Sunday, July 31, 2005

David Lange and nuclear ships.

David Lange is angry from his hospital bed:
David Lange, the ailing architect of New Zealand's nuclear-free policy, is furious at attempts to allow nuclear-powered warships back into our ports.

The former prime minister is critically ill in Middlemore Hospital, but yesterday spoke to the Herald on Sunday.

"The nuclear-free philosophy has been in effect for 20 years; the legislation has been left substantially unaltered," he said.
While he is so unwell that his biography is being rushed out next week, he could be forgiven having a relapse of his convenient memory. The record is rather different. From the Agenda archives, an interview of Margaret Wilson who was President of the Labour Party when Lange was Prime Minister:
KATHRYN: Margaret Wilson can I ask you what's your view of that excerpt, how reluctant was David Lange to ban the American ships?

MARGARET: Well I think from my point of view at the time I was President of the Labour Party and we knew there were differences of opinion within the parliamentary party on the issue, the party was quite clear, I'd conveyed that to David, it seemed to me he perfectly understood the party's position and the real difference I think was over nuclear powered as opposed to nuclear weaponed.
In other words, Lange was quite willing to ban nuclear weapons from NZ ports but he didn't see the necessity of banning nuclear-powered vessels, which makes his current outrage rather sad.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Bravery of the Bombers

When reading about the arrest of the remaining failed suicide-bombers, the following incident caught my attention:
One woman, who would not reveal her name, said she heard the entire three-hour exchange between the suspects and police, who had called for "Mohammed" to come out of the building.

"Police started to say to him you need to come out of the flat ... with your underwear on and your arms up in the air," she told reporters. "He was then saying to them, 'How do I know that you're not going to ... shoot me?'

"They said you need to come out into the street with your underwear on so that we know that you haven't got any explosives on you, and so that we know that you're not a risk to the police or the public."

She said she heard the exchange from her apartment window, and the man sounded like he may have been crying.
I'm disgusted. Muhammed was quite prepared to take his own life along with perhaps twenty other innocent lives last week. Now when the Metropolitan Police are out to get him, he cries like a little girl because he's afraid they are going to shoot him? If he ever makes it into heaven as a martyr, he'll be bloody lucky to get a catamite.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Where to now for the IRA?

The Provisional IRA has finally declared that its armed campaign to unite Ireland is over and that it will henceforth pursue exclusively peaceful means of doing so. Yet it has not actually declared that it will disband even though the Sinn Fein leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, are reported to have left the IRA leadership council (which they denied ever belonging to). But if they really want to pursue peaceful means then all they had to do was disband the IRA and enroll its members as part of the Sinn Fein. So what is going on?

It should be remembered that the in addition to its paramilitary campaign, the IRA is also a criminal organization that gained its proceeds from armed robberies and protection rackets. In one case, the IRA even went so far as to divide the proceeds of the protection money from a new supermarket with a loyalist paramilitary (admittedly this was in the new spirit of Good Friday Agreement). Hence the IRA will probably give up its large arsenals (much of which was never used) because it doesn't need as much weapons for its new roles of electoral fundraising for the Sinn Fein, security detail for the Sinn Fein and community policing (eg. punishment beatings and knee-cappings for car thieves).

Anti-Terror fashion accessory

I'm going to London in the middle of September for three reasons:
1) family reunion,
2) to escape the upcoming election campaign, and
3) adventure tourism (riding the tube).
To the left is a picture that my brother sent me of the latest must-have for tube travel. Although it's explicitly marketed for Asians, I'm only slightly whiter than the unfortunate Jean Charles de Menezes and so it would still be a good thing to have.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Campaigning on experience

Helen Clark decides to campaign on her experience in government:
Yesterday she drew attention to her and Finance Minister Michael Cullen's joint 48 years in Parliament whereas National leader Don Brash and his finance spokesman John Key had just six years.

"Leading a government is not a game for amateurs," she said.
This didn't work the last time it was attempted. When David Lange became Prime Minister in 1984, he only had seven years experience while the incumbrant, Robert Muldoon, had been in Parliament for twenty-four years. A strict comparison is not available as Muldoon was his own finance minister while Lange's finance spokesman, Roger Douglas, had been in parliament for fifteen years.

Here's hoping that Helen doesn't repeat an infamous ad that Muldoon once used in 1984 and then disavowed any knowledge of authorizing. It went something like "New Zealand, who needs this man?" at the top followed by a big picture of Muldoon, while at the bottom was the answer "We do".

Monday, July 25, 2005

Election Date announced

While I was out and about today, I noticed that the election placards that I blogged about yesterday were still up. My reaction was that the local branch of the Labour Party were taking advantage of the fact that the election date was due to be announced tomorrow.

I was wrong. Helen Clark has announced today that the election would be held on the 17th of September.

It's clear from the choice of the date that her government is determined to hang on to power for as long as possible and that they require a lot of time to discredit National. The Labour tactics at the moment (Two Minute Hates against Don Brash) are eerily reminiscent to me of 1990 where Labour went to the polls with a scare campaign about the prospect of Jim Bolger, Bill Birch, Ruth Richardson and others gaining power. They failed to understand then that the all-important swinging public hated the prospect of three more years of Labour even more.

So what would be the likely election result? If the current polling holds up however (and that's a big if), Winston Peters will probably have to go with National regardless of his own preferences simply because Labour cannot form a viable coalition necessary to command a majority in the house. If Labour does form a non-viable coalition (Greens, Jim Anderton's Personality Cult, United Future and Winston First), then it will probably end in tears within the year.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Election Placard Spotted

As I was walking down to the local shops (Avonhead Mall), I spotted a large election placard for the local Labour candidate (Blanchard, Ilam) leaning against a fence. Technically this is naughty as such placards aren't supposed to be up until the election date has been announced. The intent from what I've heard is to have the placards visible over the weekend and then to hide them on Sunday night so that when the Council investigates on Monday morning, there's nothing to see.

I was more interested in the identity of the Labour Candidate as I hadn't heard of him before nor did I even know that Labour had selected a candidate (apparently he was appointed last November). My first reaction upon seeing his name was "who?" and my considered reaction upon looking him up on the internet is still "who?".

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Radical Islamist Groups at Auckland University?

One News had a news item about radical Islamist groups allegedly preaching at Auckland University. The groups concerned are "Hizb ut Tahrir, a group banned in Britain and Germany" and the "Saudi charity organisation Al-Haramain shut down last year for funding Al Queda". The information is slightly incorrect. Hizb et Tahrir is not banned in the UK; it is however significantly objectionable that the Guardian has just sacked one of their trainee journalists for belonging to it. From the Guardian news-release:
Hizb ut-Tahrir is a legal organisation in this country, though banned in others. It is described in an internal Home Office briefing note as a "radical, but to date non-violent Islamist group."

The note says of the organisation that it is "an independent political party that is active in many countries across the world. HT's activities centre on intellectual reasoning, logic arguments and political lobbying. The party adheres to the Islamic sharia law in all aspects of its work."

The note adds: "It probably has a few hundred members in the UK. Its ultimate aim is the establishment of an Islamic state (Caliphate), according to HT via non-violent means. It holds anti-semitic, anti-western and homophobic views."

Different countries and organisations take varying views of the Hizb ut-Tahrir. It is banned in Russia, Germany and Holland. In this country the National Union of Students has barred Hizb ut-Tahrir from its unions, claiming the group is "responsible for supporting terrorism and publishing material that incites racial hatred".

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) is reported by the Home Office to hold the view that "although not a serious threat at present would be naive to think that if we leave them alone, they will go away. They are an organised minority group who are determined to make themselves and their albeit unrepresentative voices heard."
This group is so extreme that they even made death threats against George Galloway(!) for encouraging Muslims to vote.

Al-Haramain is less of a concern to me because not only is it now defunct, the problem was poor financial controls over where the money ended up. In other words, while most people within the chairity as well as those that donated to them flet the charity was raising money for the poor, terrorist sympathizers and useful tools within the charity were diverting funds towards Al-Qaida. Hence that an Al-Haramain representative spoke on campus is not as disturbing as the possibility that a Hizb ut-Tahrir representative might have done so.

So how does the Auckland University Islamic Association explain the allegations? From One News:
But the Auckland University Islamic Association rejects Soltanian's comments and says the allegations may have their origin in student politics rather than the politics of global terror.

Current president Ran Mahmoud says Soltanian fell out with the association three years ago. Mahmoud was in the audience for one of the lectures Soltanian claims was inciting violence.

"It was just normal Islamic teachings - prayer, being a good Muslim, being a good positive contributing member of society...he said nothing violent or radical," says Mahmoud.
Is Mahmoud actually admitting there were visits by Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al-Haramain?

Friday, July 22, 2005

London Subway Attacks II

Today saw some more subway attacks on the London Tube. Despite being a carbon copy of the attacks two weeks ago (three trains and one bus), no casualties were reported as only the detonators blew up. Although the police are reporting the attacks were serious and "meant to kill", I can't help thinking otherwise.

To have four bombs fail to explode is unprecedented as far as I know. Usually if the person making the devices were an idiot, one would expect variable quality in the bombings, ranging from a reduced bomb explosion to no action at all. But to have two to three detonators going off (the number is uncertain at the time of writing) without an explosion indicates something else has happened besides mere incompetence. Another strange detail is that the bombers are said to be surprised that they survived the detonations when previously the police were thinking that the original bombers were tricked into becoming suicide bombers.

My feeling is that today's bombers were actually pranksters who copied the pattern of the earlier attacks as an excercise in sick humour (for which the police should help them down the stairs as much as possible when caught). Much will depend on what comes to light as solid fact instead of the scuttlebutt currently being reported. For example within an hour of the attacks, one of the bombs was being reported as a nail-bomb. How could people tell that if it had failed?

Mallard: One Fumb Duck

In an amazingly feeble attempt to draw attention away from National's release of its student loans policy, Trevor Mallard claimed that National's policies were being drawn up by shady americans in exchange for huge political donations. The allegations were not even barely credible since Mallard didn't show any proof and the media reaction this morning was contemptuous with even Colin Espiner writing:
What to do when your opponent trumps you on policy? Blame the Americans and claim the whole thing is a plot by the CIA, of course.

For the second time in a week, Labour has found itself outflanked by National on tertiary education policy.

And for the second time it has created a diversion, turning the tables on National by flagrant misuse of ministerial office.

So much for Labour's promise to run a positive campaign.

The Press 22nd July 2005
When the Press's political editor, hitherto sympathetic towards the government, starts being critical, the Government is in a bad way.

Now things have gotten worse.

TVNZ spoke tonight to the American billionaire behind Trevor Mallard's concerns, Julian Roberston. He revealed that the only political donations that he made in the last elections was to Dover Samuels, the Labour representative for Te Tai Tokerau. This was apparently because Julian owns the Kauri Cliffs in the Bay of Islands (within Dover's electorate).

Now Mallard has made stupid attacks before and apologized for them. But this level of stupidity is unprecedented. It isn't so much as an own goal but rather Mallard's out for a duck. I'm left wondering whether Labour actually intends to win the upcoming elections.

On a related note - Labour is unleashing a new advertising campaign against Don Brash by highlighting statements of his that they feel will cause him damage, such as sending troops to Iraq. *Yawn*. Waging a campaign about the war that took place two years ago is like waging a campaign about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. One could wage a campaign about Don Brash wanting to send troops to Iraq to help with the reconstruction efforts there. However Helen Clark can't do this because she has sent our engineers to Basra (in an effort to curry favour with George Bush after she made certain irresponsible statements during the war that were widely reported). A better tactic might be to dig up Don's Masters thesis and quote the Marxist sentiments found in there. A Reds-under-the-beds campaign wouldn't make the government look as incompetent as it does now.

UPDATE: Link added to TVNZ newstory.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fun with Suppression Orders

An Auckland drugs-ring has been busted, including two "sporting celebrities". The names of everybody involved has been interimly suppressed while the celebrities have yet to be arrested because they are still overseas. While there's reasonable grounds for the suppression order, it's been repeatedly violated on the local net over the last forty-eight hours to such an extent that if it still has any force left, it is only as a sick joke.

It's far from the first time that this has happened.

The best-knownt case was that of Peter G. Lewis, an American Billionaire who used marijuana for medicinal purposes. When he sailed down here to watch the America's cup, he was busted by customs for possession. Because of his wealth, he hired Marie Dyhrberg who managed to get him a discharge without conviction so long as he made a large charitable donation. The donation was made and a discharge given. All very well and good except that either Peter or Marie decided to go for a permanent name suppression. Although this was granted, this caused a stink. The NZ Herald got wind of the case from somebody at court and promptly leaked Peter's name to newspapers in Lewis's home state. Since they were online, anybody with a browswer could find out the name. Eventually the matter was appealed and the name suppression lifted.

It's easy to portray this as being a bad decision by a Judge who didn't know the power of the internet but that's not true. The District Court Judge, Justice David Harvey, was actually well-acquainted with the Internet to the extent of posting at nz.general at the time. Nz.general also happened to be the newsgroup where people disgusted at the decision posted the name - the culprits were generally too thick to realize that the Judge was a known participant. It can't have been a very pleasant experience downloading nz.general and finding out that your suppression order being repeatedly violated. I sailed pretty close to the wind at the time by going into a nz chatroom on IRC using Peter G. Lewis's name as my nick.

Thinking further about these cases, there seems to me to be a difference in interest depending on what the person does. When Graeme Capill was punched while his name was temporarily suppressed, the suppression order actually stood up quite well online (ie. nobody breached it as far as I was aware and only one or two hints were posted) even though his identity was a matter of great public interest. Compare this to the case earlier this year when an All-Black obtained final name suppression after admitting to assaulting his wife. Despite the player not being very noteworthy, the on-line activity was greater with Australian papers reporting the name.

Does this mean that suppression orders are now useless? My theory is that for most cases, the suppression order will be honoured on-line. For this to happen, the subject of the order have to be unimportant in the eyes of the New Zealand public, the subject's crime must not be significant and finally there must be no hint of impropriety by the courts. If the subject's circumstances breach at least one of these criteria, the subject should be resigned to the order being breached.

And now for something completely different: TVNZ's shows for the next season include a Game with One Half and Convict Island.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Listener Editorial on Terrorism

The Listener this week had an argument in its editorial:
If we really want to show solidarity with the good people of London, there's a simple way to do it. Stop using the slogan "terrorist" to describe the criminals who attacked them in last week's crude display of force.

Eh? Why?
The word terrorism glorifies those who wish to inspire fear. It reinforces a siege mentality.
I've heard a number of absurd arguments against using the word but glorifying terrorists is news to me. Does this mean that we should not label what happened at Auschwitz "genocide" on the grounds that it glorifies those that wish to kill large numbers of people? I'm far from convinced.

The editorial then points out (correctly) that most terrorists are "disaffected middle-class attention seekers" rather than being poor and impoverished before criticizing George Bush for remaining in Iraq to fight terrorists because:
The irony of course is that by deposing Saddam, whose regime was the most secular of the Arab regimes, the US actually transferred power to the imams.
Where to start? Saddam's regime varied in policy quite a bit over the years (except when it came to brutality) but after 1990, the regime implemented religious law in order to shore up its shaken authority - the Islamic legend on the Iraqi flag dates from this time. Secondly Imans is the wrong word. Among the Sunnis, the word means leaders of prayer while to the Shi'a, it refers to the divinely ordained successors of Muhammad. The US could no more hand over power in Iraq to the Imans than it could hand over power in Italy to the Popes. "Mullahs" would have been a better word to use but even here, the Listener's statement is dubious. Based on advice received from the Iranians of all people, the Shi'ite clergy of Iraq believes that clergy exercising governmental power is a very bad idea. So the clergy has great influence in Iraq but it does not have power.

The editorial says that publicity should be given to the Muslim scholars condemning the attacks by means of a fatwa, which sits rather oddly with the previous statement about the US giving power to the Imans. It then goes on to criticize Red Ken for giving prominence to Dr Al-Qaradari while mention of his stirring statement condemning the Subway Attacks is oddly lacking.

Finally it ends up with good news by saying that Terrorism was twice as bad during the eighties than it is now. I'm somewhat dubious about this assertion as previous records of terrorism tend to only count what looks newsworthy in the western media. When the US State Department tried to correct the figures earlier this year by counting attacks in places like Kashmir, the number of attacks shot up even though nothing really had changed.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Graham Capill

Graham Capill has been sent down for nine years. No parole period was set meaning that he would be eligible in three years. Originally he was facing a sentence of about eighteen months on the grounds that his crime was a "one-off" that was at the lower end of the scale. But when two further complainants came forward and he pleaded guilty to the charges resulting from their complaints, it became apparent that his sexual offending was extremely serious.

Graham did no favours for himself by posting an email to his friends, the text of which is at the bottom of this article. The crucial passages are:
The law as it has been explained to me seems so different to what the Biblical law and indeed common perceptions are of rape. The fact that [name deleted] consented is irrelevant.

It is enough that we touched each others private parts - rape is then deemed to take place. Ignorance of the law or the effect of what I was doing to the girls is no excuse and so I must take full responsibility.
What's astonishing in all this is that Graeme has a law degree from Canterbury, has also been admitted to the bar and worked briefly as a police prosecutor. He should have at least known that a child is not capable of giving consent to sexual activity even if he or she says the required words. That Graham's lawyers should have had to explain the law to him indicates something seriously lacking in the clue department.

Secondly Graham is wrong when he says that rape takes place when each other's private parts were touched. Rape is by definition in New Zealand Law "penetration of person B's genitalia by person A's penis". If Graham had just touched then his crime becomes one of sexual violation by way of sexual connection (which has the same penalty as that of rape) or even indecent assault.

He then digs himself in further:
For example, I believe the girls were a lot older than the age alleged but I have no way to prove it.
Even if he sincerely believed it (as opposed to deluding himself), his belief is not a defence to the charge. If he really wanted to prove that the children were older than twelve when he attacked them, then all he has to do is obtain their birth certificate. So instead of having no way to prove it, he is still refusing to face up to the facts.

Graham's nine year sentence is roughly in line with what would be expected for the offences. Some people in nz.general have claimed that Graham got off lightly by comparing his sentence with that of Peter Ellis who was sent down for ten years. However Peter Ellis denied the charges (and I'll have to say I believe his denials) while early guilty pleas earn a reduction in sentence on the grounds of sparing the victims the ordeal of testifying. In reality, it's more like punishing the guilty for exercising their right to a fair trial.

Other than victims (three known and probably others), there's two people in this sad case that I'm concerned about. The first is Graham's wife who was told about his earlier offending long before the initial complaint to the police was made. Why she apparently did nothing, not once but twice, has yet to be explained. The second is the boxer, Danny McNally, who had earlier attacked him and was sent down for two years (he was neither related to or knew any of the victims). The Judge threw the book at him for his long history of criminal violence and at his sentencing hearing, his defence lawyer claimed (for what that's worth) that he had finally understood that resorting to violence was wrong. I'm worried that Danny, feeling vindicated, will continue on his wayward path. It's one thing to make irresponsible statements about wanting to do nasty things to Graham, it's another to actually do those things.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London Subway Attacks

As of writing, the death toll for the London Terror Attacks stands at 37, but could be as high as 52 (as the UK Times reports a further 15 deaths from the bus bomb). Although I have two brothers in London, I avoided torment because I was out for the night and didn't find out about the attacks until I had received the message that they were both okay. That is not true for the relatives of at least forty Londoners as well as the seven hundred injured and to them, I can only offer my sympathies.

A fortunate feature about the attacks is that the death toll is low compared to what it could have been. The Madrid attacks killed 191 people with 10 bombs - an average of 19 deaths per bomb - while the London attacks that supposedly followed the same pattern only averaged of 13 deaths per bomb (if the UK Times is correct). Given the use of timers instead of cellphones (which the Madrid attackers used), I can only suspect that the London attackers were less sophisticated and had fewer resources than their Madrid counterparts. This may be due to the attackers being a new group of enthusiasts rather than being the usual terror suspects that MI5 monitors, which would also explain how they managed to avoid detection.