March 10, 2008

LINE ONE: Mar 05

CHRIS CARTER
A state-sponsored frontal lobotomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

DOUBLE SPEAK: Mar 05

IAN WISHART
Killing us softly with their song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BREAK POINT: Mar 05

coulter911.jpg

ANN COULTER
The problem of fruitbat university lecturers…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

DVDs: Mar 05

dvamerica.jpgALISTAIR 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.


dvblkball.jpgBLACKBALL
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.


dvmetal.jpgMETALLICA: 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

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:27 PM | Comments (0)

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

books_natural world of NZ.jpgTHE 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.


books_the devil's disciles.jpgTHE DEVIL’S DISCIPLES: The Lives and Times of Hitler’s Inner Circle
By Anthony Read, Pimlico, $34
Adolf Hitler may well be the twentieth century’s most written about person. Logically, that is because, for better or for worse, he is regarded as the individual who most influenced history during that apocalyptic epoch. Less well known are his gang of offsiders – Goring, Goebbels, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Speer, Borman, Heydrich, Hess, Rohm etc. This outstanding, well-researched and well-written multi-biography gives detailed psychological, political and historical portraits of these top Nazi officials both in relation to Hitler and to each other.

Prior to reading Devil’s Disciples, these figures were only known to me as two dimensional cartoon-like characters. Now, regrettably, I know them better. Out of the shadows into the light, they appear morally as dark as ever. It must be said they were all highly competent individuals with the exception of the bumbling Ribbentrop (though even Ribbentrop had his times of triumph) – and, of course, totally ruthless. Goring, in particular, was a man I had conceived as a rather foolish fat guy, morphine-riddled, who got things wrong. Fat he certainly was – in later life (though handsome, lean and dashing in his youth) – foolish he was not. (And apparently not morphine-addicted either.) He wasn’t a coward either but a fearless top air ace, renown for his boldness. Militarily, he was more prudent than Hitler for he opposed the invasion of Russia. A collector – or looter – of top class European art, he lived like a medieval monarch complete with forests, fire-lit castles, baronial halls stuffed with hunting trophies – a vulgar but formidable Teutonic lord. He was popular even in Germany’s darkest hour and when captured had his jailors rocking with laughter. Judge Norman Birkett described him as “suave, shrewd, adroit, capable, resourceful”, though by any moral standards, a monster. Yet (almost) I found myself having a sneaking liking for him. It must be remembered that Hitler, Goebbels and Goring all had great charm as well as charisma.

Himmler, by contrast was a more colourless individual whose Machiavellian ruthlessness eventually ousted Goring as Number Two beside Hitler, though when he betrayed Hitler at the end, he himself, like them all, lost everything. All of Hitler’s cohort – particularly Goebbels and Goring – were engaged in an eternal dance of power around the central focus of Hitler. As has been often commented – and here explored in telling detail – Hitler often encouraged the competition.

No Hollywood mogul ever wielded as much power as the club – footed Goebbels. Unlike family man Goring, he had an insatiable sexual appetite and made full use of the casting couch – as dictator of all art forms he controlled casting for films. Like Hitler, he was a failed artist (ie playwright) who, surprisingly, nourished the delusion that Hitler would emerge as a socialist. Ironically, a Hitlerian ban on any art that wasn’t beautiful and true to nature – which led to an exhibition of degenerate abstract art – proved so popular Goebbels had to shut it down.

Excellent as the histories by Richard Overy and Antony Beevor are, none of their books tops this massive, compelling labyrinth, expertly documented and unravelled by Anthony Read – a drama, which however one may dislike it, is the greatest of the twentieth century, a doomed Gotterdammerung-like tragedy that haunts us still. Though the Nuremberg trials may have seemed like the conclusion of these dark performances, the curtain calls of history continue.


books_the wright brothers.jpgTHE WRIGHT BROTHERS
By Ian Mackersey, Timewarner, $29.95
What are the greatest inventions of all time? I’m going to stick my neck out and say the wheel, harnessed and transmittable electricity and the aeroplane. The aeroplane in its transmuted form, the rocket, will one day take us to the stars...

What this book makes powerfully clear is that the first flight on December 17, 1903 was no accident, no fluke, no product of amateur backyard inventors, but a technologically sound construction – the product of many hours of meticulous, planning, research and always-dangerous trials.

True, the Wright brothers had a bicycle shop (often used by less successful rivals as a put down of their efforts), but don’t kid yourself – these boys were astute and patient engineers/technologists. Of the two, tall ascetic Wilbur was the knowledge-retentive, mathematical one, while girl-shy Orville turned out to be the better pilot. They were both non – drinkers, non-smokers, sons of a venerable but ideologically stormy bishop; upright, morally beyond reproach yet courteous and, when not working with their fabled concentration, friendly. In short, they deserved their success. When international recognition and success came – five years after their first flight – it was overwhelming. In France, a crowd went wild, the French pilots, including Louis Bleriot, had never seen such impeccable flight control, such steeply banked turns.

It had started years before with the lads making experimental flights with engineless gliders. Wilbur grasped firmly the notion that it was control and lift that were the key problems not the engine. Mackersey paces his book expertly so that the long build-up of experimentation and partial success climaxes initially about half way through with the brothers’ first successful flight. This is one of the great technological dramas of history and a defining moment of the twentieth century – the American century.

Three key figures – among many – are well outlined in this enthralling account – Samuel Langley who had $50,000 from the American army to develop a glider that was never to achieve true flight; Octave Chanute, an important pioneer of flight who greatly encouraged the Wright brothers before eventually falling out with them; and Augustus Herring, a confidence man of the worst type who kept trying to cotton on to the tails of Wright brothers – thankfully, he did not succeed though not from want of trying.

Though their initial successes were satisfactorily witnessed, the brothers cagily withdrew from the public eye and got into a Mexican standoff with several governments – the brothers wanted money (lots of it) before they would demonstrate. The governments, understandably, wanted performance first, before any money was handed over. The brothers were overly defensive and poor negotiators – yet they triumphed in the end. For some years, (after Wilbur’s death in 1912), the Smithsonian Institution tried to claim that Langley’s craft had attained flight before the Wright brothers but eventually they backed down. It is gratifying to know that Orville at least survived to see their place in history indisputably confirmed. Footnote: Mackersey, cruelly, though I believe accurately, briefly mentions Richard Pearse as becoming airborne but not an achiever of true controlled flight – a failure that Pearse himself admitted in a letter in 1928.


books_susan sontag.jpgREGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS
By Susan Sontag, Penguin Books, $27
This will probably be Sontag’s last book as this eminent woman of letters recently died of cancer – though, on occasion, posthumous works are quarried from a well known author’s unpublished papers. A New York-based writer, Sontag always seemed more like an essayist who wrote novels than a novelist who composed essays. Despite The Volcano Lover winning the National Book Award, it is her essays which will be remembered and re-read more than her fiction.

Sontag’s early collections of essays – Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will – were dazzling. She was an intellectual of formidable powers who wrote essays which the “average” educated person could understand. Not for her the wilful obscurities of the poststructuralists, though she was a keen admirer of Roland Barthes and edited a reader of his work. Her speciality – in the tradition of the great essayists – was the epigrammatic sentence compressing several notions into a single witty byte.

Sontag’s work also revealed an early obsession with cinematography and photography. In the world of the Sontagian essay, Hollywood did not exist – her preferred choices were European auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and Jean – Luc Godard. In this final book length essay, she combines her fixation on photography with her ongoing moral concern with man’s inhumanity to man – plus as noted by Virginia Woolf and Sontag herself – women and children.

War photography is the central theme. Roger Fenton, official photographer at the Crimea, was the world’s first war photographer – the camera having been invented only a few years prior. Fenton’s brief was “not to photograph the dead, the maimed, or the ill”. The result, as Sontag sardonically observes, was “war as a dignified all – male outing”– complete to carefully rearranged cannon balls showing the aftermath of the doomed charge of the Light Brigade. This sterilised view of war couldn’t hold up for long. Sontag alludes to the conscientious objector Ernst Friedrich who in 1924 published close-ups of soldiers with huge facial wounds and, naturally, to Robert Capa, most famous of all war photographers, killed in action like so many of that singularly dangerous occupation.

Ever the true intellectual – ready to retract earlier ideas if time reveals a different perspective – Sontag pulls the carpet from under ideas she espoused in On Photography, written nearly 30 years ago. There are millions, she says, who are not inured to what they see on television – “who do not have the luxury of patronising reality.” In a rebuke directed at intellectuals (including herself), she insists that images of atrocity continue to remind us, do not allow us to forget, what awful things human beings are capable of. The conclusion of this moving essay rises to a fever pitch of humane pleading that is not found in her earlier work. Perhaps it was her own suffering as a cancer patient that informed these passages. If so, it is a pain Sontag has declined to centre on herself but pass onto us, all humanity, at large. Thus Sontag’s final work concludes on a note of high moral uplift expressed as always in her elegant and eloquent prose. Bravo, Susan!


books_rats.jpgRATS: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
By Robert Sullivan, Granta Books, $35
Rats are usually a non-starter as a dinner conversation topic. Femmes and chaps alike don’t care for the disease-carrying rubbish scavengers as gossip. The Black Plague gave them some of the worst press any animal has had to live with. To call someone a rat is about the worst insult you can dish out. And we’ve all heard those suburban horror stories about rats chewing on babies’ faces. The scene in 1984 where Winston Smith has to face his worse fear – rats – is arguably the most horrible in all literature.

If this is your take on rats, you will probably give this book a wide berth; on the other hand, gnaw your way into it and you might find there’s more to the much disliked rodent then you imagined. For a start they are tough little buggers. Their teeth, dedicated rat-watcher Sullivan writes zestfully, are “stronger than aluminium, copper, lead, and iron. They are comparable to steel ... they can exert a biting pressure of up to seven thousand pounds a square inch”. This compares to 1500 pounds for a wolf and a mere 750 pounds for a German shepherd. No wonder they can chew through concrete.

All your fears about rats are more or less true – rats do bite babies; there have been instances of them attacking fully grown adults; they carry bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, mites, fleas lice and ticks; they spread trichinosis, tularaemia, leptospirosis. (I don’t know what the last two are but they sound bad). And for a bonus – typhus, rabies and salmonella.Reader, there have been no surprises so far but here come three :

1. the author finds rats disgusting (surely he loves them just a bit?)
2. he spent a lot of time prowling around in dirty, dangerous dark alleyways watching them
3. he really doesn’t know why he set out on the rat-watching project.

It appeared Sullivan gathered enthusiasm as he went. Or was that when he had enough information to quit alleys and skulk home to write his very well-written book? Rats of course do die themselves and one of New York’s less savoury nineteenth pastimes was getting tough dogs to kill as many rats as they could in as short a time as possible – the record was 100 rats in five minutes 28 seconds.

The tough Irish impresario drew the line (and please don’t try this at home) at men biting rats’ head off. Amazingly, I learnt from Sullivan’s compendious little book that kiwis are global leaders in rat extermination. In 2002, 120 tonnes of rat poison taken to Campbell Island did in 200,000 rats – a world record!

Sullivan gleefully lists some of the dottier causes of plague before it was discovered (only as recently as 1894) that rat fleas were the culprit – restless night birds, huddling frogs, wormy fruit, large spiders, circling ravens, mad dogs and vapours rising from the earth. To which I say – rats. Rats are renown for their versatile eating habits and you want to encourage them leave cooked rather than raw food. They love scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese and cooked corn kernels but tend to dislike raw beans, peaches and raw celery.

Sullivan is adamant that the notion that there is one rat per person in a city is erroneous – that would mean in New York there were about 8 million. A rat expert has estimated the Big Apple’s quota as 250,000 – which sounds a bit on the low side. Why? Rats have sex 20 times a day.


Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

TRAVEL: Mar 05

TRAVEL-ANGKORWAT-1-TB.jpgCAMBODIA’S RENAISSANCE
In Cambodia, the grandest temple of all returns from the ruins, as a nation turns its back on the troubles of the past, reports Alan Solomon

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – The first approach, no matter how you approach it, isn’t all that impressive. From the main road, the profile beyond its moat is low, like a very rough pencil sketch of Parliament along the Thames but less grand and imposing. The three visible spires, leaden in color, plump and oddly mottled at this distance, don’t inspire at all. The camera comes out because it must. Through the viewfinder, it all looks even lower and longer and like less of a wonder.

But then ... wow.

“Where are the words,” wrote French naturalist-explorer Henri Mouhot, who famously happened upon nearly forgotten Angkor Wat in 1861, “to praise a work of art that may not have its equal anywhere on the globe?”

Angkor Wat is a temple. More accurately, it was a temple, built by a Khmer king in the 1100s to honor the Hindu god Vishnu and to hold his own ashes, later rededicated to Buddha as the regional religious dynamic changed, still later a ruin, and today essentially an incense-scented museum.

It is massive. It is magnificent. But it takes a closer look to appreciate. Angkor Wat’s greatness sneaks up on you, comes at you in stages.

That it comes at you at all – that you’re welcome to visit – is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Angkor Wat was built between 1113 and 1150 by Khmer King Suryavarman II, then largely abandoned after Thai armies attacked in 1431. For most of the next 400 years, the temple sat there, watched over by the occasional monk and the odd monkey, looted of its more portable riches and, slowly but literally, falling apart.

When Henri Mouhot sent back excited reports of its grandeur – and as the French (supplanting the Siamese) were establishing a colonial presence in Cambodia in the mid-1800s – more Europeans came to see for themselves.Meanwhile, French archeologists launched restoration efforts at Angkor Wat, at the shrines within nearby Angkor Thom and at others in the region.

That went on, with a few interruptions, until the onset of World War II. The Japanese weren’t much interested in public works during their period in residence. When the French tried to reassert control after the Japanese surrender, pockets of indigenous fighters resisted.
While all this internal skirmishing was going on, and even as the situation in neighboring Vietnam was turning into what it turned into, restoration by the French heroically continued until the communist Khmer Rouge finally booted them back to Paris in 1970.

Over the next 20-plus years, more grief followed for Cambodia. The legacy of two decades’ worth of bombings, coups, invasion, occupation and civil war includes memories of unimaginable suffering and killing, and millions of land mines that, even today, continue to tear limbs off children’s bodies.

Through all this, of course, tourism wasn’t exactly a burgeoning enterprise. “From 1970,” said an information officer with the tourist office in Siem Reap, “no one came to see Cambodia.”With some exceptions.

In 1986, according to government figures, a total of 565 tourists came to see Angkor Wat. Most of the visitors were from Russia and Cuba. Cambodia, at the time, was occupied uneasily by the communist Vietnamese army, which was battling the communist Khmer Rouge and other armies representing other factions.

It was not an easy time – nor an easy visit. Tourists came, when they came at all, on day trips from the capital, Phnom Penh, 250km away.
“You couldn’t spend the night,” said an American-based tour operator who has been bringing people here since 1987. “It was too dangerous.”
The only hotel in Siem Reap – the now-luxury Grand Hotel d’Angkor – “was a $10 hotel that was worth $2. You had to haul water to the rooms to flush the toilets.”

Snipers haunted the jungles on the peripheries of the temples. As recently as January 1995, a tourist from Texas and her driver were shot and killed, and the tourist’s husband wounded, by gunmen near Banteay Srei temple, 30km from Angkor Wat. That year, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) had just completed an 18-month stay that the world hoped would bring a stabilizing presence in this political mess of a country. It didn’t quite – more coups and violence followed – but in 1995, the tourist count had reached 44,808.

In 1999 – a year after the death (of natural causes, maybe) of Khmer Rouge strongman Pol Pot – the total was 85,460. “After he died,” said the tourism spokesman, “we’ve seen major investment.”

What was one badly faded hotel in Siem Reap 10 years ago became, as of late last year, 56 hotels in all price ranges, including backpacker lodges but also two five-stars, for a total of 3,000 rooms. As you read this, almost certainly there are more. Hotel construction was and is ongoing and everywhere.

“It’s good to see the reputation is changing,” said Bruno L’Hoste, French-born operator of Le Tigre de Papier, one of Siem Reap’s more sophisticated watering holes. “It’s good to get out of the `war zone.’”

War zone. In a stone pillar just to the right of the West Gate of Angkor Wat: bullet holes. By the standards of today, they are old.
The moat is more than 200 metres wide and 7km around. Visitors walk a stone causeway over the water to the West Gate, the main entrance. Beyond the gate are what look to be three spires of moderate size, two flanking a central tower.

The West Gate leads to another causeway, this one 10m wide and 360m long over a grass field, the walkway bordered by a series of great carved nagas, the multiheaded snakes linked to Vishnu and found at so many sites here. Two stone libraries, in varying states of disrepair and resembling small museums, stand as sentries on either side.
Only now does the sheer size of this complex kick in. Vatican City could fit nearly five times on the 500 acres within the walls protecting the temple.

Walking along and looking ahead, you get a first good view of Angkor Wat itself. From here, the towers are commanding. And seen from an angle, it becomes clear they are five: Four lesser (relatively speaking) spires boxed around a soaring central tower.

There will be another terrace, and then yet another wall surrounding the temple – this one actually a gallery.

Along its corridors are eight bas-reliefs, carvings in that same gray stone – in all, more than kilometre’s worth – each telling epic stories: of the Battle of Kurukshetra, of the Battle of Lanka, of victories and pageantry, elephants and gods and invasions, of heaven and hell ...

The carvings weren’t always gray, just as the friezes around the Parthenon weren’t always bleached white.

“They were painted at that time,” said my guide, Sokun. “You can still see some color.”

Archeologists estimate it took 37 years to complete Angkor Wat. Its sandstone came from a quarry 40km away, hauled here by elephants and horses and humans, but that was the easy part. As much as the temple’s massiveness, it’s the carvings – in number, in detail and in quality – that boggle. Although to get here we have passed nagas, a few stone lions and not a few celestial dancers (apsaras), this is where they really start to kick in: This is the heart of the structure, the temple pyramid – three levels, each with enclosures, terraces, towers, galleries and quirks (including a “hall of echoes” activated by a firm thump of the chest, ideally your own).

It is useless to try to describe all this in words. Even when on the site, with perspective being provided by a quality guide, it’s impossible to grasp what’s here.

That said, we’re going to try.

Every surface is adorned with something carved by ancient hands – dancers, gods and goddesses, demons and kings. Thousands of them.
All that shapeless “mottle” we see from the road is, seen up close, art.The years have done what years do. The elements have softened some edges. Religious conflicts have left Buddhas damaged and Hindu lingas (ritual phalluses) shattered. Rubbings have done some harm and have left unwanted residue. Pillars are gone.

Heads are missing from torsos, most sold for profit and scattered around the world.

Does that matter? Of course.

But looking up at the central tower from the third level ...
It rises 70m above the ground, just 3m shorter than the towers of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, which was begun soon after the completion of Angkor Wat. The Wat looks higher, probably due to the pyramid arrangement. It certainly feels higher.

The climb up narrow steps to the base of the central tower is frightening to all but those with inordinately fine balance or remarkably small feet. There are four stairways up; at just one, the south stairway, has a railing has been installed to assist descent by the nervous.

Only children and fools bypass the railing.

When this was the sanctuary of Khmer kings, only they and high priests could walk on this higher ground. That we can walk here makes it no less humbling. From that highest point, all is visible.

No wonder the Khmer Rouge army held it for years during the civil war. It was its strategic position, and its emotional position. To Cambodians, there is no more powerful national symbol than this.
In 1992, the year U.N. peacekeepers came in, Angkor was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. When UNESCO speaks of Angkor, it is of an archeological park that includes not only Angkor Wat but hundreds of temples and lesser structures – with restorations in progress by the nations of the world – scattered over more than 230 square miles.
Among them: the shrines of Angkor Thom, notably Bayon, with its own bas-reliefs and its prominent heads emerging seemingly from everywhere; Ta Prohm, still in the grip of strangler figs; Banteay Srei, whose pink delicacy gives it its own charm.

Here in Greater Angkor are terraces etched with elephants and platforms guarded by stone lions, and ruins that once were temples but now are little more than piles of stone blocks in a jungle pocked with red signs warning of land mines ... and soon, perhaps, to be packed with tourists.

“Come now,” urged Canadian ex-pat Michelle Vachon, a reporter for the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. “The place is changing so fast. Come now before they Disney-ize the place.”

Is that possible?

“Our tourism is cultural and natural,” said Thy, another guide, with confidence. “We have learned from other places.”

So that is Angkor.

But here, too, are rice fields and water buffalo and fishermen and thatch houses on stilts, villages where men wear sarongs and mothers nurse as they gossip and where children play naked in the rivers – where they laugh as children laugh everywhere when there is peace and there is food.

This is the Cambodia of today along the roads not far beyond Angkor Wat.

Sometimes it is difficult to know which, truly, is the wonder.


Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

MONEY: Mar 05

money1.jpgTHE 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.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 05

avplanes2.jpgZULU KILO DOWN

The mystery of Joe Lourie’s last flight
They make the news but fade away. Topdressing aircraft that crash in remote countryside. But behind every crash is a story, and behind the crash of ZK-LTF is a story that could shed light on many other similar tragedies. NEILL HUNTER has this exclusive investigation

The topdresser dipped silently into the gully ahead and the group of teenage surfies craned their heads searching for it, some balancing on fence posts along the ridge. Suddenly the plane burst into view and roared over our heads like a great flying beast, its proximity not just palpable, but so real it felt like we were almost wearing the machine. The scene was a remote Northland beach an hour’s walk from the road because the Volkswagens couldn’t handle the mud; the agricultural aviator had no such restrictions as he performed aerial tricks, some especially for us, displaying mesmerising skills.

That was back in the 1960s, but those first visions of a topdresser in action remain indelibly etched in my memory. And the culture surrounding the industry hasn’t changed much either over the four decades hence. The sky jockeys at the reins of these aerial workhorses pepper their speech with jargon like “strap on the aeroplane and take it for a ride”, “turn the plane inside-out”, “inverted”, “critical speed”, “stall”, “situ-ational awareness”. They’re held in such esteem that some call them “Super Pilots”. But it’s a moniker that’s swiftly passing its use-by date, because everywhere you look, from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) and elsewhere, there is one controversial word buzzing the airfields: “fatigue”. And that’s what this story is about, the tale of a pilot, his loader driver, two grieving families and the plane with no name. The crash of ZK-LTF. Although it happened back in 2003, the rumours surrounding the last flight of ZK-LTF continue to swirl at Toko, the tiny farming community on the highway to what some call “the lost world”, that magnificent New Zealand hinterland between Taranaki’s Stratford and Waikato’s Taumaranui. On a soft summer evening, the appearance of a national magazine asking questions in their midst at the small village pub renews debate and rekindles memories.

ZK-LTF, you see, was a mongrel. Not in quality, in make. Once it was a fixed wing topdresser, resembling a Fletcher. But officially it was an FU24-950 born into civil aviation existence in 1973, lived 5332 flight hours and died peacefully when it was put into storage in 1990. This was ZK-LTF in Fletcher guise.

But the plane was, amazingly, resurrected in 1999, extensively rebuilt, and re-registered in March 2000 as a “Falcon”. Farmers knew ZK-LTF. Says one: “it was a Fletcher plane, Cresco wings and Falcon motor – 650 HP.” To experts, it was a Cresco main plane, Lycoming LTP-101-700A-1A turboprop with characteristics of a Cresco with an FU24 hopper capable of disgorging 979kg of fertiliser. Some readers will want to know these things, others will simply need to know it was a topdresser, fixed wing.

When ZK-LTF crashed in Taranaki killing pilot Joe Lourie and his loader driver passenger Richard McRae there were those in the farming community who thought it was the old plane, the one which had two near misses, “flame-outs” they said, which nearly killed Joe Lourie’s brother, they said. A jinxed aircraft, perhaps.

Then another farmer, who had remained silent at the pub back in 2003, spoke up telling his friends it was the “new” plane. The Falcon. He knew this because he and his son found the wreckage that night, and the bodies, nearly two years ago:

At about 6.15pm, on 4 April 2003, Barry Baldock sat on a motorbike near his woolshed about to put the sheep away for the night on an evening fine and clear, when he heard the sound of the plane he knew so well. “I knew what plane it was. I thought, ‘that’s Joe’”. The engine of the Falcon was distinctive and smooth: “it was humming,” he says of the Wanganui Aero Works’ Stratford operation topdresser piloted by his son’s good friend Joe Lourie. It was a sound he had heard earlier that day as well as on preceding weeks. He looked up as it roared into view, climbed steeply above the high green ridge, banked away from the tanned farmer, reverse-turned – in pilot jargon – and disappeared. The tall lean man in his sixties sat on his bike and watched briefly then thought to himself, “c’mon Joe, time to knock off.”

For a brief moment he watched the plane as it emerged again, lunging back up the wide open valley from whence it had come, towards the razorback ridges of high, green, steep jagged hills in the distance, into a narrow pass. The shattered horizon is cut by peaks and pinnacles, like broken glass, except near the Strathmore saddle where the serrated green line breaks form, becoming one long, high, straight, towering wall of land, and the valley begins to close.

Barry Baldock reckons he was the last to see ZK-LTF and says he might have heard the crash were it not for the sound of his bike starting as the plane disappeared. There were sheep to tend in these twilight moments, and no time to stand around daydreaming.

“I thought, ‘that’s Joe.’ Started the motorbike up. Probably the time of the crash was as the motorbike was turning over.”
Engine noises drowning the sound of a distant impact; no explosion, no fire.

At around 10.45 pm, when the All Blacks were playing on TV that night, the telephone rang in the modest Baldock farm house and the lifetime farmer told the caller, Allan Beck, local helicopter pilot and veteran search and rescue operator, that he knew the location of the plane they were searching for.

“If it’s gone down I know exactly where it is. I thought if it was the last flight before he went home…but he’d obviously gone through, turned around and made another approach. I started the motor bike up as I saw him disappear back down over the hill and rode off to put sheep away. Otherwise I would have heard it.”

Later, Search and Rescue headquarters in Wellington were so impressed they asked Beck: “how did you find it so fast”.

It was simple. He asked the farmers.

Although the plane wasn’t operating on Baldock’s farm – that had been scheduled for the following week – Allan Beck had a gut feeling he should call Barry Baldock. With his son and a son in-law, Baldock drove up to the Strathmore Saddle, five kms north east of Douglas in the Forgotten World, and he told the others to be alert for the smell of fumes. Then it came, wafting through their car like an invisible cloud, even before they stopped at the place where Baldock reckoned would be the nearest point in the road to the crash scene: the stench of aviation fuel permeating the still night air.

In the end it was not only the fuel smell, but a flight of others on the wing, which alerted the pilot’s friend to the wreckage of ZK-LTF. Says Barry Baldock: “A couple of ducks flew out of a little swamp and frightened him (his son). He had a torch on his head, spun around and his torch shone on a white thing on the side of the hill. He said ‘here it is up here Dad’,” and the search was over. All seemed very peaceful.

“Joe was still in the belts, up off the ground, very peaceful, not really a mark on him. Richard was lying about 20 metres away. I was glad there was no fire. Joe especially looked very peaceful.”
Richard, Wayne Baldock said to his father, “just looked like he was asleep.”

That was April 2003. On 13 October 2004, New Plymouth Coroner Roger Mori signed off his “Findings Of Coroner Under The Coroners Act 1988”, the official title given to his inquest into the deaths of a topdressing pilot and his loader driver passenger. It was supposed to be the final act of a three part process, of yet another investigation into yet another topdressing accident: (1) a police investigation (2) an aircraft accident investigation by the CAA and (3) an inquest, based upon those investigations, by the coroner. There were failures in all three, some small others substantial, but essentially the process failed to provide the families of those lost in the crash with that state of mind popularly known as “closure”.

For the mother of one of those lost in the wreckage of ZK-LTF, Ann Macrae (her surname is spelt differently to her son’s), closure would have been achieved if the inquest had included a full assessment of work pressure and fatigue, involving the pilot and loader driver, leading up to the time of the crash.

As she sits in her home at Sanson, calmly and clinically describing the failures of those charged with handling the investigation, it seems ironic that near her plain, neat home, is an Air Force base named Ohakea. The place where fighter jets once flew. Now this mother is taking up a fight for a lost son, once an Air Force mechanic, but she refuses to be drawn into arguments of blame.

“It would have been wrong to blame Joe Lourie for crashing the plane.” She says it goes beyond that. “Richard and Joe were right at the bottom of the chain.” The woman who loves to write, and grow huge healthy pot plants, says the investigations failed to examine the issues of work place health and safety.

So Investigate left Ann Macrae behind, and followed our own flight path to examine her assertions. Everywhere, even two years after the event, we found emotions still raw. But farmers and others opened their doors, offered opinions, shed tears, retrieved memories.

At the end of a blistering Manawatu summer day, where temperatures had soared as high as 42 in the shade, faces listen intently and fingers draw lines and shapes in the condensation on their beer glasses as the discussion of the crash and its aftermath swoops and dives with a life of its own.

A journalist’s mind, meanwhile, settles on a topdressing veteran describing his craft.

As Richmond Harding recalls it, crashing his father’s Tiger Moth in the 50’s while spreading grass seed left no time for fear because he was too busy.

“About 20 seconds” is all you have to find a place to land after running out of fuel, he tells me. At 66 he is still young enough to fly topdressers, so too his elder brother at 68, but it’s difficult to extract from the sun-drenched aviator the thoughts of a pilot about to crash. He walked away unscathed but wrote off his father’s plane, and
remembers the aftermath. “I hitched a ride back to Waiouru. Me father growled at me,” he chuckles.

“Why didn’t you bring back the Tiger Moth,” his father had asked, in an aviation variation of a teenager crashing dad’s car.

“I wrote it off.”

It’s a lighter moment, while interviewing the man who used to own – and remains general manager of – Wanganui Aero Works, the company he started after persuading his father to let him and his brother
go top dressing instead of farming. It was a pleasure interviewing the man who speaks in a measured, calm, sensible manner, who later sold the operation, one of the biggest in New Zealand, to Ravensdown Fertiliser.

So how did he crash the Tiger Moth? Focussing on the pattern of the grass seed he was spreading distracted the young pilot from monitoring his fuel consumption. When the penny dropped that he was going down, it was more of a Toyota ‘bugger’ moment than a wild panic.

“You’ve got a job to do…pretty urgent job to do. The crash investigator Paddy O’Brien once said ‘if you can put an aeroplane on the ground and run it say 20 metres you’ll probably walk away’. Control it to the ground, don’t stall it to the ground. If it’s hill country run it up the side of a hill. Run it into the ground, don’t smash it into the ground.”

avplane1.jpgSo what happened to Wanganui Aero Works’ ill-fated ZK-LTF? Timing is everything and the time of ZK-LTF’s crash is relevant to much of this investigation, central to issues of work pressure, fatigue and the demise of New Zealand topdressing pilots (and their families).

First: there are no flight and duty time (hours of working and flying) limitations either under OSH or CAA rules. In fact OSH has no jurisdiction over pilots/aviation employers; that’s done by CAA who have OSH personnel helping them. Truck drivers have limitations. Airline pilots have limitations. Australian ag’ pilots have limitations. But not NZ ag’ pilots. Once they did, 25 years ago, but it was too hard so it got scrapped. CAA recognised that ag’ flying was too dependent upon weather and seasons – “windows” – to have rules for pilots’ health and safety.

Whether that is a sensible stand or a facetious excuse for inaction is the point now thrown up for debate. The argument from those who believe the industry must be flexible enough to work during weather windows is essentially this: overall down time exceeds overall flying time, therefore there is no problem, no fatigue. The argument is based on total annual flying hours.

But in the real world there are those who point out some blindingly obvious problems with that analysis. The weather’s been bad for a month, and suddenly a week of fine weather arrives. A plane can be in the air from dawn till dusk; diving, swooping, landing, taking off, seven to ten days in a row to get the backlog of work cleared.
Was pilot fatigue a bigger factor in the demise of ZK-LTF than police, CAA and coronial investigations had suggested?

It would be fair to say that interviews with some became more “adversarial” as the logic of the counter-position sunk in. Credit must go to Bill Sommer, CAA media liaison and ex-RNZAF man who, after two long interviews, seemed to swing away from the entrenched employer and CAA positions of “downtime” and individual pilot responsibility for their own health and safety. The veterans with whom we went “adversarial” listened, but were basically immoveable.

There are some level heads in the industry who while maintaining their view that fatigue is not an issue, say they strive to teach their pilots good health and safety. Mike Keen of Hamilton’s Superair insists he is being accurate in his view that fatigue is not a problem in the industry, nor is work pressure.

“Where are the facts and figures?” he asks. In two long interviews we thrashed the subject and while the 10,000-hour veteran admits that there may have been cases in the past, it is not prevalent now. He says there is too much down time, they may work, say, a 14 hour day, but only fly for six hours and spend the remainder “sleeping under a wing or having a cup of tea with the farmer.” He insists that his company regularly reminds their pilots to take breaks and manage their work load and says most operators are the same. He recently sent a memo reminding pilots of summer temperatures and rest. Of a Pacific Wings magazine story about fatigue and stress, he says it’s inaccurate because there is no data to back it up. He rubbishes the reference to an “appalling” accident rate but admits at times, “it’s bad.”

Investigate’s argument: forget about annual flying hours and down time. We asked the question: “what is going to happen when, as exists now with companies three weeks behind in their work due to weather, suddenly the weather comes right, there’s a flood of work, and it’s game on, work ‘til you drop, pilots working / flying 14 hour days and taking one 15 minute meal break (we sighted records proving it)? It’s not the big picture (annual hours, down time etc) – it’s the micro one, of suddenly going for it over three days (or longer).”

“It’s a fair point you make,” says CAA’s Sommer, adding, “Everyone else has got responsibility as well. Not just us. The pilot has that responsibility to say ‘I’m too tired’. Now that’s clearly drummed into the guys who are flying passengers around. The safety of those passengers lies specifically with them. [But] In the case of the ag’ operator, well the feeling of responsibility that the pilot feels may be quite different.”

Is that “feeling” called peer pressure and subtle work pressure? Sommer believes things will change: “I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, I’m sure it will be. I’m sure it’ll be examined but I don’t know if it’s going to be that easy to do.”

So why not take advantage of a crash investigation and coroner’s inquest, go proactive, highlight the awareness? Our answer: You can’t if the crash investigator seems to pull punches, saying there may have been work pressure, might have been fatigue. There’s talk of reviews of working conditions pending, but apparently no real investigation into fatigue and work pressure until after the Coroner’s hearing.
You read correctly. Arguably crucial evidence was not obtained by CAA until after the Coroner’s investigation had wrapped up.

“It’s in writing on your own letterhead” we remind CAA. A clearly concerned official says he can’t comment because the staff involved are away and efforts to date by Investigate to contact them have been unsuccessful due to leave and overseas commitments we are told. More about the CAA bombshell soon.

Cut to the numbers, fatal and injury, what are they?

“Appalling…bad…trending upwards” are the various descriptions from CAA, aircraft magazine writers and the industry. Bill Sommer: “it’s trending up for ag’ ops and trending down for others…you can see it’s really quite something.”

One veteran said he thought about four were killed over about the last three years, perhaps about 15 accidents in total over that period. He knows that 200 have died since the 1940s when the industry began. This man has been flying for 40 years, operated a company for 23 years which had no accidents until 2001 when they suddenly had 3 in one year. (None were fatal and one of them was his first which he attributes to not flying for three weeks, not fatigue.) Veterans say CAA is fudging the numbers. CAA denies this, and says it has the graphs to prove it, that the accident numbers are climbing.
CAA admits that fixed wing topdressers combine with other light aircraft stats which, say some in the industry, is the reason the numbers aren’t accurate.

“That’s not correct, we can separate them out,” says Sommer of criticism that topdressers join hang gliders and balloons. CAA say they can extract the numbers and have done so on “ag’ ops” and besides, everyone in the industry knows the situation is bad.

Arguably though, it’s not the numbers, but the fact that flight and duty limitations do not exist for topdressing, except “civil twilight”: 30 minutes before/after sunrise/set. According to CAA technical examinations, 11 minutes had remained under the civil twilight rule for ZK-LTF to finish and go home. The device giving that data in ZK-LTF was a pseudo-cockpit recorder, a type of global positioning system (GPS), which could have been switched off due to screen glow distracting the pilot. “1826:50”, the last entry, may be early. The crash investigation says sunset was 1811hrs, “end of daylight” was 1838hrs, crash time “1830 approx”.

Says Mark Ford, a helicopter operator flying over ZK-LTF before the crash, “It was starting to get dark in the valleys, shadow-up. Fifteen to twenty minutes and it would’ve been pretty dark.” Ford believes he saw ZK-LTF well before it crashed because it was spreading on another farm, so by the time it finished that run, landed, reloaded, waited for the loader to park and lock up, transited to the farm and crash scene for its last job of the day, we estimate it could have consumed most of the “15 to 20 minutes to dark” that Ford says was remaining. But there is a variable. The CAA report says Ford told them the time was 5.45pm. Ford told Investigate he was only “five to six” minutes from home, which would mean his sighting was well before sundown at 6.11pm. Even considering the diminished light in the valleys, one would expect there to have been ample light, if Ford’s original sighting time was correct. In the final analysis, according to the technical data, the crash happened just on dark.

Mark Ford is a veteran helicopter logging operator but initially nobody knew where we could find him. In the end of course it was easy, his is the only place in NZ with an ex-RAF Wessex military helicopter, in full camo, parked out the back, with another “squadron” of them in storage – plus the world’s supply of spare parts, literally, 100 containers-worth to be precise. His Wessex helicopter logging operation is as huge as the scrap he is embroiled in with CAA, an organisation he accuses of being rife with corruption.

Ford is one of those larger-than-life Kiwi blokes, a bull of a man and in his no-nonsense way and office, he shared his views of a topdresser crash. Unfortunately CAA, according to Ford, only briefly interviewed him on the side of the road near the crash scene and appeared to focus on an issue which Investigate elects to cover, despite its controversial significance, especially to bereaved families. We do so for completeness, and in the end we say it needs to be viewed in context: was it causative, or distraction from the real issues of pressure and fatigue? It concerns the flying style of the pilot.

Friday evening, nearly two years ago and two men in a helicopter are almost home, flying about 500 feet over the mottled greens of the Forgotten World, when they suddenly see ZK-LTF below them.

“You see an aircraft flying, doing its normal stuff, you think nothing of it, you fly across, see it, oh yeah, just another aeroplane, helicopter or whatever, but for something like that to take my specific bloody attention away, and think to myself, struth, look at that thing, that thing’s near inverted, because it’s frickin’ flying almost upside down. The turns were really tight. That’s why I noticed it…it made me look twice. For me to look back twice and say sheesh that guy’s turning it inside out. That’s exactly what I thought.”

And Ford knows all about fatigue after once taking off with running wheels (removable) still attached and on another occasion, nearly taking off with two heavy truck batteries on the ground, still attached to the helicopter. He says they now “run co-pilots and stop for lunch and breaks after about two hours”, and although it’s his own business he doesn’t pressure his pilots to keep working, “not at all.”
When asked his opinion on the difference between his industry and fixed wing topdresser he replies: “I believe there are a lot more getting killed in aeroplanes than helicopters.” (They’re not, but that’s another story.)

Others say it is not work pressure or fatigue. Hallett Griffin is a 40-year veteran who says his only accident came after three weeks of no flying and at an Australian Conference heard a military pilot lecture on BITS – “back in the saddle” – and its dangers. Griffin also acknowledges that things are not good but insists neither are they bad or appalling as alleged by others. Companies watch their pilots to ensure safety; he says he knows of pilots who have been grounded. So what does he do to instil safety and health, if a pilot is over-doing things? “Keep an eye on him. Bit of a cuff over the ear.”

We don’t know why ZK-LTF smashed into the side of a high buttress-like hill, yet there are clues. Experts have offered opinion: “The aircraft had struck the ground in an attitude that suggested it was pulling out of a dive, but with insufficient height for terrain clearance.

Possible reasons for the manoeuvre include a pull-out from a reversal turn…the aeroplane struck the ground very heavily on a heading of 210 degrees M while on a 55 degrees bank to the right and on descent path of at least 30 degrees…after rebounding and crossing an intervening small gully, the wreckage again collided heavily with the ground some 47m further on, coming to rest in several sections… The high ground surrounding the valley where the accident occurred would have increased the effects of the fading light, making height judgement progressively more difficult”, writes Alistair Buckingham, CAA crash investigator.

Ask the farmers and they say ZK-LTF was simply spreading the last of the fertiliser across the face of rising ground, wings at an angle matching the lower slope but in the darkening conditions, struck one of the low ridges of the small gullies near the base of a nameless hill. A farmer standing on the side of the road points to a patch of thistles as evidence: “you see those Kellies Thistles, he shaved them off like a mower, he skipped into the ground.” That from Barry Baldock, the farmer who found the wreckage; who knows his planes, and the land.

So would a diving heavy impact, offered by CAA, be consistent with shaving thistles? Despite that, for now we confirm that the CAA investigation was otherwise reasonably thorough and “exhaustive”, as they remind the reader.

There are other factors which investigators and the coroner say may have caused or contributed to the crash such as illegal carrying of a passenger during spreading; “exuberance of the reversal manoeuvres”; “sense of urgency to complete the job…”; “pilot’s judgement may have been further eroded by fatigue and a degree of carbon monoxide absorption (cma).” Let’s deal with the latter briefly for clarification. It relates more to internal rather than external (e.g. fumes) sources of toxicology, of blood saturation levels where normal
levels are 1% to 2% cma, 5% to 10% may affect the heart, 15% to 20% dizziness and nausea, 50% may kill. The CAA report includes findings relating to the pilot’s forensic results therefore it can be safely assumed that the cma was relevant, by virtue of the statement “…eroded by fatigue and a degree of carbon monoxide absorption”.

Those and other issues had to be considered by the coroner.

It is 9.30am, another fine day in the ‘naki, already signs of a scorcher but Coroner Roger Mori is happy with a simple desk-top fan in his office at the end of a long corridor in the chambers of Nicolsons, Lawyers and Notary Public. The tall lean father of a representative basketballer, calmly and fully expounds on the coroner’s role generally, and the inquest into the deaths of Richard Sinclair McRae and Jonathan Peter Lourie, ages 30 and 29 respectively.

“I’m required to make recommendations or comments in the avoidance of circumstances similar to those in which the death occurred, or in the manner in which any persons should act in such circumstances, that, in the opinion of the coroner, may if drawn to public attention reduce the chances of the occurrence of other deaths in such circumstances. So, there we are and of course it is only the sudden and unexpected deaths that are reported to me and of course obviously air accidents fall very fairly and squarely into that category.” He has dealt with about six air crashes over the 21 years but can not remember clearly if any included topdressing but may have. Sitting relaxed behind a large desk, in a casual shirt, no tie, one cannot help but be impressed with his professional yet open manner. Despite issues, some controversial, arising from this case, one of which he is unaware until informed in this interview, he clearly conveys an empathy of understanding towards families in grief. He has never lost a son or daughter and can not imagine the hurt, he says. He is probably being humble for someone having presided over countless enquiries and currently awaiting reports on the latest aircrash in Taranaki, that of a plane which slammed into such a precarious part of Mt Taranaki’s summit, two helicopters were required. “I try to keep myself as remote as I can from families”, ‘he says,but then explains examples of where that “rule” has been broken.

avchopper2.jpgZK-LTF’s case has at times been controversial. The families accuse authorities of prejudging “cause and effect” and to a degree, Mori even agrees: “to that extent they’re right because all the evidence is prepared in writing in advance.” While the coroner may direct further investigations after receiving reports, it is the police responsibility to call evidence, liaise with families and prepare the evidence in advance for examination at the inquest.

Mori is well versed in issues of fatigue, both professionally, and personally from a near-tragedy which could have had fatal consequences when a member of his own family, suffering fatigue, crashed a vehicle, escaping uninjured.

An expert from Massey University presenting evidence in Mori’s court about fatigue in another case, testified how physical functions may carry on normally until suddenly the brain literally stops.
“You get tired and the brain will shut off for some seconds… suddenly you’re out of control”, the coroner recounts.

But it is the question of whether the Civil Aviation Authority lost control of its own investigation that now rears its head. You see, at the end of the day a coronial inquest is only as good as the evidence that Coroner gets to see. If one of the investigating agencies gets facts wrong, or doesn’t cover all the bases, a Coroner may end up delivering an unsound report. And that’s what the families of Joe Lourie and Richard McRae are alleging.

The most telling piece of potential evidence in this regard is a letter written by a CAA investigator (the “bombshell”) which confirms crucial documents, the actual “flight records”, were not uplifted by CAA until “the day after the inquest”.

The letter goes on to confirm that CAA had vastly underestimated the actual flight hours of the pilot for the preceding days, and that an amended report would be filed by last December. As of the time of going to press, no such amended report has been filed that we can establish. So how could CAA get it so wrong, why do they appear to have not done the enquires “by the numbers”, checked the pilot’s flying hours, why change a report after an inquest? Because that is what this investigation reveals.

CAA’s Bill Sommer was unaware of the letter until Investigate raised it, but says he’s sure that if their investigator changed his report, they would “tell the coroner”.

Well, the investigator has changed his report; according to the document, he admits virtually (to his credit) that he got it wrong, but hasn’t told the coroner about his failure to properly investigate the issue of work pressure and fatigue, nor his amended report (after the inquest). Another expert witness present at the inquest has told Investigate that the coroner specifically asked the CAA investigator if he was sure the numbers (flying hours) were correct. According to the source, CAA replied they were. But they are not and Investigate has a copy of the CAA document to prove it. What is the significance of that to a re-hearing?

Mori has signalled he is open to a re-hearing and even quoted the rules allowing it but emphasises the application must come from the Solicitor-General. He cannot initiate it himself.

Quotes Mori: “Section 38… if satisfied that since an inquest was completed new facts have been discovered, make it desirable to hold another, the Solicitor-General may order another to be held and in that case another shall be held.”

So sayeth the Act. And the new facts (as well as breaches and failures under the Coroner’s Act) are these:

The CAA crash report states the pilot “had not flown on any of the seven days immediately preceding the accident date.”
False.

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.

False.

The CAA report states they were abreast. Which is it? We don’t know because nobody appears to have asked the question. In fact from enquiries, the passenger was beside the pilot, but it casts more doubt on the thoroughness of the original investigations.

Approximately one week prior to the accident Joe Lourie was so exhausted from working from dawn to dark that he sent his friend, a farmer, to get food and drink for him. On another occasion he called Stratford Aero Club and asked them to turn on the lights of their building as a navigational point for landing at night, illegally.

Self-imposed bad practice? Or signs of a responsible, well trained pilot under pressure? Farmers close to Joe Lourie and Wanganui Aero Works say that prior to him becoming manager of the Stratford operation it was losing business, attributed to the previous pilot nearing retirement and no longer buying into the work/fly-until-you-drop (or die) culture. That is not a reflection on the retiring pilot but rather a sign of pressure.

“The previous pilot was a lot older and probably ready for retirement,” opines a farmer. “The difference was one wanting to work and the other being very cautious. But they did lose a bit of business because they weren’t getting the manure on…Joe’s thing was to get that business back, plus a bit more.”

Topdressing companies are paid when all the fertiliser bought by the farmer has been spread. So if the job becomes disjointed, broken by weather, including wind, mechanical failures and the like, there is no income, no progress payments. Pressure may come from farmers, “standing over” the pilot pressuring him into flying to their farm “right now” because it looks fine and they want their fertiliser on the ground, now. The plane arrives and, as the pilot suspected, so too does the wind. He tries for half an hour, then flies home again, expenses soar, and net profit plummets.

“It happens,” says a farmer. “It’s pressure from farmers, not all…they want it on now…the job has to be finished, no manure on the ground, no money …weather can hold things up for quite a few weeks sometimes,” he explains.

Then a commercial pilot, after much procrastination and on condition of anonymity comes forward through a third party at first, and then speaks to Investigate directly.

Three weeks before ZK-LTF’s crash Joe Lourie was “doing stunts after work”. While that in itself is not bad he says, because most pilots do it, especially at the end of a day, if conditions are safe, but if a pilot is tired, the consequences may be fatal.

“It’s usually ridge-running, not barrel rolls.” It’s like a release from all the pressure which they say “will kill people”. He exclaims, when told of the flying hours, take-offs and landings logged by Lourie:

“I find that incredible”. Then he pauses and says he knows it’s happening. “Some of them are doing huge hours (flying time). I’ve done eight hours and even that’s too much.”

avmcrae.jpgWith 1400 hours logged, he rubbishes the veterans who say flying is no more complicated than driving a car. Investigate has been told on several occasions that for an experienced pilot, flying is easier and less tiring than driving. Our informant says that driving can be “automatic” but “in flying you’re constantly thinking and when you land you feel exhausted”.

When Investigate re-interviews a veteran about the informant’s statements, he scoffs and even laughs and we are told again, fatigue is not an issue. But, says our informant, six hours topdressing flying time in a day… “it’s big.” When a pilot gets tired they “get lazy and don’t pay attention.”

Make no mistake, Investigate accepts Lourie broke rules. Carrying a passenger restrained only by a lap belt (both were big men) while spreading was dangerous. Operating just on dark, soaring up into lighter conditions above the hills and back into dark valleys where shadows obscured the smaller ridges, was reckless.

But why, once again, was this experienced, well trained pilot making such mistakes? Was it pressure, squeezing in one more run just on dark, take the pilot home with him and save time, get back on the job early next morning, take him on the last spread instead of returning to the field, collecting him and flying straight home to Stratford, only minutes away by plane, perhaps an hour in an old slow loader on a narrow twisting country road punctuated by more stop signs and railway crossings than a Monopoly board?

We investigated suggestions it was all Lourie’s own fault: a pilot out of control, cavalier in approach. But to the farmers who knew the quiet pilot it was the opposite. “Very quiet,” is their description, “he would say what he had to and that was it kind of thing”. His employers, to be fair, are reluctant to blame Lourie but in interviewing them there is a clear perception that they discount fatigue, and blame pilot error. “He had been warned…” they explain but say no more, out of respect they say for the families.

Joe Lourie had to take responsibility, says a reliable neutral source in Manawatu (not the employers) who once met the young pilot.
He was closely supervised for six months at Hunterville with a veteran, where they say he was groomed for the Stratford position as manager/pilot. The source says he was very impressed after meeting the big, tall pilot whom he described as “the future of the industry.” Which again begs the question: what went wrong with the 1000 hour-plus, groomed pilot?

More enquiries and again the veterans say they know the cause and it wasn’t work pressure because there is nothing wrong with squeezing in one last load before dark. One says that if the conditions are perfect, as they were this day, then evening is the ideal time to fly, and goes on to describe the joy of doing the last loads late in the day, not because of pressure, but the elation of flying.

Farmers experienced in topdressing say Lourie was a good pilot. None say he was reckless, one talks of his so called exuberant flying (as in the CAA report where technical data confirms “exuberant” manoeuvres) adding that “he could fly, he could handle it, he was a bloody good pilot” but admits he was “starting to take a few risks.” A farmer who had watched him weeks before the crash thought to himself “take it carefully, Joe”, even telling his wife, but says it was paying off commercially: “he picked up a lot of work.” But it was reaching the point where it was raising concerns. A farmer says “a lot of people commented that Wanganui Aero Works should have pulled the pin on him and cut back his hours…they must have known how many tonnes he was putting on so they should have known the hours (the pilot would need to do) to put that tonnage on. It was a waste of two good lives, I know that,” he muses.

There is another reason for the Solicitor-General to re-open the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Lourie and McRae. The last error in the CAA report, perhaps only small, perhaps not. The crash report says “…both occupants were ejected from the cockpit.”

False.

New fact: Witnesses to the crash scene, those who found the wreckage, say the pilot was in the wreckage, “Joe was still in the belts, up off the ground, very peaceful, not really a mark on him. Richard was lying about 20 metres away…”

Barry Baldock then went on to describe the state of the wreckage, and the pilot’s position in it which, for brevity and sensitivity, we have condensed as above. Investigate received allegations that Lourie was not the pilot. McRae, the loader driver was a trained pilot, with aspirations of becoming an ag’ pilot and it is not unusual for official and unofficial training to take place on the job. After enquiries however with police, crash scene witnesses and anonymous witnesses who have no agenda, we are reasonably satisfied that Lourie was the pilot. But cumulatively, the CAA report errors are such they raise substantial doubts about the integrity of the inquest.
So what does the Coroner think of all this?

Roger Mori hints that he is less than happy with the situation. Investigate contacted the Coroner again about the evidence, including the bombshell CAA admission that they got it wrong over the “the pilot hadn’t flown during the week”, and that CAA was intending to amend its accident report. His reaction? A typical no-nonsense one: “S**t, that’s all been done subsequent to my report!”

He adds, incredulously, “they (CAA) can’t change a report once it becomes an official document in a Coroner’s inquest.” He tells Investigate “it’s something that should be investigated.”

We then discuss apparent breaches in the Coroners Act about the informing of parties, such as families and employers. Neither family or employer were informed of the inquest and although blame for that falls on the police, Mori typically doesn’t duck the issue and talks about it being “extremely rare” and “system failure.”

He evinces clear frustrations over certain parties, such as the pilot’s wife, being inadvertently excluded from the inquest.
“I was bloody annoyed”.

Investigate explained to the Coroner the results of enquiries to date and the evidence that proximate cause could more strongly be fatigue. In legal terms, more commonly associated with the insurance industry, proximate cause means after weighing-up all other possible contributory causes, in the final analysis there is one direct, stronger cause. Mori replies with talk about that being “logical …best explanation…what you’re doing is researching and asking ques- tions…probably the answer is yes…I would say that’s fairly accurate”. If nothing else, let that at least be of some comfort to the families because blaming the pilot, as hinted in the CAA report, and by some industry members, is an easy assumption.

But it’s up to the Solicitor-General’s office to apply to the High Court, as provided for under the Coroners Act, on the grounds that there are sufficient new facts from the formal evidence: changes to CAA report after the inquest; their admission to erring; breaches of the Act due to the exclusion of families’ members; evidence presented but rejected without being heard.

A re-opened coronial investigation could not only put the pilot’s actions in a clearer light, but also bring an end to commercial and peer pressures that many in the agricultural aviation industry say are killing pilots.

“It was a beautiful sight,” says a farmer’s wife, describing ZK-LTF approaching their farm air strip in the low light of predawn. She says the combination of the plane’s lights, the early dawn colours, vapour streaming off the wings of the white Falcon like long white ribbons, was something she will never forget. The interview turns quiet as she recalls the image, describing it again, painting a word picture that stays in the mind. Later she says that I should go to a small airstrip, at night.

A quarter after nine pm on a country airstrip in Taranaki, and the pilot from the big Cresco topdresser, 3714kg fully laden, parked on the grass, walks through the darkness, and looks puzzled to find a journalist. There are no lights and nearby buildings are in darkness; the place is abandoned apart from pilot and scribe.

He says he landed about 8.15pm, is happy to talk about his job, a tall solid man who now leans over the roof of his car, slumping his body in a sign his day is over. He shares things like hours, working conditions and the importance of the industry.

“Seven hundred thousand tonnes of fertiliser per year, we have more turn-over than any other industry, it’s important we don’t fall over.” He says he manages his fatigue, “you’re not always flying…”, then hesitates. Later he says he’s off to the central North Island and as we talk more there’s a distant rumbling growl, rising like rolling thunder in the still night. From the track leading to the airfield, a monster lumbers suddenly into view, headlights blazing like eyes, a creature common to rural New Zealand: a topdressing loader. Truck-cab at the front, loader-cab and bucket at the back, Kiwi ingenuity at its best.

“My loader driver, he’s coming with me,” says the pilot. Then an older man in a black singlet climbs down and wanders over. The pilot and I exchange farewells, the other looks on silently, confused, then both get into the pilot’s car, and drive away, leaving me alone in the dark, imagining a different scene, two years ago, when pilot and loader took another way home, via grassy slopes of a valley, on a night in the Forgotten World.

The distant silhouette of a giant mountain looms, with snow still present where weeks earlier it too became a place of tragedy, scene of a fatal air crash. Time to go. I’ve booked a cabin overlooking the ocean hoping to enjoy the view but it won’t be, because it’ll be 10.10pm, and I’ve had no dinner, only a quick lunch and the first interview was at 9.30pm, later than the others on this long week when a chief reporter said they too “hate the early morning interviews.” Twice during the 45 odd minute drive to New Plymouth street lights from small towns in the distance seem like approaching car lights, illusions, eyes tiring, itching, then the realisation: could be fatigue.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 05

BOXING-LENNOX-LEWIS-DAVID-T.jpgDOWNFOR 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”

SPORTS-BOXING-5-PH.jpgLater in the exchange he asserted that no professionally prepared and audited accounts were done because “taxation is decided by the shareholders of the company. The court-appointed accountants have taken the view of undoing three years of methodology of accounting the company followed.” Molloy was moved to remark that it was a stance every New Zealand company would love to take.

When Tony Molloy asked him if he’d ever taken expert tax advice he replied yes, from myself. When then asked what qualified him to provide such advice, there followed a long discourse on how there’s a simple principle involved of paying a percentage of the company’s income in tax, and standard tax return forms are available on the internet. Pugh claimed he adopted a “no harm, no foul” policy with the IRD.

Kevin Barry’s knowledge of company law was little better.
Tony Molloy: “You poured scorn in your brief on the idea that David Tua didn’t understand about shares in the company. What I would like to know is whether you understand. The impression I get from your affidavits is that you think a 25% shareholding in a company entitles you to 25% of the company’s income and 25% of its profit. Is that what you think?”

Kevin Barry: “Yes that’s right.”

The proceedings came down to credibility. It was clear Tuaman Inc was owned half by David Tua and a quarter each by Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh, and that Pakiri was owned by Tuaman Inc. The nexus of the Tua case was the legal principle of express trust – that David Tua had conferred trust on Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh to buy the land on his behalf. The heart of the Barry and Pugh argument was that this had never been put in writing – indeed, it had never even been expressed in those terms.

Martin Pugh’s questionable accounting was therefore not directly relevant to the issue of who owns Pakiri, but it served to highlight the kind of person before the court.

As such, his habit of forging signatures and creatively moving Tuaman Inc funds around were central to their case.

Martin Pugh admitted to Tony Molloy that he had forged signatures on at least two occasions. Once was when he forged Tuaman company accountant Jennie Grant’s signature on a Companies Office document. On another occasion he ‘cut and pasted’ middleweight boxer Maselino Masoe’s signature on to a fight promotion agreement.

The admissions came with no apparent shame. “I received no benefit,” Pugh said. “In closing,” he said grandly, and tried to raise the saga of Prime Minister Helen Clark signing an art work she had not created. Presiding judge Justice Williams cut him off.

Another incident raised by Tony Molloy went to the heart of Martin Pugh’s credibility. In December 2001 around $925,000 was transferred from Tuaman Inc to a company in Vanuatu called Sports Tech set up by Richard Gregory, a friend of Pugh’s. Some of that money was used to set up debit cards for Pugh, his partner Sally Cross, Kevin Barry and his wife, and others.

The sum remaining was around $809,000. The next month $809,000 was transferred back to Auckland to the Baron and Lunar Trust, a family trust associated with Sally Cross. Sally Cross then paid off business debts amounting to $809,000. Martin Pugh conceded the matching amounts looked strange, but said there was nothing “sinister” about it. He claimed he had 200 pages of documents to explain the deal, which he would present at a future trial. “Once you see the documents it will make sense to the court. I do not wish to play my hand in regard to that.”

Martin Pugh variously described the steps in the transaction as a loan, a bond, and then a guarantee. Molloy put it to him that this story was a cover-up for the misappropriation of funds from Tuaman. He denied it.

Tua 003.jpgDavid Tua told the court he had “a funny feeling” about Martin Pugh. He said it was Kevin Barry’s idea to involve him. “He (Kevin) said he was a smart businessman, and could be the ideal guy to manage the
finances and make investments for me. I trusted Kevin. He really wanted Marty on board, so I gave in.”

In his closing address, Tony Molloy said: “Having seen and heard Pugh and his admissions of forgery and lying, and his disdain for the laws of the land that ordinary conscientious citizens regard as an obligation to observe, let alone company directors, it is not at all surprising that Mr Tua didn’t like Mr Pugh.”

Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh fought back hard on the credibility battlefield. They claim it was the Tua camp which was planning to shaft them. The Tuas came to the management duo in January 2001 wanting changes to the EMA, such as the inclusion of a clause allowing David Tua to get a lawyer’s approval before any contract relating to his affairs was concluded. “Unbeknown to Kevin Barry and I, David Tua with his parents and their lawyer were plotting since September 2000 (the Lennox Lewis fight was in November 2000) to terminate the EMA and deprive Tuaman Inc and Kevin and I of our shares and substantial earnings,” Pugh said in his brief of evidence. “No wonder David Tua performed so poorly in losing his World Title Fight against Lennox Lewis,” Barry said. “He must have been feeling guilty as hell.”

They also claimed there were no missing Tua millions, that David Tua had spent it all, and in fact he owes Tuaman Inc. “David told us that he did not want his family, or the family solicitor or his Church, knowing how much money he had as they would have spent it all and that’s a fact (in the end the family and David spent it all anyway),” Kevin Barry states in his brief.

Martin Pugh claims David Tua’s now wife, Robina Sitene, gave the government an old address so she could continue to collect welfare while living with and being well supported by the boxer. “David would get request from Bina or his family all the time, and I mean all the time, to pay bills,” he said.

Jennie Grant sees matters another way. She told the court Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh simply helped themselves to Tuaman funds. In contrast she said David Tua had to come to her for every small amount of money he needed. “How degrading, that man who had earned millions, doesn’t even have his own money.”

Martin Pugh and Kevin Barry allege that matters deteriorated to the point of a High Court hearing because of “women’s scorn”.

“The only conclusion that I can see is that it now seems to be about Jennie Grant, Robina Sitene and their need to “beat him” (Martin) at something, I don’t know what, and trying to justify their belief that David still had millions that he hadn’t spent,” Kevin Barry said.
“I was adamant that this huha had arisen because of Jennie’s sacking and Bina’s finding out that she couldn’t get her hands on David’s money (because he and his family had spent it).”

And so the personal insults flew. The Tuas no doubt had plenty they would have liked to fling back, but they didn’t. Not once.
The court will no doubt decide on sound legal principles who the rightful owner of Pakiri is. Having sat through the week-long hearing, I have a firm view of who morally should win this most colourful of bouts.

Posted by InvestigateDesign at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

TOUGH QUESTIONS: Mar 05

IAN WISHART
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?


Posted by InvestigateDesign at 02:00 AM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2007

The Boy Racer Problem: March 05

boyracer1.jpg

OUT OF CONTROL

Horrific road smashes involving young drivers are increasingly dominating news coverage on both sides of the Tasman. In New Zealand, we’ve introduced ‘boy racer’ laws and extensive restrictions on young drivers, prompting calls for similar tough measures in Australia. But as PAUL HAM explains, the real cause of the problem may actually be the feminization of society.

The nannyish, knee-jerk campaign by the New South Wales government and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to introduce new laws for P-plate drivers to stop them killing themselves is not only a bleak manifestation of the infantile element in modern Australian political thought, but a sad symptom of a society that fails to grasp the fact that laws will not stop young men from doing blindingly stupid, terrifyingly dangerous, or amazingly heroic things.

The problem is – as the sad case of Emile Dousset (more on this in a moment) and other young drivers’ shows – laws cannot stop the intrinsic anarchy of youth. The experience of history, which we seem to be in the process of rapidly forgetting, teaches that adults need to channel the male instincts, rather than throttle them with laws, if we are to have any hope of generating something worthwhile from our sons.

Strict schooling, parental discipline and national service were once the traditional conduits for controlling the errant young male. None is likely to return. The relentless surge of progressive education, which has destroyed a generation of young people’s minds, marches on. The reintroduction of national service is clearly unlikely – it would be electoral suicide, and too expensive. And there is barely a flicker of life in the old family punishment regime – crushed by the anti-spanking campaign and other lobbies that criminalize or socially stigmatise any form of effective parental child discipline.

So politicians have spotted a vote winning opportunity: we’ll do the job of the parents.

Encouraged by the supine complicity – or, in the weird case of some publications, a cheerleading press – the ruling political class has seen fit to barge into our homes and tell our children how to behave without ever asking us.

“If parents can’t control their kids, we’ll have to do it for them,” runs the thinking; cue the busy bodies in government, who are parking their tanks on the parental patch with bossy impunity.

And yet the politician who demands parental as well as political power is a tiny symptom of a profound delusion in the western body politic: Governments actually think they can play mum or dad in outlawing the oldest, most creative and destructive urge in the human species: a young man’s propensity to behave recklessly.

In this process, parents have become the mere finger-wagging appendages of a society that increasingly relies on the crudest form of dissuasion: the law. The punishment of our kiddies is being appropriated by state legislators who cynically applaud the introduction of laws to control youth because they suppose them to be “voter friendly”.

Hence the proposed shiny new proposals in Oz for curbs on P-Plate drivers, which go hand-in hand with our mania for age limits, anti-spanking laws, anti-drinking laws, anti-smoking laws, bicycle helmet laws, and prohibitions of all kinds of behaviours perceived to be dangerous.

boyracer2.jpg
PHOTO: NZ Herald

In this light the tragic case of Emile Dousset is instructive. His father Graeme is, by all accounts, a responsible, decent man who made it very clear to his son that the Nissan Skyline R34 GTR parked in the garage – a machine powered by a 2.6-litre, six-cylinder engine with a top speed of 251km/h - was off limits. Graeme repeatedly warned Emile that the car was not to be driven; he tried to educate his son about the dangers of speeding, and the importance of responsible driving.

Emile listened, but disobeyed his father, and set aside his dad’s reasoned appeal to good sense – the flight of any ordinary young man’s desire for a thrill. One night, while his father was overseas, Emile took the vehicle out for a spin in the town of Wyoming, NSW, where a 50km/h limit applies. The P-plater drove first to a service station and picked up two passengers, Carl Homer, 33, and Natasha Schyf, Homer’s pregnant 15-year old girlfriend. Both were impressed by the gleaming vehicle, and curious to see how young Emile would handle it.

At this point it is worth interceding to remark on the manner in which virtually every commentator chose to ignore the really disturbing story here: in impregnating a child, the 33-year old Homer was manifestly guilty at the very least of carnal knowledge – and possibly child abuse – a more insidious force in society than reckless driving. Few saw fit to remark on this rather unfortunate fact; one report nauseously praised the girl’s courage in rising to the challenge of pregnancy at so young an age. (Even as the Telegraph was studiously ignoring the details of Homer and Schyf’s relationship, it still managed to run – with a straight face – a story about a 37-year-old man accused of bedding a 15-year-old girl he met online. The headline? “Jailed for preying on girl.”)

But back to Emile. Perhaps in an effort to impress his passengers, he sped to a residential street popular amongst rev-heads. He then accelerated to somewhere between 180 and 200 km/h, struck a dip in the road, went airborne for 40m, and smashed into a telegraph pole. Stunned residents emerged from their homes to find the dead bodies of Emile and Carl flung on the nature strip; trapped in the split car was Natasha, who died with her unborn baby (whom she’d named William).

Emile has become another tragic statistic in the supposed “epidemic” of P-plate road victims. His case fed the portrayal of male youth of today as, at the very least, disobedient and reckless.

At worst, if the government and the media are correct, a spawn of half-formed, testosterone-fuelled yahoos are at this very moment rampaging across our fair land, smashing up their dads’ cars and their lives in brazen high-speed rallies; drinking themselves legless; or drugging themselves to the hilt.

That impression is plain wrong, of course; in the midst of the media hysteria over the epidemic of teen driver deaths came news that, rather than spiking skywards, fatal accidents involving P-plate drivers have fallen to their lowest levels in history, falling 30 percent from 1992 to 2002. And it’s not just young drivers who are getting safer: NSW closed 2004 with the lowest number of road fatalities overall since 1949, with a total of 522 deaths. To put these numbers it in context, NSW Health estimates that roughly a dozen times that figure die in the state every year due to smoking.

But the NSW government is not put off, and is instead trying to legislate against stupidity. For example, young people must now stay on their P-plates three times longer now than their parents were: they must progress from L plates to red beginners’ P plates to a P2 licence (green P plate) before they get their full licence – a three-year process, involving several tough hazard perception tests. No wonder P-plate drivers are in the spotlight for road accidents. If that regime doesn’t work, what will?

But the government wants to extend the regime, and Roads Minister Carl Scully has drawn up a paper of options to reduce P-plate driver fatalities: they include a proposed ban on fast or dangerous cars and raising the age limit for licence-holders. To be fair, even as he pursued this course, he recognized an insurmountable problem: only by banning cars will crashes be avoided, said a helpless Scully spokesman last November.

Never mind that this doomed experiment will be ignored: no self-respecting young larrikin will care much about a distant government bureaucrat droning on about the “P-Plate driver menace”; a curb on young drivers may even encourage speedsters onto the roads.


In earlier times, fathers were proud of the motive, if not the occasionally disastrous consequences, behind any healthy young son’s desire to show-off, or embrace dangerous situations. It is a biological inevitability. That is why young men volunteer for war: they, unlike women or older men, have an idea of themselves as bullet-proof. In a word, many young men reckon they’re unbreakable.

But this fact seems beyond the realm of comprehension of the legions of precious counselors, bossy journalists, government busy-bodies and tut-tutting feminists who are wheeled out with weary inevitability to bemoan the “youth of today” and their predilection to do very dangerous things every time a young person is killed or hurt.

If Lord Byron had lived today, no doubt swimming the Hellespont by “Club-footed Persons” would have been banned soon after he drowned. Sadly for the cosy modern world of health inspectors and safety first, the dashing young man who defies order and authority to express his peculiarly male urge to be the fastest or the strongest or a hero will always be with us – if in a suppressed or warped form.

That’s because we live in an age in which the female is in the ascendant, and manhood is seen as something awkward, smelly, yobbish or plain embarrassing. The male virtues of courage, mateship, loyalty and do-or-die heroism are either dead, or dying, stamped out by a fusillade of laws, restrictions, codes and feminist-driven contempt.

Indeed, this blokish larrikinism is regularly portrayed as a kind of mental illness and something to be ashamed of; the “male” in us is not quite “human”, rather something abnormal, even bestial. Men are inured to being presented as the buffoon or the idiot in endless films and TV shows; they seem to have swallowed the nonsense that they’re less intelligent than women.

Melbourne psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg reckons young males “do not have the neurological wiring that gives girls pause to think,” as he told journalist Kate Legge in the Australian recently. Having accepted this as a self-evident truth, Legge added: “This biological handicap is exacerbated by a lethal mixture of sloppy parenting and unprecedented commercial and peer pressure”.

It is worth weighing the meaning behind this extraordinary statement: young men are no longer merely stupid or loutish; they are actually biologically inferior to girls. “New research” or “experts” say so.

But surely a biological handicap must be qualified in terms of its effect on human behaviour? If the male “biological handicap” only results in rev-heads crashing their cars, or picking fights, then perhaps it is a handicap; if, however the male “handicap” produces young men willing to sacrifice their lives for their country at a time of war; or rush in fearlessly to save the life of someone in danger; or embark on daunting expeditions of discovery, then surely it is a gift?

Today’s society denies young men that accolade. They are simply mentally-challenged louts. One wonders how the nation would respond if we were invaded (as we nearly were in 1942) – perhaps we’d introduce a new law banning war?

Setting aside the absurd claim that the “commercial and peer pressure” on boys of today is “unprecedented” (e.g., how does one calculate this new precedent?), Carr-Gregg’s fundamental concern is that parents seem surprised when their boys misbehave: "I sit in my office gobsmacked at tales not out of place at a Roman orgy," he observes. "Parents don't seem to have a clue. One couple allowed their teenage son free range at home while they went to Noosa. He had a party. The house was trashed and the parents were astonished. These are intelligent professional people.”

Yet Carr-Gregg contradicts this admirable portrait of the modern young man’s party-organising abilities by claiming that today’s generation of boys “is the most vulnerable…we have ever seen”. On the one hand the little darlings are holding Roman orgies, the next they’re the vulnerable victims of a conspiracy of bad parenting, bad schools and ferocious marketing that “short-circuit”, in Legge’s phrase, a boy’s path to manhood.

In response, Carr-Gregg and legions of other psychologists, most of the media, and even feminist-mums are pressing for a return to more authoritarian styles of parenting and schooling. (Though, tellingly, they draw the line at anything possibly effective – like corporal punishment. They want carrots without sticks; they plead for the imposition of discipline without any disciplining force.)

But their plea, however welcome, is a little late. One groans wearily at this belated recognition of the failure of 30 years of progressive “liberal” education, whose seeds lay in the barren soil of the 1960s baby boomer era. It is now awfully clear that a child will not find his or her “inner creativity” without some instruction in the method of expressing it: i.e. lessons in grammar, ordered thinking, reason, logic, the rules of syntax etc.

Another fascinating reversal for these New Authoritarians is that they now acknowledge “gender difference”. “Risk-taking behaviour is unquestionably a gender issue on Australian roads,” writes Kate Legge, for example. “Young men have been found to score significantly higher than females when tested for impulsiveness and sensation-seeking,” she adds.

And research by Peter Palamara of the University of Western Australia's Injury Research Centre has found that young men are more likely to engage in risky driving when carrying a same-aged, same gender passenger. In other words, young men like showing off to their mates…what an extraordinary thing.

This identification of “gender difference” is an intriguing break with the past: throughout the 1970s, feminists were telling us that there is no such thing as gender difference. Men and women were the same, at least psychologically. (No wonder so many women burnt their bras in that wretched era, the high watermark of idiocy, during which the greatest insight of feminism was that “manhood” was a cultural phenomenon imposed on children; a little girl would naturally choose Ken over Barbie if only she was given the chance. Any parent knew – and knows - this to be utter rubbish.)

One consolation from the wreckage of the past – and of poor young Emile - is that at least many people are talking a similar language. Many people seem to have noticed that men and women are, er, different; and most people seem to agree that the progressive education and parenting models of the last 20-30 years have failed to produce well-adjusted young men. This seems an auspicious place to begin finding ways to channel male recklessness, aggression and risk-taking into something constructive.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

The Boy Racer Problem: March 05

boyracer1.jpg

OUT OF CONTROL

Horrific road smashes involving young drivers are increasingly dominating news coverage on both sides of the Tasman. In New Zealand, we’ve introduced ‘boy racer’ laws and extensive restrictions on young drivers, prompting calls for similar tough measures in Australia. But as PAUL HAM explains, the real cause of the problem may actually be the feminization of society.

The nannyish, knee-jerk campaign by the New South Wales government and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to introduce new laws for P-plate drivers to stop them killing themselves is not only a bleak manifestation of the infantile element in modern Australian political thought, but a sad symptom of a society that fails to grasp the fact that laws will not stop young men from doing blindingly stupid, terrifyingly dangerous, or amazingly heroic things.

The problem is – as the sad case of Emile Dousset (more on this in a moment) and other young drivers’ shows – laws cannot stop the intrinsic anarchy of youth. The experience of history, which we seem to be in the process of rapidly forgetting, teaches that adults need to channel the male instincts, rather than throttle them with laws, if we are to have any hope of generating something worthwhile from our sons.

Strict schooling, parental discipline and national service were once the traditional conduits for controlling the errant young male. None is likely to return. The relentless surge of progressive education, which has destroyed a generation of young people’s minds, marches on. The reintroduction of national service is clearly unlikely – it would be electoral suicide, and too expensive. And there is barely a flicker of life in the old family punishment regime – crushed by the anti-spanking campaign and other lobbies that criminalize or socially stigmatise any form of effective parental child discipline.

So politicians have spotted a vote winning opportunity: we’ll do the job of the parents.

Encouraged by the supine complicity – or, in the weird case of some publications, a cheerleading press – the ruling political class has seen fit to barge into our homes and tell our children how to behave without ever asking us.

“If parents can’t control their kids, we’ll have to do it for them,” runs the thinking; cue the busy bodies in government, who are parking their tanks on the parental patch with bossy impunity.

And yet the politician who demands parental as well as political power is a tiny symptom of a profound delusion in the western body politic: Governments actually think they can play mum or dad in outlawing the oldest, most creative and destructive urge in the human species: a young man’s propensity to behave recklessly.

In this process, parents have become the mere finger-wagging appendages of a society that increasingly relies on the crudest form of dissuasion: the law. The punishment of our kiddies is being appropriated by state legislators who cynically applaud the introduction of laws to control youth because they suppose them to be “voter friendly”.

Hence the proposed shiny new proposals in Oz for curbs on P-Plate drivers, which go hand-in hand with our mania for age limits, anti-spanking laws, anti-drinking laws, anti-smoking laws, bicycle helmet laws, and prohibitions of all kinds of behaviours perceived to be dangerous.

boyracer2.jpg
PHOTO: NZ Herald

In this light the tragic case of Emile Dousset is instructive. His father Graeme is, by all accounts, a responsible, decent man who made it very clear to his son that the Nissan Skyline R34 GTR parked in the garage – a machine powered by a 2.6-litre, six-cylinder engine with a top speed of 251km/h - was off limits. Graeme repeatedly warned Emile that the car was not to be driven; he tried to educate his son about the dangers of speeding, and the importance of responsible driving.

Emile listened, but disobeyed his father, and set aside his dad’s reasoned appeal to good sense – the flight of any ordinary young man’s desire for a thrill. One night, while his father was overseas, Emile took the vehicle out for a spin in the town of Wyoming, NSW, where a 50km/h limit applies. The P-plater drove first to a service station and picked up two passengers, Carl Homer, 33, and Natasha Schyf, Homer’s pregnant 15-year old girlfriend. Both were impressed by the gleaming vehicle, and curious to see how young Emile would handle it.

At this point it is worth interceding to remark on the manner in which virtually every commentator chose to ignore the really disturbing story here: in impregnating a child, the 33-year old Homer was manifestly guilty at the very least of carnal knowledge – and possibly child abuse – a more insidious force in society than reckless driving. Few saw fit to remark on this rather unfortunate fact; one report nauseously praised the girl’s courage in rising to the challenge of pregnancy at so young an age. (Even as the Telegraph was studiously ignoring the details of Homer and Schyf’s relationship, it still managed to run – with a straight face – a story about a 37-year-old man accused of bedding a 15-year-old girl he met online. The headline? “Jailed for preying on girl.”)

But back to Emile. Perhaps in an effort to impress his passengers, he sped to a residential street popular amongst rev-heads. He then accelerated to somewhere between 180 and 200 km/h, struck a dip in the road, went airborne for 40m, and smashed into a telegraph pole. Stunned residents emerged from their homes to find the dead bodies of Emile and Carl flung on the nature strip; trapped in the split car was Natasha, who died with her unborn baby (whom she’d named William).

Emile has become another tragic statistic in the supposed “epidemic” of P-plate road victims. His case fed the portrayal of male youth of today as, at the very least, disobedient and reckless.

At worst, if the government and the media are correct, a spawn of half-formed, testosterone-fuelled yahoos are at this very moment rampaging across our fair land, smashing up their dads’ cars and their lives in brazen high-speed rallies; drinking themselves legless; or drugging themselves to the hilt.

That impression is plain wrong, of course; in the midst of the media hysteria over the epidemic of teen driver deaths came news that, rather than spiking skywards, fatal accidents involving P-plate drivers have fallen to their lowest levels in history, falling 30 percent from 1992 to 2002. And it’s not just young drivers who are getting safer: NSW closed 2004 with the lowest number of road fatalities overall since 1949, with a total of 522 deaths. To put these numbers it in context, NSW Health estimates that roughly a dozen times that figure die in the state every year due to smoking.

But the NSW government is not put off, and is instead trying to legislate against stupidity. For example, young people must now stay on their P-plates three times longer now than their parents were: they must progress from L plates to red beginners’ P plates to a P2 licence (green P plate) before they get their full licence – a three-year process, involving several tough hazard perception tests. No wonder P-plate drivers are in the spotlight for road accidents. If that regime doesn’t work, what will?

But the government wants to extend the regime, and Roads Minister Carl Scully has drawn up a paper of options to reduce P-plate driver fatalities: they include a proposed ban on fast or dangerous cars and raising the age limit for licence-holders. To be fair, even as he pursued this course, he recognized an insurmountable problem: only by banning cars will crashes be avoided, said a helpless Scully spokesman last November.

Never mind that this doomed experiment will be ignored: no self-respecting young larrikin will care much about a distant government bureaucrat droning on about the “P-Plate driver menace”; a curb on young drivers may even encourage speedsters onto the roads.


In earlier times, fathers were proud of the motive, if not the occasionally disastrous consequences, behind any healthy young son’s desire to show-off, or embrace dangerous situations. It is a biological inevitability. That is why young men volunteer for war: they, unlike women or older men, have an idea of themselves as bullet-proof. In a word, many young men reckon they’re unbreakable.

But this fact seems beyond the realm of comprehension of the legions of precious counselors, bossy journalists, government busy-bodies and tut-tutting feminists who are wheeled out with weary inevitability to bemoan the “youth of today” and their predilection to do very dangerous things every time a young person is killed or hurt.

If Lord Byron had lived today, no doubt swimming the Hellespont by “Club-footed Persons” would have been banned soon after he drowned. Sadly for the cosy modern world of health inspectors and safety first, the dashing young man who defies order and authority to express his peculiarly male urge to be the fastest or the strongest or a hero will always be with us – if in a suppressed or warped form.

That’s because we live in an age in which the female is in the ascendant, and manhood is seen as something awkward, smelly, yobbish or plain embarrassing. The male virtues of courage, mateship, loyalty and do-or-die heroism are either dead, or dying, stamped out by a fusillade of laws, restrictions, codes and feminist-driven contempt.

Indeed, this blokish larrikinism is regularly portrayed as a kind of mental illness and something to be ashamed of; the “male” in us is not quite “human”, rather something abnormal, even bestial. Men are inured to being presented as the buffoon or the idiot in endless films and TV shows; they seem to have swallowed the nonsense that they’re less intelligent than women.

Melbourne psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg reckons young males “do not have the neurological wiring that gives girls pause to think,” as he told journalist Kate Legge in the Australian recently. Having accepted this as a self-evident truth, Legge added: “This biological handicap is exacerbated by a lethal mixture of sloppy parenting and unprecedented commercial and peer pressure”.

It is worth weighing the meaning behind this extraordinary statement: young men are no longer merely stupid or loutish; they are actually biologically inferior to girls. “New research” or “experts” say so.

But surely a biological handicap must be qualified in terms of its effect on human behaviour? If the male “biological handicap” only results in rev-heads crashing their cars, or picking fights, then perhaps it is a handicap; if, however the male “handicap” produces young men willing to sacrifice their lives for their country at a time of war; or rush in fearlessly to save the life of someone in danger; or embark on daunting expeditions of discovery, then surely it is a gift?

Today’s society denies young men that accolade. They are simply mentally-challenged louts. One wonders how the nation would respond if we were invaded (as we nearly were in 1942) – perhaps we’d introduce a new law banning war?

Setting aside the absurd claim that the “commercial and peer pressure” on boys of today is “unprecedented” (e.g., how does one calculate this new precedent?), Carr-Gregg’s fundamental concern is that parents seem surprised when their boys misbehave: "I sit in my office gobsmacked at tales not out of place at a Roman orgy," he observes. "Parents don't seem to have a clue. One couple allowed their teenage son free range at home while they went to Noosa. He had a party. The house was trashed and the parents were astonished. These are intelligent professional people.”

Yet Carr-Gregg contradicts this admirable portrait of the modern young man’s party-organising abilities by claiming that today’s generation of boys “is the most vulnerable…we have ever seen”. On the one hand the little darlings are holding Roman orgies, the next they’re the vulnerable victims of a conspiracy of bad parenting, bad schools and ferocious marketing that “short-circuit”, in Legge’s phrase, a boy’s path to manhood.

In response, Carr-Gregg and legions of other psychologists, most of the media, and even feminist-mums are pressing for a return to more authoritarian styles of parenting and schooling. (Though, tellingly, they draw the line at anything possibly effective – like corporal punishment. They want carrots without sticks; they plead for the imposition of discipline without any disciplining force.)

But their plea, however welcome, is a little late. One groans wearily at this belated recognition of the failure of 30 years of progressive “liberal” education, whose seeds lay in the barren soil of the 1960s baby boomer era. It is now awfully clear that a child will not find his or her “inner creativity” without some instruction in the method of expressing it: i.e. lessons in grammar, ordered thinking, reason, logic, the rules of syntax etc.

Another fascinating reversal for these New Authoritarians is that they now acknowledge “gender difference”. “Risk-taking behaviour is unquestionably a gender issue on Australian roads,” writes Kate Legge, for example. “Young men have been found to score significantly higher than females when tested for impulsiveness and sensation-seeking,” she adds.

And research by Peter Palamara of the University of Western Australia's Injury Research Centre has found that young men are more likely to engage in risky driving when carrying a same-aged, same gender passenger. In other words, young men like showing off to their mates…what an extraordinary thing.

This identification of “gender difference” is an intriguing break with the past: throughout the 1970s, feminists were telling us that there is no such thing as gender difference. Men and women were the same, at least psychologically. (No wonder so many women burnt their bras in that wretched era, the high watermark of idiocy, during which the greatest insight of feminism was that “manhood” was a cultural phenomenon imposed on children; a little girl would naturally choose Ken over Barbie if only she was given the chance. Any parent knew – and knows - this to be utter rubbish.)

One consolation from the wreckage of the past – and of poor young Emile - is that at least many people are talking a similar language. Many people seem to have noticed that men and women are, er, different; and most people seem to agree that the progressive education and parenting models of the last 20-30 years have failed to produce well-adjusted young men. This seems an auspicious place to begin finding ways to channel male recklessness, aggression and risk-taking into something constructive.

Posted by Ian Wishart at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

Howard's Way, Out: March 05 issue

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HOWARD'S NEMESIS

With John Howard facing plummeting poll ratings and a must-win election campaign, there's growing speculation about who will replace him. Falling government debt, deregulated workplaces, and a reformed tax system are the hallmarks by which most Australians know Commonwealth Treasurer Peter Costello. But what does the man many believe will succeed John Howard think about faith, family, and the role government has to play in people’s lives? This interview between Investigate's James Morrow and Peter Costello ran in our March 05 edition:

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ART: Lionel Bradley

INVESTIGATE: Do you think that in general, government plays too big a role in Australian lives today?

Hon. Peter Costello, MP: I think there’s been a long tradition in Australia of looking to government, and you can argue this goes right back to the foundation of Australia. Australia, remember, was founded as a government settlement -- and it’s quite an interesting thing: how many countries were actually founded as government settlements? This one was, by white settlers. And so you can go right back and see government has had quite a large role [in Australian life] ever since the First Fleet.

[But] if we believe that all answers come from government, we’re defeated. That belief in itself, that government can solve all of our social problems is part of the problem rather than part of the answer. And I think we have to look much more to individual responsibility, volunteerism, private initiatives for many of the social answers to the problems.

INVESTIGATE: So you think the state can stand in the way of a lot of institutions that would otherwise do some good?

COSTELLO: Does the state crowd out private initiatives? I think it can…

INVESTIGATE: Crowd it out, or even just make it too hard to get it going, just in the same way the government can get in the way in the private sector?

COSTELLO: Well if the state crowds it out, that is a problem. If the state gives rise to the belief that that it is capable and as a consequence individuals don’t see [social problems] as their responsibility, that is a problem. What I’ve argued, and I will argue very strongly for, is for a limited government. We ought to decide on the things government can do and ask government to do them, and limit it to those things, rather than have the expectation that the state can intervene in every area successfully.

There are some things a state can do: a state can tax, and a state can spend. There are some things a state can’t do. A state can’t make marriages happy. It can’t give you personal contentment or fulfillment. It can’t give you spiritual succor or nourishment. And when you start looking to the state to do things it can’t do, the state fails, and your expectations are defeated. You do better to figure out what a state can do and limit it to those areas.

INVESTIGATE: Can you talk a bit about your evolution as an economic thinker – I’m thinking particularly of your role in the Dollar Sweets case [which in the mid-1980s represented a turning point for Australian industrial relations]?

COSTELLO: When I first got involved in industrial relations, the labour market in Australia was probably the most heavily regulated labour market in the world outside Cuba. And the way in which it used to work was that we had a tribunal which would set all terms and conditions, working hours, rates of pay, holidays, classifications, duties, and union coverage, and this would be obligatory on employers and employees. And in addition to that, because they had this industrial tribunal with such extensive regulation, the ordinary laws of contract weren’t applied. And I was advising a company [Dollar Sweets] that was resisting a union wage claim, and it was subject to picketing. The picket I think went 170 days, and there were bashings, arson, vandalism, and bomb threats. The industrial tribunals failed to solve it, the police were unable to secure the site, and I advised the company to go and get court injunctions, basically to uphold the rule of law.

Now this was very unusual; it had never been done before. It’s funny to think about, but people thought this was a shocking affront to the industrial system at it was then applied in Australia, and we were successful. And it became a great cause celebre of a small company standing up against militant unions.

And from that day to this there’s been a long argument going on in Australia about how much flexibility you should allow in our labour market. Although things have improved light years, I think in Australia today the labor market is still over-regulated, there is still room for improvement, and for me it has been a cause now for twenty years. Some of the things that I would have liked to have done, that I feel we should have done, have been defeated in the Senate, legislatively. There’s still room to move here in Australia.

INVESTIGATE: So with regard to small businesses and medium-sized businesses, over-regulation is still hurting the economy, and the ability to create growth -- and hurting the growth that Australia has been able to maintain for the last decade or so?

COSTELLO: Yeah, I think so. Look, I think one of the things we know not just in Australia but around the world is that employment outcomes are better when there’s flexibility, when there’s ease of entry and ease of exit. It’s a funny thing to say, and people often say to me, “well, how is it that unfair dismissal laws prohibit employment?” They say unfair dismissal laws should help keep people employed.

But the truth of the matter is that if there are barriers to exit they form barriers to entry, and people become employment-averse and employment outcomes are worse. And this is not just in Australia: this is well-known in Continental Europe, where unemployment is high. And one of the reasons is they have rigid labour market laws.

INVESTIGATE: You say that the government can tax, and the government can spend. A lot of people on the right say the government still spends too much, and still taxes too much. Do you think there’s room for more freedom there in terms of cutting taxes?

COSTELLO: Well, look, there are measures of these things. Australia’s tax-to-GDP ratio is higher than Japan’s or the US’s, lower than New Zealand’s, and lower than Europe’s. And that’s where we sit. Should we be working at keeping taxes as low as possible? Yes, we should be. And we should be working at keeping expenditures contained.

I’m not one of those people -- I’m not a supply sider -- I’m not one of those people that would say just cut your taxes and keep your spending where it is and run a big deficit and it will all fix itself. I don’t believe in that. I’m an old-fashioned conservative in the sense that I do believe in balanced budgets.

INVESTIGATE: So you don’t believe in George W. Bush economics?

COSTELLO: (laughs) Yes, unlike the current administration in the U.S.

So I would say, yes, we should try and keep our taxes as low as possible, consistent with balancing our budget and meeting our social obligations.

This idea, by the way, that if you gave a tax cut people would start working less, I think that’s thoroughly improbable. I think if you gave a tax cut people would probably keep working the same, and they’d be better off, but this idea that if you gave tax cuts we’d all return to some Rousseauian state of nature … well, in fact, the argument probably goes the other way: if you cut taxes, people might actually increase their efforts. This is the economic argument for lower taxes, they might actually increase their efforts and productivity would rise, not that they would reduce their efforts.

INVESTIGATE: Sure. But there would be more jobs and more money flowing through the economy…

COSTELLO: And even at the same rate or at a higher output the argument is that the economy would so grow as to create jobs.

INVESTIGATE: Let’s shift gears a bit: you’ve talked a lot about “social capital” lately, and I think people have an instinctual understanding of what you mean, but could you give more of a definition of what you mean when you use that phrase?

COSTELLO: I don’t really like the term “social capital” because it’s trying to dress up what I think is a non-economic concept into economic language. People feel comfortable with that language because it has the word “capital” in there, so it gives rise for some to believe that this is something that is measurable.

I’m not talking about something that is measurable. To me, society consists of concentric circles of relationships: it starts with the individual, then the individual to the family, then a family in an extended family, then the family in a social institution, which might be a school, or it might be a church, or it might be a sporting club, and then these voluntary associations in a community, in a community in a city, in a city in a state, in a state in a nation, and these people are all engaging in a whole range of relations with each other which are enriching each others’ lives and providing networks and support. And these networks and support don’t come from the government, they weren’t instituted by the government. They exist outside the government, and they enrich you, your society and your community. And if you don’t nourish and nurture these relationships, your community will be poorer for it, and ultimately your economy will be poorer for it.

[One way to look at is to ask,] what is the basis of contract? If you take the view that the contract is the basis of the free-market economy, what is the basis of the contract? Well, partly it’s enforceability, but if we had to enforce every contract that’s made in society, then society would break down.

Contracts evolve out of trust. You know, I will do for you in return for you doing for me, and there’s this concept of trust there. But where does this concept of trust come from in a society? Trust comes from the social relations and the social institutions that give society its shape and its form. And that’s what I’m arguing for: a rediscovery and a recognition of the importance of those social relations, of trust, of family, of volunteerism, of private capacity, because it gives the social dimension, and I think actually ultimately the economic dimension, to a society.

INVESTIGATE: What role do churches and other faith-based organizations have to play in this regard?

COSTELLO: I think they’re exceptionally important, because one of the great sources of moral teaching in the West is the church. It’s a very interesting question, I think: Could you have moral teaching without the church, without faith? If you disengage from the religious base, can you hold the moral order together? This is why I’m not an atheist.

INVESTIGATE: But aren’t a lot of church organizations -- I’m thinking of the Catholic church, for example -- very political, and have a very strong left-wing bent to them? And in fact wind up as much political organizations as institutions simply trying to do good on this Earth?

COSTELLO: Yeah, I think this is a very interesting question. Let’s take the Catholic church: if you listen to some leaders of the Catholic church, you would think the great moral issues of the day are the war in Iraq, saving the trees, and redistributing income. You could go to another Catholic church where you could be told that the great moral issues of the day are abortion, stem-cell research and homosexual priests.

It’s almost like there are two Catholic churches out there, and never do the twain meet. Now that second church, I think, is the historic Catholic church, and certainly the church of Pope John Paul II. This other Catholic church is the church of the modern Jesuits. And actually I think the churches themselves are confused about what the moral issues of the day are, and I think many of their parishioners can sense this.

That’s one of the reasons why you’ve got the rise of the modern Pentecostal-type movement, because at least the preachers in that movement appear to believe in what they’re saying. If you go to a lot of other churches, established churches, the preacher appears to thoroughly disbelieve everything he’s saying. And if I want to listen to someone preach a sermon, I’d like to feel at least he believes it! How can he expect me to believe it, if I can’t believe he believes it?

INVESTIGATE: How should Australia, a Christian-majority society, deal with other faiths, such as Islam, where there are elements that might want to assert themselves in an intolerant fashion while using our tolerance as cover to do so?

COSTELLO: Well, the way I put it is, I think that Australia is certainly founded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and that is the basis of our society. Having said that, I think it’s a thoroughly secular society, and I suspect that religious belief and observance is quite low in Australia, certainly lower than the U.S…

INVESTIGATE: Something like ten, fifteen percent church attendance?

COSTELLO: I don’t know, but it’s certainly much lower than in the United States. I would say, however, that part of the social contract in our society is that whilst people are free to practice their religious beliefs, they are also obligated to accept the basic preconditions of our society, which is respect for other peoples’ belief, respect for the law, tolerance, respect for individual rights, avoidance of terrorism, and we would expect people of all religious faiths to observe these rights and responsibilities in Australian society, including Islam.

INVESTIGATE: You say we’ve become a very secularized society. Do you think we’ve become too individualized as a society here in Australia?

COSTELLO: I‘m worried by family breakdown. I’d be very worried if, particularly for kids growing up, if they didn’t have the support of parents and brothers and sisters and extended families. That would worry me. I’m not worried by individualism -- it’s got many positives. But I would be worried if what I consider the most basic institution, the family, were to be so under attack that particularly.

I think that at two stages of life family is really important. One is when you’re a child growing up, the second is in your old age. And to be frank with you, I don’t think any society has the capacity to look after people in their old age through state provision. This is where you need families, to care for older relatives and to provide that kind of protective web.

INVESTIGATE: What do you think the big threats to the family are right now?

COSTELLO: Well, I think the problem is relationships in Australia are becoming much more transient. There does seem to be a view in the modern world that everything’s got a shorter and shorter shelf life, including relationships.

You know, we’re an impatient people, aren’t we? We get on the internet, we want information to come to us quickly. We stand in a queue at a coffee counter and we want our coffee to come quickly. We go to entertainment, we want the action to happen fast, and I worry that sometimes we bring this expectation to relationships: We want them to happen fast and successfully, and if they don’t, the view is discard them and form new ones. And I think that attitude can be a great threat to the family.

If people take the view that relationships are disposable, then I think that is a threat to the family, because the essence of family is that it’s a long-term relationship between these people. You would expect a family relationship to survive a whole lifetime, and to survive succeeding lifetimes…

INVESTIGATE: Because without that you can’t get that support in later life?

COSTELLO: Yes, the care of the young, and the care of the old. This is the idea of family as a compact: parents caring for the children, and the children caring for the parents when the parents are old, and we move this institution down through the generations.

INVESTIGATE: Moving overseas a bit, how do you see Australia’s relations with the other big Anglosphere nations progressing, especially with New Zealand, which is our close neighbor but is socially drifting down quite a different path?

COSTELLO: Well I think Australia’s relations with the Anglo countries are as close now as they have ever been. That closeness is with the U.S. and with Britain in particular, and a lot of that comes out of Iraq, defense cooperation, and intelligence sharing.

Concerning New Zealand, I think Australia feels very close with New Zealand. I feel that relations between the countries are good, but New Zealand has taken a bit of a different turn on the defence issue. But trade remains strong, [as do] the people-to-people relationships. The consequence of [the defence issue] is that it altered the nature of the ANZUS relationship because it altered the nature of the relationship between New Zealand and the U.S.

That has changed the nature of the defense relationship a little bit between Australia and New Zealand. Having said that, I think people-to-people relationships are close, and I think there’s a lot of good will between the Australians and the Kiwis.

INVESTIGATE: Again, shifting gears a bit, you’ve come out in support of a republic. Where do you stand on that now?

COSTELLO: Well, look, my view is that the role of the monarchy in our constitutional arrangements is largely symbolical. It’s a symbolism that served Australia well in decades past, but I’m not sure it will serve Australia well in decades to come, and therefore I think Australia will have to move to have stronger symbolic arrangements in place whilst preserving the best of our constitutional system, which is a Westminster parliamentary system. And I think this is an issue that is not a first-order issue, but one that Australia will have to deal with in years to come.

INVESTIGATE: Finally, your name is very often connected with the phrase, “Australia’s next prime minister”. Now I know your boss has said that he intends to be in office for quite some time, but were you to eventually ascend to the Prime Ministership, is there anything we should expect in a Costello government?

COSTELLO: (chuckles) Well, we’ll take the opportunities that arise as they arise, but we won’t speculate on them in the meantime!

Posted by Ian Wishart at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)