.
As Richmond Harding recalls it, crashing his father’s Tiger Moth in the 50’s while spreading grass seed left no time for fear because he was too busy.
“About 20 seconds” is all you have to find a place to land after running out of fuel, he tells me. At 66 he is still young enough to fly topdressers, so too his elder brother at 68, but it’s difficult to extract from the sun-drenched aviator the thoughts of a pilot about to crash. He walked away unscathed but wrote off his father’s plane, and
remembers the aftermath. “I hitched a ride back to Waiouru. Me father growled at me,” he chuckles.
“Why didn’t you bring back the Tiger Moth,” his father had asked, in an aviation variation of a teenager crashing dad’s car.
“I wrote it off.”
It’s a lighter moment, while interviewing the man who used to own – and remains general manager of – Wanganui Aero Works, the company he started after persuading his father to let him and his brother
go top dressing instead of farming. It was a pleasure interviewing the man who speaks in a measured, calm, sensible manner, who later sold the operation, one of the biggest in New Zealand, to Ravensdown Fertiliser.
So how did he crash the Tiger Moth? Focussing on the pattern of the grass seed he was spreading distracted the young pilot from monitoring his fuel consumption. When the penny dropped that he was going down, it was more of a Toyota ‘bugger’ moment than a wild panic.
“You’ve got a job to do…pretty urgent job to do. The crash investigator Paddy O’Brien once said ‘if you can put an aeroplane on the ground and run it say 20 metres you’ll probably walk away’. Control it to the ground, don’t stall it to the ground. If it’s hill country run it up the side of a hill. Run it into the ground, don’t smash it into the ground.”
So what happened to Wanganui Aero Works’ ill-fated ZK-LTF? Timing is everything and the time of ZK-LTF’s crash is relevant to much of this investigation, central to issues of work pressure, fatigue and the demise of New Zealand topdressing pilots (and their families).
First: there are no flight and duty time (hours of working and flying) limitations either under OSH or CAA rules. In fact OSH has no jurisdiction over pilots/aviation employers; that’s done by CAA who have OSH personnel helping them. Truck drivers have limitations. Airline pilots have limitations. Australian ag’ pilots have limitations. But not NZ ag’ pilots. Once they did, 25 years ago, but it was too hard so it got scrapped. CAA recognised that ag’ flying was too dependent upon weather and seasons – “windows” – to have rules for pilots’ health and safety.
Whether that is a sensible stand or a facetious excuse for inaction is the point now thrown up for debate. The argument from those who believe the industry must be flexible enough to work during weather windows is essentially this: overall down time exceeds overall flying time, therefore there is no problem, no fatigue. The argument is based on total annual flying hours.
But in the real world there are those who point out some blindingly obvious problems with that analysis. The weather’s been bad for a month, and suddenly a week of fine weather arrives. A plane can be in the air from dawn till dusk; diving, swooping, landing, taking off, seven to ten days in a row to get the backlog of work cleared.
Was pilot fatigue a bigger factor in the demise of ZK-LTF than police, CAA and coronial investigations had suggested?
It would be fair to say that interviews with some became more “adversarial” as the logic of the counter-position sunk in. Credit must go to Bill Sommer, CAA media liaison and ex-RNZAF man who, after two long interviews, seemed to swing away from the entrenched employer and CAA positions of “downtime” and individual pilot responsibility for their own health and safety. The veterans with whom we went “adversarial” listened, but were basically immoveable.
There are some level heads in the industry who while maintaining their view that fatigue is not an issue, say they strive to teach their pilots good health and safety. Mike Keen of Hamilton’s Superair insists he is being accurate in his view that fatigue is not a problem in the industry, nor is work pressure.
“Where are the facts and figures?” he asks. In two long interviews we thrashed the subject and while the 10,000-hour veteran admits that there may have been cases in the past, it is not prevalent now. He says there is too much down time, they may work, say, a 14 hour day, but only fly for six hours and spend the remainder “sleeping under a wing or having a cup of tea with the farmer.” He insists that his company regularly reminds their pilots to take breaks and manage their work load and says most operators are the same. He recently sent a memo reminding pilots of summer temperatures and rest. Of a Pacific Wings magazine story about fatigue and stress, he says it’s inaccurate because there is no data to back it up. He rubbishes the reference to an “appalling” accident rate but admits at times, “it’s bad.”
Investigate’s argument: forget about annual flying hours and down time. We asked the question: “what is going to happen when, as exists now with companies three weeks behind in their work due to weather, suddenly the weather comes right, there’s a flood of work, and it’s game on, work ‘til you drop, pilots working / flying 14 hour days and taking one 15 minute meal break (we sighted records proving it)? It’s not the big picture (annual hours, down time etc) – it’s the micro one, of suddenly going for it over three days (or longer).”
“It’s a fair point you make,” says CAA’s Sommer, adding, “Everyone else has got responsibility as well. Not just us. The pilot has that responsibility to say ‘I’m too tired’. Now that’s clearly drummed into the guys who are flying passengers around. The safety of those passengers lies specifically with them. [But] In the case of the ag’ operator, well the feeling of responsibility that the pilot feels may be quite different.”
Is that “feeling” called peer pressure and subtle work pressure? Sommer believes things will change: “I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, I’m sure it will be. I’m sure it’ll be examined but I don’t know if it’s going to be that easy to do.”
So why not take advantage of a crash investigation and coroner’s inquest, go proactive, highlight the awareness? Our answer: You can’t if the crash investigator seems to pull punches, saying there may have been work pressure, might have been fatigue. There’s talk of reviews of working conditions pending, but apparently no real investigation into fatigue and work pressure until after the Coroner’s hearing.
You read correctly. Arguably crucial evidence was not obtained by CAA until after the Coroner’s investigation had wrapped up.
“It’s in writing on your own letterhead” we remind CAA. A clearly concerned official says he can’t comment because the staff involved are away and efforts to date by Investigate to contact them have been unsuccessful due to leave and overseas commitments we are told. More about the CAA bombshell soon.
Cut to the numbers, fatal and injury, what are they?
“Appalling…bad…trending upwards” are the various descriptions from CAA, aircraft magazine writers and the industry. Bill Sommer: “it’s trending up for ag’ ops and trending down for others…you can see it’s really quite something.”
One veteran said he thought about four were killed over about the last three years, perhaps about 15 accidents in total over that period. He knows that 200 have died since the 1940s when the industry began. This man has been flying for 40 years, operated a company for 23 years which had no accidents until 2001 when they suddenly had 3 in one year. (None were fatal and one of them was his first which he attributes to not flying for three weeks, not fatigue.) Veterans say CAA is fudging the numbers. CAA denies this, and says it has the graphs to prove it, that the accident numbers are climbing.
CAA admits that fixed wing topdressers combine with other light aircraft stats which, say some in the industry, is the reason the numbers aren’t accurate.
“That’s not correct, we can separate them out,” says Sommer of criticism that topdressers join hang gliders and balloons. CAA say they can extract the numbers and have done so on “ag’ ops” and besides, everyone in the industry knows the situation is bad.
Arguably though, it’s not the numbers, but the fact that flight and duty limitations do not exist for topdressing, except “civil twilight”: 30 minutes before/after sunrise/set. According to CAA technical examinations, 11 minutes had remained under the civil twilight rule for ZK-LTF to finish and go home. The device giving that data in ZK-LTF was a pseudo-cockpit recorder, a type of global positioning system (GPS), which could have been switched off due to screen glow distracting the pilot. “1826:50”, the last entry, may be early. The crash investigation says sunset was 1811hrs, “end of daylight” was 1838hrs, crash time “1830 approx”.
Says Mark Ford, a helicopter operator flying over ZK-LTF before the crash, “It was starting to get dark in the valleys, shadow-up. Fifteen to twenty minutes and it would’ve been pretty dark.” Ford believes he saw ZK-LTF well before it crashed because it was spreading on another farm, so by the time it finished that run, landed, reloaded, waited for the loader to park and lock up, transited to the farm and crash scene for its last job of the day, we estimate it could have consumed most of the “15 to 20 minutes to dark” that Ford says was remaining. But there is a variable. The CAA report says Ford told them the time was 5.45pm. Ford told Investigate he was only “five to six” minutes from home, which would mean his sighting was well before sundown at 6.11pm. Even considering the diminished light in the valleys, one would expect there to have been ample light, if Ford’s original sighting time was correct. In the final analysis, according to the technical data, the crash happened just on dark.
Mark Ford is a veteran helicopter logging operator but initially nobody knew where we could find him. In the end of course it was easy, his is the only place in NZ with an ex-RAF Wessex military helicopter, in full camo, parked out the back, with another “squadron” of them in storage – plus the world’s supply of spare parts, literally, 100 containers-worth to be precise. His Wessex helicopter logging operation is as huge as the scrap he is embroiled in with CAA, an organisation he accuses of being rife with corruption.
Ford is one of those larger-than-life Kiwi blokes, a bull of a man and in his no-nonsense way and office, he shared his views of a topdresser crash. Unfortunately CAA, according to Ford, only briefly interviewed him on the side of the road near the crash scene and appeared to focus on an issue which Investigate elects to cover, despite its controversial significance, especially to bereaved families. We do so for completeness, and in the end we say it needs to be viewed in context: was it causative, or distraction from the real issues of pressure and fatigue? It concerns the flying style of the pilot.
Friday evening, nearly two years ago and two men in a helicopter are almost home, flying about 500 feet over the mottled greens of the Forgotten World, when they suddenly see ZK-LTF below them.
“You see an aircraft flying, doing its normal stuff, you think nothing of it, you fly across, see it, oh yeah, just another aeroplane, helicopter or whatever, but for something like that to take my specific bloody attention away, and think to myself, struth, look at that thing, that thing’s near inverted, because it’s frickin’ flying almost upside down. The turns were really tight. That’s why I noticed it…it made me look twice. For me to look back twice and say sheesh that guy’s turning it inside out. That’s exactly what I thought.”
And Ford knows all about fatigue after once taking off with running wheels (removable) still attached and on another occasion, nearly taking off with two heavy truck batteries on the ground, still attached to the helicopter. He says they now “run co-pilots and stop for lunch and breaks after about two hours”, and although it’s his own business he doesn’t pressure his pilots to keep working, “not at all.”
When asked his opinion on the difference between his industry and fixed wing topdresser he replies: “I believe there are a lot more getting killed in aeroplanes than helicopters.” (They’re not, but that’s another story.)
Others say it is not work pressure or fatigue. Hallett Griffin is a 40-year veteran who says his only accident came after three weeks of no flying and at an Australian Conference heard a military pilot lecture on BITS – “back in the saddle” – and its dangers. Griffin also acknowledges that things are not good but insists neither are they bad or appalling as alleged by others. Companies watch their pilots to ensure safety; he says he knows of pilots who have been grounded. So what does he do to instil safety and health, if a pilot is over-doing things? “Keep an eye on him. Bit of a cuff over the ear.”
We don’t know why ZK-LTF smashed into the side of a high buttress-like hill, yet there are clues. Experts have offered opinion: “The aircraft had struck the ground in an attitude that suggested it was pulling out of a dive, but with insufficient height for terrain clearance.
Possible reasons for the manoeuvre include a pull-out from a reversal turn…the aeroplane struck the ground very heavily on a heading of 210 degrees M while on a 55 degrees bank to the right and on descent path of at least 30 degrees…after rebounding and crossing an intervening small gully, the wreckage again collided heavily with the ground some 47m further on, coming to rest in several sections… The high ground surrounding the valley where the accident occurred would have increased the effects of the fading light, making height judgement progressively more difficult”, writes Alistair Buckingham, CAA crash investigator.
Ask the farmers and they say ZK-LTF was simply spreading the last of the fertiliser across the face of rising ground, wings at an angle matching the lower slope but in the darkening conditions, struck one of the low ridges of the small gullies near the base of a nameless hill. A farmer standing on the side of the road points to a patch of thistles as evidence: “you see those Kellies Thistles, he shaved them off like a mower, he skipped into the ground.” That from Barry Baldock, the farmer who found the wreckage; who knows his planes, and the land.
So would a diving heavy impact, offered by CAA, be consistent with shaving thistles? Despite that, for now we confirm that the CAA investigation was otherwise reasonably thorough and “exhaustive”, as they remind the reader.
There are other factors which investigators and the coroner say may have caused or contributed to the crash such as illegal carrying of a passenger during spreading; “exuberance of the reversal manoeuvres”; “sense of urgency to complete the job…”; “pilot’s judgement may have been further eroded by fatigue and a degree of carbon monoxide absorption (cma).” Let’s deal with the latter briefly for clarification. It relates more to internal rather than external (e.g. fumes) sources of toxicology, of blood saturation levels where normal
levels are 1% to 2% cma, 5% to 10% may affect the heart, 15% to 20% dizziness and nausea, 50% may kill. The CAA report includes findings relating to the pilot’s forensic results therefore it can be safely assumed that the cma was relevant, by virtue of the statement “…eroded by fatigue and a degree of carbon monoxide absorption”.
Those and other issues had to be considered by the coroner.
It is 9.30am, another fine day in the ‘naki, already signs of a scorcher but Coroner Roger Mori is happy with a simple desk-top fan in his office at the end of a long corridor in the chambers of Nicolsons, Lawyers and Notary Public. The tall lean father of a representative basketballer, calmly and fully expounds on the coroner’s role generally, and the inquest into the deaths of Richard Sinclair McRae and Jonathan Peter Lourie, ages 30 and 29 respectively.
“I’m required to make recommendations or comments in the avoidance of circumstances similar to those in which the death occurred, or in the manner in which any persons should act in such circumstances, that, in the opinion of the coroner, may if drawn to public attention reduce the chances of the occurrence of other deaths in such circumstances. So, there we are and of course it is only the sudden and unexpected deaths that are reported to me and of course obviously air accidents fall very fairly and squarely into that category.” He has dealt with about six air crashes over the 21 years but can not remember clearly if any included topdressing but may have. Sitting relaxed behind a large desk, in a casual shirt, no tie, one cannot help but be impressed with his professional yet open manner. Despite issues, some controversial, arising from this case, one of which he is unaware until informed in this interview, he clearly conveys an empathy of understanding towards families in grief. He has never lost a son or daughter and can not imagine the hurt, he says. He is probably being humble for someone having presided over countless enquiries and currently awaiting reports on the latest aircrash in Taranaki, that of a plane which slammed into such a precarious part of Mt Taranaki’s summit, two helicopters were required. “I try to keep myself as remote as I can from families”, ‘he says,but then explains examples of where that “rule” has been broken.
ZK-LTF’s case has at times been controversial. The families accuse authorities of prejudging “cause and effect” and to a degree, Mori even agrees: “to that extent they’re right because all the evidence is prepared in writing in advance.” While the coroner may direct further investigations after receiving reports, it is the police responsibility to call evidence, liaise with families and prepare the evidence in advance for examination at the inquest.
Mori is well versed in issues of fatigue, both professionally, and personally from a near-tragedy which could have had fatal consequences when a member of his own family, suffering fatigue, crashed a vehicle, escaping uninjured.
An expert from Massey University presenting evidence in Mori’s court about fatigue in another case, testified how physical functions may carry on normally until suddenly the brain literally stops.
“You get tired and the brain will shut off for some seconds… suddenly you’re out of control”, the coroner recounts.
But it is the question of whether the Civil Aviation Authority lost control of its own investigation that now rears its head. You see, at the end of the day a coronial inquest is only as good as the evidence that Coroner gets to see. If one of the investigating agencies gets facts wrong, or doesn’t cover all the bases, a Coroner may end up delivering an unsound report. And that’s what the families of Joe Lourie and Richard McRae are alleging.
The most telling piece of potential evidence in this regard is a letter written by a CAA investigator (the “bombshell”) which confirms crucial documents, the actual “flight records”, were not uplifted by CAA until “the day after the inquest”.
The letter goes on to confirm that CAA had vastly underestimated the actual flight hours of the pilot for the preceding days, and that an amended report would be filed by last December. As of the time of going to press, no such amended report has been filed that we can establish. So how could CAA get it so wrong, why do they appear to have not done the enquires “by the numbers”, checked the pilot’s flying hours, why change a report after an inquest? Because that is what this investigation reveals.
CAA’s Bill Sommer was unaware of the letter until Investigate raised it, but says he’s sure that if their investigator changed his report, they would “tell the coroner”.
Well, the investigator has changed his report; according to the document, he admits virtually (to his credit) that he got it wrong, but hasn’t told the coroner about his failure to properly investigate the issue of work pressure and fatigue, nor his amended report (after the inquest). Another expert witness present at the inquest has told Investigate that the coroner specifically asked the CAA investigator if he was sure the numbers (flying hours) were correct. According to the source, CAA replied they were. But they are not and Investigate has a copy of the CAA document to prove it. What is the significance of that to a re-hearing?
Mori has signalled he is open to a re-hearing and even quoted the rules allowing it but emphasises the application must come from the Solicitor-General. He cannot initiate it himself.
Quotes Mori: “Section 38… if satisfied that since an inquest was completed new facts have been discovered, make it desirable to hold another, the Solicitor-General may order another to be held and in that case another shall be held.”
So sayeth the Act. And the new facts (as well as breaches and failures under the Coroner’s Act) are these:
The CAA crash report states the pilot “had not flown on any of the seven days immediately preceding the accident date.”
New facts, verified by Investigate sighting documents and interviews: The crash was on Friday 4 April. On Wednesday 2 April the loader driver and pilot worked/flew from 0500hrs to 1900 hours with one 15 minute meal break! Thursday 3 April, the day before the crash: 0600 to 0645, then 0830 to 1945hrs and one 15 minute meal break! They were averaging twelve-and-a-half hour days with one quarter-hour break. The loader driver worked 25 out of 28 days, taking one small break per day and if the loader driver was working as the pilot’s loader, so was the pilot.
Investigate’s copy of a CAA document shows the agency admits not examining flight records fully until after their report was completed and after the inquest. That document proves that their statement about no flying by the pilot before the crash was wrong, by at least 17 hours. Why?
Because they didn’t investigate fatigue and work pressure properly.
While the CAA could argue that it doesn’t matter as work pressure and fatigue are mentioned in the report anyway, that would be disingenuous. It does matter, substantially. The CAA report forms the basis of the Coroner’s finding and recommendations. It makes minimal mention of pressure and stress, mixing them with items of blame on the pilot as possibilities only. So the Coroner accordingly agreed. It is like saying a driver may have had a bit to drink, but we didn’t take a blood/alcohol measurement so we’re only mentioning the “possibility” in passing.
The CAA report does at least acknowledge, “the accident occurred at the end of a long working day. The pilot had been on duty over 12 hours…80 take-offs and landings…carbon monoxide…a degree of fatigue…potential to dull the edge of the pilot’s skill and judgement.”
It’s all minimalist jargon; understandable, given the investigator is working on the premise the pilot hadn’t worked before the day of the accident. But, if one day’s long work hours were enough to warrant mention, what does the new evidence of flying almost all week do?
Second new fact: the police statement given in evidence at the inquest is that the passenger was sitting behind the pilot.
The CAA report states they were abreast. Which is it? We don’t know because nobody appears to have asked the question. In fact from enquiries, the passenger was beside the pilot, but it casts more doubt on the thoroughness of the original investigations.
Approximately one week prior to the accident Joe Lourie was so exhausted from working from dawn to dark that he sent his friend, a farmer, to get food and drink for him. On another occasion he called Stratford Aero Club and asked them to turn on the lights of their building as a navigational point for landing at night, illegally.
Self-imposed bad practice? Or signs of a responsible, well trained pilot under pressure? Farmers close to Joe Lourie and Wanganui Aero Works say that prior to him becoming manager of the Stratford operation it was losing business, attributed to the previous pilot nearing retirement and no longer buying into the work/fly-until-you-drop (or die) culture. That is not a reflection on the retiring pilot but rather a sign of pressure.
“The previous pilot was a lot older and probably ready for retirement,” opines a farmer. “The difference was one wanting to work and the other being very cautious. But they did lose a bit of business because they weren’t getting the manure on…Joe’s thing was to get that business back, plus a bit more.”
Topdressing companies are paid when all the fertiliser bought by the farmer has been spread. So if the job becomes disjointed, broken by weather, including wind, mechanical failures and the like, there is no income, no progress payments. Pressure may come from farmers, “standing over” the pilot pressuring him into flying to their farm “right now” because it looks fine and they want their fertiliser on the ground, now. The plane arrives and, as the pilot suspected, so too does the wind. He tries for half an hour, then flies home again, expenses soar, and net profit plummets.
“It happens,” says a farmer. “It’s pressure from farmers, not all…they want it on now…the job has to be finished, no manure on the ground, no money …weather can hold things up for quite a few weeks sometimes,” he explains.
Then a commercial pilot, after much procrastination and on condition of anonymity comes forward through a third party at first, and then speaks to Investigate directly.
Three weeks before ZK-LTF’s crash Joe Lourie was “doing stunts after work”. While that in itself is not bad he says, because most pilots do it, especially at the end of a day, if conditions are safe, but if a pilot is tired, the consequences may be fatal.
“It’s usually ridge-running, not barrel rolls.” It’s like a release from all the pressure which they say “will kill people”. He exclaims, when told of the flying hours, take-offs and landings logged by Lourie:
“I find that incredible”. Then he pauses and says he knows it’s happening. “Some of them are doing huge hours (flying time). I’ve done eight hours and even that’s too much.”
With 1400 hours logged, he rubbishes the veterans who say flying is no more complicated than driving a car. Investigate has been told on several occasions that for an experienced pilot, flying is easier and less tiring than driving. Our informant says that driving can be “automatic” but “in flying you’re constantly thinking and when you land you feel exhausted”.
When Investigate re-interviews a veteran about the informant’s statements, he scoffs and even laughs and we are told again, fatigue is not an issue. But, says our informant, six hours topdressing flying time in a day… “it’s big.” When a pilot gets tired they “get lazy and don’t pay attention.”
Make no mistake, Investigate accepts Lourie broke rules. Carrying a passenger restrained only by a lap belt (both were big men) while spreading was dangerous. Operating just on dark, soaring up into lighter conditions above the hills and back into dark valleys where shadows obscured the smaller ridges, was reckless.
But why, once again, was this experienced, well trained pilot making such mistakes? Was it pressure, squeezing in one more run just on dark, take the pilot home with him and save time, get back on the job early next morning, take him on the last spread instead of returning to the field, collecting him and flying straight home to Stratford, only minutes away by plane, perhaps an hour in an old slow loader on a narrow twisting country road punctuated by more stop signs and railway crossings than a Monopoly board?
We investigated suggestions it was all Lourie’s own fault: a pilot out of control, cavalier in approach. But to the farmers who knew the quiet pilot it was the opposite. “Very quiet,” is their description, “he would say what he had to and that was it kind of thing”. His employers, to be fair, are reluctant to blame Lourie but in interviewing them there is a clear perception that they discount fatigue, and blame pilot error. “He had been warned…” they explain but say no more, out of respect they say for the families.
Joe Lourie had to take responsibility, says a reliable neutral source in Manawatu (not the employers) who once met the young pilot.
He was closely supervised for six months at Hunterville with a veteran, where they say he was groomed for the Stratford position as manager/pilot. The source says he was very impressed after meeting the big, tall pilot whom he described as “the future of the industry.” Which again begs the question: what went wrong with the 1000 hour-plus, groomed pilot?
More enquiries and again the veterans say they know the cause and it wasn’t work pressure because there is nothing wrong with squeezing in one last load before dark. One says that if the conditions are perfect, as they were this day, then evening is the ideal time to fly, and goes on to describe the joy of doing the last loads late in the day, not because of pressure, but the elation of flying.
Farmers experienced in topdressing say Lourie was a good pilot. None say he was reckless, one talks of his so called exuberant flying (as in the CAA report where technical data confirms “exuberant” manoeuvres) adding that “he could fly, he could handle it, he was a bloody good pilot” but admits he was “starting to take a few risks.” A farmer who had watched him weeks before the crash thought to himself “take it carefully, Joe”, even telling his wife, but says it was paying off commercially: “he picked up a lot of work.” But it was reaching the point where it was raising concerns. A farmer says “a lot of people commented that Wanganui Aero Works should have pulled the pin on him and cut back his hours…they must have known how many tonnes he was putting on so they should have known the hours (the pilot would need to do) to put that tonnage on. It was a waste of two good lives, I know that,” he muses.
There is another reason for the Solicitor-General to re-open the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Lourie and McRae. The last error in the CAA report, perhaps only small, perhaps not. The crash report says “…both occupants were ejected from the cockpit.”
New fact: Witnesses to the crash scene, those who found the wreckage, say the pilot was in the wreckage, “Joe was still in the belts, up off the ground, very peaceful, not really a mark on him. Richard was lying about 20 metres away…”
Barry Baldock then went on to describe the state of the wreckage, and the pilot’s position in it which, for brevity and sensitivity, we have condensed as above. Investigate received allegations that Lourie was not the pilot. McRae, the loader driver was a trained pilot, with aspirations of becoming an ag’ pilot and it is not unusual for official and unofficial training to take place on the job. After enquiries however with police, crash scene witnesses and anonymous witnesses who have no agenda, we are reasonably satisfied that Lourie was the pilot. But cumulatively, the CAA report errors are such they raise substantial doubts about the integrity of the inquest.
So what does the Coroner think of all this?
Roger Mori hints that he is less than happy with the situation. Investigate contacted the Coroner again about the evidence, including the bombshell CAA admission that they got it wrong over the “the pilot hadn’t flown during the week”, and that CAA was intending to amend its accident report. His reaction? A typical no-nonsense one: “S**t, that’s all been done subsequent to my report!”
He adds, incredulously, “they (CAA) can’t change a report once it becomes an official document in a Coroner’s inquest.” He tells Investigate “it’s something that should be investigated.”
We then discuss apparent breaches in the Coroners Act about the informing of parties, such as families and employers. Neither family or employer were informed of the inquest and although blame for that falls on the police, Mori typically doesn’t duck the issue and talks about it being “extremely rare” and “system failure.”
He evinces clear frustrations over certain parties, such as the pilot’s wife, being inadvertently excluded from the inquest.
“I was bloody annoyed”.
Investigate explained to the Coroner the results of enquiries to date and the evidence that proximate cause could more strongly be fatigue. In legal terms, more commonly associated with the insurance industry, proximate cause means after weighing-up all other possible contributory causes, in the final analysis there is one direct, stronger cause. Mori replies with talk about that being “logical …best explanation…what you’re doing is researching and asking ques- tions…probably the answer is yes…I would say that’s fairly accurate”. If nothing else, let that at least be of some comfort to the families because blaming the pilot, as hinted in the CAA report, and by some industry members, is an easy assumption.
But it’s up to the Solicitor-General’s office to apply to the High Court, as provided for under the Coroners Act, on the grounds that there are sufficient new facts from the formal evidence: changes to CAA report after the inquest; their admission to erring; breaches of the Act due to the exclusion of families’ members; evidence presented but rejected without being heard.
A re-opened coronial investigation could not only put the pilot’s actions in a clearer light, but also bring an end to commercial and peer pressures that many in the agricultural aviation industry say are killing pilots.
“It was a beautiful sight,” says a farmer’s wife, describing ZK-LTF approaching their farm air strip in the low light of predawn. She says the combination of the plane’s lights, the early dawn colours, vapour streaming off the wings of the white Falcon like long white ribbons, was something she will never forget. The interview turns quiet as she recalls the image, describing it again, painting a word picture that stays in the mind. Later she says that I should go to a small airstrip, at night.
A quarter after nine pm on a country airstrip in Taranaki, and the pilot from the big Cresco topdresser, 3714kg fully laden, parked on the grass, walks through the darkness, and looks puzzled to find a journalist. There are no lights and nearby buildings are in darkness; the place is abandoned apart from pilot and scribe.
He says he landed about 8.15pm, is happy to talk about his job, a tall solid man who now leans over the roof of his car, slumping his body in a sign his day is over. He shares things like hours, working conditions and the importance of the industry.
“Seven hundred thousand tonnes of fertiliser per year, we have more turn-over than any other industry, it’s important we don’t fall over.” He says he manages his fatigue, “you’re not always flying…”, then hesitates. Later he says he’s off to the central North Island and as we talk more there’s a distant rumbling growl, rising like rolling thunder in the still night. From the track leading to the airfield, a monster lumbers suddenly into view, headlights blazing like eyes, a creature common to rural New Zealand: a topdressing loader. Truck-cab at the front, loader-cab and bucket at the back, Kiwi ingenuity at its best.
“My loader driver, he’s coming with me,” says the pilot. Then an older man in a black singlet climbs down and wanders over. The pilot and I exchange farewells, the other looks on silently, confused, then both get into the pilot’s car, and drive away, leaving me alone in the dark, imagining a different scene, two years ago, when pilot and loader took another way home, via grassy slopes of a valley, on a night in the Forgotten World.
The distant silhouette of a giant mountain looms, with snow still present where weeks earlier it too became a place of tragedy, scene of a fatal air crash. Time to go. I’ve booked a cabin overlooking the ocean hoping to enjoy the view but it won’t be, because it’ll be 10.10pm, and I’ve had no dinner, only a quick lunch and the first interview was at 9.30pm, later than the others on this long week when a chief reporter said they too “hate the early morning interviews.” Twice during the 45 odd minute drive to New Plymouth street lights from small towns in the distance seem like approaching car lights, illusions, eyes tiring, itching, then the realisation: could be fatigue.
DOWNFOR THE COUNT
The heavyweight courtroom title fight of the world
As a journalist, one’s job is to remain impartial. But MARIA SLADE admits she’s never struggled so hard to retain her objectivity as she did covering the High Court hearing into heavyweight professional boxer David Tua’s bitter and expensive dispute with his former manager Kevin Barry, and former business manager Martin Pugh
I came to the Tua story cold. I knew little about the case, and even less about the venality of the professional boxing world. But it was decided in the newsroom that this was a news, as opposed to a sport, story, and I was dispatched to Auckland’s High Court.
“Take what boxing people say with a grain of salt and keep your hand on your wallet,” joked a sports journalist colleague.
But this is New Zealand. The David Tua/Kevin Barry partnership, albeit now soured, was kiwi sporting salt-of-the-earth. The dirty dealings of the boxing ring had surely no more taken hold here than the Mafia had.
One look at the way Barry and his cohort Martin Pugh had dressed to come to court and I realised I didn’t know what I was dealing with.
Bleached and greased hair, gold medallions, winkle-picker brogues with white socks and shirts more suitable for a night out clubbing. If they’d wanted to portray the image of wily, slimy creatures that had crawled out from beneath boxing’s nasty underbelly, they were going the right way about it.
Contrast this with the Tua entourage. David Tua and his cousin-turned-manager, former rugby and league star Inga Tuigamala, turned up each morning like five-year-olds on the first day of school. Neatly pressed in business shirts and ties atop black ie-faitagas (formal skirts worn by Samoan men), they sat through every minute of the proceedings. At their sides were their smartly dressed wives, and constantly surrounding them was a guard of friends, family members and boxing comrades. Supporters came and went as the week wore on. David Tua long ago won the public’s hearts and minds in what it perceived as his greatest fight.
Baby-faced, he told the court he was “just a fighter” and that Kevin Barry attended to every other detail of his professional boxing life. “You rely on your manager so you can just fight. I signed things exactly as they were put in front of me. Kevin was my trusted manager.”
David Tua said Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh had a plan. “They talked about a company, but I didn’t know what that was all about.”
What that was about was the trio’s Exclusive Management Agreement which states the company, Tuaman Inc, is owned 50% by David Tua, and 25% each by Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh. Tua was under the impression Tuaman Inc was his company. So was company accountant Jennie Grant. “I was led to believe that the company was David Tua’s, and only his,” she told the court. “For that reason alone the books I was trying to keep were misconceived.”
The boxer described the day in April 2001 when he went with Martin Pugh to look at the asset at the heart of the dispute – the multi-million-dollar, 51 hectare beach front property at Pakiri, north of Auckland. “I thought it was heaven, it reminded me of home in Samoa. Right away I wanted to buy it. I wanted it for myself and my family. I could see myself retiring there and growing a bit of taro.” Tua said Pugh told him to buy it through Tuaman Inc for tax purposes. “He said he was trying to protect me. But I never knew how that was supposed to work.”
The Pugh and Barry camp argue through their shares in Tuaman Inc they own equivalent slices of Pakiri, and that the trio’s plan had always been to invest Tuaman Inc funds in property.
David Tua maintains there was no talk of Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh buying the property with him. “There was never a ‘me and you’ or a ‘we’ll buy it’. The conversation was about the land being bought for me.”
As he spoke to the court I thought, can a man who earned millions of dollars by knocking people out really be that naïve, or is this beguiling innocence a great act?
Trying to remain objective, I also thought that perhaps there’s a certain style one becomes accustomed to living in Las Vegas, and this could explain the impression of Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh. After all they move in the sorts of circles where people keep tigers as pets. Then Barry and Pugh opened their mouths.
Throughout his lengthy cross-examination by David Tua’s lawyer Tony Molloy QC, Martin Pugh was petulant and argumentative. He sat virtually with his back to the lawyer and refused to look at him. At times he patronisingly repeated his replies syllable by syllable as if Molloy was unable to understand them. Kevin Barry was defiant. Both frequently attempted to hammer home a point by talking on and over their cross-examiner. The irritated Molloy raised his voice on more than one occasion, and at one point shouted at Barry: “Will you answer the questions I ask and be quiet the rest of the time!” To which Barry cheekily replied: “I’ve never seen you so angry.” Tony Molloy later remarked, “You have more soliloquies in you Mr Barry than Shakespeare.”
A lot of what Martin Pugh said was nonsense.
Molloy questioned Pugh closely on what he knew of his responsibilities as sole director and therefore the board of Tuaman Inc. Tony Forlong, the accountant Tua hired in July 2003 as the relationship between boxer and managers dissolved, had earlier given evidence that Martin Pugh was “well out of his depth” in running a company. He needn’t have bothered.
It was a truth Pugh revealed all by himself as Molloy’s cross-examination progressed.
Pugh disputed the court-appointed accountants’ calculation that between 2002 and 2004, he and Kevin Barry respectively took $1.4 million and $1.2 million out of Tuaman Inc. The QC queried him about the absence of signed and audited accounts for Tuaman Inc for those years. Molloy asked him if he’d had alternative accounts prepared by professionals of a comparable stature to the court-appointed ones, to support his argument.
Pugh claimed that he had but that the court would not allow him to produce them.
Martin Pugh: “The figures I put in front of the court I provided to Price Waterhouse Coopers for their validity check which this court has ordered me not to refer to.”
Tony Molloy: “Where are the accounts? I’m not asking you about validity checks, whatever they are”
Later in the exchange he asserted that no professionally prepared and audited accounts were done because “taxation is decided by the shareholders of the company. The court-appointed accountants have taken the view of undoing three years of methodology of accounting the company followed.” Molloy was moved to remark that it was a stance every New Zealand company would love to take.
When Tony Molloy asked him if he’d ever taken expert tax advice he replied yes, from myself. When then asked what qualified him to provide such advice, there followed a long discourse on how there’s a simple principle involved of paying a percentage of the company’s income in tax, and standard tax return forms are available on the internet. Pugh claimed he adopted a “no harm, no foul” policy with the IRD.
Kevin Barry’s knowledge of company law was little better.
Tony Molloy: “You poured scorn in your brief on the idea that David Tua didn’t understand about shares in the company. What I would like to know is whether you understand. The impression I get from your affidavits is that you think a 25% shareholding in a company entitles you to 25% of the company’s income and 25% of its profit. Is that what you think?”
Kevin Barry: “Yes that’s right.”
The proceedings came down to credibility. It was clear Tuaman Inc was owned half by David Tua and a quarter each by Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh, and that Pakiri was owned by Tuaman Inc. The nexus of the Tua case was the legal principle of express trust – that David Tua had conferred trust on Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh to buy the land on his behalf. The heart of the Barry and Pugh argument was that this had never been put in writing – indeed, it had never even been expressed in those terms.
Martin Pugh’s questionable accounting was therefore not directly relevant to the issue of who owns Pakiri, but it served to highlight the kind of person before the court.
As such, his habit of forging signatures and creatively moving Tuaman Inc funds around were central to their case.
Martin Pugh admitted to Tony Molloy that he had forged signatures on at least two occasions. Once was when he forged Tuaman company accountant Jennie Grant’s signature on a Companies Office document. On another occasion he ‘cut and pasted’ middleweight boxer Maselino Masoe’s signature on to a fight promotion agreement.
The admissions came with no apparent shame. “I received no benefit,” Pugh said. “In closing,” he said grandly, and tried to raise the saga of Prime Minister Helen Clark signing an art work she had not created. Presiding judge Justice Williams cut him off.
Another incident raised by Tony Molloy went to the heart of Martin Pugh’s credibility. In December 2001 around $925,000 was transferred from Tuaman Inc to a company in Vanuatu called Sports Tech set up by Richard Gregory, a friend of Pugh’s. Some of that money was used to set up debit cards for Pugh, his partner Sally Cross, Kevin Barry and his wife, and others.
The sum remaining was around $809,000. The next month $809,000 was transferred back to Auckland to the Baron and Lunar Trust, a family trust associated with Sally Cross. Sally Cross then paid off business debts amounting to $809,000. Martin Pugh conceded the matching amounts looked strange, but said there was nothing “sinister” about it. He claimed he had 200 pages of documents to explain the deal, which he would present at a future trial. “Once you see the documents it will make sense to the court. I do not wish to play my hand in regard to that.”
Martin Pugh variously described the steps in the transaction as a loan, a bond, and then a guarantee. Molloy put it to him that this story was a cover-up for the misappropriation of funds from Tuaman. He denied it.
David Tua told the court he had “a funny feeling” about Martin Pugh. He said it was Kevin Barry’s idea to involve him. “He (Kevin) said he was a smart businessman, and could be the ideal guy to manage the
finances and make investments for me. I trusted Kevin. He really wanted Marty on board, so I gave in.”
In his closing address, Tony Molloy said: “Having seen and heard Pugh and his admissions of forgery and lying, and his disdain for the laws of the land that ordinary conscientious citizens regard as an obligation to observe, let alone company directors, it is not at all surprising that Mr Tua didn’t like Mr Pugh.”
Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh fought back hard on the credibility battlefield. They claim it was the Tua camp which was planning to shaft them. The Tuas came to the management duo in January 2001 wanting changes to the EMA, such as the inclusion of a clause allowing David Tua to get a lawyer’s approval before any contract relating to his affairs was concluded. “Unbeknown to Kevin Barry and I, David Tua with his parents and their lawyer were plotting since September 2000 (the Lennox Lewis fight was in November 2000) to terminate the EMA and deprive Tuaman Inc and Kevin and I of our shares and substantial earnings,” Pugh said in his brief of evidence. “No wonder David Tua performed so poorly in losing his World Title Fight against Lennox Lewis,” Barry said. “He must have been feeling guilty as hell.”
They also claimed there were no missing Tua millions, that David Tua had spent it all, and in fact he owes Tuaman Inc. “David told us that he did not want his family, or the family solicitor or his Church, knowing how much money he had as they would have spent it all and that’s a fact (in the end the family and David spent it all anyway),” Kevin Barry states in his brief.
Martin Pugh claims David Tua’s now wife, Robina Sitene, gave the government an old address so she could continue to collect welfare while living with and being well supported by the boxer. “David would get request from Bina or his family all the time, and I mean all the time, to pay bills,” he said.
Jennie Grant sees matters another way. She told the court Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh simply helped themselves to Tuaman funds. In contrast she said David Tua had to come to her for every small amount of money he needed. “How degrading, that man who had earned millions, doesn’t even have his own money.”
Martin Pugh and Kevin Barry allege that matters deteriorated to the point of a High Court hearing because of “women’s scorn”.
“The only conclusion that I can see is that it now seems to be about Jennie Grant, Robina Sitene and their need to “beat him” (Martin) at something, I don’t know what, and trying to justify their belief that David still had millions that he hadn’t spent,” Kevin Barry said.
“I was adamant that this huha had arisen because of Jennie’s sacking and Bina’s finding out that she couldn’t get her hands on David’s money (because he and his family had spent it).”
And so the personal insults flew. The Tuas no doubt had plenty they would have liked to fling back, but they didn’t. Not once.
The court will no doubt decide on sound legal principles who the rightful owner of Pakiri is. Having sat through the week-long hearing, I have a firm view of who morally should win this most colourful of bouts.
DIARY OF A CABBY: Mar 05, AU Edition
The truth may set you free, but when your passengers are on drugs, sob stories get the fare paid
I was working a big hotel in the Eastern Suburbs a few Saturdays ago when three young men and a girl, all skippies in their twenties, approached the cab and asked if I wanted to go up to the Northern Beaches.
Although the fellas were firing on all cylinders, I quickly noted the absence of alcohol odor. That meant only one thing: drugs. I wondered if they had enough for the $70 fare, or if they would run. With half the night’s earnings at stake, one can’t be careless, and I braced myself for the psychological warfare to come. It began quickly when I noticed the lead male muttering something to the girl in the back before calling out, ‘Hey cabbie! Do you ever get women offering you favors for the fare?’ In other words, they were debating whether or not to pay.
‘Nah, never’, I lied, thinking he must be pretty gone.
Then the alpha male got on the phone, ‘Steve-o! Whaddya doin’? I’ve got a gram for ya! Meet us in half an hour’. Then he turned his attention my way: ‘Hey cabbie’, he called. ‘Feel like joining us for a few lines?’
‘Nah, not for me thanks mate,’ I laughed, waving away the offer as we whizzed across the Harbour Bridge, but he wasn’t convinced.
‘Ah, he says “no” but you can see he’s itching for a line. Come on mate, spark up!’
‘Mate’, I called over the thumping music, ‘I’m already sparking on caffeine and nicotine!’
‘Yeah’, he shot back, ‘but wait ‘til ya see this - it’s the best coke in Sydney! Put a real edge on your night’. I just laughed and watched my speed as we shot past a tunnel camera.
‘Even if I wanted to,’ I said, pointing at the discreet interior camera, no bigger than a cigarette pack.
My passengers were chastened for all of five seconds, concluding that if not for the camera, I’d be interested. ‘No worries mate’, they assured me, ‘we’ll talk about it later’. My move had backfired – if I didn’t quickly recover the initiative, I’d lose.
‘Listen’, I told them, killing the music, ‘I’ve been there and done all that. I was once like you guys, partying every weekend. Until my girlfriend got cancer and died. That’s when I said enough...’ It was a total line, but they fell for it.
‘Mate, that’s terrible. We’re sorry for pushing you...’.
Having gained the advantage I moved to consolidate: ‘Nah, that’s okay. But let me tell you, cocaine is just as addictive as heroin. Except you don’t know it until you’re using it everyday...’.
‘Yeah, that’s just like Snowy..’, said one of the boys, quietly.
I continued, seeing I’d hit a nerve: ‘...Next thing you know, you’re 40 years old, looking like 50, with no money and driving cabs...if you’re lucky!’.
We pulled up outside a house in Dee Why with the meter showing $62. From the subdued mood in the cab, I was confident my tale had worked. ‘Anyway, you guys are still young, but don’t waste it. That’ll be $62 plus seven more for the tolls’. They all chipped in and handed me $70 – the full fare, plus a dollar tip.
They made one last attempt to entice me: ‘You sure you won’t come in?’
‘No thanks mate’, I answered, ‘you guys party on, but do it safely, OK?’
‘Yeah, it’s under control mate, it’s all good. Nice meeting you’. Breathing a sigh of relief I drove away wondering if they’d intended to run. One can never be certain in this game.
Read more of Adrian the Cabby at www.cablog.com.au.
MY OLD LAND’S A DUSTBIN
Residents accuse their council of dirt tricks
Four years ago New Plymouth District Council, in a joint venture with private enterprise, closed their six year old, pollution-causing transfer station at the city’s landfill and built a new one, just down the road. Residents nearby called it a cover up, to spread the dump operation either side of them, without consultation. This is the story of the Colson Road Landfill, as NEILL HUNTER reports.
Stories abound about landfills yet here is more to this one than just another ‘dump story’, it is about power-players, manoeuvrings, fairness, and pollution. New Plymouth has had more than its fair share of controversy lately with health scares over dioxin, controversy at nearby Waitara, and recently: a dodgy power company deal. Yet ask anyone living in the region and they will extol the virtues. At New Plymouth journalism school experts lectured students about the area’s uniqueness: the cleanest air in the southern hemisphere, exceptional natural water reservoirs, snow and surf less than an hour apart.
On a nearby snow-caked mountain the multitude of rivers, streams and creeks spread like a never ending cobweb of crystal clear veins, beyond the ring plain. The quality of these waterways, near a landfill on Colson Rd, is Taranaki Regional Council’s (TRC) responsibility. Rate payers next to the landfill, are New Plymouth District Council’s (NPDC) responsibility, which is how this story begins and ends, with neighbours, and water.
Research for the story began in 2001 and ranged from Whangarei to Christchurch. It confirmed that New Plymouth wasn’t alone in ‘bad tip’ history. Councils break rules. A recent investigation for example by Waikato Times journalist Simon O’Rourke exposed multiple compliance breaches by councils in his region.
Originally designated a refuse site in 1974, New Plymouth’s landfill is situated in 8.5 hectares of rural valley, near the suburbs of Fitzroy and Glen Avon, nestled amongst farmland and streams about 4km from the city centre. Access is via the quiet rural lane of Colson Rd, barely one kilometre long and bearing no hint of controversy. Zoned both industrial and rural, Colson Rd has some nine immediate dump neighbours. Among the inhabitants are a small ostrich farm, plant nursery and domestic residences. The notion that there is a landfill here could escape the visitor, were it not for the odd sign. Certainly that was the impression this journalist formed on a first visit, wondering, was this the wrong road to the dump? At the end, before the trees which hide the dump from view, the RSPCA have their sanctuary for the lost, injured and abused. In 2001 the neighbours counted themselves as abused, after a new transfer station got added to their quiet rural sanctuary but, unlike the animals, they could only run to the people both charged with their care, and at the centre of the abuse. And in 2004, abuse of Taranaki’s clean water, got a little bit worse.
But first, a little history. Cut to 1996 and an Environment Court Judge told New Plymouth District Council to be more realistic towards its neighbours and on page eight of the judge’s decision, said “get approval first”. Neighbourly relations, approval, such small things.
The tenacious battler who once led the fight to improve things for the neighbours is small in stature – Kathy Lovell describes herself as ‘five foot nothing,’ then hands over a box. “Here, you can have my whole file. I won’t be needing it.” The teacher was relinquishing everything she had fought for, over a landfill. While ostriches walked nonchalantly about her farm, a warm wintry sun shone on a rustic, timber home built by Kathy and her partner, from timber they milled themselves in this quiet place. No hint of the rumblings of machinery in a landfill next door, or of discontent.
Kathy Lovell is an athlete. The 47 year old winner of countless marathons, national kayaking events, to name a few, when first interviewed was about to leave for Malaysia’s ‘new airport city’ to teach Asians English and sport.
And so began a long investigation, of laborious hours examining documents from a cardboard box, searching mounds of files in council offices, attempts to get more by Official Information Act, and countless interviews, all for the sake of a small story, about the small things, at Colson Rd.
In 1999, the Environment Court moved to protect things small around New Plymouth’s landfill, especially the neighbours, the “sacrificial lambs”. Operations at Colson Rd Landfill, as it is officially titled, should be strictly controlled,the court said. “We accept the landfill is now under the control of the council (previously under control of a contractor) but we are still extremely concerned that after the 1987 hearing the council still appears prepared to operate the tip with financial expenditure considerations to the forefront and the environmental concerns of the neighbours subservient to the economic pressure of ratepayers. We make it clear that if the council wishes to operate a landfill in proximity to neighbours then those neighbours are not to become the sacrificial lamb to the ratepayer population in general.”Records showed the old tip was plagued with problems: “Colson landfill has had a chequered history….operation has from time to time infringed conditions of consent…concern with recent operations of the landfill caused by inexperienced landfill contractors…we record without any hesitation that the City Council cannot expect neighbours to suffer the effects of a learning curve if that results in environmental degradation….affected by slack landfill management…”
To be fair, the council did dispense with a contractor at the tip who was being blamed for problems. But, that did not satisfy the court with its aforementioned warning about putting “financial expenditure considerations to the forefront and the environmental concerns of neighbours subservient to the economic pressure of ratepayers…”
“We are perfectly satisfied from the evidence,” continued the court, “…the number of incidents were greatly in excess of those recorded. …The question of poor historical management and construction practices certainly have put the tribunal on alert …We accept that the council have not been able to control flying rubbish, gases, or dust…
One aspect which appears difficult to control is the question of odour, particularly in the evenings where there may be temperature inversions…”
In March 1999 a frustrated Environment Court stated in key words: “the airing of concerns of the neighbours to the Colson Rd landfill and to ensure that the landfill’s neighbours are kept abreast of the development of the landfill site…” In other words, liaise with your neighbours. Subsequently NPDC took the initiative and established the Landfill Liaison Committee. It was more than a name. It formed an integral part of a much greater process, including a management plan. In 1999 an application by the council to change the landfill operation included conditions relating to community liaison. The committee was required to meet at least every two months.
The management plan emphasised a co-operative approach. Other documents examined on council files also referred to the plan. One said: the ‘Plan forms the bottom line.’ But like the bottom of an old transfer station, best laid plans leak, and the victims here were the little stream called the Puremu, beside the landfill, and the neighbours. But, like the Puremu’s once pristine waters, the council’s track record of keeping its neighbours informed became a little muddy. During an important period when liaison should have worked, the liaison group minutes were not distributed. This at a time of apparent behind the scenes activity over the then secret, proposed new transfer station site. The council blamed the neighbours’ representatives on the committee, who may or may not have heard what council staff were saying, and did not ask the right questions. That was one perspective. To those most affected by the station’s location, not sending out the minutes was like rubbing leachate into the wound. Things became septic. The council apologised and said it was due to staff shortages, the minutes were only sent to those who wanted them. That was contrary to rules. All the neighbours were supposed to receive the minutes.
Then, when no meetings at all were held, or called, like snow on a spring Mt Taranaki, the council’s defence began to melt. During another critical part of the process, there was a huge gap of six months between the normal two-monthly meetings.
Enter the woman unafraid of challenges, or their size, who began to fight. Kathy Lovell fired her first salvo at the frequency of the meetings: “They seem to stretch it out four or five months apart.” She alleged that this was to lay a smoke screen over the issue of the transfer station location. Then in a meeting in February 2001 it “was absolutely glossed over.” She says that by the time the mayor was about to sign the contract for the station it was a done deal and none of the residents knew about it. Colson Road was never discussed or considered as a location. On the last day of February 2001, Lovell wrote to the mayor complaining that the location of the proposed transfer station was never mentioned except as being on the landfill itself. There was no reply. Lovell conceded there was also talk of another site but that was completely remote, at another, remote, industrial zone.
The liaison group’s role was clear. In July 1999 NPDC had circulated the group’s main functions: “Disseminate information concerning the operations and the proposed development of the landfill, to hear concerns of residents and to discuss ways of alleviating those concerns…The subjects discussed by the committee will be those matters that are of interest to local people and interested parties.” Those were good intentions, but when it came to its first real test, the good intentions decomposed under the heat of big business interests and ‘commercial sensitivity,’ over a new transfer station site.
It is one thing keeping your neighbours informed, it is another not to do it on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity”, a one-phrase-fits-all. That was the reason, the council said, they could not tell their neighbours they were going to move a transfer station from inside the landfill, to the other side of the neighbours. Most believed that a new station was going to be built on another part of the landfill. They had good reason. A search of NPDC records showed a consultants plan for a new station well inside the landfill. So when NPDC finalised a deal for a new station beside the neighbours without consulting them, there was pandemonium. Public meetings and protests ensured, with ugly scenes of abuse against council staff. Local media went front page with a lead story and pictures of angry neighbours. But no investigation and when this journalist began enquiring, veiled intimidation followed from council staff, such as: ‘I suggest you get legal opinion before you make any allegations in that area and I’d get a specialist planning lawyer as well…neighbours are complaining about your enquiries…” and this pearl: “he’s a sh** stirrer.”
The council tried to pacify with “commercial sensitivity,” and the successful tenderer’s “need for confidentiality.” The tenderers had selected the site, said the council and if other tenderers had got wind of the strategically important location, next to rail yards and a possible future rubbish transporter (rail), their position could have been compromised.
Tranz Rail owned the land where the site was located.
Lovell: ‘A while back there was talk about railroading the waste to Hamilton. They are in a pretty good position to do that.’ She accused the council of conveniently using ‘commercial sensitivity’. The council said it wasn’t up to them to specify where the station should be built. It was entirely over to the tenderers. Theoretically it could be built anywhere in New Plymouth, the choice was up to the tenderers.
Let’s examine that: For years the old landfill operated without any transfer station. People simply turned up and dumped their rubbish at the tip face. Neil Fagan, New Plymouth District Council’s management services engineer puts it succinctly: “Previously it was dig a hole and put stuff into it and make sure someone shoots the rats.”
Then the council built their first transfer station at the landfill, just inside the gate. As transfer stations went, it was ugly. In fact to those accustomed to places where you pull up and off load into bins, gleefully smash bottles into appropriate receptacles amid self doubts of green or brown glass, throw cardboard onto overfilled containers then move on to other Saturday ventures, it was disappointing. In 2000 this journalist proudly took his first load of rubbish to the New Plymouth dump and had a transfer station experience. Long before any controversy, I broke the dump rules by merrily driving straight past the so called transfer station, followed a dirty dusty road up and over a hill and dumped my refuse at a tip face. Upon returning I noticed a place for recyclables, stopped and off loaded empties. A dump guy approached and said, ‘first time here?’ ‘Yep,’ I replied. Then he politely and patiently explained the rules. I stared blankly, between him, a hole in the ground, and a jumble yard, he called a transfer station.
I watched those who didn’t need polite instruction, deposit their rubbish into the trench in the ground and throw their empties into an assortment of messy cages, bins, and old containers. I was expertly told that at the end of the day, the refuse in the hole would be scooped out and taken to the tip face. All this, for a city’s refuse.
The point however, was not the quality of the six year old transfer station, but the fact that it formed an integral part of the dump operation, as ordered by the environment court, and that it was within the dump boundary. The council’s own plans, as well as Resource Management Act (RMA) application documentation showed the location: inside the landfill. The council defence to this apparent sleight of hand: The documents were like any other permit, anybody applying to build something was not compelled to proceed. If the council decided to build it on railways land, near the neighbours, where no permit was required, that was council’s choice. The suggestion here: the permit issue related not to building standards, but environment issues, including nuisance. Enter Taranaki Regional Council (TRC).
In March 2001 TRC wrote to Kathy Lovell, saying no permit was needed provided there was no dust, noxious or toxic levels of airborne contaminants. Was that the same as saying, ‘you don’t need a permit to build a house unless it might fall over?’ Choice was a privilege the council seemed to enjoy, and the neighbours lacked.
Enter Manawatu Waste. They operated a transfer station in Palmerston North, were experienced players in waste management, and they knew how to tickle the taste buds of the council. As tenderers they selected a proposed site, part of railways land on the other side of the neighbours. When NPDC heard of the idea, they were ecstatic. Neil Fagan said he wished that he had been able to grab the railway site for council’s own purposes. So they did. They bought the site lease.
The deal became one where Manawatu Waste leased the whole operation off the council. The wheels of big business went into top gear, all to the ignorance of the neighbours. Lovell believed the railways deal may have even been signed a lot earlier, “the guy from the railways was overseas,’ she said.
The defence of commercial sensitivity appeared to crumble further when the council entered the arena of literally buying up the whole proposal, lock stock and barrel, leasing the railways land, paying for and owning the station then leasing it all back to private enterprise. Further more it smacked of back room deals at the expense of court imposed neighbourly relations.
Questions also arose over whether or not the council appeared to be calling tenders for the construction of a business (transfer station) then helping the successful tenderer set up that business by becoming the leaseholder. Kathy Lovell claims the council effectively subsidised Manawatu Waste to set up business. Another source, already involved in transfer stations, said the council didn’t pay them to set up their business. “The council paid for it (new transfer station) before it was set up,” The source said of Manawatu Waste’s proposal. “If you want to start a business, is the council going to pay for the land and the buildings and set it all up for you?” NPDC deny any wrong doing. They say they did everything they could to inform the neighbours, once commercial sensitivity was over. A town planner also said New Plymouth District Council did not need permission legally for the transfer station, but chose to include the public anyway. Well, seemed someone forgot to explain the term inclusion, to the neighbours.
Lovell points to the arrogance of the council whom she says tried to claim credit for setting up a public meeting once the location was divulged. “I phoned around all the residents to see if they had heard anything (about the location). I rang up Neil Fagan and he said ‘sounds like I need to do some damage control here, perhaps I should call a meeting.’ ” She says if she hadn’t “called around the residents there would never have been a meeting.”
The council says it was a balancing act between being good neighbours and trying to keep everyone happy. That seemed to ring hollow when one council staffer said: ‘why should the rest of New Plymouth suffer because of a few?’ An environment court had earlier disagreed, referring to the need to prevent the neighbours from becoming scapegoats. “Sacrificial lamb” was another term used. Sacrifice: often a small burnt offering. The ancient Hebrews sometimes did it after a victory. Once, someone small won a battle, a shepherd boy named David. When he felled Goliath with a single stone to the head, the giant stayed down, and out. Then again David had it easy. One fight, done. Kathy Lovell’s giant went down but her battle was far from over, the giant kept getting back up.
She points to the fact the council were heavily criticised by the courts over their handling of previous landfill cases. “They got their hands well and truly smacked over their dealings with us, by the Environment Court the last time. We were not to be made a scapegoat.” She quotes the courts again: “Judge Treadwell says, ‘the question of whether an extension to the destination is contrary to actual assurances given to residents when the landfill was originally established is of concern to this tribunal.’ ”Given this track record of scathing court commentary, small wonder the neighbours cried foul, at the explanation of “commercial sensitivity.”
Allegations of a cover up by council to get their new transfer station with as little fuss as possible seemed to take on substance in the face of a statement from anonymous sources. They saw contract documents early in the process and alleged the contract for the new transfer station was virtually a done deal, before the council were forced to tell its neighbours. “I rang the council and they said no plans had been submitted to anybody, yet that same morning there were plans out for pricing for the transfer station.” They spoke to council staff and asked if any plans had been submitted and were told, “ ‘oh no, no.’ So I said why are their plans at my place of work for pricing?” He said ‘who are they for?’ I said X, and there was silence on the end of the phone. Obviously I had tripped him up.”
They thought it was deception by NPDC “because in the original draft for Colson Rd Landfill the transfer station was going to go up at the landfill. Instead of car traffic we are going to get truck traffic. Just imagine the price of our property, will be worth nothing.” The council denied any intent to deceive.
Time to examine more closely the time line leading to the station’s site selection. The history as far as the liaison group is concerned is this: In June 2000, the contractor for the new station was selected. There was no mention of a site to the liaison group; no further details were given to the group, which begs the question: why was it still commercially sensitive if the contractor had already been
selected? The lease for the new transfer station deal had not been signed. Contractor selected, but no site. In September 2000 the liaison group met and there was mention of difficulties about signing a lease arrangement. The significance of this was lost on the neighbour’s delegates. Three months after selecting the contractor, the location surely was no longer commercially sensitive. Still details were withheld. Why? The people at railways, required to sign the lease, were unavailable. And of course once the lease is signed it is a done deal. The council wanted the site secured before they alerted their neighbours to the location.
At the September 2000 meeting, there was no mention of which lease or where. Nothing to alert the very people that the council is charged to liaise with. Certainly there was nothing to suggest a new transfer station being built ‘next door’ or splitting the dump operation into straddling the neighbours.
NPDC seemed to adopt an inclusion policy only when convenient. For example, April 1999, they wrote to the neighbours: “Dear neighbour, Transfer Station Near Main Gate. …it is possible to vary the resource consent without formal hearings if the written consent given by …” Here they were happy to include the neighbours in an operational matter (for the previous transfer station), but not in 2000.
On 22 February 2001 “commercial sensitivity” ended. The council, at a liaison group meeting, announced that the tenderer for the new transfer station had identified the site, explaining that the tenderer did not want to tell anyone about the location until agreement was reached on the site land. The land, that is, leased by the council.
Were the neighbours lulled into apathy? They seemed to drift into accepting that the dump operation was going to change by virtue of the transfer station possibly being built in another area, outside the landfill, or so some thought. But, it wasn’t until it was ‘next door’ that reality hit. So what? If some had accepted that a new transfer station was going to be built outside the landfill anyway, did it matter where it was going to be built? Therein lies another story about noise, traffic, litter, dust and other nuisances, too much for one story. Perhaps it depended upon definition. Were landfills and transfer stations both dumps? Not so on both counts said NPDC. Dumps once came under Health authorities but now those authorities are only involved in waste if it is collected and disposed. Transfer stations do not need to be licensed under the Health Act because they do not “collect and dispose.” You read correctly. A transfer station is not an offensive trade under the Health Act, because it does not collect and dispose waste. Certainly the station receives waste but that is different from collecting it. Certainly it then transfers it to a landfill, but that is different from disposing of it.
And permits? Well, NPDC are police, judge and jury. The new transfer station was outside the landfill, no permit required. Why? Because it is all a question of town planning zones, two– rural and industrial, and the twain shall meet, at Colson Rd. In planning jargon the place is called: interface. Here, the mystery for the neighbours both deepens, yet sheds light. The new transfer station is in the industrial zone and transfers refuse to the landfill - in the rural zone. Between the two, for a half km, are the neighbours, at the interface. And it is a case of what comes out must not go in. NPDC’s engineer Neil Fagan saw no problem over planning rules. The new station is in the industrial zone, with fewer rules than where it was previously, at the landfill which is rural and falls under the Resource Management Act. For example there was no rule regarding traffic. In rural zone, things like management plans and all manner of rules, including: consultation, abound. A transfer station outside the landfill and beyond the rural zone was not so shackled. Or so it would seem.
When we spoke, Fagan agreed that where something was built on a boundary between two zones, “the rules are slightly changed.” He said that the effect outside the boundary could only be the effect that it was allowed in the zone outside. For example, “the noise in an industrial zone must be reduced by the time it reaches the next zone.”
Ralph Broad, senior planner for NPDC, with 30 years experience, says the issues between the two zones are not simple. But he agrees on one thing, the link between the transfer station and the landfill was like an umbilical cord. And nobody could deny that in its embryo stage, the station would belong to the landfill, owed its birth to the landfill, and the baby could not survive without it, without being breast fed by a mother of a landfill. Unlike the newborn, this baby needed to keep its cord, the only cut would be to an opening ceremony ribbon. To suggest it was not bound to the landfill rules was perhaps suggesting the newborn infant was not linked to its mother, or parental rules. Without the rules, would the other kids on the block (the residents) get hurt?
At the beginning of this story, there was a reference to water and during the investigation, among the vast array of documentation, were found technical reports by TRC. And “technical” they were. Reading them was torture but the pain was nothing compared to the damage done to the small stream, by an old transfer station, called the Puremu,. Many years ago a biologist for the Taranaki Regional Council carrying out a routine examination of the Puremu discovered zinc and ammoniac traces. Mystified he went searching. The source was found: leachate.
Consequently the council essentially were ordered to build a new transfer station on the existing site of the landfill, within 18 months. This was the previous transfer station, completed in 1994. It had to be a full transfer station operation. It wasn’t, it was a pit, dug into the ground, near the landfill gate as described earlier. Only the ground was not what it seemed. The ground was old refuse. And old refuse was where the monster they call leachate lived and every time refuse was dug out of the pit, leachate was disturbed. And leachate has only one way to go: down, into the Puremu again.
TRC hierarchy denied during interviewing that the Puremu was poisoned. A slightly agitated senior TRC engineer emphatically refuted the suggestion. You decide. Here is the exact wording: “…the most notable of which was the continuing contamination of the Puremu Stream by leachate contaminated ground water flow.”
In 1994, an application by the NPDC under the RMA, for changes and discharges at the landfill said the Puremu would not be affected. A 1997-98 report said the stream was fine. A 98-99 report said it wasn’t and in 2000, it was contaminated by leachate.
And near the end of the TRC report “executive summary,” it said: “…source of the contamination is to be removed with the closure of the on site refuse tipping pit” — the old (1994) transfer station. There was no proof that both councils were in collusion. No proof, that the reason for the new transfer station to be built outside the landfill boundary was because, having poisoned the Puremu with the old transfer station, NPDC were breaking the law. Like a child caught raiding the cookie jar, quietly putting the lid back on, they ran out the gate and built a new one, beside the neighbours. Water can be synonymous with peace, which is all one neighbour wanted. Poignant words were found on one of many forms filled in by the neighbours: “The only quiet days of the year,” …they were words written in upper case by a Mr ‘R Philp,’ with a solid writing hand. His words were in reply to NPDC intentions (before the transfer station issue) of extending the landfill operating hours on holidays and weekends. Compared to comments written by other neighbours, Philp wrote in a short, simple style. Others wrote long, with explanations, of facts and reason. But not Russell Philp. His took up one line. Perhaps it was written on one of his only quiet days, taking time to fill in a yet another form. His words somehow resonated. Russell Philp said all he needed to say. Then he died a short time later, casualty of a work accident.
It is no accident that the tip face at Colson Rd keeps growing and expanding. Like lava spewing from a Taranaki mountain in a bygone era, consuming and cutting deeply everything in its path, forging a
new landscape. But like a passing volcanic era where life forms, flora and fauna replacing red rock and hissing sulphur, perhaps the land now enveloped by waste at Colson Rd will become scenic. How much fire, brimstone and the gnashing of teeth will continue, is anyone’s guess.I called at the brand new transfer station back in 2001, just before leaving town. There was much fanfare over its opening. All was shiny and new, new machines, new staff, people taking an interest. There were even staff showing visitors around and explaining how to use a new transfer station. The staff were vibrant, animated and enthusiastic. Someone almost ran up to me, to help unload my rubbish. This was service, with a smile.
I wandered around and was almost embraced again, by someone who seemed to be in charge this time, who led me around and explained things, eagerly.
Then he moved off, to operate one of the new machines, a natty little digger scampering around, the new dumping bay, a long shallow concrete affair. At the end was a huge concrete pit where a truck waited, below ground level. The natty wee digger was racing around again scooping up refuse and shovelling it off the edge of the bay, into the truck below. Men cheerfully smiled at me again and soon they were all off in the truck to take a load to the landfill.
I looked down into the concrete pit, below ground level, from where the truck had emerged. The clean, new concrete surfaces were already filling with remnants of litter, spilling from the bay above, some dropping between the lip and the top of the truck before it departed. And it was also finding its way into a large drain hole, at the bottom of the truck pit. Through the hole I could see the clear running water, of a stream.
Since leaving New Plymouth I have returned a number of times and usually I highlight it with a trip to the now, not so new, transfer station. Things have changed, since those mad heady, public relations filled days. The staff no longer beam happily at the visitor and nobody helps me unload. Things are looking more untidy with each visit, this is a place getting used, a lot. It is after all, a large city refuse transfer station. And it has been operating now, for more than four years.
The truck pit has become a very dirty, grimy, littered affair. The drain hole at the bottom is cluttered now, with rubbish. It’s hard to see the little stream, at the bottom of the pit with its long angulated, concrete ramp running down from the work area above, like a giant sluice, for the truck to climb out, with each new full load of rubbish.
I wonder if the council will fit a little fish emblem, at the bottom of the pit, at the end of the ramp, beside the drain hole, over the little stream, at a city refuse transfer station.
MUSIC: Mar 05, AU Edition
BAD SEEDS, GOOD TUNES
Also: Seven CDs of suave swing, and what happens when career changes go bad
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
"Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus", Anti
With his deep, portentous voice and grave manner, Nick Cave demands to be taken seriously. His literate lyrics often rely on biblical and mythological allusions: even the titles of the two-disc set Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus could use footnotes.
But Cave’ s pretensions are a large part of his appeal, and after 20 years with his ever-evolving band, the Bad Seeds, he still pulls off audacious rhymes like “Orpheus”/ “orifice” without sounding ridiculous.
The mainly acoustic, piano-driven Lyre is the more accessible album. The rolling ballad Breathless is the most beautiful song in Cave’s vast catalog, and Babe, You Turn Me On isn’t far behind.
The more visceral “Abattoir raises a holy clatter of apocalyptic noise in songs such as There She Goes, My Beautiful World, an invocation to the Muses to cure writer’s block that links St. John of the Cross to Johnny Thunders and features a gospel choir. Based on the inspired songs in these albums, the Muses must have listened.
Review by Steve Klinge
Robert Downey Jr.
“The Futurist”, Sony Classical 1
Robert Downey Jr. found fame as a talented yet troubled actor. He’ll need to leave it at that with this partly laudable, partly laughable transition into music. The downtrodden, introspective vibe of The Futurist – one mid-tempo piano-driven ballad after another – is tiresome, despite the earnestness of the whole affair. To his credit, singer-songwriter-pianist Downey (who sang on Ally McBeal as well as in his Oscar-nominated turn in Chaplin) brings a solid sense of melody to his own compositions, smartly enhanced by subtle flourishes of jazz and folk. But his voice is hardly endearing, even on his understated rendition of Chaplin’s “Smile”. And he’s painfully off the mark on a cringe-worthy version of Yes’ “Your Move” that even Jon Anderson’s backing vocals can’t save. There’s raw talent here, but Downey had best stick with his day job.
Review by Nicole Pensiero
Art Farmer/Benny Golson
“The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions”, Mosaic
The jazztet created in 1959 by the trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist/composer Benny Golson more than merits this seven-CD extravaganza from Mosaic Records.
The two created a group with a suave sound that showcased great melodies from a swinging core. Farmer, who died in 1999 and helped popularize the flugelhorn in jazz, was among the most sensitive of brass players, while Golson, a heavyweight reed man, remains one of jazz’s top composers.
Included here is his classic tribute to trumpeter Clifford Brown, I Remember Clifford, which encapsulates the greatness of the partnership: Farmer’s trumpet finding poignant nuances in Golson’s elegiac composition.
The jazztet, which ran through 1962, was a great vehicle for Golson’s tunes, which range from Killer Joe, with its spoken and theatrical introduction, to the goose-stepping Blues March, and from the earthy Blues After Dark to the noir ballad Park Avenue Petite.
Review by Karl Stark
DATELINE PHUKET, TSUNAMI +48hrs
Our coverage of the new millennium’s worst disaster begins in the words of volunteer aid worker Hatairat Estrella Montien:
I was in Bangkok when the tsunami struck. An announcement was made on television requesting translators to assist with foreign tsunami victims. I can speak Thai, English and Spanish, so I sent a request to Phuket Air for myself, (I am a 27-year-old Thai woman), and my Dutch friend, Daniel Van Geijlswijk, who speaks several European languages, saying that we would like to help out at the disaster area. Phuket Air gave us free tickets.
We arrived in Phuket last Tuesday evening and were taken by the Tourist Police to work in their local station. We did not want to stay in the accommodations provided at the Tourist Police as it was inconvenient to get to the Town Hall, so we stayed in Phuket Town, paying our own way.
On Wednesday, we went to the Town Hall and were told that they needed help in Khao Lak, Phang Nga, the primary disaster area. We went there in a car with journalists and another two men who volunteered to help in the rescue effort. Anyone who had a car came to transport victims and volunteers. Many people also supplied food and drinking water.
It took us about two hours to arrive in Khao Lak. It was devastated. Almost nothing was left. The tsunami had carried a large military ship from the ocean, one mile inland. It had torn houses apart and overturned cars. Thousands of coconut trees had been uprooted.
At Khao Lak station, I went with the international diving team to look for bodies. There were five scuba divers, and six or seven helpers. They came from Phuket, most working as teachers at Dulwich International School. Two of them had been diving in Ocean Plaza in Phuket the day before to recover bodies from the basement supermarket. I accompanied them to translate English to Thai since they were working with a Thai rescue team to recover bodies.
We arrived at the Sofitel Magic Lagoon Hotel around 2 p.m. This hotel was once the most beautiful I had ever seen in. They had one of the biggest swimming pools in Asia, with a large ship moored in the swimming pool serving as a bar. It was totally destroyed.
Everything on the first floor was damaged, ruined and broken. It was impossible to imagine how a person could have survived if he or she were caught inside.
There were a few underground rooms that divers needed to clear. We started with a small room next to the beach which used to be a storage room where chemical tanks and pumps were operated by technicians.
Our divers Peter Denton and Hugo Jones went in, after we checked with an engineer the exact location of the equipment in that room for safety reasons. They found one foreigner’s body blocking the entrance. We did not have water pumps so we used buckets until the water reached a level that would allow the divers to enter. It took one hour of manual work, bucket by bucket.Some rooms were too unsafe to enter as the chemical tanks had exploded.
The water level in the smaller room was lower, allowing the divers to remove bodies. Since the corpses had been submerged in water for several days, they had doubled in size, making it harder to take
I did not want to see the bodies, but I had to be there to translate. When I first saw the dead, apart from the smell, I was OK, not having had enough time to think about it.
The first body we removed was a foreign lady who must have been swept in by the tsunami. We finally took the body out but our diver could not go in again to search as the water had risen to the original level. We checked other rooms, and called it quits for the day at 6 p.m.
On the way to the car we had to walk by corpses that the rescue team had retrieved from hotel rooms. Even though they were wrapped in white cloths, the unforgettable smell was mind-numbing. As soon as I got in the car I could no longer speak. I had pretty much handled it when I was working without time to reflect on the circumstances.
We picked up our friends, Dan and Jaroen at the Khao Lak Information station. They had been helping there while I was working with the diving crew. It took a long time to get back to Phuket as the traffic was very bad. There were a lot of rescue cars, tractors and ambulances. Many volunteers had been there to help the victims who by now had virtually nothing left.
We arrived in Phuket around 8 p.m. and I said goodbye to the dive crew. Debbie, a coordinator, gave me a big hug and asked me if I were prepared to help again the next day. At first I did not answer, but smiled, and finally said I would go back.
At that moment I had mixed feelings; I wanted to be there as much as I hated it. Yet I was willing to give my time and energy since I knew that my assistance would make their job much easier. Yet it was so hard to think about returning.
The next day, Peter Hamilton picked us up at 7 a.m. from our hotel. We collected water pumps and other equipment. At first I thought they would give us only equipment, but when we arrived, they had a full team of 12 local workers ready to go with us. They questioned me about the situation. I did not tell them much, only saying that they needed to put on masks and gloves when they arrived.
The previous day’s diving crew was told by doctors not to return to the water because of potential infection and disease. So we used a different strategy. Instead of having divers, we pumped all the water out and used a rescue team to recover the bodies.
We went back to the small, submerged room. A Thai man in his late 40s told me that he had been looking for his missing brother who normally worked in this room as a technician. He told me his brother wore a dark blue t-shirt and pants. That was exactly the same outfit worn by a dead body that was stuck inside.
The Blue Canyon staff got two water pumps running. The rescue team arrived and helped us look for the body in the water. They tried to use their camera to search in the room. After 20 minutes, the water was at a level where we could see clearly. As I served as the intermediary for the diving team, the rescue team showed me the image of another body in the room. Maybe they forgot that, I was, after all was not a professional, just a girl, as they showed me the most terrifying image I have ever seen: the rotten foot of a dead body.
I wanted to cry.
We finally moved the body out. The victim was the Thai technician that his brother had been looking for. It was finally over. They wrapped up the body and took it away.
I had a little accident. While they were pumping the water out, I was trying to help dig the place for water to run in to the sea. I fell down when carrying my equipment and twisted my left ankle. The crew went to get the water out from the sailing boat in the swimming pool (the pool bar); there were no bodies there. There were a few other spots where we pumped out water, but I did not see much as I could not really walk by then. I waited for the crew upstairs. There were a few people from the hotel management team, engineers, military crews from government and the families of missing people.
I talked to a woman named Prapaipan, who was looking for her young daughter, Thanyamath, who worked as the front desk manager at the hotel. She sat and cried constantly. She held a poster bearing her daughter’s photo and told me that she wanted to stay until she found her. She asked me what the crew would do next. She was still hoping to find her daughter somewhere.
I was deeply troubled. My mother would have done the same if she lost me. She would have hoped until the last minute that I would still be alive if she could not find my body.
Later a relative came and tried to persuade Prapaipan to go home since there was nothing much she could do there. First she refused to leave, but when the family member explained to her that she was stressing us out because she was crying all the time, she finally agreed to wait at her house.
I hope that this short account tells more about the situation. If you have not made any donation, please do not hesitate. They all need your help.
As much as I want to tell more about what I have been doing for these five days, I cannot bear to. One thing I have learned is that life is too short and good deeds matter. At the end, we all die.
(With Daniel Van Geijlswijk and Simon Osborne)
DATELINE SRI LANKA, TSUNAMI +SEVEN DAYS
By RAVI R. PRASAD
Nishanthan is barely two years old. He cannot walk because of a deformity in his waist. The child sits on the uneven sand under one of the thousands of makeshift shelters provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
In spite of his handicap, Nishanthan survived. It was a miracle. His able-bodied parents and siblings were swept away by the killer wave that claimed lives of some 38,000 people in the island nation of Sri Lanka.
“All he does throughout the day is cry,” said 60-year-old Jayaratnam, a neighbor who is now taking care of Nishanthan in the welfare camp. “He keeps saying, ‘Amma, Amma,’ crying out for his mother. He doesn’t know that his mother will never come back.”
When the giant ocean wave hit, Nishanthan was seated in a plastic tub and his mother was bathing him. His fisherman father had gone to see his boat tied at the pier. The family lived along the coast at Kucchuvely village in the eastern Trincomalee district.
Jayaratnam’s wife, Sellamma, had gone to fetch some curd from Nishanthan’s mother and had seen the child. A few minutes after Sellamma returned home, the tsunami hit the coast.
Jayaratnam and Sellamma hugged a coconut tree and survived, but their two children were washed away. In the neighborhood, Nishanthan’s family was not so lucky. They perished.
When the water cleared out after half an hour, Jayaratnam heard the child crying. He spotted the basin perched on a coconut tree. The waves had thrown the plastic basin up, and it landed on the tree between the leaves. Jayaratnam climbed the tree and brought Nishanthan down. The boy did not even have a scratch.
When Jayaratnam moved with his wife to the welfare camp, he brought Nishanthan along. There was nobody to look after the disabled child, and the couple thought it was their responsibility to take care of him.
Living under a tent, sleeping on mats with a couple of bed sheets and pillows, the family of three now depends on handouts given by district officials and aid agencies. The only toy that Nishanthan has is a bucket with a lid, provided by Oxfam.
Now couple is finding it difficult to take care of the two-year-old. They are too old to bring up the child. So they have decided to send him to an orphanage. “I don’t have any income, and the needs of a growing child are far too much for me to meet,” said Jayaratnam. “My wife is suffering from arthritis, so she cannot take care of the baby.”
On Saturday Jayaratnam went to an orphanage in Trincomalee town to leave the child there. It was a harrowing experience both for him and the child. The two traveled for hours, half the time Jayaratnam carrying the child and walking because the roads are bad and no public transport is available.
Several aid agency vehicles whizzed past and Jayaratnam tried to hitch a ride, but none of them stopped. Some of them did not even have anyone other than the driver. As Jayaratnam came closer to the town, an aid agency vehicle gave him a ride in a pickup truck.
Almost two hours after he had left the camp, the man and the child reached the orphanage.
“Good that you have brought the child here,” said the matron of the orphanage, as she asked Jayaratnam to wait for a senior official. “I cannot admit the child, it has to be decided by the warden and some procedures have to be followed.”
After an hour-long wait, the warden-cum-manager of the home turned up. He complained about how he had to wait for the local government official to get food stamps for children in the orphanage.
“We cannot take the child,” said the manager, handing over a printed form to Jayaratnam. “Please fill this up, get the signatures of the Gram Sewaka (village officer), Divisional Secretary, officer of the child probation department and a relative.”
The officer told Jayaratnam that unless he got these signatures — and, most important, the death certificate of Nishanthan’s parents — the orphanage cannot accept the child.
“Where will I get the death certificates?” asked Jayaratnam. “Everyone in his family is dead. Who will inform the registrar?”
Determined to get Nishanthan a place in the orphanage, the man walked another mile to the office of registrar of birth, deaths and marriages. The office was closed for the weekend. “To get the death certificates, I need to contact the Gram Sewaka,” he said. “God knows if he survived or was killed.”
The government has banned adoption of tsunami orphans. If someone complains that Jayaratnam has kept the child, the government could take action against him.
With fear of police arresting him for sheltering Nishanthan, the old man returned to the camp walking all the way.
“Ever since the government has banned adoption, we have been flooded with requests to admit more and more orphans,” said Vyasa Kalyansundaram, a trustee of Sivananda Tapovanam children’s home. “How can the government expect an orphan child to run around and get signatures and death certificates of parents?”
Orphanages are willing to expand and take in more children, but the government rules need to be changed. “The government banned adoption without thinking about the plight of orphans. They need to change the rules for admitting children to orphanages. Many of these rules need to be scrapped,” Kalyansundaram said.
Copyright 2005 by United Press International
DATELINE MECCA, TSUNAMI +SEVEN DAYS
By ARNAUD de BORCHGRAVE
The killer wave that swallowed tens of thousands of Muslims was an act of Allah designed to punish the Christians. So went the convoluted logic of some Muslim imams in recent sermons from Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian territories.
If it weren’t for the diligent monitoring of Muslim clerics by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Americans would be in the dark about the outpourings of dangerous drivel fed to devout Muslims gathered in mosques for Friday prayers. Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-Munajiid explained God’s tsunami punishment of Christians stemmed from “the Christian holidays [that] are accompanied by forbidden things, by immorality, abomination, adultery, alcohol, drunken dancing and revelry. A belly dancer costs 2,500 pounds a minute and a singer costs 50,000 pounds an hour, and they hop from one hotel to another from night to dawn.
“Then they spend the entire night defying Allah. ... At the height of immorality, Allah took revenge on these criminals. ... Allah struck them with an earthquake. He finished off the Richter scale. All nine levels gone.”
In the same vein, Sheikh Mudeiris, at a Palestinian Friday sermon in Gaza, said, “When oppression and corruption increase, the law of equilibrium applies. I can see in your eyes you are wondering what is the ‘universal law of equilibrium.’ This law is a divine law. If people are remiss in implementing God’s law and in being zealous and vengeful for His sake, Allah unleashes his soldiers in action to
In Saudi Arabia, one of last year’s measures to counter mosque-generated violence was a ban on imam’s using the word “jihad,” or holy warrior. But the content hadn’t changed much without the banned word. Saudi cleric ‘Aed Al-Qarni told the worshippers, “Throats must be slit and skulls must be shattered. This is the path to victory.” He was reacting to the death of a brother “killed by the brothers of apes and pigs, the murderers of the prophets.” In case there was any doubt, he was referring to the Jews of Israel.
He then deplored lamented the lack of Muslim backbone: “One billion two hundred million nobodies. We are incapable of taking action, of being useful, of harming the Jews. The most people do today is to verbally protest over the TV channels or to demonstrate. What is the use of this? ... We must sacrifice people like Abd Al-Aziz Al-Rantisi, and Ahmad Yassin, and thousands of others. Houses and young men must be sacrificed. Throats must be slit and skulls must be shattered. This is the path to victory, to shahada and to sacrifice.”
Imam Al-Qani went to explain the “idolatrous” people of Vietnam, Cambodia and South Africa, “nations with no calling or divine law make sacrifices ... in people, blood and souls. All the more reason we should too, the nation of Islam.”
Saudi clerics have also urged Iraqis to resist “the American occupation of Iraq.” They can urge jihad without the proscribed word for holy war. Saudi Sheikh Fawzan Fawzan said God’s unlisted number informed him the tsunami was punishment for homosexual behavior and fornication over Christmas, even if the victims are Muslims. “All that’s left for us to do,” he said, “is to ask for forgiveness. We must atone for our sins, and for the acts of the stupid people among us. ... We must fight fornication, homosexuality, usury, fight the corruption on the face of the Earth, and the disregard of the lives of protected people.”
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.
DATELINE WASHINGTON, TSUNAMI +TEN DAYS
By ROLAND FLAMINI, Chief International Correspondent
WASHINGTON, (UPI) — The Asian relief effort for the tsunami disaster mobilized quickly and massively and, led by Japan, generated a major share of the global aid. The Arab world, by contrast, has lagged behind, even though the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, was the hardest hit, suffering some
Middle East media commentators have been scathing in their criticism of Arab lack of generosity and public concern. They point out that the combined pledges from the Middle East and the Gulf of around $100 million amount to a fifth of Japan’s single pledge of $500 million. Asian nations — partly because of their proximity to the disaster zone — were the first to provide logistical and emergency help. Immediate aid on the ground from Arab nations, such as doctors, nurses, and engineers has been largely and conspicuously absent.
South Korea and Taiwan have each committed $50 million in tsunami relief. As the major power in the region China has been criticized for holding back because its aid commitment to date is $64 million. But observers say that pledge probably represents about half its foreign aid budget. On Tuesday, King Fahd of the oil rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia ordered the country’s aid commitment tripled to $30 million, “in light of the size of the tragedy and the losses.” Among the other Gulf States, Kuwait’s pledge stands at $10 million, Bahrain at $2 million, and Qatar — said to be one of the wealthiest country in the world — at $25 million. Libya’s contribution is $2 million. But no other non-Gulf Middle Eastern country has so far made an appearance on published lists of leading contributors.
Saudi Arabia plans to raise money from the public with a telethon. But Arab media have expressed anger at the apparent indifference of their governments to the tragedy. One Saudi television talk show host remarked, “Many Arab viewers have become racist. Unfortunately, the tragedy that befell Asians has no effect on many of them.”
In Kuwait, the newspaper Al Qabas created controversy by calling on Kuwait’s leadership to live up to its obligations. The special link between Kuwait and the stricken area is that Southern Asia supplies the super rich Gulf state with much of its domestic and manual labor force, and this — Al Qabas argued — was a good reason why Kuwait and its Gulf neighbors needed to be doing much more. “We have to give them more; we are rich,” the paper’s editor-in-chief, Waleed al-Nusif was quoted as saying in the New York Times Wednesday. “The price of oil doubled, so we have no excuse...They built Kuwait, and they raised our children.”
Several experts are harshly critical of Arab governments, and particularly of the Gulf states, for not being more forthcoming. “Where’s the brotherly Islamic love?” observes Middle East specialist Judith Kipper at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s the usual story of not being able to separate rich Arabs from their money. They give what Islam says they’re supposed to give, and that’s it.” One problem, Kipper says, is that “there’s no concept of civil society.”
But within the Gulf states some private donors argue that the closure of several major charitable organizations as part of the war on terror has undermined the spirit of giving, or has made it harder to find institutions to accept donations.
It is also true that while other religions have mobilized to collect relief contributions, Islamist preachers have cast the tsunami as a manifestation of divine wrath at the decadence, nudity, and immorality of now devastated tourist resorts as Phuket Island and Sumatra. This approach, preached in the mosques Friday, is said to have introduced a certain ambivalence into helping the victims.
There are also political differences. Many analysts believe tsunami aid could have a deep influence on the pattern of international relationships in Asia. The Bush administration is hoping that lavish U.S. generosity will improve America’s image in the region, and even beyond it. Japan, China, and Australia ($764 million in long term aid) are also using tsunami relief as a political tool to increase regional clout. Arab countries were not as drawn to the influence game in Asia. As a result, Arab sources point out, their pledges are not calculated to have political impact.
DATELINE PARIS, TSUNAMI +14 DAYS
By UWE SIEMON-NETTO,UPI Religious Affairs Editor
How can postmodern man — a doctrinally indifferent species, as Cardinal Paul Poupard defines him — react adequately to the deadliest natural calamity in recorded history? Almost mindlessly, television anchormen in Europe speak of the tsunami disaster’s “apocalyptical proportions,” although they seem to know little of the Book of Revelation or the Old and New Testaments’ “little apocalypses,” such as the one in the Gospel of Luke:
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26),Only Pope John Paul II, so close to the grave himself, seems to have found the appropriate words when he commended the victims — at least 120,000 as we speak — and their next of kin to the love of God.
What else is there to say, unless of course the brightest lights in Protestant theology knocked at the doors of the world’s television studios demanding to be allowed to explain to the perplexed what should be Protestantism’s greatest asset?
Words like these might be fitting: What you have been witnessing in the last days circumscribes the chasm between a grotesque contortion of God’s face and the “Deus revelatus” — the true God revealed in Christ.
The ex-Christian “homo indifferens,” of whom Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, spoke recently in Belorussia, is in reality a religious ignoramus. He knows nothing of the faith of his ancestors, a faith that made them build cathedrals and write stirring oratorios.
He is therefore unequipped to dialogue with other faiths at a time when this has become indispensable due to the massive influx of Muslims into Europe. For as Michael Weninger, a senior Austrian diplomat and religious affairs adviser to the European Commission, insists: “Between religious illiterates no dialogue is possible.”
The same applies even more urgently to the task of explaining God’s presence in the light of the tsunami tragedy. Theodicy, the defense of God against the charge that he either wills evil in this world or is powerless against it, has always been one of the most difficult undertakings for people of faith.
But unless theologians return to the very core of Christian doctrine — that precisely by being weak and nailed to a tree God prevails in his cosmic struggle against evil — they will never succeed in this endeavor.
That this cosmic struggle is well underway seems evident to most lay people observing current events, though not to modernist theologians denying the existence of Satan. And of those, there are plenty especially in Germany where batch after batch of new theologians keeps crawling out of the Black Forest, as the saying goes.
Klaus Berger, Heidelberg University’s primary New Testament scholar, estimates that a mere 2 percent of his colleagues consider biblical texts true. Why does Berger belong to that tiny minority? Because, he says, the Gospel writers were willing to be martyred for their stories. “You don’t accept martyrdom for something you yourself have invented.”
The cross — or rather, the crucifix — is the most powerful antidote against evil, natural or otherwise, which supports the position of the defenders of icons in the perennial iconoclast controversies throughout church history.
The Rev. Rolf Sauerzapf, until recently dean of chaplains of Germany’s paramilitary border guards, used to take his troopers in the formerly communist East, to Catholic or Lutheran churches featuring the crucified Christ, in contrast to the starker sanctuaries of other denominations, which only display the empty cross.
“What is this?” the soldiers raised in an atheist environment asked. “This is our God,” Sauerzapf answered. “Instinctively, they understood that this was the Immanuel, the God with us — suffering with us,” he later related.
A special breed of pastors is needed at a time when Europeans have been deprived of any knowledge of God for two or even three generations and when, at the same time, “people are filled with longing (for God),” according to the European Commission’s Weninger.
The destruction of the family, where 90 percent of all education takes place, has led to the prevailing ignorance of and indifference to religious matters, writes Peter Hahne, Germany’s most popular television anchorman.
“This is why faithful clergymen have become so eminently necessary,” says the Rev. Michael Stollwerk, senior Lutheran pastor of the Protestant and Catholic cathedral of Wetzlar near Frankfurt, whose Christmas services were better attended this year than any in his memory: “On Christmas Eve there were 1,800. On Christmas Day there were another 1,800, and on the following day there were still 600. I have never seen this before.”
An astounding number of these worshipers were young. “Many were kids to whom I had become a substitute father or grandfather in confirmation class. Then they joined — or will join — our youth groups,” Stollwerk says. “And then we’ll have them hooked; then they will no longer be indifferent to God. ”Then they will also grasp the Biblical answer to the God question raised by horrific events such as the tsunami catastrophe: “And he (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).
DATELINE ASIA, TSUNAMI +21 DAYS
By MARTIN SIEFF
WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) — The horrendous tsunami catastrophe in South Asia has led to a rallying of human solidarity and compassion at its very best this week. But after the dead are buried and the period of immediate grieving is passed, the fallout from the tragedy is likely to weaken major governments in the region and possibly exacerbate some bitter, long-running conflicts there.
The still young Congress government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in India is likely to reel for months if not years from the tragedy. Singh had only been in power for nine months when the catastrophe occurred and whatever culpability his government faces for the fatal lack of disaster preparedness along Indian’s coastlines should in justice be shared with the previous Hindu nationalist-led government of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Nevertheless, the catastrophe struck on Singh’s watch. And already hard questions are being asked in the Indian press about the two and a half fatal hours during which the government knew, or should have known, that huge tidal waves were racing westward across the Indian Ocean following the unprecedented earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale early Sunday morning below the ocean.
Almost as bad, there will now be the sense of an ill-starred fate hanging over Singh and his policies that marked a radical break from those of the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Vajpayee.
A similar sense of ill-starred omens is likely to overshadow strongly pro-American President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono across the ocean in Indonesia, where the death toll from the disaster was highest.
At least 80,000 people are now known to have died on the island of Sumatra alone. The eventual death toll could soar far above 100,000 on it. And the worst hit part of the giant island was the energy rich province of Aceh at its northern tip where guerrilla secessionist forces have been waging a fierce struggle for independence for years.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, all thoughts of human conflict have been swamped by the colossal horrors inflicted by an uncaring Nature. But antennae of the people of Aceh have been honed to alertness by decades of what they regard as shameless exploitation of their riches by the old 32-year military dictatorship of President Suharto from 1966 to 1998. It would not take much to revive suspicions that aid was being given to other, more favored regions first or that the government was simply uncaring and incompetent in dealing with the huge scale of the catastrophe to stir up new resentments.
There is plenty of precedent in South Asia for natural catastrophes being the harbinger of wars and revolutions. The great Bengal famine of 1943 cost the lives of two to four million people. Historians agree the main cause of the huge death toll was a combination of complacency, incompetence and lack of compassion by British wartime officials who were criminally negligent in waking up to the scale of the disaster. But the immediate political result was to destroy Hindu-Muslim community relations in Bengal with many people in each community convinced the other one was hoarding food and deliberately increasing their suffering.
Within four years, Bengal was torn apart by ferocious Hindu-Muslim clashes at independence in 1947 that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The province remains divided between India and the independent Muslim nation of Bangladesh to this day.
Natural disaster triggered war and revolution again in the same area only a quarter of a century later. The inhabitants of the region, then known as East Pakistan, were convinced that the Pakistani government a thousand miles away made no effort to relieve their sufferings after between 300,000 to a million people were killed in a huge tidal surge caused by unprecedented cyclones in the Bay of Bengal in November 1970. Again, mass resentment quickly turned violent and led to a national liberation struggle that cost hundreds of thousands more lives against Pakistan until India intervened the following year and ensured the independence of the nation of Bangladesh.
Sri Lanka, a third nation heavy hit by last Sunday’s tsunamis, has long been rent apart by a bitter ferocious guerrilla-terror war waged by the Tamil Tigers. There too, the wrath of nature has temporarily drowned mere human hatreds. But whether the traumatic experience leads to a new era of moderation, compromise and goodwill or a renewal of old, bitter feuds has yet to be seen.
There is more recent precedent too for a terrible natural disaster catalyzing long festering resentment at an entrenched and incompetent government that was soon after swept out of office.
The great swathe of urban squalor and misery that sweeps crescent-like north of Istanbul and then eastward for 80 miles across the southern shore of the Black Sea is home to 10 million people. This usually forgotten region of Turkey briefly hit the international headlines in 1999 when the terrible Izmit earthquake killed 23,000 people.
The death toll was so horrendous because, as we noted in UPI Analysis at the time, developers had run up hundreds of shoddily built apartment blocks in defiance of building codes.
On Aug. 20, 1999, we warned in these columns, “The disaster may boost the appeal of Turkey’s Islamic fundamentalists at the expense of the government, ultimately threatening Turkey’s strong ties to the West. Turkey is a NATO member — the only Muslim nation.”
And sure enough, the anger and despair fostered by this event funneled a new wave of support to the Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan that propelled it to its landslide election victory in November 2002.
Singh in India and Yudhoyono in Indonesia will soon be made aware of how closely the survivors and relatives of the dead will be scrutinizing the record of their actions both before and after the unprecedented events of last Sunday.
However long they stay in power and whatever achievements they complete or attempt, from now on everything they do will be under the shadow of that judgment.
DESPERATE FINDS DATELESS
Behind closed doors at a singles convention
You could ask the question, who’d be seen dead at a singles convention? As NEILL HUNTER discovered, nearly 2000 people were willing to pay $20 a head to hear the guru of good one-liners work the crowd…
On picturesque Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, the grassy knoll above the sand is dotted with islands of people, from families to teenagers, enjoying Friday afternoon after-work in the sun. Six girls are sitting in a circle, talking. Their ages are early twenties and one of them says they have been playing a game called match-making. “I got a cuddle,” she laughs. That seems too coincidental so I want to ask them if they’re going to the “singles event of the New Year”, but stop. It could be flirting.
He wanted to be a Catholic priest, had a Christian upbringing but doesn’t do that anymore, runs singles conventions called parties in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and sponsors them on six continents too, for all groups - even Jews and Christians - appeared on Oprah Winfrey and ran for California Governor on a platform of lobbying for singles who he says are discriminated against. His favourite recreation is hiking and last month he found his favourite, between Paihia and Haruru Falls, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. His name? Richard Gosse, call him Rich, and Gosse is French, a word he thinks means “little boy” of which there is one, or girl, in each of us, who needs to have fun, so he does conventions for them and to get single adults listening he makes half his routine stand-up comedy. It must work because some 1500 Kiwis came to party with Rich on a fine warm Saturday evening in Takapuna NZ and they say about 200 were turned away, from the biggest show in town.
“You’d better come in, she’s getting close to the Pearly Gates now,” said a night shift nurse calling at 5.45 to say it was nearly over, a 37 year old wife and mother’s pending death from terminal cancer was about to happen and in hindsight they were strange words. More strange, amongst the whirlwind of events later that week, was the brief realisation of being single again after 11 years. Two years later this journalist gained an understanding of the similarities between being made single by death, and by divorce, at a retreat called The Beginning Experience run by Catholics in an old Friary in Auckland where the widowed, divorced and the youth of both, would spend three days understanding how to close the door a little, on a past life, and accept a new one, in my case one of being single.
Such a crude, sympathy-vote-grabbing introduction of Catholic retreats and Friaries has absolutely nothing to do with a singles convention run by the self proclaimed guru of the unattached, Rich Gosse, but understanding and accepting the state of singleness does. Whether the serenity of leafy, expansive Friary gardens or the razzmatazz luxury of the Spencer on Byron Hotel, Takapuna, participants at either retreat or convention would probably leave with the same sense of satisfaction; having stepped out, had a laugh, and done something different. For years, the Gosse singles convention road-show has come down under to NZ and Australia, because being single is, well, huge. A glance in the classifieds will tell you that, so too will a trawl though the “net” and socially it is far more acceptable to be single today than it was say 30 years ago when foot-loose-and-fancy-free was viewed by some as strange, at age oh…23, not hitched by age 24 – outrageous!
Rich Gosse, Chairman of American Singles Education Inc (or ASE for short), looks at his watch, gets the crowd ready for the NZ Flirt Champion contest and they’re off! On a speed mission to “goodbye-single-days”, of getting the most phone numbers in five minutes, from members-of-the-opposite, here in the ball room of the towering Spencer Hotel. Five minutes later: count down, “30, seconds…20 seconds…and stop” shouts Gosse and then its official, New Zealand “has a new FLIRTING CHAMPION!” Steven, with a staggering 16.
Gosse tells him that all his flirting champions become famous so Steven should go down stairs to Mrs Gosse and get interviewed by the Herald. Not likely. As he threads his way through wall-to-wall singleites I grab him first and with chaperoning skills the envy of any sheep dog, usher him down to Debby Gosse, photo-snap them together and elicit a career first, interview of a flirt. Steven McIntyre is 31, previously married, completing a diploma in computer games software, been in the IT industry 10 years, saw the advertisement for the convention and just thought he’d come for the fun of it. “A friend of mine was coming along as well and said ‘heh why don’t you come along’.” And what’s his secret-swooper-weapon? “I just say Hi and touch them lightly on the upper arm.” Huh.
So who are the best? “The Italians are the best flirts because they pinch you,” says Gosse, who calls the British, Australians and New Zealanders “very reserved, very shy,” as flirts go. If there is a flirting crisis in New Zealand as Gosse likes to remind us because so many NZ women have told him, how about America? Not the same, says Gosse, quoting his kiwi female sources: “NZ men are too shy. They (woman) wish the NZ men were more outgoing like American men. That’s what I hear all the time. They’re (kiwi women) hoping I will train the kiwi men to be more outgoing. We’re going to teach all the kiwi men how to be a good flirt.” Well I’ve got news for him and like a gun slinger defending this down-under- last-bastion-of-good-silent-kiwi-blokes, hit him! With research. Afterwards he blinks and makes complimentary remarks about journalistic research, which is: In a Fox News item, 7 October 2004, it is revealed that flirts compete at singles conventions to see who can score the most telephone numbers from members of the “opposite” in five minutes, the prize: …a lot of phone numbers. Says Gosse to Fox, “the most difficult thing at a giant singles event is you have all these people, who want to meet someone but they are scared to death”, it was all about overcoming fear of rejection, taking a chance and meeting people.
Not surprisingly female flirters consistently score highest, research shows. Well, why wouldn’t any single bloke worth his salt give away his number to any pleading woman, but no, says Gosse: “most guys don’t have the strength to ask for a phone number?”
At American conventions most woman are reluctant to give away their number and Gosse, the research continues, tells them to make the men work for it. Even in Wisconsin. According to the Flirting Champion of Wisconsin (true!) getting men to give up their…information, isn’t easy. “Most of the men won’t even look at you,” says Nancy McDermott, 54. “One guy said ‘I don’t give out my number until I know I’m going to date someone.’ ” Staunch doesn’t describe it as a visual flash of an American square-lantern-jawed-teeth-gritter make his own Custer’s Last Stand. Says McDermott seriously: “how do you know if you’re going to date someone if you don’t give your number away,” How true indeed, and she’s no slouch because that’s the sort of razor sharp incisiveness which enabled her to claim the biggest flirt title by scoring a whopping 19 phone numbers under five minutes! (Loud American cheering). However, seems she was only in it for the glory because the big tease didn’t even bother calling any of her adoring beaus afterwards, explaining that although appearing gimmicky, the contest gave her increased confidence in daily life. The big flirter further explains that finding interesting single men doesn’t seem any easier now than it did before she was named champ’; she does however feel more prepared to talk to men and not worry about the outcome. “The real benefit comes when people walk out into the world and give themselves permission to be a little more flirtatious than they were the day before. “The world’s a better place for all the flirting that goes on. (That’s it! I quit!)…I use to be really shy, I’ve been to a number of workshops, you learn to open up, and you’re going to get rejected (darn right with that sort of reputation) but so what.”It seems McDermott’s are a big name in flirting because Trish McDermott (we are not told if any relation to Nancy) vice president (give me break)…of Romance at match.com told Marla Lehner at Fox News (that’s Fox, as in the media group, not some sleazy little break-away militant singles faction) that Americans are flirt deficient (Investigate’s description). Vice president McDermott said there was a flirting crisis (Fox New’s…) in America. “I have concerns that we as a society have become less flirtatious (get those pills ready people!). Men and women say it is harder to make that initial connection in our day-to-day lives.”
There you go. We down under can hold our heads high. Not so says Gosse because if the research is correct then NZ men are even worse…you just can’t keep a good American down.
Is flirting promiscuous? No it’s fun he says because it is in us from infancy to be expert flirts. “Every one falls in love with babies” who are experts at it he says but as we grow older, get hurt, get rejected, “we start putting up walls,” so the educator see his role as restoring the skill. Understanding our inner selves…perhaps that’s what all this is about.
Desperately seeking… we asked Kerry Frances who is not a singles convention junkie, doesn’t flirt and hasn’t co-founded anything but is no slouch when it comes to understanding people, and she has the singleness to prove it. The stunningly attractive brunette was a lawyer before turning to analysing people and as well as having a law degree she has a BA and a Masters in Counselling, knows the stigmatisms surrounding singleness and says she has copped pressure in that area herself, from family, friends and church but gets on with life anyway. So why do people go to these things in such large numbers? Says Frances, “singles are working a lot longer and harder. Think back to when there was glide time. People finished work at four or five, they socialised at tennis clubs, churches and halls.” So an event like a singles convention solves the dilemma. “It’s all about time and opportunity,” she says.
Is that the answer for those agonising over marital status? Just go out and get on with life, get a haircut and a real job? Is it fair to put singles under the magnifying glass? Of course singles don’t self consciously scurry from corner to corner in little swarms of festering self consciousness but social discourses as such, means there are expectations and presumptions. Take Christian singles for example. Far from portraying themselves as a bunch of cheesy, halo-crowned-virgins, that nasty stereo typical image adopted by some in main stream media, your modern Christian single isn’t afraid to join a group, have fun …and work too hard? In America there is the Singles Channel Newsletter an internet site sponsored by Harmony Ministries for singles and in their August 2004 edition Camerin Courtney, makes an ugly little confession: “having an affair with Jean-Luc,” then before we dive for our big-bashy-bibles, the journo explains: “no not some cheese loving, beret-wearing French guy (I wish),” she ’fesses, “No I’m talking about Jean-Luc my lap top…” In a wonderful blend of good column writing and humour the single Christian free lancer ’fesses-up to being too preoccupied with work: “there is nothing new in our overworked, prove-your-worth-by-how-busy-you-are culture but when I recently recognised the relationship between my singleness and my workaholism, I knew something needed to change. I walked out of work at 7 pm and realised the only two cars left in the parking lot belonged to fellow single people.” Then Camerin, who has no affiliation with ACIE, writes about stumbling upon a quote from none other, Mr Gosse: “ ‘workaholism is a frequent problem amongst single people. Work enables you to escape the fear, loneliness and boredom that often plagues singles’. Ouch!” She exclaims.
Painful as it may seem, some fork out their hard earned dollars for singles conventions but author-of-eight-books Gosse puts his money where his mouth is by charging cash strapped kiwis only $20. Cash. For that you get advice on the best place to meet single people and if people at his workshops don’t find love in six months – it’s money back. Sometimes. The, “have-I-got-the-deal-for-you” attitude also means he isn’t afraid to make a buck or two from singles so in case you think it’s all only about flirts, fellas floosies and flowers, or if you’re a little conventioned-out, or just need to find a real summer this summer, take a tour, with Rich. Gosse runs his own travel business for singles, with their promo’: “…those looking for a normal vacation filled with single people (eh…normal?)…this is a large organisation…around the world…really good deal…the owner Rich Gosse…even spoke recently at a packed convention in the lavish ball room of the Spencer on Byron Hotel in Takapuna (heeeee’s back)” The advertisement continues: “ ‘As you know the number one goal for singles in respect of travel, is to avoid paying the singles supplement (yea right) which sometimes can double their costs,’ said Mr Gosse, ‘that’s one of the main reasons that singles go on our trips. We guarantee them a room mate (mate…not a typo, not rate)…so they don’t have to pay double…especially woman like the security of travelling with a group. Plus the social opportunities are obvious (now we’re getting to it) who wants to travel to a romantic spot and not have anyone with whom to share’ ”.
Yes well. Just when you thought it safe to swoon with Gosse, singles should check the season and the location, before catching the love boat to one of his conventions, especially an Alaskan one. He admits he hasn’t always got it right, like the time he thought Alaska a good place for a singles showdown. He humbly told writer Janelle Brown of Salon.com that “unfortunately the convention happened to fall on the first day of the hunting season”. There is a dearth of good women, to men ratio at the best of times in the land of moose and oil but “All those sporty Alaskan hunks whom Gosse had promised to the female attendees” writes Brown “were out with their guns instead” doing what men gotta do, hunt and gather, in the state which Brown says has the largest surplus of single men in the nation. Woo-hoo for the guys who didn’t hunt that weekend when the Gosse show came to town. Gosse told Brown: “there were three women to every man…it was a disaster”. Says who?
On the rebound, he tried to make amends and play the money card, by holding the next convention in Silicon Valley because he figured the odds for a woman to find a rich computer nerdy guy much higher there than a man from Alaska in hunt. He told Brown that Silicon Valley had the highest percentage of unmarried men in America. Of rich single internet millionaires, he said there were “thousands of them.” He knew this from his match-making Webb site which “would balance out the hordes of woman usually in attendance.” Touted Gosse: “these guys are shell shocked. Where ever they go they only see men. Apparently it was all true and a thousand people showed up, …and 30 requested their money back, which was good news, assured Gosse who fiercely defends that he does it out of a passion not lost after 27 years. Besides, he wears a $20 watch and drives a 1996 Toyota Camry in the US because he says he is practicality, not money driven: “The money is in websites. That’s where I made my money”. He sold his website to another giant dating agency.
He did offer a money back guarantee at one of his previous six visits to NZ and nobody took it. There are no dollar signs in the eyes of those here in the Spencer tonight, only Cupid’s reflection and with an average age of around 30 to 40, they are all a mixed bunch.
Investigate interviewed over 10 budding dators and datees ranging in age between 31 and 55 and only one is here just for the fun. His name is Andy. Aren’t coincidences great? Andy, it transpires, is staying with the same friends. “What are you coming to Auckland for?” Enquires Stuart, of a journalist needing North Shore lodgings for the big assignment. “We’ve got a friend, Andy, from Napier going to that too and he’s staying with us.” Excellent.
Andy has never married, has had countless dates, friendships and one engagement and is an electrical design draughtsman by profession, manager for 10 years by occupation, at Napier’s The Hot Chick.
A health food takeaway outlet.
Specialising in chicken roasted over volcanic rock, salads and roasted vege’s Andy agreed to be journalistically stalked and insisted he was not really after the elusive knot-to-tie especially as he’d left his friend of 26 years, girlfriend of five, behind, to tour north in his sports car, visit friends and do the convention. “You can quote me on everything and use my name if you like” he obliges. It’s half an hour before convention registration but he doesn’t mind being made late by the “before-interview”. Tanned, medium build and height, fit with a full non- receding (lucky…) head of grey he is dressed in blues and black – shoes to match leather jacket. A Christian, he laughs “it would be one of God’s great miracles if I got married” and lists amongst his many accomplishments, of being “in Hollywood when Marylyn Munro died.” Explaining the left-behind-girlfriend-thing, “you can quote me, I’m a great believer in honesty” before explaining how they talked about it before he left, “Im very independent” and “I have come up for a fun night.”
We will return to Andy later because honesty raises another question. Does Gosse have that attribute?
Investigate has researched Gosse before meeting he-who-runs-flirting-contests and wants to assure you it’s okay to be single, in case that little gem had escaped you of such disposition, and the first question that must be asked: who is Rodney Dangerfield (RD)? This is important because so much research on Gosse refers to RD in a throw away line hauled out by American media commentators on Gosse who likens singles to Dangerfield. RD was an American comedian, did some movies and had a catch-phrase, snapped up by Gosse: “aah caint geet no respect.” Which begs the question then, just “who is Gosse’s favourite comedian?” He hesitates, mentions Rodney Dangerfield again, struggles, so needs help. “I’ve heard of John Cleese but he’s not one of my favourites.” Hah. Tasteless American. Seriously however Gosse became so passionate about singles, he stood for Governor, in 2004, and will do it again he says in 2006 when he will take on again the muscle-bound-one, Arnie the terminating sand-kicker.
Parallel to his singles platform, is economics and crime, “victimless crime” to be precise. He is on record:
“…Decriminalise victimless crimes, (drugs, gambling prostitution). This would cut serious crime in half in California because drug addicts would no longer have to burglarise our homes and mug us on the street in order to pay for their exorbitant habits. It would also save billions of dollars that are currently being wasted arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating victimless criminals. Once we decriminalise these vices we can tax them and raise the $38 billion we need to solve our financial woes.” You want to do it for money? Asks this incredulous interviewer. He does and it’s all to do with tax.
Now, where have we heard that before, somewhere closer to home and there shall be no further comment for fear of “making the stoners mad,” as my 18 year old said of certain letters to the editor recently and maybe if my whole story, with incisive interview of Nandor and a stunningly good street canvass, the stoners might like me. Then again.
So is he a liberal? Possibly, dressed in Republican cloth because conversely he told the Legislative Newsletter of the Federation of Republican Woman (aah the Americans) “I have deep roots in the Republican party and conservatism. At the age of 14 I campaigned for Barry Goldwater…becoming a Republican precinct captain…I co-founded Young Conservatives…I co-founded Citizens Against Crime…I co-founded Kids Today, Parents Tomorrow…”
Gosse got terminated by the Terminator in the nick of time, some might feel; although truth be known Arnie probably didn’t even know he was there because as illustrated in a satirical story by Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez, Gosse was only one of the many minnows “never heard of” by voters. That opinion though is not shared by Janet Levaux writing for the Contra Costa Times. She was excited by Gosse because - unable to previously get excited about candidates until she decided to rate all according to their dating potential - Levaux fell for Gosse. Swooping on Gosse she proclaimed him top candidate, one she would love to date, because of his platform on “fairness for singles.” Her love struck eyes soon dimmed alas and heart t’was cruelly pierced, when she found a picture of Gosse in a tux’, arm draped around his wife, so she slammed the door on the politician for deceiving her.
Yes, our crusader for singles is married, married because Debby Gosse passed the ultimate test. “She laughed at my jokes,” chuckles Rich, of the beautiful blond who once sat in the front row of a convention and afterwards he responded with: “the caveman approach. I took her by the hand (not hair) and dragged her onto the dance floor, in silence.”
So, how can someone married, advocating Neanderthal techniques and good economics by taxing honest, victimless, drug dealing, gamblers and prostitutes, know what’s good for singles, for pining out loud? Is his Love Potion No. Nine one of dope, roulette and hookers? Dignifying such journalistically shallow, a-little question with an answer we must do to understand this married champion of singles. For starters the ex teacher didn’t marry until 1998 prior to which he humbly describes himself as being like a” mechanic whose car wouldn’t start”. He says he talked too much and was a “motor mouth” which he still professes to be but he’s learnt to manage it because previously his dates learnt all about him, nothing about them. Learning it seems should be easy for the man from San Rafael and in his own short biography he says he has a Masters Degree in Secondary Education and Batchelor of Science degree from the University of San Francisco and while teaching, attended a singles group at a local church. Then became its chairman, leading all the ASE’s to become, he says, the world’s largest non profit singles organisation. Their website states ASE was established in 1978, runs 100 education and social events for singles around the world, “often in conjunction with 61 universities and colleges and is much, much more than just “talk”.“Stand around and talk!” You single groupies spit. Agreed, that too was way below the chastity belt because idleness and gossiping is not something singles at conventions do. They do more … like…play flirting games. Gosse, like John Gray in his earlier 15 minutes of fame slot for Venus & Mars, reinforces the point that men and women are different: “When a woman talks to a man she’s met, she’s thinking about the future. When a man talks to a woman he’s thinking about tonight.”
That, he says, can lead to some crossed-lines. Like the men who ask a woman they’ve just met how old she is or, horrors, even her weight! “Believe me, there are men stupid enough to make that mistake on a first date. It’s not usually a mistake you make twice.”
Back to the party and someone who looks honest is Heather. The 55 year old was told by her “ex” to go to the convention because “I needed to be a bit more flirtatious.” Her second marriage, of 24 years, she is here at the party because she thought she “needed to learn how to relate better” and had this to say: “Times have changed. Women approach men now. Years ago a woman would wait until a man did it. It’s all sped up. People have different boundaries now.”
Indeed they have and trying to teach boundaries without being religious and holy about it, are “7 for Heaven” who are amongst other dating groups with enquiry tables. Young, smart and relaxed, the group manning Heaven’s table mingle with both crowd and those enquiring in a manner which belies popular misconception. “…a concept born out of a desire to see single Christians celebrating life and friendship…” says the promo’. Wendy is one of their front-people: “Christian singles might find they’re on the outside, they’ve got married couples who go off and do their thing and sometimes they’re at a loose end to do things as far as events and outings. So this fulfils that. There’s no pressure. It’s relaxed and easy… you make friends.” She explains of their non-denominational group’s focus on singles, “they might find there’s only three or four singles Christians in their church and really there’s a huge expanse of single Christians over Auckland.
Where’s the opportunity for them to meet? Some Christian singles have a limited circle and haven’t seen another way to increase that circle.” And of their presence at a secular event: “we’re making sure we get seen.” The name? “We do a table for six for dinner and the seventh place is for the unseen guest, always remembering to bring God into the mix, being reminded they’re not here on their own.”
Spreading like an undivided sea before the Christian group is an expanse of people both in groups and on their own and there’s been a mistake. Not enough chairs. So a huge group stand and mingle behind those seated before Gosse at the podium, where they have unrestricted access to the bar, and conversation, while the Californian battles to subdue them. “I used to be a teacher you know” he shouts for a laugh and several times those seated yell at those standing to “shut-up!” In the end they’re abandoned, to figure out alone, how best to date. The renegades will miss Gosse’s best tips, on making that connection: (We have condensed Gosse’s advice into NZ’ ese, for reader pleasure, because in American, it was long)
* Get over the fear of rejection; put your ego on the line.
* Make eye contact, three seconds is good, anymore and it’s stalking.
* Smile. Like the American Express card you can take it anywhere.
* Pick up lines: hi works just fine.
* Close the deal. Let ’em talk.
It is nearing 11pm and the dance floor is raging, I’m tired of scrounging interviews from starry eyed Romeos and Juliet’s and I’ve lost Andy so it’s off downstairs to grab some final data from the Gosses and, while doing so, Investigate’s photographer arrives. For the first time tonight a young attractive woman calls out my name which is much better than my big ugly journalism photo’ tutor from Taranaki who earlier didn’t even recognise me, which figures; he now works for some outfit called Metro and tries poaching my pics. “You can take over, I’m off,” to young-attractive-Investigate-photographer who laughs at my wedding ring, tosses her head and disappears into a seething mass on the dance floor, camera held aloft.
Then at 1.30am Andy gets home, to be grilled by both waiting hosts and journalist and so it is with these last words, Mr Independent, sums up what it is like, to be single, un-Americanised, on the town, in Auckland, after a giant singles party. “I wasn’t expecting to meet so many people. I met a good dozen or so ladies. It was past my expectations, I’d go again.” Did he like any? “The very first one. I was eyeing her up when I first got there but I told her I was probably too old but she said age didn’t matter. She was 35. Her girlfriend talked her into going. I also met an Iraqi lady who had been married twice and I asked her about Saddam Hussein.” Which probably killed that one stone dead. Andy explains he was interested in quality not quantity by “getting one number only” during the big flirt competition. The 35 year old and Andy talked and “she’s got my number and might call me if she’s down in Napier. Did it look like many got hitched? “Yes it did actually, looked like quite a few hooked up.” Over all impression? “It was worth the six hour trip.” What more can be said.
PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHTS
The mysterious road death of Paul White hits the big screen
Truth, as is often said, can be stranger than fiction. Or as Pontius Pilate remarked, “What is Truth?” The search for truth, or at least a version of it, lies at the heart of all journalism and it is the centre thread of Geoff Murphy’s new local thriller, Spooked. IAN WISHART revisits his own association with the truth of this particular story:
The call came, as they often did, with an appropriate aura of cloak and dagger: “Ian, it’s Simon Mercep here at TVNZ. We’ve just had a call from the film director Geoff Murphy in Los Angeles — he wanted your phone number.”And then, just for good measure, Simon lowered his voice: “Wow, what’s that about, mate?”
The answer came in a long distance call just a few minutes later, and the legendary director of Goodbye Pork Pie, now on location in the US shooting an action thriller with Steven Seagal, was on the line.
“Yeah,” the voice croaked through the receiver, “I’ve been reading this book of yours, Paradise Conspiracy. I think it’d make a good movie.”
That was December 1995, just two short months after The Paradise Conspiracy launched itself onto the NZ top ten bestseller list and where it was to remain for 18 months. The success of the book had taken everyone, not least its author, by surprise. In hindsight, perhaps we should have seen it coming.
For a start, in a kind of cosmic harbinger, Mt Ruapehu awoke from a long slumber and exploded spectacularly the very hour that we pushed the ‘go’ button at the print factory.
And at a more down to earth level, Paradise lifted the lid on the multi-million dollar wheeling and dealing between politicians and big business. It implicated New Zealand in international arms trafficking, and it began by probing the mystery death of a small time computer dealer named Paul White. During the course of the investigation, my own home was broken into, a copy of the yet to be published manuscript stolen and delivered to Sir Michael Fay, and my vehicle sabotaged by a different party again.
Fay used his influence, and knowledge of the impending book, to warn off would be publishers. Suddenly, no matter which way I turned, no-one was willing to publish The Paradise Conspiracy. With $80,000 in private funding secured, 5,000 copies of the book were printed in Australia — we couldn’t take the risk of having it locally printed, both for issues of security and also to avoid having the stock fall within the jurisdiction of a New Zealand court if an injunction application was lodged.
Knowing that major publishing companies had been threatened if they handled the book, we made a decision to bypass bookshops as well. We couldn’t take the risk that we’d get 5,000 copies into the shops only to have them withdrawn from sale or left in back rooms.
And so, the birth of The Paradise Conspiracy was as clandestine an event as those within its pages: we booked radio ads for “an undisclosed product”, we hired an 0800 call centre, and then we let rip at 6am on Friday October 13th 1995 with the ad campaign and news stories on National Radio, the National Business Review and Radio Pacific.
By 9am that day, the call centre had already taken more than 2000 orders at $34.95. By 10am the major book chains, Whitcoulls and Paperplus, had ordered a thousand copies to cope with people walking in off the street demanding to read the dramatic new book they’d heard about on the radio, and by 5pm the entire first print run had sold out and we’d ordered another 5000 books. On Monday morning, the mailbox contained cheques and credit card orders worth more than $150,000 — an incredible payback on the high risk $80,000 I’d borrowed to get the project rolling. Ten years on, the 40,000 copy, nine print-run book has finally become celluloid, but not without its own plot twists and turns along the way.
Although Murphy was the first to officially show interest in the book, he wasn’t alone. The success of John Grisham’s The Firm in the US, and strong similarities in the “tax haven/dirty dealing/was it murder?” plot-lines meant that Paradise came to the attention of American agents fairly soon after Murphy’s first call. One confided that his interest had been piqued at a Hollywood dinner party where the conversation had turned to books and movies, as it inevitably does in America’s entertainment sausage factory. The agent remarked that the college student son of the host was on a break from the University of Wisconsin.
“He said, ‘if you want to know a book they should make a movie out of, you should read The Paradise Conspiracy’.”
It transpired that the student was studying tax law, and his professor had recently returned from Australia where he’d picked up copies of The Paradise Conspiracy to use as a class textbook.
“Mel Gibson’s a neighbour of mine,” the agent name-dropped shamelessly. Nonetheless, he gave up trying to sell the concept of a movie from “Noo Zeelin? Where’s that?” to the Hollywood set. This was, of course, the days before Peter Jackson became a household name.
On the local scene, film and TV producer Don Reynolds also expressed strong initial interest in Paradise, although the meetings in early 1996 ended in a “let’s talk further” that would take several years to be realised.
Murray Newey, who’d produced the Black Beauty TV series, asked for the movie rights but committed suicide the day before our scheduled second meeting.
Geoff Murphy re-entered the picture early in 2001. He’d spent much of his spare time crafting his own screenplay of the Paul White section of the book, and had big plans for it. Originally bracketed as an $8 to $10 million movie featuring Bladerunner’s Rutger Hauer, the deal fell apart at literally the last minute for a number of reasons.
From Geoff Murphy’s point of view, the overseas investors wanted a formulaic thriller that would directly appeal to the US and European markets, but that wasn’t the movie he was wanting to make. Instead, he wanted to tell it as a New Zealand story, in a New Zealand setting, with local actors. Although local producers, including Barry Everard — now the chairman of the Film Commission in New Zealand — tried hard to make the project fly, a deadline imposed by the Europeans was missed, and Paradise, or Spooked as Murphy was now calling it, remained stillborn.
It was June 2001. Enter Don Reynolds again. “Mate, we like the way you write, and we’re wondering if you’d be prepared to write an international TV series for us on the intelligence/CIA themes. We’ve got a co-production deal going with Canada, Australia and Britain, and we’re going to try and sell it to TV3 as well. Can you come up with a treatment [filmspeak for a programme synopsis]?
“Yeah, no problem,” we responded. Reynolds wanted the treatment for the first episode in his hands by the first week of September 2001 to send to network executives in Canada who were driving the project.
Drawing from material in The Paradise Conspiracy, and early Investigate articles, we plot-lined 13 potential episodes of a new drama series with the working title ECHELON. This was a not very veiled reference to the network of electronic eavesdropping stations first referred to on page 61 of the original Paradise and
later developed into a book of its own by Nicky Hager.
Sadly, although we regarded ECHELON as some of the finest screenwriting we’d done, the project came to a crashing end. You’ll see why when you read the following extracts from the first episode, sent to Don Reynolds on 8 September, 2001:
EPISODE 1, TWIN TOWERS (loosely based on true story)
ECHELON’s US bases intercept 45 seconds of a phone call originating from Auckland to a number in Kabul, Afghanistan, they pick up the words “explosive”, “tower” and “Sydney”, and a date — four days hence. Is it a plot to blow up Sydney’s Centrepoint tower, or is Auckland’s Sky tower the intended target? With only four days’ warning, RACHEL Johnson and her team must mount a TransTasman security crackdown without panicking the public or the media: find the terrorists, identify the target, disarm the bomb, or bombs, and find out why the hell information from an earlier intercept wasn’t passed on by the Americans. So in the middle of all this, when someone claiming to be a journalist dials her unlisted mobile number and starts asking questions about an organisation that doesn’t officially exist, she just knows it’s going to be one of those days.
EPISODE 1, TWIN TOWERS. INDICATIVE SCENE BREAKDOWN: TEASER EXT/INT HELICOPTER/SKYTOWER. NIGHT.
The beat of a chopper blade and the shadow of the machine itself carve a hole in the otherwise sparkling nightscape of the city. The dashboard clock shows 1.53am. The routine crackle of crime on the police radio is interrupted…
For those who still doubt that God can give foreknowledge, consider this: The treatment was on Don Reynolds desk on the morning of September 8. The opening paragraph referred to attacks on the “twin towers” four days hence – September 12 NZ time. And in the first scene of the episode, the time on the clock is 1.53am – the exact moment in NZ that the first hijacked plane struck the first of the World Trade Centre towers…on September 12 – or 8:53am New York time, September 11.
Oh, and the culprits in the Twin Towers attacks episode were Osama bin Laden and his al Qa’ida group.
The treatment had been sent on by Don to Canada. It arrived there on September 12.
And that was the last time Don Reynolds ever asked me to write a TV script. The whole ECHELON concept went out the production window, along with dozens of similar action/thrillers out of Hollywood that had to be canned while they were in production out of sensitivity to
Negotiations with Murphy resumed in 2003, but I didn’t realise until the launch party for Spooked that Don Reynolds was a co-producer. After all this time, both he and Geoff Murphy had come through.
And so to Spooked itself. Apart from a cameo appearance by the author, and copious amounts of kiwi vernacular, the film stays remarkably close to events in The Paradise Conspiracy. The first time I saw it, I was in shock. You see, I’ve never actually read a finished copy of Paradise. Most authors, after going through draft after draft of their manuscripts, never want to read them again, and I’ve never read one of my own books. And so the surprise at seeing part of your life on screen through someone else’s eyes is eerie.
Cliff Curtis, who plays journalist “Mort Whitman” in the movie, spent several hours over coffee picking my memory of events, trying to get a feel for his character and how he might react in given circumstances. It paid off. Curtis’ performance of anger, frustration and being reluctantly sucked into the swirl of intrigue and paranoia was right on the nail.Chris Hobbs, playing Paul White’s character Kevin Jones, gives a masterful portrayal of White being railroaded into a psychological black hole, and John Leigh and Miriama Smith are respectively irrepressible and suitably cynical in their roles as White’s friends.
Variety magazine in the US calls Spooked “a stylish, conspiratorial nail-biter. Self-confident and jazzy.”
Leaving aside my personal involvement, I’d have to say it is easily the most watchable New Zealand movie I’ve ever seen.Director Geoff Murphy posits the still-burning question: who killed Paul White, and why? His suggested answer is provocative. You’ll have to see the movie to find out.
SPOOKED, Rated M, Contains offensive language, in cinemas from February 3.
DVDs: Feb 05
M, 77 Minutes
What if you had a second chance with the one that got away? This is the tagline of this film, the sequel to the 1995 cult hit Before Sunrise. In Before Sunrise, two strangers met on a train and end up spending a night and exploring the after-hours of Vienna together. Before parting they swear to meet up six months later.
Nine years have passed since that morning.
Now, in Before Sunset, on the last stop of his book tour, at the tail end of a reading in a Paris book shop, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) finds Celine (Julie Delpy) watching from the back of the room. She lives in Paris now, he in New York. He’s flying out that evening. Will he make the most of the few hours he has with her? Why did they not meet up six-months later like they both promised?
Before Sunrise illustrated the intoxicating promise of youth and romance, meeting strangers on a train and then spending hours talking about love and life under the stars, and Before Sunset carries on exploring these promises. The director, Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) has an almost casual disregard for the usual imperatives of screenwriting the result being this film feels so ‘real life’, we feel as if we are the fly-on-the-wall watching two people re-connecting after nine years in such an unexpected, unrehearsed way. Jesse and Celine are perhaps the archetypal male/female making it very easy for their thoughts to resonate deeply with our own. Linklater gives his characters as chance that we rarely get in real life but he does give us the chance to carry on exploring these two characters thus exploring ourselves.
Special Features: Behind the Scenes of Before Sunset, Theatrical Trailer
Final Word: Gorgeous; an absolutely honest and beautiful depiction of the nature of relationships and of love lost and found. If this film slipped by you in 2004, watch Before Sunrise then you’ll just have to see this sequel.
COFFEE & CIGARETTES,
M, 96 Minutes
Director Jim Jarmusch went out looking for “something different” and he found it. Coffee and Cigarettes, shot over the course of a 17-year period is a collection of eleven short films, vignettes, based around the seemingly insignificant acts of drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. In the first short film, Strange to Meet You, Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni discuss the benefits of cigarettes and coffee; Somewhere in California, Iggy Pop timidly tries to befriend Tom Waits, who decides that he can have a cigarette because he just quit. In Cousins Cate Blanchett delivers a brilliant dual-role performance, playing both her Hollywood superstar self as well as her bitter cousin. One of the most comic short films is Delirium, in which Rappers Rza and Gza (Wu-Tang Clan) discover that Bill Murray is a coffee addict, and they use their expertise to preach to him the benefits of alternative medicine. Despite the huge diversity of characters/actors used in these films; from rock ‘n’ rollers Jack and Meg White to familiar faces like Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett, Jarmusch succeeds in building a poetic conclusion to these pieces.
Being shot in black-and-white really does imbue this film with a certain artistic quality – snippets of real life that have become art: A tribute to the art of conversation and the joys and addictions of life.
Special Features: Interview, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer.
Final Word: If you’re looking for a one-of-kind slightly eccentric watch, then this is the DVD for you.
ANGELS IN AMERICA,
In this screen adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America, director Mike Nichols captures New York City in the 1980’s; a city where Aids is just beginning to surface and its inhabitants trying to navigate their way to somewhere: Some world where everyday life doesn’t seem so impossible. This is certainly the desire for Prior Walter who is abandoned by his tormented lover Louis, or the pill-popping Harper (Mary-Louis Parker) who is on the verge of losing her sanity when she realizes that her husband, Joe (Patrick Wilson), is a closet homosexual.
Other characters include a deluded lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) who is frequently visited by Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep), a woman he helped to condemn, and who now wants revenge.
Although brilliantly acted (Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson lead an all-star cast) and wonderfully poetic dialogue, at six hours of viewing it really does go on and on.
Special Features: None
Final Word: The Themes this mini-series certainly doesn’t shy away from, most notably Aids, Homosexuality and Politics are not ones that everybody would choose to be exposed to for six hours.
Angels in America does however showcase some of the best script writing and screen performances our TV sets have afforded us for a long time.
DENNIS THE MENACE,
PG, 96 Minutes
It is impossible to forget the 5-year old with his slingshot and dog Ruff: Dennis the Menace. This Special Edition 10th Anniversary release of the much loved, though critically loathed, adaptation of Hank Ketcham’s comic strip and TV Series is back to remind us just how much fun it is to be a kid.
Dennis Mitchell (Mason Gamble) is no menace to society, his intentions are always good it’s just…well… he always ends up wrecking havoc and challenging the sanity of his neighbour Mr Wilson (Walter Matthau). The advent of the shady stranger Switchblade Sam, who is brilliantly played by Christopher Lloyd, unleashes Dennis’s prankish nature and this 5-year old isn’t captive for long.
Special Features: Featurettes: A Menace Named Dennis, Behind the Scenes, Memories of a Menace (Interviews), Theatrical Trailer.
Final Word: For the “kids” (An elusive term that includes those who consider themselves still kids inside). Can’t get enough of Dennis the Menace? Have a watch of Dennis the Menace Strikes Again.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Feb 05
An act of God? An answer to lightweight theorists
In these first dramatic days of the New Year, theodicy seems to be the favorite topic in salons and around kitchen tables. Theodicy is a term coined by German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) for assorted attempts to “justify” belief in a good, omnipotent and omniscient God in the face of all the evil around us — natural calamities as well as the demonic acts of man.How can God allow the angry sea to swallow up hundreds of thousands of innocent people after a huge seaquake? Of course radical Islamic sages
fill Web sites with speculation that this was Allah’s punishment of non-believers, perverts among tourists and governments supporting “crusaders” — meaning, Christians — in their conquest of Muslim lands.
Never mind that most of the victims are Muslims and most of the help comes from the so-called crusaders, plus Japan.
Yet this still leaves the question: What about God’s goodness? To the horror of more fervent Christians, no lesser light than Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, opined in London’s Daily Telegraph “the disaster should have all Christians question God’s existence.”
“The question, ‘How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?’ is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren’t — indeed it would be wrong if it weren’t,” he wrote.
This triggered a spirited retort from C. FitzSimmons Allison, former Episcopal bishop of South Carolina.
“Natural disasters always provoke questions of God’s goodness in the face of excruciating tragedy,” he wrote in VirtueOnline, a feisty orthodox Anglican Web service. “It has always been so, and disasters will always continue. It has not been given to Christians to dispel the mystery of evil.”
Allison continued, “The cynic in us is tempted to resolve the issue by removing God from all consideration and doing what Job refused to do: curse (consign to oblivion) his own hope. Yet this choice saves no one from the terrible waves of water and leaves us with no hope or meaning beyond the devastation.”
“Jesus does not attempt to explain why the tower of Siloam (Luke 13) fell on those 18 people, but he carefully and adamantly denies that it was because they were worse sinners than others in Jerusalem. He acknowledges therefore, that there is innocent suffering, but he goes on to say what seems at first un-pastoral: “... but unless you repent you shall likewise perish.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, Munich University’s Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the world’s leading systematic theologians, also referred to the book of Job. In Biblical times, he said, people seemed to have a much sounder approach to what we today call theodicy.
“Even in terrible situations such as Job’s, they have never ceased praising God. For when you stop doing that, you destroy hope. But hope is when despite everything one puts oneself in God’s hands,” Pannenberg told United Press International.
We do not live in paradise - not anymore, and not yet, if you affirm Scripture. Leibnitz’ theodicy stated that while God created a world with evil in it, it is still the best of all possible worlds.
“God has created the laws of nature, and we experience them in one way or another,” added Pannenberg. “God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible,” agreed Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, an organization defending Judeo-Christian values.
But whether evil occurs in humans or in nature, ultimately God will ultimately turn the worst evil into good, Christian theology teaches. Hope and an outpouring of love are already visible results of the tsunami catastrophe, as they have been after the war caused by Hitler.
No, for all its beauty this universe is no Paradise. But it is, as Leibnitz argued, the best of all worlds God could have chosen to create.
LINE ONE: Feb 05
Engineering road kill
They reckon that the Aussies will gamble on two flies crawling up a wall, which may very well be true, but equally, when it comes to not only the extraordinary amount of money we Kiwis venture on all known forms of gambling, little appears to beat the appalling gamble that each and every one of ustakeswhen we venture forth on this nation’s roads.
Our family, this Christmas past, decided to repair to the Winterless North, where, based at Whangarei and seeing that the weather required more the donning of gummies and a parka rather than Bikinis or Speedos, we decided, instead of lazing on the beach to explore some of the places around the North that we either hadn’t seen before or hadn’t seen for years. This, quite naturally involved travelling several thousand Ks which I am very happy to report were essentially covered, without any drama at all, on roads that by NZ standards are pretty good, and shared by other motorists who appeared to be driving safely and well. All of which, to be frank, I found to be quite surprising, in that despite there being at all times during these trips a large number of vehicles on the road, Plod, apart from the occasional sighting in and around Whangarei itself, appeared to have gone completely AWOL.
No coppers to be seen, at any time, anywhere, well that is to be accurate, apart from a couple of very genial Plods at the Cape Reinga car park, presumably there to make sure tourists’ cars weren’t pinched or broken into, nary a striped Commodore or Falcon was to be seen anywhere or at any time. Indeed, apart from the obligatory Mitsubishi L300 road-side photo/cash register collection device spotted on the way home, naturally on a wide, straight bit of highway just south of Whangarei, that, appeared to be it when it came to our travels being made all the safer by the now uniformed inheritors of the mantle once worn so proudly by the Highwaymen of yore.
Have the Plods already hit Harry’s budget for roadside Taxation for this year I wondered? Is the Far North a no-go zone for those otherwise so very active in the rattling of the LTSA’s collection boxes most other places? Has a major outbreak of rape and pillage in otherwise less civilised parts of this country required urgent reinforcement leading to a denudation of the North’s usual traffic enforcement presence? Well apart from taking note of this odd phenomenon who really cares, suffice it to say that our extensive travels were most definitely enhanced by their absence, in that, as reported, apart from a few people, probably clinically blind, who persist in driving at a snail’s pace on the open highway, it would be very hard to fault the overall behaviour of the folk, who these Christmas holidays drove hither and yon north of Whangarei.
Which brings us, sadly, to other areas not too far from home base here in Auckland, that coppers or no coppers, no sane person should ever frequently travel should they wish eventually to achieve a statistically normal life span. Roads, so badly engineered and therefore inherently dangerous that in my opinion those responsible for their design, construction and indeed continuing use should be charged, tried and very probably convicted for manslaughter. Sections of this nation’s busy highways, that were OSH’s rules to be applicable, would quickly lead to the need of a brand new prison to be built simply to accommodate the people so plainly responsible for the unnecessary deaths on these roads of so many of their fellow citizens. I just cannot believe that this criminal negligence and clear culpability for engineered road kill is so lightly passed over by the people of this country who, years back let alone now, should be demanding heads on a plate of those so clearly responsible for the hundreds of completely unnecessary deaths and injuries caused. That, equally, we passively allow the inference, by these criminally incompetent nitwits, that the main reason these several roads/killing grounds are so deadly is all the fault of the motorists involved, and all that is required is to slow down, and of course to not partake of the demon drink! That is not to say of course that the authorities have not taken some steps, (however useless and ineffectual) to try to reduce this ongoing carnage. Hell yes, warning signs abound as to the dangers ahead, indeed to the point were anyone silly enough to try to read all of the notices erected you could almost guarantee running off the road as you did so. Naturally this has proven to be, whilst completely ineffectual, very cheap to implement, as indeed has also been the stationing of serried rows of speed capturing devices that whilst raising revenue no doubt, has done precisely nothing to reduce the butcher’s bill, nor in any other way has it altered the plain fact that these roads are simply engineered to kill people, ordinary folk who as ordinary people do, occasionally make a small error in their driving, just that if this momentary lapse occurs say at Maramarua, then the odds most definitely are that you will die.
The ever predictable response to the latest bodies being cut out of yet another car wreck? Gosh, we are looking at this section of highway and who knows sometime around the year 2008 we think that we might just have the problem sorted out! In the meantime do try to drive more carefully, and remember to wear your seat belt meantime! Good God, can you imagine what would happen if these Pratts were in charge of our health system should there be a major epidemic break out. Yes, we know what the disease is and yes we promise to start distributing the vaccine in around four years time. Would any of these ‘decision makers’ be able to safely show their faces in public? Of course not, in sheer fear of the consequences of such a criminal neglect of their paid duties they would have the required medications out there and being distributed as a matter of absolute priority. Roads that kill people in bulk numbers? Money, men and machinery in sufficient amounts, with anyone other than complete incompetents in charge, then these roads could all be re-engineered and safe within six months, and dare I say that were a senior Cabinet Minister’s family to be wiped out on one of these death strips this would more than likely happen, but perish the thought, wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Just think about this state of affairs for a moment. We all know, without a shadow of doubt, that over the announced four years that it apparently will take to sort out Maramarua’s death zone, dozens and dozens of completely innocent people are guaranteed to needlessly die. Yet in many respects and in many ways we too are guilty of just sitting back and passively watching these people die. Perhaps it’s an indication of our obsessive gambling instincts, like, shame about that young family that’s just got wiped out, luck of the draw I suppose! Wrong place, wrong time, dangerous bit of road that one wonders if ‘They’ are ever going to fix? Which attitude, in my opinion, and don’t tell me that this attitude is not a common one, is precisely why the authorities are in no hurry at all to earmark the money necessary, after all why should they? Where is the public demand, the need to react to politicians scared out of their wits by an enraged public who sees all of these largely preventable deaths as being directly their fault? No, now as in the past, the Government and its various authoritative minions are quite safe in the knowledge that the money that should immediately be spent to stop all of these deaths, can be saved and gosh, perhaps even be spent on bribing our way back into office at the next election. After all, as previously observed, where is the public clamour for some action here?
Why even the media is now so accustomed to this carnage, that whilst a few Kiwis overseas that might come to grief becomes headline news, people being bumped off in bulk numbers locally, figures not much more than simply becoming a part of the cricket score like figures of this month’s road toll. Even the siren song of the LTSA concentrating as it ever does on the sins of the motorist re the perils of drink and speed carefully ignores the blindingly clear facts that bad roads are killing people, although one could unkindly observe here that they appear to be in the job of collecting money rather than in its spending on real road safety.
And, so finally, the point that I really would like to make. If anyone of us can tear ourselves away from the continual barrage of bulldust that largely provides most of the content of our local media’s news stories, let us stop and consider, just for one moment, the absolute fact that a large number of our fellow citizens right here in this country, are going to die, not might, but in fact you can absolutely guarantee will, and furthermore in clearly identifiable sections of our highway system, and that if we, that’s WE in capital letters, don’t demand, with political menaces if necessary, an immediate solution, then like it or not, then we, each and everyone of us must share the guilt that in a truly caring society should never be allowed to exist.
By all means continue to consider the plight and the woes of the world in general, but please don’t lose sight of what’s happening, which is so easily reversible, right under our very noses. Cheers.
DOUBLE SPEAK: Feb 05
The love of the common people
Like an old Paul Young tune, the National Party has finally twigged to a vital fact – it needs the love of the common people if it is to ever regain the treasury benches from Labour’s Amazons. But how? Leader Don
Brash whistled a few notes of the new theme tune at last month’s Orewa speech, and at first blush it seems he may be on to something. Not in the grab-em-by-the-cojones style of his race relations circuit breaker a year earlier, but more in the style of a slow burner — a navigational change that doesn’t seem so big right now but come election time will offer voters a clear choice.
What Brash, and behind him National’s strategists like Murray McCully, has done is recognise that the Clark Government has massively polarized the country in a way not seen since the last Muldoon years. There is no “middle ground” in Labour support — Prime Minister Helen Clark’s supporters worship her like a heathen goddess, her detractors loathe her administration with a passion that few bother to conceal these days. It is hard to find somebody genuinely on the fence in this election year — while there are many professing to be on the fence, when pushed you’ll find they simply can’t agree on a viable alternative to Labour. It is said that Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.
This year could be an exception to that rule if the centre right Opposition parties cannot convince the electorate that they have the mana to rule and rule well. More people loathe Labour than love it — that much is clear from National’s ability to surge dramatically into the lead in the polls on key issues. But forging an alliance among the disparate groups who oppose the Government is proving more difficult.
Hence Brash’s appeal to the average kiwi battler.
National knows that little and medium-sized punters on Struggle Street hold the key to this election. These are people who pay taxes, work long hours in honest toil to feed not only their own family but a rapidly burgeoning coterie of Labour Party hangers-on. There’s no truth to the biting rumour in some circles that Government-owned Air New Zealand will be introducing a new “Beneficiary Class” to cater for Labour Party supporters when the public funding trough is widened in this year’s budget.
The average Kiwi has traditionally been fairly tolerant and ready to lend a hand to those further down the rung, but Labour Government moves like The Artist’s Dole and $30,000 grants for Hip-Hop holidays and reunions in Las Vegas for NZ members of the Lesbian Patagonian/NZ Friendship Society and Birdwatching Club, or the mysterious leap in sickness and invalid beneficiary numbers while Labour crows about reduced numbers on the unemployment benefit, all of this adds up to some beneficiaries not only biting the hand that feeds but amputating it at the shoulder.
Increasingly, Labour has been showing signs of a party living it up like there’s no tomorrow, spending vast fortunes buying votes in immigrant and beneficiary communities so it can impose massive social engineering on a reluctant majority population.
If National can convince the bruised and battered battlers on Struggle Street that it’s time to stop rolling over every time the Labourettes in the Beehive hiss, then we could yet see a change in Government.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Mar 05
A Viennese waltz on whether you can believe the Bible
Hans (“Vox Populi”, p16) takes me to task over my suggestion that the Old Testament has not been found to contain any errors. My response is this: Why do you keep missing the basic points I’m making? The Old Testament is without error. Philosophically, to believe that it has error is to believe that we worship a God who cannot communicate accurately with humankind. I am familiar with the (mostly 19th century Austro Hungarian) argument that the OT was myth and allegory, but their views were based on invalid philosophical presuppositions – such as Hume’s denial of miracles – that have now been shown to be flawed.
So philosophical argument that the OT is faulty doesn’t stack up.
Which leaves us with the alternative – is there any objective evidence that the OT does contain errors – any errors?
None. That is the point I was making, no more, no less. After two thousand years of criticism and discovery, not one actual error has been found in the OT amongst what is still capable of verification four thousand years after the events. However, time and again historians have found that what they assumed to be erroneous references in the OT are in fact true (e.g., the discovery of the Hittite civilisation only last century).
Reason to disbelieve them could come from the natural world around us, but again (and I’m not attempting to be personal here because it applies to many) there is widespread ignorance about what the OT actually says. You, for example, suggest there’s no evidence of a worldwide flood 4000 years ago. Great. Now tell me where in the OT it says there was a worldwide flood “4000 years” ago?
This sort of strawman rubbish would be laughed out of most theological colleges but it survives in the pages of Skeptic Journals as if it is some kind of silver bullet.
Your bottom line premise is that there is no reason to take the OT as a true and accurate record of history. That’s your philosophical position, now provide me with some real instances where the Bible is wrong to support your premise with evidence.
You suggest all life is related. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. There is no direct scientific evidence of this, only speculation based on the circumstantial evidence. And the circumstantial evidence is effectively confined to the structure of cellular organisms and the fact that every living thing contains DNA. But I and others could equally look at the same evidence and speculate that it points to the existence of a common Intelligent Designer who used a blueprint to create life. Just as roads the world over are made of asphalt, because it works as a roading surface, so too does all life contain DNA, because that is the computer programme God designed to run life with. The mere fact that Brick “A” was found in the Victoria Park Market chimney, and Brick “B” forms part of the Sistine Chapel, does not imply that VPM and the Sistine Chapel are related. They are, but only to the extent they were designed by humans using a common design ingredient.
So here are a couple of biological posers for you: if random evolutionary change, driven by the engine of natural selection, is the reason for the wide variety of lifeforms on this planet, perhaps you can explain to me why it was only DNA-based organisms that formed life? Why do we not have a range of unconnected lifeforms if evolution was as simple and common an occurrence as you imply?
More intriguingly why is it, if evolutionists are correct, that all lifeforms would track back to one common ancestor? Why only one? Why not 500 different original species each giving rise to their own lineage?
Either God is powerful enough to raise Christ from the grave and defeat Evil, or he’s not. Either God by definition is a perfect being and the epitome of truth, or he is not. Either God can inspire his disciples to write his truth in the Old Testament, or he can’t. And if he can’t ensure that the OT is correct, why should we believe the NT?
LEFT HOOK: Apr 05, AU Edition
Respect for women will go a long way to preventing AIDS
There are said to be between five and six million AIDS cases in India, which makes it amongst the Asian countries worst hit by the virus. Whilst still far from Zimbabwe’s infection rate of 40%, countries like
Cambodia are getting up around 10% - an alarming figure for a country which only ten years ago had no known AIDS deaths. According to Time magazine, 6,000 people contract AIDS worldwide per day.
We all know that the disease is spread through prostitution and intravenous drug use, which is certainly true. But one could also say it is spread by husbands who visit prostitutes, then carry the virus home to their wives, who then get pregnant and pass it on to their next child.
An unknown, but probably very high, percentage of Asia’s prostitutes are stolen away from their homes and taken to a city or another country and enslaved into prostitution. These disappearances are common in Nepal, where I currently live. Girls frequently disappear from villages. They are seldom traced because villagers know these girls are irretrievable, and even if they are retrieved, they are outcasts in their former home because of their defilement.
Less talked about is the reality that many of these girls are not stolen, but sold by their families into the sex trade for a small amount of cash and to relieve the burden of another mouth to feed.
I have not met any parents who have disposed of their daughter in this way, and while it sounds barbaric, it first has to be understood that there are different forms of morality in operation here. To illustrate, I use the example of Nepalese culture’s response to an incidence of rape. When a rapist is caught he is “punished” by being forced to marry his victim.
I read the Himalayan Times every morning and frequently learn of such marriages, and yet have never seen the question raised of whether the victim is keen to marry her violator.
The moral concept seems to be that a man cannot have his bit of fun with a woman without taking on the responsibility of her whole life by becoming her husband. The moral concept for the woman concerned is a little harder to phrase, but it seems as if the penalty for being a victim is the same as for being a perpetrator.
I have some good Nepali friends who run a trekking agency with whom I discuss these things.
I expressed my wishful idea that Nepal seemed different to other Asian countries, more innocent somehow. They took me across the road to what I thought was a restaurant. In fact the restaurant was a front for a brothel in which girls around 12 to 14 years old sat waiting in ‘booths’, partitioned only by a curtain.
I was then taken for a walk through central Kathmandu and shown numerous such ‘restaurants’. It seemed every second one was a brothel. The girls were so young, I asked what kind of men would seek sex with such children. My friends answered with a sweeping gesture to indicate the entire street scene in front of me.
At about the same time I met a man from South Africa who for twenty years owned an auto parts shop which hired mostly black employees. Several times over the years a woman would show up at his door and plead for employment. Being generous-hearted he would create a job for them, but to his horror every time there was a woman employee on the premises she would be group-raped by his male staff. I immediately wanted to know if he fired all his staff and called the police. He laughed at my stupidity, saying that the men’s replacements would probably be worse, and that you would be hard pressed to find a black female in Africa who hasn’t been raped. These men saw sexual access to a woman as their right. The women didn’t want this to happen, but expected that it would.
So we are told AIDS spreads through prostitutes. Captive,
enslaved, child prostitutes, often hooked on the drugs that are also forced upon them. Various AIDS agencies and international aid organisations are intently targeting the Asian AIDS outbreak, and their primary tactic thus far is to distribute free condoms and syringes.
This is as clever an idea to my mind as is distributing free cigarette filters to children we wish to discourage from smoking. I can see the motive of the handouts is to minimize deaths and stem the spread of the disease, but it is a double-edged sword which also encourages the very activities that generate the epidemic.
At the root of this kind of approach lies the demoralisation of science. Because AIDS is transmitted through the blood, we treat it scientifically by protecting the organs and instruments that infiltrate body tissue. Why do I see this as being almost completely pointless? Because it is modern medicine yet again treating the symptom, as if the whole concept of a ‘cause’ is outside its realm, in the Darwinian realms of randomness, of nature playing its endless game of chance.
When plagues, typhoid and leprosy were our major health threats a few hundred years ago, we learnt the hard way about dealing with our waste products, the incubus for disease. It forced us to clean up our acts, to desist from throwing our toilet waste into the street below. These diseases are now largely erased from developed nations and new foes face us, forcing us to take a look at other disease-causing aspects of our behaviour.
Medical science has spent a century trying to convince us diseases are essentially random when it comes to whom they find as a host. Once, so frustrated at contracting two, three or four bouts of serious influenza every winter, I approached my doctor and asked what I could do to improve my condition so that I was not so susceptible. I was told the ‘flu virus is random, that one cannot protect oneself. A second opinion from another doctor confirmed this professional view.
Ten years later, I have had neither cold nor ‘flu for at least five years, due to spending several years slowly learning about my body, my diet and my immune system.
I could cite countless examples of what we in the West would call depraved sexuality on continents like Asia and Africa. Is calling such things depraved a judgement? Do I have a right to claim that making a woman marry her rapist is depraved, or the selling of a daughter into prostitution? Maybe not, but I certainly have a right to blame the wildfire spread of AIDS on such practices.
People need to change, as we once needed to change our behaviour in the Middle Ages to stop the spread of disease. Giving long-distance truck drivers free condoms is not going to stop the spread of AIDS. These truck drivers are free to use as many roadside women as they wish, but they are also free to die of AIDS. Apparently a commonly held belief in Africa is that males do not contract, carry nor infect with AIDS: it is a woman’s disease. Western medical missionaries call this kind of belief ignorance, easily rectified by education. But myths such as these are not founded in mere ignorance, but societal malice. Education of the mind will not fix something that is a problem of the heart.
Such beliefs and their concomitant behaviours are at the root of the AIDS epidemic. Until women are honoured, loved and respected, and men and women are raised with a healthy approach to sexuality
in great continents like Asia and Africa, AIDS will have its way, and no amount of medical intervention will stem the tide. AIDS is about attitude.
BREAK POINT: Feb 05
Liar, liar, now you’re fired
If CNN doesn’t hire them, Dan Rather and his producers can always get a job teaching at the Columbia School of Journalism. The Columbia Journalism Review recently defended the CBS report on George Bush using forged National Guard documents with the Tawana Brawley excuse: The documents might be “fake but accurate.”
Dan Rather and his crack investigative producer Mary Mapes are still not admitting the documents were fakes. Of course, Dan Rather is still not admitting Kerry lost the election or that a woman named Juanita Broaddrick credibly accused Bill Clinton of rape.
Responding to Bill O’Reilly’s question in a May 15, 2001, interview on “The O’Reilly Factor” about why CBS News had mentioned crack-pot rumors of George Bush’s drug use on air seven times, but the name “Juanita Broaddrick” had never crossed Dan Rather’s lips (and was only mentioned twice on all of CBS News), Rather replied: “Juanita Broaddrick, to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember all the details of Juanita Broaddrick. But I will say that - and you can castigate me if you like. When the charge has something to do with somebody’s private sex life, I would prefer not to run any of it.”
If only the press had extended that same courtesy to Mike Tyson! Rape has as much to do with “somebody’s private sex life” as Bush’s National Guard service does.
Admittedly, Juanita Broaddrick’s charge against Clinton — that Bill Clinton raped her so brutally that her clothing was torn and her lip was swollen and bleeding, hence his parting words of “you’d better put some ice on that” — was not a story on the order of Augusta National Golf Course’s exclusion of women members. But, unlike the Bush drug-use charge, which remains unsupported to this day, Broaddrick’s allegations had been fully corroborated by NBC News — which then refused to air Lisa Myers’ report until after Clinton’s acquittal in the Senate.
Fortunately for Ms. Mapes, Rather also described Bill Clinton as “honest,” explaining to O’Reilly, “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.” This must have come as great comfort to Mapes, as she based an entire story about Bush’s outrageous behavior in the National Guard on one Lt. Col. Bill Burkett.
Among the issues that might have raised questions about relying on Burkett as your source before accusing a sitting president of having disobeyed direct military orders are:
* Burkett had a long-standing grudge against the National Guard for failing to pay for his medical treatment for a rare tropical disease he claims he contracted during Guard service in Panama.
* He blamed Bush, who was governor at the time, for the Guard’s denial of medical benefits because, as everyone knows, the Texas governor’s main job is processing medical claims from former National Guard members.
* After leaving the Guard, Burkett suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for depression.
* At the meeting where he was supposed to give Mapes the National Guard documents, Burkett brought “two binders full of depositions and other documents that were apparently from his litigation with the
National Guard over health benefits” — apparently he forgot the two shoeboxes full of UFO photos he’d collected over the years.
* He had compared Bush to Hitler — which admittedly could have been just his way of establishing his bona fides to Democrats.
* He had told a number of stories over the years about Bush’s National Guard service, all of which had collapsed under conflicting evidence and even his own contradictory accounts — which is to say the stories were both made up and inaccurate.
* In exchange for the National Guard documents, Burkett demanded money, “relocation assistance” if the story put him or his family in danger (perhaps ocean-front property for a quick getaway) and direct contact with the Kerry campaign.
Even before the story aired, Burkett’s description of his own source for the documents kept changing. He said he received the documents anonymously in the mail. He said he was given the documents by someone who would “know what to do with (the documents) better than” he would. He said his source was Chief Warrant Officer George Conn — amid copious warnings that CBS “should not call Chief Warrant Officer Conn because he would deny it” and further that “Conn was on active duty and could not be reached at his Dallas home.”
Burkett needn’t have worried about crack investigator Mary Mapes getting in touch with his alleged source. Even though a three-second search on Google would have revealed that (1) Burkett was crazy, and (2) he had tried to use Conn as a source before and Conn had vehemently denied Burkett’s claims, Mapes told the investigating committee “she did not consider Chief Warrant Officer Conn’s denial to
It seems Burkett had told Mapes that “Conn was still in the military and that his wife threatened to leave him if he spoke out against President Bush.” That was good enough for Mapes. She concluded that Conn — the only person who could have corroborated Burkett’s story — was not to be trusted. Instead, Mapes placed all her faith in the disgruntled, paranoid nut with a vendetta against Bush, an extensive psychiatric history and an ever-growing enemies list. I’m referring to Bill Burkett here, not Dan Rather.
Finally, Burkett claimed a woman named Lucy Ramirez had passed the documents to him at a livestock show in Houston. It is believed that this account marks the exact day that Burkett’s lithium prescription ran out. Despite the fact that no one at CBS was able to locate Ramirez, CBS stuck to the story.This isn’t a lack of “rigor” in fact-checking, as the CBS report suggests. It’s a total absence of fact-checking. CBS found somebody who told the story they wanted told — and they ran with it, wholly disregarding the facts.
Curiously, though Mapes trusted Burkett implicitly, she was very careful not to reveal his name to anyone at CBS, probably because she would have been laughed out of the room.
Instead, Mapes described Burkett in the abstract as: “solid,” “without bias,” “credible,” “a Texas Republican of a different chromosome,” a “John McCain supporter,” “reliable” and “a maverick” — leaving out only “Burkett is convinced he can communicate with caterpillars” and “his best friend is a coffee table.” His name was not important. It’s not as if he was the sole source for a highly damaging story about the president eight weeks before the election or anything. Oh wait ...
At a meeting with CBS lawyers the day the story would air, Mapes “did not reveal the source’s name or anything negative about the source,” but “expressed ‘enormous confidence’ in her source’s reliability and said that he was solid with no bias or credibility issues.” She described Burkett as a “moralistic stickler.” The subject of UFOs simply never came up.
Mapes trusted Burkett on the basis of the following:
* “Mapes told the panel that she spoke to a mainstream media
reporter, who had known Lt. Col. Burkett since 2001, and she stated that he viewed Lt. Col. Burkett as reliable.” At least it wasn’t one of those unreliable bloggers throwing anything up on the Net and ruining reputations!
* “Mapes told the panel that she informed the Burketts that she was worried the documents might be a ‘political dirty trick.’ Mapes said that the Burketts appeared ‘genuinely shocked’ at the suggestion and this reaction gave her comfort.” (You could tell they were really shocked because they had the same look on their faces that Condi Rice had when Richard Clarke first told her about al-Qaida.)
* Mapes really hated George Bush and would do anything to make him lose the election.
Actually, Mapes did not put her last reason in writing, which created a real mystery for the CBS investigating committee. Proving once again how useless “moderate Republicans” are, The CBS Report —
co-authored by moderate Republican Dick Thornburgh — found no evidence of political bias at CBS.
If Fox News had come out with a defamatory story about Kerry based on forged documents, liberals would be demanding we cut power to the place. (Fortunately, the real documents on Kerry were enough to do the trick.) But the outside investigators hired by CBS could find no political agenda at CBS.
By contrast, the report did not hesitate to accuse the bloggers who exposed the truth about the documents of having “a conservative agenda.” As with liberal attacks on Fox’s “fair and balanced” motto, it is now simply taken for granted that “conservative bias” means
COPYRIGHT 2005 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600
THE WATCHER: Apr 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
One last gasp of hope for the ABC
If you happened to be around in 1938 and were tuning into America’s Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) one autumn night you would have heard the following ‘announcement’: Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt
our program… to bring you a special bulletin… Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports… explosions of incandescent gas… on the planet Mars… moving towards the Earth with enormous velocity. And later, near the end of the broadcast,I’m speaking from the roof of broadcasting building, New York City. The bells you hear are ringing to warn the people to evacuate the city as the Martians approach…
By then, some panic-stricken listeners were either hiding in their basements – loaded shotgun at the ready – or had packed up and left town, no doubt wondering why the government hadn’t taken pre-emptive action.
It was all the doing of the brilliant if mischievous Orson Welles and CBS’s Mercury Theatre of the Air radio production of HG Wells’ science fiction thriller, War of the Worlds.
In the broadcast’s aftermath, the US Congress bellowed many pieties about responsible broadcasting and called for better regulation of the airwaves to protect the community’s more credulous souls. The New York Tribune’s Dorothy Thompson wrote that with no more than a few voices on the radio Welles had scared and demoralized thousands. Welles issued an apology and the issue faded into broadcast folklore.
Today, news broadcast audiences, perhaps less gullible, are fed information more plausible but not necessarily more truthful. Across the globe once-venerated news organisations like the ABC, the BBC, and America’s CBS are under fire from better-informed and more skeptical news consumers and, in the latter two cases, from taxpayers and their governments.
While few institutions have escaped criticism in recent times, the media, particularly the news end of it, seems to have been caught by surprise. Working in their cloistered enclaves, protected from critical scrutiny, much of the journalistic profession believed things could continue on as they had in the past, in splendid isolation.
Such is the case with the ABC, which has had a grilling over balance and impartiality, or more precisely, its lack of it in its news broadcasts. At the heart of the matter appears to be a lack of understanding by its senior management, staff and supporters, of the difference between the legislatively mandated role of the ABC and its commercial news counterparts.
“News,” former Australian Broadcasting Authority Chairman (ABA) David Flint says, “must be presented objectively, and opinion be clearly distinguishable from news… the Sydney Morning Herald is absolutely entitled, if it wishes, to take a left of centre position… A public broadcaster is not because of the way in which it is funded and established.”
Ex-ABC “Media Watch” host and Sydney Morning Herald kvetch David Marr contends such standards represent a “kindergarten notion of balance”. Perhaps. But the ABC exists at the sufferance of the grownup Australian taxpayers, and is expected to live up to its charter, prescribed by law.
Childish or not, that code demands, that ABC’s news programs be “balanced and impartial”. Although the code requires that editorial staff present a wide range of views, it does not expect them to view all sides of an issue equally. Adult editorial supervision is required. Saddam Hussein’s views, for example, are not to be accorded equal weight to those of the US government.
ALSTON GOES TO THE CREASE
In the view of former communications minister Richard Alston, both of those prerequisites – balance and impartiality and effective editorial control – were found wanting at the ABC during the Iraq war. According to Alston, the AM program had repeatedly made comments that were highly subjective and not factually based, and suggested a lack of regard for editorial oversight.
To back up his point, Alston provided the ABC’s MD, Richard Balding, with 68 examples where AM had breached the ABC’s code of practice over a three week period, in March and April 2003 (during major hostilities in Iraq). Alston made these charges in the context of remarks made by ABC’s news director Max Uechtritiz that “the military are lying bastards”.
After an 18-month review process by the ABC and then by the ABA, 21 – nearly a third – of Alston’s original examples were upheld as breaches of the ABC’s code of practice. Twelve of them were considered to constitute serious breaches of the code. The ABA’s acting chairman Lyn Maddock said that AM’s use of “tendentious language” in its Iraq war coverage would have given its listeners the clear impression that the program was pre-disposed to a particular view. And this was just one particular program.
Yet the reaction to the breaches from much of the media has ranged from indifference to claims of vindication, in the latter case most notably and worryingly from the ABC’s own MD. A CPA by training, Balding apparently couldn’t count how many breaches have been sustained but nonetheless appears to have mastered the idiom of tendentiousness.
Alluding only to the four additional breaches found by the ABA, Balding said he welcomed the ABA’s finding that “AM was balanced” in its coverage of the war in Iraq, and concluded with a swipe at the authority for its “flawed” review. That should send a strong signal to the ABC journalists found to be in breach of the code and other staff seeking guidance.
Contrary to the more paranoid of the ABC’s ‘friends’, such
criticism is not the result of any right-wing plot; rather, it is the bias exhibited in the ABC’s news programming and lack of adherence to its charter and code of practice by its staff that has invited
the adverse attention. Over time, if unchecked such code and
charter breaches will erode the legitimacy of the ABC, until, one day,
political support for its existence and special status will
ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN
Tapped by communications minister Helen Coonan to sit on the ABC board, conservative columnist Janet Albrechtsen now finds herself front and centre in this debate.
Judging by the response of the ABC collective – variously, the CPSU, which represents ABC staff, the Friends of the ABC and the ALP – you’d think Albrechtsen’s appointment was equivalent to another science fiction classic, Attack of the 50-foot Woman.
The public sector union’s Graeme Thomson claimed “many” were against someone such as Albrechtsen who “consistently displayed antagonism towards the work that ABC staff perform”.
As Sydney Institute’s Gerard Henderson pointed out in the Herald, “critics of the Government’s appointments fail to appreciate there is no inconsistency between being a thoughtful critic of the contemporary ABC and being a supporter of public broadcasting”. But Henderson is skeptical that much can be done to the ABC at the board level.
So I asked Albrechtsen what she hoped to accomplish as an ABC director. She is realistic but more optimistic than Henderson and believes the board can bring about positive change.
Albrechtsen prefaces her answer by stating that she is a consumer and fan of the ABC, and agrees that the public broadcaster’s legitimacy is on the line. One of her top priorities will be to address news bias.
“A good place to begin is to ensure that, over time, management recruits staff that are able to serve the interests of all of the broadcaster’s shareholders – the Australian community – not just a narrow band of it,” she says.
In the shorter term, Albrechtsen will want to see the broadcaster’s charter and code of practice adhered to. Does she believe the broadcaster’s charter and code of practice are adequate – especially during wartime?
“So long as the board is satisfied that ABC management and staff is seeing that the broadcaster is abiding by its charter and code of practice, then I see no reason why there should be any changes”.
And if the board is unable to ensure that the public broadcaster remains faithful to its mandate? Control of the Senate will pass to the Government in July. That will provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take corrective measures. After the Jonathan Shier debacle, it’s a bet the Government will not let that opportunity pass unexploited if need be.
Balding is a numbers man who, in defence of his management of the ABC, likes to refer to public opinion surveys commissioned with your tax dollars. I would not quibble that the majority of those who watch the ABC think everything is tickety-boo. But most people don’t watch the ABC. And the only choice that counts is the one viewers make each night with their thumb. Balding will also want to keep in mind the Government’s own increased numbers come July.
If Mars did attack Earth someday, how should the ABC report it?
As the death-ray-emitting saucers hurtled toward Earth and – one would hope – are engaged by a coalition of willing nations (while the UN fretted and muttered platitudes about the peaceful uses of space) how would the ABC interpret its code of conduct? Would it give a fair and balanced account of the grievances motivating the little green men?
Will AM’s Linda Mottram proclaim that ‘Coalition commanders are finding the public relations war may have slipped from their grasp, attacks by the height-challenged red planet dwellers are causing confusion and sapping morale’?
Will Kerry O’Brien demand to know why Australia’s immigration minister – ‘fixated on asylum-seekers’ – has dropped the ball?
Presuming an interpreter could be found who spoke the appropriate interstellar dialect, would an aggrieved space invader be permitted to give his side of things to Lateline’s Tony Jones? (e.g., Martian air waves polluted with reality TV, regular invasions and occupation by robot explorers not to mention always the wisecracks about their diminutive stature.)
It would be more interesting than 60 Minutes’ cash-for-questions-not-answered Mamdouh Habib interview. And ABC shareholders would wish to be able to trust the editorial judgment of the news editors in each case. At present, there is little reason why
However, the ABC has a chance to win that trust and, if it wants to be around to cover the biggest story of all time, it should embrace its critics. Most of them mean it well.
THE ARENA: Apr 05, AU Edition
New York used to be a hell of a town. Is Sydney becoming one?
On a hot summer night almost fifteen years ago, a car in a Hasidic Jewish funeral procession veered out of control on a street in the Brooklyn suburb of Crown Heights, killing a black child, Gavin Cato, and severely injuring his cousin. What followed were several days of riots during which the police held back and let the criminals vent their anger by destroying property and attacking Jews, including Yankel Rosenbaum, a visiting scholar from Melbourne who was stabbed to death.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago: again, a fatal suburban car crash sparks several days of rioting, and again, the cops hang back and let the bad guys do their thing – after all, their commanders wouldn’t want them to do anything that would “make the situation worse”, i.e. arrest people.
Of course, there are crucial differences in these two scenarios: the first took place in New York; the second in outer Sydney. In the first case, a truly innocent life was snatched (not that that is an excuse for rioting by any means). In the second, the dead were a pair of budding career criminals who were hooning around in a car they knew was stolen and crashed after being chased by police. And unlike today’s Sydney, the New York of the early-1990s in the bad old days before Rudy Giuliani was in fact a pretty lawless place where the cops were ineffectual at best and politicians could only promise to slow the slide into anarchy. This is the environment Tom Wolfe so brilliantly captured in his classic, The Bonfire of the Vanities.
But just because New York’s bad old days seem so far removed does not mean there are not serious lessons that Sydney’s leaders need to learn – not the least of which is that if a place is perceived as being lawless, then it will quickly become so. The Macquarie Fields riots came just a few months after riots in the inner-city suburb of Redfern, where the death of an aboriginal teen – supposedly after a police pursuit – led to several nights of violence that, again, police were reluctant to clamp down upon.
And while the sort of kids who fling petrol bombs at cop cars and laugh when policewomen are knocked over are certainly not the sharpest knives in the drawer, even they are quick enough to pick up the lesson that when confronted with a mob, overwhelmed cops are powerless and under orders to withdraw and negotiate. Which is why just a few nights after the Macquarie Fields riots which took so long to quell, 150 youths started flinging bottles and abuse at cops in Darling Harbour. And, thanks to the principle of “safety in numbers”, only a handful of miscreants were arrested.
By worrying too much about appearances and not enough about law and order, NSW’s leaders are sending a powerful message that will only come back and bite them and the voters who keep electing them. And Premier Bob Carr’s increasingly politically-correct stance on the riots is not helping. (He started out sensibly in the immediate aftermath of the riots by blaming the criminals involved, only to backpeddle and cast responsibility first on poor social factors, then on bad parenting – things which feature in the lives of plenty of people who still manage not to go ape and destroy their street every time they think the authorities have done wrong by the friendly neighbourhood car thief).
What it comes down to is the complicated set of phenomena that happens when, collectively, a society changes because its perceptions of itself change. In New York, for example, the fact that most people believed the streets and subways were unsafe and ungovernable meant people stayed off of them as much as possible – leaving a vacuum for criminals to fill and solidify the impression.
Similarly, in Sydney, happily-underemployed and undereducated youth are getting the message that their lawlessness will be tolerated and sympathetic newspaper articles will be written about them, so long as they make sure to bring plenty of mates and come from a suitably unfashionable suburb.
To counter this, Bob Carr should tell NSW Police that the next time violence of the sort that flared up in early March happens again, they are to do whatever it takes to restore order and make arrests, as quickly as possible.
Not only that, he should indicate that he will back them not just during the inevitable media firestorm, but also through the legal battles that will surely come from community activists and lawyers who think that there’s no reason that friends can’t come together occasionally over a few Molotov cocktails, and who think nothing of tying up a working-class cop’s career for years in the name of “social justice”.
Finally, he should press prosecutors to hold rioters accountable to the full extent of the law, and urge magistrates to set high bails and sentences for those arrested and found guilty. Even if it doesn’t deter other no-hopers, at least it detains those who are arrested on one night long enough that they can’t go out and start another round of mayhem the next.
The lessons of New York’s bad old days are not complicated: give cops the tools and backing they need to do their jobs. Prosecute minor infractions before they become major ones. And make honest people feel that it is they, and not the criminals, who have control over the streets. Unfortunately, these are lessons that cities like London – where burglars operate with such impunity that they actually prefer to target their victims when they are at home – have ignored in recent years. The growing number of riots throughout Sydney’s suburbs suggests that her leaders are going to have to learn these lessons themselves, the hard way.
LAURA’S WORLD: Feb 05
When Harry Met Silly…
Prince Harry dons a Swastika armband for a party and the world is in uproar. He is at best, a tasteless fool and at worst, according to many international publications, a supporter of fascism and genocide.
Asking around, I canvassed these opinions of Harry’s dress-sense. From a 17 year old, a party is a party, and it is the one place people can be outrageous with licence, and without risk of offending anybody. From a 25 year old Nepali, the Swastika originates from his territory and is an ancient symbol of good luck, whichever way the four arms point. He is bemused that a young man should be crucified over the humorous use of the symbol.
Predictably, as the age of the individual increased, the opinion elicited became less tolerant of Harry’s actions, but even so the strongest criticism didn’t go beyond calling him ‘stupid’. Myself, I am a bit of a WW2 buff, in the sense that I find it a brilliant slice of history through which to view human behaviour and the
reaction of different nationalities and personalities to the Nazi phenomenon.
I learnt more about the war through talking to participants - including a nurse who lost 18 children in her care during a bombing raid in London, an NZRAF pilot who lied about his age and at 18 was rapidly trained in 3 months to fly bomber planes all over Germany, and a Polish Jew who escaped a Siberian gulag with her mother and walked to Palestine - than I did from any textbook.
I have attended a few dawn ceremonies on ANZAC day and find them incredibly moving. All considered I would describe myself as someone who honours the memory of WW2, even though it predates me by several decades and none of my family participated (except a grandfather who served beer to the troops in Egypt). The Nazis evoke horror in me, and initially seeing a member of the British royal family masquerading as one made me feel ill.
Then I began to probe a little deeper into my and others’ reaction to atrocity. The list of large-scale atrocities is endless, it is hard to find a culture that has not barbarically mistreated some element within it or alongside it. Were the Jews treated worse than the Indians subjugated by the British Raj, the Africans enslaved in America, the Pakistani Christians murdered by Pakistani Muslims? What are the symbols of terror for these victims? The Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, and the Koran.
What the Jews have achieved that other victim-groups have not, is great PR. It is hard to find a single soul in NZ who remembers the fate of Chinese slaves bought to our country 100 years ago to work the goldmines and die there, never granted citizenship, never afforded rights and even worse, never seen as an equal.
The world didn’t stay outraged with Idi Amin or Pol Pot for particularly long, and the Spanish and Portugese have largely escaped vilification for their massive acts of genocide in a continent as large as South America. Any one of thesecompare in scale with the annihilation of Jews in WW2 and yet the world is pressed overtly to recall the suffering of the Jews above all others, as if their treatment represents the pinnacle of human pain, alone deserving commemoration for all time.
I think it is great to remind each new generation what ‘average’ human beings are capable of when they follow the wrong leader, or allow themselves to be convinced that certain people are beneath them and do not deserve to be treated equally or even to live. Prince Harry no doubt has had this drummed into him throughout the course of his education and is probably as egalitarian and humble as his big brother, but he is also a rebel.
It often seems to go that way with siblings, a wild one follows a conservative goody-two-shoes, as if nature is intent on balance. Harry is simply not politically correct and probably never will be. Life is challenging enough for the anonymous rebel, for Harry it is inconceivably fraught. Personally I wish that just one of the many people asked for their opinion on Harry’s costume would have exclaimed that the bigger atrocity is the fact that he was photographed at all whilst at a private party, and atrocious that the world has an appetite for smutty details of another’s life.
We all participate in the ruination of lives with our international voyeurism, seeming to take great glee in dishing out criticism and scorn. I frankly would be too embarrassed to ever walk out
my front door again had I been photographed at a single party bypaparazzi. I would make an absolutely hopeless Royal, I would be a disgrace as is poor Harry whose future seems cast by the weight of our global expectations.
The Jews are determined to never let us forget, which I take my hat off to them for, but I politely remind them of equally important homages to the dead such as Hiroshima Day, and the lack of remembrance for the vast majority of victims such as the 20 million Russians killed during WW2, nearly half the total dead and far in excess of the number of Jews.It could equally have been Russians who expressed outrage at Harry’s attire, but the Jews have maintained an image of the ultimate persecuted, and are not about to let it go, or to share the title. God forbid anyone challenges them on this.
Simply Devine: Feb 05
The new counter-culture groundswell
You know that by the time a new way of thinking makes it into a Hollywood blockbuster it is already deeply embedded in the culture. When it comes to Team America: World Police, how the thought must make lefties cringe.
Made by South Park’s Trey Parker, 35, and Matt Stone, 33, as a Thunderbirds-style puppet movie, it has a team of trigger-happy, flag-waving Americans fighting terrorists, while the peacenik liberals of FAG, the Film Actors Guild, headed by an “Alec Baldwin” puppet, try to stop them.
It features “Michael Moore”, a hot dog in each hand, as a suicide bomber, “a fat socialist weasel”.The movie opened at No. 1 in Australia last month and was still at No. 5 after three weeks. It strikes a chord, despite the lukewarm reception from a lot of reviewers.
They have said the movie attacks left and right with equal vigour. It does not. They liked the beginning because gung-ho Team America blows up the Eiffel Tower while chasing terrorists. “Let’s go police the world,” say the puppets. But those who thought the movie was a satire against American warmongers were shocked to find the opposite.
To her credit, Margaret Pomerantz of ABC’s The Movie Show gave Team America four stars and declared it “hilarious”.
But her co-host David Stratton was “really disgusted”. “It seems to become completely skewed, in the second half of the film, towards attacking liberals in the film industry,” he said. “Sean Penn and Tim Robbins have been very principled in what they’ve said about the Iraqi war and to deliberately destroy them the way this film does is really playing into the hands of George W. Bush.”
All I know is the teenage boys in the theatre I was in laughed heartily at the obscene jokes, puppet sex and savage mockery of Penn and co.
“As actors, it is our responsibility to read the newspaper and then repeat what we read on television like it’s our own opinion,” explains
“Tim Robbins” complains that corporations are “all corporation-y . . . and they make lots of money!”.
“Sean Penn” keeps saying, “I went to Iraq, you know” and says before Team America arrived there were “flowering meadows and rainbow skies and rivers made of chocolate, where children danced”.
In one scene, evil North Korean dictator puppet “Kim Jong Il” won’t let UN weapons inspector “Hans Blix”, or “Brix” as Kim calls him, inspect his palace.
“We will be very angry with you, and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are,” threatens Brix, just before Kim feeds him to his shark.
After terrorists blow up the Panama Canal, TV newsreader puppet “Peter Jennings” intones: “Team America has once again pissed off the entire world”. Then “Alec Baldwin, FAG” comes on the screen: “Who’s to blame for these attacks? The terrorists? The people who supplied them with WMDs?” No. “Team America, the blood of the victims of Panama is on your hands.”
The final summation of why the world needs Team America, even if they are, “reckless, arrogant, stupid d—ks”, to save them from terrorist “a—holes” is unambiguous, despite reviewers who expected a puppet Fahrenheit 9/11.
“We tried to make the movie optimistic and pro-American,” said Stone in an interview.
Even new movie The Incredibles has an anti-political correctness theme: super hero family forced to blend into society and hide talents. Super-fast runner Dash thinks it’s not fair: “Everybody is special, Dash,” says his mother. “That’s just another way of saying nobody is,” he moans.
The movie also celebrates family: “Mom and dad’s lives could be in jeopardy, or worse - their marriage!” says daughter Violet. These subversive themes are the new counter-culture.
The way it works is that those who build a culture, over 40 years or so, have a vested interest in maintaining it. So the old counter-culturalists become the conservatives, even though they still think they are progressives and deride as “conservative” those who disagree with them, though disagreeing is counter-cultural.
Then along comes a generation which has known nothing but the old “counter-culture” and feels oppressed by it, because there are so many rules now about how you should think, and to a fresh mind many are absurd.
So you get the first signs of rebellion from the most independent-minded, and soon enough it builds into a tsunami that breaks down the old counter-culture and begins the process anew. This is what is happening now, vomit jokes, puppet sex and all.