Friday, 29 November 2013

How to put the Con in Conservative ....

Colin Craig's supporters are baying for Chris Trotter's blood because Trotter criticised him. One chap in a letter to The Press even described Trotter's comments as verging on 'hate speech'.  I wonder if that person felt the same about Al Nisbett's racist cartoons?

So, what does the perpetually smiling Mr Craig stand for?  The superstructure may have been painted to resemble moderate conservatism but the base is that of the far Right.   I think the Keyster has told Craig how to walk the electoral tightrope - to persuade the far Right (for whom National is too soft) to vote for him but without ending up looking like the New Zealand Taliban which might scare mainstream National voters, and give the opposition some great ammunition.  

National will do an Epsom to ensure Craig gets an electoral seat and the magic 5%; the Greens and Labour won't do a deal to avoid splitting the vote and voila! we will have another 3 years of neo-liberalism. Just what the oil industry ordered.

No doubt the Craigster is as much an opportunist as one would expect and will have sorted himself a cabinet position.The poor schmucks who vote him in won't realise they've been hoodwinked and used as electoral cannon fodder until it's too late and, tragic though it is, some won't ever realise it. 

So how is Craig conning the increasingly impoverished Kiwi working class? What's he promising them?

Will he:

Raise the ludicrously low minimum wage? No, because that would be 'a cost to businesses and lead to job losses'.   (Of course sensible people know this is not necessarily the case because government could help small businesses, promote buy local, stop the export of capital, enforce tax laws etc and big business could easily cut its massive management costs, reduce shareholder dividends etc. But the monetarist mantra is that raising wages makes business less profitable  - which actually proves the Marxist theory of surplus value. Ironic or what?)

Remove income tax and leave only GST? No, that's too complicated.

Raise the tax threshold? Yes, and to a whopping $25000 - which would mean part-time low paid workers and all those living on superannuation only would pay no tax, and those on the minimum wage working a 40 hour week would pay almost no tax. 

If the tax threshold is raised - what would he cut to make the savings necessitated by the reduction in tax revenue?  My answers:

Police? No, can't cut the police because they're necessary for crowd control and most of them vote National.

Prisons? No, can't cut prisons because they're also necessary, otherwise why have police? Some of Sheriff Joe's ideas to save costs might be tempting, but if prisons are privatised and big business is permitted to use prison labour as they do in the USA, they can't make the conditions too tough or the prisoners won't be able to work as hard.  Tricking the tax payer into subsidising big business is just too good a joke - it ranks up there with the one about wealth trickling down.

Military? No, can't cut the defence force because they might be needed to back up the police.

Civil Service and local government? Can't cut the top levels because they mostly vote National but there's bound to be some slack identified in the front line services and there's definitely scope for some creativity - e.g.  chain gangs for road works, plant and animal pest control. Get the spin guys onto that one John.

Education? Now that's definitely a contender. Increase class sizes, remove all 'unnecessary' elements of the curriculum in working class schools, give free rein to charter schools, lower the school leaving age, reduce teacher holidays - plenty of scope. It's bound to increase the prison population and thereby the pool of publicly subsidised forced labour - so what's not to like about that? And who needs an educated working class anyway?

Income support?  Yes, that seems like a popular area for cuts but .....

Can't cut invalid benefits too much because sick, disabled beggars on the streets isn't a good look for a first-world country.

Can't cut the rest home subsidy because that would affect all the rich National voting people who own or have shares in rest homes, and a lot of wrinklies vote National.

Can't cut the housing subsidy because landlords charge rents that low paid workers can't afford, and we have to keep wages down to keep profits up - so the housing subsidy is actually a subsidy for landlords and employers. 

Can't cut support for families as too many right wingers like that one, leastways not unless we give them more tax cuts.

CAN cut unemployment benefit because the spin doctors have done such a good job in persuading the target audience that it's only useless lazy work shy (brown) people who don't have jobs. In fact they've done such a good job spinning this I reckon they could bring back the workhouse and there'd be people who'd argue it was too soft.

Raise the retirement age? Hmm. That'd be unpopular with the working class but it's very likely because it won't affect most of those who vote National. Besides, it's a hoot, give them a tax break and make them pay for it themselves by working an extra 2 or 3 years before an impoverished retirement and  hopefully they'll die before they get to it or too far into it, thus saving on the rest home subsidy. Win win! And as jokes go - it's right up there with the private use of prison labour and trickle down wealth.

So, there's not all that much scope but there is the big diversion- Craig's favoured child - the binding citizen initiated referendum. CIR = People Power!

On the CP website someone asked the question - "would the Conservative Party honour the results of previous referenda, in which the vast majority of NZer's rejected Govt. legislation, such as the homosexual law reform, civil union bill, same sex marriage legislation, the anti-smacking bill, and the decision to keep the number of MP's at about 120?  Would our party be bold enough to reverse such iniquitous legislation imposed against the majority voice?" 

Interesting what's included in the list of 'iniquitous legislation', given the first three were not subject to a CIR. A curious omission was prostitution law reform - but maybe the writer approves of that. It's also interesting that CIRs were regarded by the Royal Commission on the Electoral System 1986 as  'blunt and crude devices... that  blur the lines of accountability and responsibility of Government.'  I guess that's why the Ranting Right like them so much. Look at the parties and organisations which have supported CIRs - ACT, NZ First, Family First NZ, Sensible Sentencing Trust,  Kiwi Party and now the Conservative Part - it's Amygdala Central. Even the Maxim Institute doesn't want them to be binding.

Craig's answer was a classic tightrope walk - he promised to honour the outcome of referenda but as CIRs currently are not legally binding, that's pretty meaningless and there's no way he'd be able to force through legislative changes.

Any working class Kiwi who thinks that Colin Craig gives a rodent's fart about them, is deluded. And that's my final word on the subject - for now at least.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Forensic Psychology....

Nigel Latta’s celebrity and professional cachet as a clinical psychologist add considerable weight to his theories about criminals. With Mark Lundy out on bail, it's interesting to look back on Latta’s pronouncements about him - and others - in the Beyond the Darklands (BTD) series.
Latta didn’t address the soundness of Lundy’s conviction. As far as Latta was concerned Lundy's guilt was a given. Clearly the six Judges of the Privy Council and the QC and members of the legal team who worked on Lundy's appeal were not of the same mind as Latta or journalist Jane Clifton, who wrote in a Dominion Post article :

"Though there has been much debate about the correctness of the jury decision to convict Lundy, owing to controversy about the timings of events the night of the murder, no-one seeing this programme can be left with much doubt." 
It’s easy to see why Clifton’s article is reproduced on the website of Screentime, the company that makes BTD. She wrote:
"It's hard to imagine a more useful and engrossing programme than Beyond the Darklands…Not only is it world-class in production terms, with skilful winding-in of docu-drama, but it helps viewers to understand the most bewildering questions about some of our most horrific crimes."

Or not. From my perspective, it's hard to imagine a less useful programme, and what I find most engrossing about it is the fact that it’s used in Police training.
Clifton also stated that, 'unlike a lot of professionals, (Latta) doesn't hedge his answers about, or trouble with sensitivities toward, the criminal. He has the self-assertive bluntness to spell out how these individuals come to be so evil."

In other words, he has the courage to say the things others are too scared, or too PC to say. The religious connotations of terms like ‘evil’ and ‘redemption’ are interesting in that they appeal to, and reinforce the view that some people are inherently bad and just have to be kept locked up forever  - or killed.
 Importantly, Clifton didn’t ask how Latta arrived at his assessment of Lundy as a narcissistic, exhibitionist alcoholic who brutally battered his wife to death because of her opposition to his money-making schemes, and who killed his daughter because she was an 'encumbrance'.
 A thorough clinical analysis would involve extensive interviews of the subject, or at least of the professionals who have worked with him, plus meticulous, informed analysis of documentary evidence such as trial transcripts, school and medical records etc. Most of this would need the permission of the subject and various Government agencies. As it’s unlikely Latta had that access, unless he was being fed information unofficially, he’d have based his assessment on the sort of case specific data that’s available to the public.
 Interviews with family and friends are there mainly to back up the assessment, not be the basis of it. Anecdotes provide the all-important personal narratives, and dramatized scenes provide the visual element without which a lot of the target audience would quickly lose interest.
Given the seriousness of the content, ideally the commentator should remind the audience that forensic psychology isn’t an exact science and that an analyst is totally dependent on the quality of information s/he has to work with. S/he should caution the audience that an assessment presented in a 45-minute television programme will not have the precision and thoroughness of a formal clinical analysis. S/he might even clarify the interface and critical differences between forensic psychology and criminal profiling.
One indicator of the rigour of Latta’s analysis is his notion of ‘limb specific grief’. The image that most people will have of Lundy is at the funerals - grief-stricken, with his arms draped over the shoulders of two friends. Latta typified this expression of grief as 'limb specific’, ie the fact that Lundy was able to support himself on his arms proves his grief was phony and is evidence of his guilt.
 The term sounds impressively scientific. It’s not. Physical reactions to extreme emotional distress vary between individuals and may well affect the legs more than the arms.

I did a more in-depth analysis of the BTD episode about Peter Holdem. I concluded that, in relation to impartiality and accuracy, that episode proffered no evidence drawn from recent or current professional assessments; it relied heavily on hearsay and failed to alert viewers to the possibility that some contributors might not be accurate in their recollections; it failed to point out that almost all stories about the subject available to the public contain inaccuracies and are emotive in tone; and it manipulated viewers both with the use of supposition stated as fact, and the use of misleading and highly emotive images.

Reality television should make thinking people ask the questions – whose reality is this, and who benefits from it?
In my view, BTD has a political agenda that is close to that of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. It was no accident that the episode on Holdem came in advance of his parole hearing and that people who have campaigned to keep Holdem in prison were heavily involved in the making of the programme.
I don’t pretend that any of this is easy - doing the socially sensible thing often isn’t.  It’s far easier to label people as ‘evil’, ‘unredeemable’, ‘born bad’. No-one can dispute the fact that there are people who are so dangerous they have to be kept incarcerated. But there are people who have been so damaged in the ‘care’ of the State that they are now unrecoverable – which should make us question the fitness of that ‘care’. And, there are many people in prison who are at risk of becoming unsalvageable, who should not have been sent to prison because they are innocent, or their crimes did not warrant it.

No person of integrity can question the fact that, as a society, we imprison far too many people : more men than women; more young than old; more brown than white; more poor than affluent; more uneducated than educated.
Our incarceration rate and the ethnic and socio-economic profile of our prison population is a national disgrace. Young, poorly educated men of colour end up in prison in NZ at truly alarming rates. In this we follow the USA, which leads the world in both the number of its citizens it imprisons and the proportion of people of colour.

Mark Lundy was lucky to have people who believe enough in the legal principle of beyond all reasonable doubt to have fought his corner. There are many who aren’t so lucky.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Meme Machine

The metaphor of the division of a cake in how the products of human endeavour are / or should be divided is a useful device because most people relate on an emotional level to the sheer injustice of some people having more cake than they could ever possibly eat, while some get no cake at all, and others get just a few crumbs that fall off the table. 

What's often not considered is the role of those who get more cake in exchange for their support for the notion that the OWNERS of the cake have the RIGHT to more than they could ever eat and at least a major say in how it should be divided.   

Cake baking is a social process. The labour of many is necessary for the making of any given cake. No single person is born with the knowledge of how to make a cake, nor does any single person ever produce - by their own effort - all the ingredients and all the implements necessary for its baking. 

The knowledge of what a cake is and how to bake it is acquired and handed down by people operating socially; the ingredients are grown and harvested and processed by people operating socially; the implements used in the baking of the cake are manufactured by people operating socially ….

At some point in pre-history, long before cake making was possible, the notion of private property and trade was born - very likely as a result of the domestication of cattle. With the notion of privately owned property came the notion of the right to appropriate the labour of others  - if I can 'own' a cow, I can 'own' another human being. (There was another HUGE development that is highly pertinent to cake making as it happens - which was the dominance of a patrilineal family form and the birth of patriarchy - but that's a story for another day.)

Many different means were used to force people to give up the products of their labour and to be allowed to keep / be given only what was necessary for their subsistence. Some means were coercive; others were ideological - usually calling on god's / gods'  authority.

Inevitably some greedy bastards decided they owned EVERYTHING and declared divine support for that right. They employed swathes of people to keep it that way - law makers and law enforcers and the all important ideologues - The Meme Machine. 

And look how successful the The Meme Machine  has been. Many people cannot even conceive of a different - more just, balanced and sustainable way - of organising production. They dutifully parrot the line that the rich deserve to be rich because they are cleverer, more talented, more creative and that it is the rich who are the 'wealth generators'.  Instead of carping about the unfairness of the system, they argue that we should invest in enterprises set up by the 'wealth generators' so they can turn the tap on a little and the occasional drip (necessitated by the wealth generators not being able to afford more) can become a trickle - which is more than enough to keep the simple folk at the base happy. 

But this inverts reality. The 'wealth generators' are not those at the top of the social pyramid - they're the people at the base. The whole system (including the truly, madly, deeply insane world of virtual finance) relies on the exploitation of human labour - and that exploitation gets more obvious, coercive and brutal the further down the pyramid you go.  

Companies move to countries /locations where labour is cheaper and there are fewer environmental / health and safety laws; they do so to keep production costs down in order to extract the maximum surplus to pay the shareholders and the technocrats and the ideologues -  and to feed the various State machines that help keep the wasteful, unstable, unsustainable system going.  

The idea that the rich deserve to be rich, that they generate wealth is stupid. It is so stupid it is hard to comprehend how any rational person can fall for it. But that's where The Meme Machine  is so important. It has persuaded enough people that the current way we organise production - the economy - is the most efficient (maximum productivity for minimum expense/effort) and effective (achieving an intended or desired outcome) way possible. 

This is often demonstrably untrue even when judged by the system's own stunted methodologies.  If we use a wider angled lens and accept that production is a social process, we see that the relations of production (like the relations of reproduction) have evolved and any measurement of the efficiency and effectiveness of an enterprise must also consider the concepts of equality of opportunity, equity of treatment in legal terms and ethical practice. Without these, a true measure of efficiency and effectiveness can't be made. 

If we simply want the current system to be fairer, we can use the very political and legal concepts that challenged the divine right of kings and latter day autocracies to force it to change. But that's always a struggle. No social, economic or political advance has been given freely by those in power until it was in their interests to do so. And every hard won advance must be guarded because it can be easily lost. Sometimes the loss is sudden and catastrophic and obvious - and sometimes it's gradual and surreptitious and the loss goes largely unnoticed.

What the rich and powerful and their supporters forget or choose to ignore is that people at the base are not passive ciphers. Excellence, talent, intelligence, insight, creativity, goodness are not the preserve of the rich - as even the most cursory examination proves beyond all doubt.

So - people of the base - use all that excellence, talent, insight, creativity and belief in natural justice to bring about change - because if we don't change the way we do things, we're all stuffed.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Dear President Obama....

I was one of the many people who felt that the world had become a slightly better place when you were elected President of the USA.  I didn't forget the betrayals of Blair's Labour government in the UK after 14 years of divisive and destructive Thatcherism. Nor did I forget the betrayal of everything the Labour Party had stood for when the Lange government was swept to power in New Zealand in 1984 and Roger Douglas ushered in the 29 years of neo-liberalism that has divided the country of my birth to an extent unknown in my lifetime. But I still hoped you would be different. 

I know that your background, education and profession make you as distant from the lives and concerns of the mass of American poor and the struggling 'middle classes' as George Bush Jnr was, but the emblematic power of your election was enormous. It had profound symbolic meaning, not just to Americans of colour and  to progressive white Americans, but to the whole world - just as it was known it would by the powerful people who backed you.

Sensible people knew that your candidacy was calculated to divert the growing anger of those people whose American Dream has been shattered, but many of us still hoped that you might somehow break your corporate shackles and act to control the destructive forces that dominate American government.  Many people - and not just Americans - desperately want to believe that American democracy and decency exists - that it has just lost its way and is waiting to be liberated. 

It's a hard thing for people reared on the myth of American exceptionalism to confront the fact that most people in the world regard America - not with affection, respect, or approval - but with varying degrees of fear and loathing.  Most see the USA, not as a mature, even-handed, progressive force for good in the world, but the absolute opposite, a country that acts like a paranoid adolescent with a narcissistic personality disorder who has control of a vast arsenal of weapons.  How could any rational person not be frightened of such a country?

When intelligent Americans answer the question 'why is America the best country in the world'  by listing the many reasons why it is not - they have to add the rider, 'but it could be'. They have to do that because so many (maybe most) Americans are incapable of facing the truth - that their country has grown powerful by behaving like a psychopathic bully, stamping its illegal authority all over the world to extend and defend its global interests. 

A large proportion of  Americans, by virtue of their narrow education and a politically compliant and vacuous media, are insular, superstition-ridden and parochial. Through their votes and their inaction, those Americans have not only allowed their government to become the world's bad cop -  on occasion they have demanded it. Most Americans did not care about the USA's carpet bombing of Japanese cities with incendiary bombs, or dropping two nuclear bombs on non-military cities even when the scale of civilian deaths and injuries was made public. Most didn't care about their military raping women and massacring innocents in Vietnam, or the fact that the USA dropped more bombs on that country than had been used in WW2.  A large number feel nothing but pride that no country in history has dropped more bombs on civilian targets than the USA did during WW2 and since.

An outcome of this mindset is that the scales of natural justice for Americans are heavily weighted in their favour. Just under 3000 people (12% of whom were not Americans) died in the September 11th attacks. It was a tragedy and no person of conscience can defend attacks on non-combatants - whatever the cause is  - but, the illegal attacks on Iraq by the USA and its Coalition partners killed twice that number in the two weeks of the USA's 'Shock and Awe' bombardment. Economic sanctions prior to invasion and the ongoing hostilities since the invasion have killed hundreds of thousands of innocents. Hundreds of thousands have died in Afghanistan and in Libya.

In Syria 100,000 have already died. And you want to add to that - to appease the Ranting Right whose sole measure of America's 'greatness' seems to be the numbers of 'enemies' it has killed.

The current tub-thumping and handwringing by politicians and compliant media over the use of chemical weapons in Syria - is the grossest hypocrisy. America stockpiled vast quantities of chemical weapons during WW1 and in 1918 prevailed on the British and French to drop them on German cities - having first whipped up extreme anti-German feeling in the USA. Only the wind direction prevented America becoming the first country to use chemical weapons against civilians. The USA has never got rid of its stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Why would it keep them unless it either had the intention of using them, or wanted the implied threat that it would use them?

That aside, what was the76,000,000 litres of dioxin contaminated herbicide that was sprayed on farm land and forest in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, if not chemical warfare? An estimated 400,000 people died and 500,000 children have birth defects as a result of its use - numbers that are cynically rejected by the Americans as 'unrealistic'. Attempts by Vietnamese victims to get compensation have been disdainfully dismissed by the US Judiciary.  The budget to clean up contaminated ex-US military bases is insultingly low in light of the profits being made by the principal manufacturers of Agent Orange, Dow and Monsanto - and even more so in light of the fact that the USA spends about $1.3 trillion dollars every year on 'defence' of its global empire. 

Is death by a nerve agent any more horrible than death by bombs containing white phosphorus and petroleum jelly? 

Most Americans neither know nor care about the role their country played in the slaughter of 1.5 million Indonesian communists and socialists by the military and political Islam after the overthrow of Sukarno. That was the first cynical use of political Islam as a reactionary force, and it was so successful it was used again in Afghanistan to suck the USSR into an unwinnable war. The USA has funded, armed and encouraged political Islam, overtly and covertly, and as certain Islamic adherents have been driven into being more and more fundamentalist and reactionary, the monster America created destabilises countries and is the raison d'être for the so-called 'war on terror'.

The list of the USA's war crimes and its internal repression exceeds that of many of the regimes it attacks. The use of torture, kidnapping, spying on its own and others' citizens, the illegality and inhumanity of Guantanamo - are matched by the appalling incarceration rates of American citizens, grossly disproportionate numbers of whom are poor and people of colour. 

From a George Bush or a Ronald Reagan we expect nothing better - but you were supposed to be different. I know it's silly we should have expected that you, simply because your father happened to be Kenyan, would be the president of the USA the bulk of the world's population longs for.  And despite all your betrayals of the trust that was placed in you, I suspect most of us still feel more sadness than anger  - even though your betrayal is arguably worse than the likes of Clinton, Carter and Kennedy. We expected nothing better from the likes of Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and the Bush dynasty - but we did of you. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Peter Holdem's latest Parole hearing

I wrote an article some time back about Peter Holdem - that most unsympathetic of offenders - a compulsive paedophile and convicted child killer. 

Holdem was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1986 abduction and murder of 6-year-old Louisa Damodram. In 2007, the Parole Board took the unusual action of cancelling his parole hearings for 3 years. This was after a high profile media campaign by The Christchurch Star under the leadership of editor Barry Clark, who interviewed the emotionally fragile and still grieving mother of the victim, and organised a petition calling for Holdem to be be kept in prison.

In 2010 the Board denied parole, and in 2011, it imposed another 2 year postponement.

In 2012,  Nigel Latta included Holdem in his Beyond the Darklands television series and ended the episode with a powerfully worded statement that, in his (professional) opinion, Holdem should never be released.

Holdem's 2013 parole hearing came and went without any prior media comment that I was aware of, and there was a fairly muted response to the further denial of parole. In its report The NZ Herald repeated the inaccurate claim that, when Holdem murdered Louisa Damodran, he had just been released after the abduction and attempted murder of a 10 year-old girl. He was actually charged with attempted rape.

The Parole Board based its decision on a psychological report in February 2013 which described Holdem as 'predatory and opportunistic' and 'ingratiating' towards authority figures. In addition, it was said that, despite Holdem's claim not to be interested in women or girls, 'images of scantily clad females' were found in his cell.  Holdem claimed they had been planted there but the Board did not believe him.  One of the other observations made by the Parole Board was that Holdem has no support network in the community - which is hardly surprising.

The conclusion of the professionals is that rehabilitative programmes at the prison are of no further use; in other words Holdem is  - using Latta's word - 'unredeemable'.

They may well be right and who would want to take a chance on a compulsive paedophile and convicted child murderer, of whom Latta, a person of considerable influence, has said:

‘I have never come across an offender that I am so unreservedly convinced will reoffend.' ...  'He (Holdem) ‘cannot be rehabilitated, not now, not ever; there are no psychological therapies that can change what this man is and no medications that can control him.’ 

In my opinion, the BTD episode on Holdem was appalling in respect of its errors,  bias and sensationalism. I had intended to register a complaint with the Broadcast Standards Authority but for various reasons I didn't. However, I did contact the Parole Board to register my disquiet. I sent my notes to Holdem's solicitor, Mr Vigor-Brown and  I phoned his office on several occasions to ask to speak to him. I got no response from him or even an acknowledgement that he had received the notes.

I had discussions with the Sunday Star Time's crime reporter about collaborating on an article - which did not eventuate and I have had no reply to a subsequent email. I spoke to the acting editor at The Press who was not interested in the story; he said it was unlikely they would run anything about Holdem until nearer to the Parole hearing.

After several months of sending emails and leaving messages, I finally spoke to Barry Clark about his reasons for using the Christchurch Star to run the 2007 campaign. He claimed it was because it was a 'community issue' but he was not willing to discuss the issues in any depth so I have not been able to establish who initiated the campaign. Nor do I know who approached who for the Radio New Zealand interview in 2011, but the common denominator is Mel Griebel.

It was clear from Ingrid Leary's email to people whose names she pulled off the Old Friends website,  that Griebel was heavily involved in the BTD programme.

Griebel claimed in the email to his contacts which Leary used, that Nigel Latta's mind was already made up. Certainly the impression I gained was that they were looking for information which would confirm the conclusions Latta had already arrived at.

Nigel Latta's strongly worded and unconditional pronouncements about Holdem at the end of the BTD episode stood in stark contrast to the sort of information he appeared to have at his disposal i.e. what is in the public domain, and anecdotal evidence from people who knew Holdem at various points in his life all of which was from at least 26 years, and as much as 56 years, prior to the making of the programme.

The in-depth clinical information that should support such a powerfully worded conclusion could only come from careful analysis of police and court records and from Holdem's personal records. The latter can only be accessed by people who are professionally involved with Holdem, or who have his permission.

If an expert had legitimate access to that sort of information, why wouldn't s/he mention that in the programme given it would add immeasurably to the weight that could be given to any conclusions?

If an expert had access to personal information which was given without a person's permission, it could be illegal and certainly would be grossly unethical. Griebel has claimed publicly that Department of Corrections staff keep him up to date on Holdem. If true, and in light of Griebel's involvement in the moves to keep Holdem imprisoned, that would surely constitute a serious breach of professional standards.

The political dimension of the BTD programme was as obvious as its sensationalism. A group of people took it upon themselves to use the popular media to influence the judicial process and were confident enough to state their agenda openly.

Do they all have the same motives?

Nigel Latta is selling a commodity but what about Mel Griebel?  It seems fair to say that Griebel is obsessed with Holdem.  His overt and covert statements about what Holdem deserves as punishment, and his statements that Holdem is 'evil' indicate that this is a deeply personal issue for him.

It's apparent from things Griebel has said publicly, that the original investigation was flawed. The areas of concern that we know about - persuading Holdem's girl friend that he was guilty and using her in the interrogation to force a confession, taking Holdem and her to the river, keeping Holdem in a motel room overnight without having sufficient evidence to charge him  - are bad enough to ask if there were other examples of poor practice. That question must be asked, however horrible the crime was.

It would be easy to let Peter Holdem rot in prison and it may well be that, despite his sloppy research and populism, Latta's conclusion is right and Holdem does pose such a severe risk to young girls that  he must remain incarcerated for the rest of his life.

There are people who deserve to be in prison who are not; there are people who have been held in prison for decades who are known to be innocent; there are cases of people having been sent to prison after evidence was planted by the Police or as a result of poor practice.

Something is not right in this story - and the fact that Peter Holdem is a deeply flawed and possibly dangerous man who has been convicted of an appalling crime does not give the law and order brigade the right to distort the truth and manipulate the system.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Feed lots - and lots and lots

Cattle feedlots are abominations and to argue that they produce meat in a 'stress-free' environment is a whopping great lie.

The largest feedlot in New Zealand is the 5 Star feedlot at Wakanui in Ashburton which holds up to 15,000 head of cattle at a time. It is part-owned by a Japanese company and exists to produce the 'marbled' beef some Japanese prefer. I say 'some' because the eating of fatty meat is an affectation completely at variance with traditional Japanese diet. They acquired it from the Americans - and we have heaps of evidence wobbling around the world of what adherence to US dietary principles and practices results in.

If you want to see Wakanui - you can find it on Google maps.

Animals are brought into the lot at between 14 and 18 months old and stay for for about 8 to 9 months being fed a grain diet to force weight gain.  They will double their weight in their time there which is a bit akin to stuffing geese with grain to create pate de foie gras.

A cow's life span is a bit hard to judge because we seldom let them live out their natural lives but we know that its life expectancy, like race horses, is far shorter than its life span. The oldest known cow was 48 at death and ages of 40 are not uncommon. Average life span is reckoned to be around 25 - 35 years. A dairy cow is considered old at about 9.

A cattle beast naturally matures at 4 to 7 years. Old style beef farming let the animal grow to maturity and hung the meat for up to 4 weeks before consumption. Old style beef is a dark brownish meat, completely unlike the bright red, blood and water rich meat from the recently slaughtered immature animals we see in the supermarket. 

In some respects the Angus beef cattle that end up in the feedlot are better off than many. They live out on grass until they are old enough and big enough to survive the feedlot.  

And these Kiwi cattle are not in such dire straits as those that end up in US feedlots but, confining cattle in barren lots and force feeding them an unnatural (albeit tasty) diet, is hardly designed to ensure healthy, unstressed animals.

In the US feedlots, animals are fed antibiotics prophylactically to counter the inevitable infections - necessary because of the suppression of the immune system by persistently high cortisol levels. I don't know if that is the case in NZ.

The grain diet changes the pH of the rumen and causes liver damage - it is a uncomfortable fact that these animals could not survive in the feedlot for much longer than they are there. The greater acidity of the rumen means that the animals suffer damage to the digestive tract but, also that they carry pathogens which would normally be killed by our high acid stomachs. The way restaurants typically cook feedlot beef is very rare, so the chances of being exposed to acid resistant pathogens from faecal contamination is high. We are not at the stage of the US feedlots which irradiate the meat to kill pathogens and I imagine that the killing room at Wakanui is very clean so maybe faceal contamination is not so much of an issue. And frankly, if people who want to eat feedlot meat get salmonella poisoning as a result, I don't much care.

I make no apology for the fact that I find these arrangements to be abominable. I abhor industrialised farming of any sort and it is a lie that it is the only way we can feed people.

Its greatest efficiency is in making money and its social costs are vast. Typically, the social costs are never borne by those who make the money in the short and medium term. These are long term costs and we bear them - that's all of us.  And that's just the monetary costs - there are other less easily quantified 'costs' the discussion of which is drowned in the loud demands for short term economic gain.

Unsustainable intensive farming is a form of extractive industry - and unfortunately we have a government which lacks the vision to see beyond short term profits for the few to the long terms costs to the majority.

The poor lack intelligent focus on lifestyle ... yeah right

Is there something in the air that is affecting those with larger than average amygdalas? 

Not too long ago we had the New Zealand First MP with the enticingly rhymable name displaying his ignorance and somehow managing to combine extreme pettiness and petty extremism. He got a bit of a drubbing as a result from both sides of the political spectrum. Things have gone very quiet on the Prosser front which is fortunate as there is only so much right wing smugness I can stomach.

And then there's Canterbury's very own Lorne Keuhn, correspondent extraordinaire and self-appointed PR man for the good old USofA, who regularly trots out his theory that poverty is the fault of the poor. 

But of course it is. Just as we all know that the world is completely flat, we all know that if the overwhelming majority of the world’s population subsist in states of poverty, it is because they ‘lack intelligent focus’ on their lifestyle. 

Kuehn entertained us with his theories after conducting a study in India as a result of which this alpaca farmer became  an expert on absolute poverty as opposed to the relative poverty we see in  NZ. He offers no explanation of, or solution to the former but proclaims grandly that child poverty in NZ is due to the parents lacking intelligent focus. Ie they are feckless and spend their perfectly adequate incomes on things like fags, booze and gambling. 

In this he is supported by a majority of NZers. In the infamous Yahoo!NZ (such an apt name) on-line news poll, a question about whether welfare reforms were too harsh met with a 75% NO vote. You could almost smell the self-righteousness. 

A disturbingly high proportion of Kiwis like bashing beneficiaries, aka 'bludgers'. It could become the national sport.   

It is a peculiarly repulsive form of bullying. It's the same mindset that concludes an armed vigilante who decides to pursue an unarmed teenager against the express advice of the police, confronts him and then shoots him dead, is the victim. It's the same mindset that then slanders the dead teenager - making him the author of his own demise. And it's the same mindset that results in legislation which forces a judge to send a woman to prison for TWENTY years for NOT SHOOTING someone.

How can anyone not see the madness in that? 

We live in a world teetering on the brink of global war and global ecological disaster. The asylum is under the complete control of the lunatics - for the most part, mad old men - aided and abetted by a bigger bunch of mad younger men - and increasingly - women. 

  • 1 billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development
  • 148 million under 5s in developing regions are underweight for their age
  • 101 million children are not attending primary school, with more girls than boys missing out
  • 22 million infants are not protected from diseases by routine immunization
  • 7.6 million children worldwide died before their 5th birthday in 2010
  • 4 million newborns worldwide are dying in the first month of life
  • 2 million children under 15 are living with HIV
  • 500,000 women die each year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth
And the USA spends a third of its VAST budget on its military. The world's economy is totally dependent on the new arms race; the US has exhausted its replacement 'enemy without' - Islamic terrorism (which if course it created and armed) - with its new 'enemy', China. The ruling elites in the US and its close allies created the arms race and continue to fuel it.

If there are any 'useless eaters' in this world it is the mad old men and their retinues who control and waste so much of the world's resources.  It's beyond time to wake up to it and realise the role that the obscenely rich play in the creation and perpetuation of poverty instead of taking the easy, bullying, line of stereotyping and scapegoating the poor.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Twin Evils ....

A whileback I wrote a tongue in cheek piece (link below) based on the genre of ‘red-neck’ jokes that are popular in the USA :  ‘you know you are a redneck if…’   your gene pool has no deep end;  you moved house because you heard that most accidents happen at home; you stare at the orange juice container because it says ‘concentrate’ on the label.  You get the drift.

Some of the redneck jokes are very witty but I’m uncomfortable with jokes about any group of relatively powerless people like the poor whites who are being stereotyped. US author Joe Baigent wrote about the iniquity of it being socially acceptable to insult and make jokes about the white rural / small town poor, which, if the same things were said about people of colour would cause outrage.  

He’s right of course, so, no redneck jokes. But jokes about politics are a different matter so I changed the genre to ‘you know you are extremely right-wing if ….‘   I could have titled it ‘you know you have a big amygdala if ….’ because studies have shown that conservatives respond to threatening situations with more aggression than liberals and this cognitive difference is reflected in differences in brain structure.

Put simply, conservatives get angrier when they feel threatened and they have a bigger amygdala, while liberals are more open to change and have a larger anterior cingulate cortex. Quite what causes what is not known but, from a lay person’s perspective it is very amusing and supports my contention that, if the Right can have its Loony Left / PC Brigade as a political scapegoat, natural justice demands there should be its opposite - the Raving Right and its storm troopers, the Amygdala Brigade.

One of my ‘you know you are extremely right-wing if…’ jokes was about the tendency of angry right-wing people to use hyphenated phrases, especially insults, so I was tickled pinker to read Phillip Mathews’ piece in The Christchurch Press about Richard Prosser MP - who has positioned himself as a spokesman for the 'libertarian, go-getting, genuine freedom-loving' folk of NZ.

I use the term spokesman because Prosser is very proud of his masculinity and states proudly and publicly that he 'possesses gonads'. So do green-lipped musssels -  and all complex life forms for that matter - so quite why he thinks that makes him exceptional is anyone’s guess.  Maybe it's because he likes to present himself as a 'man’s man', the sort who made NZ what it is – or was, before politicians let Maori think they had rights, and allowed immigration from places other than the white bits of the world.

In keeping with Raving Right traditions, Prosser refers to namby-pamby, thumb-sucking, hand-wringing (presumably not both at the same time) fantasy-land morons, and has probably used other RR terms like feral-feminist, tree-hugger, bleeding-heart, do-gooder, loony–left, touchy-feely, wishy-washy etc.

All that is legitimate, if not very intelligent, political comment - but what sparked off a ferocious storm of recrimination from both sides of the political spectrum was Gonad-man’s call for people who look like Muslims to be banned from flying, and his references to Islam as a ‘troglodyte religion’ and to ‘Wogistan’. 

This resulted in the  - getting larger and more florid by the day - MP having to meet with leaders of the Muslim community to apologise for his remarks. I wondered if there were any women in the group of twelve community leaders and if not, given Prosser’s claim to be a champion of women’s rights, did he comment on that? Probably not - and there’s the big problem with writing that sort of tub-thumping, amygdala-stimulating stuff – you simply cannot then engage in a reasoned debate on issues like gender equality. 

Prosser also made a reference to ‘the twin evils of diversity and multiculturalism’, which he sees as being responsible for the ‘enemy’ being ‘within’. To me this was a far more worrying and sinister statement than the petulant nonsense that has been given so much media coverage.

This reference to ‘the twin evils’ reminded me of something written by Ilana Mercer, a South African, post-majority rule émigré to the USA. In a blog bemoaning majority rule in South Africa, she referred to the disappearance of what she calls ‘English niceties; mannerisms that English speaking people have’ which are ‘disappearing in America ….due largely to the twin evils of multiculturalism and mass immigration.’

Given Mercer is the daughter of Jewish Russians who fled the Soviet Union to settle in South Africa, plus the historical facts that mass immigration formed American culture and there are millions of Americans for whom English was/is not their mother tongue, ‘English niceties’ seem a strange thing to be pining for.

Apropos of nothing very much other than it made me laugh - Mercer is described as a ‘paleolibertarian’ author and blogger.  On her website she publishes ‘raves and reviews’ of her writing, one of which was from one Nicki Fellenzer, who is the ‘national spokesperson’ of an organization intriguingly named Armed Females of America

The para-military connotations of the organisation aside, why not ‘armed women’? And why ‘spokesperson’? Isn’t that a bit contradictory? 

I'm quite diverted by the idea of Ilana Mercer as Richard Prosser’s political muse - and he has made reference in one of his columns to the ‘fading of the SA we knew into the twilight of civilization’ and to (white) South Africans and Rhodesians (sic) being NZ’s ‘closest cousins’. 

But, being diverted quickly led to feeling nauseous as I considered the fact that this latest example of foot-in-mouth disease joins the other internationally known examples of Kiwi Kommentator gaucheness such as Paul Holmes’ ‘cheeky darkie’, Tony Veitch’s description of Serena Williams as proof humans are descended from apes, and Paul Henry’s many and varied examples of crass bigotry.

Given Holmes’ knighthood and post-mortem veneration, Veitch’s reinvention as a radio commentator worthy of PM John Keys’ patronage, and Henry’s re-employment in Australian media, can one assume that Prosser will be rewarded eventually for ‘just saying what a lot of people think’?

What Prosser said is arguably no worse than Veitch’s or Henry’s oafish comments, or Holmes’ gaffe, given his status as a ‘leading broadcaster’, but it was judged by almost everyone to have gone too far beyond the political pale.

In fact what was so remarkable about this is not that Prosser said what he said, but that it attracted such universal opprobrium. We seldom hear such outrage from politicians across the spectrum, with conservatives vying with liberals to prove who were the most disgusted. Even the shrill voices of the Amygdala Brigade were silenced although Prosser claims equal numbers expressed approval and disapproval to him privately.

I wonder how many of the people who Prosser offended sent him emails like the ones that academic Margarat Mutu received after a Sunday Star Times article distorted her response to a survey on immigration? Did they email Prosser the ethnic equivalent of “Lol u black nigga if the white man hadn’t come, u would still be eating each other and living in huts you maori nigga c…ts “

Did Prosser find himself attacked viciously and personally on the internet by those he offended in the way that Professor Mary Beard was after she made a mild liberal comment about immigration on Question Time in the UK recently?  

Prof Beard was shocked and upset by the torrent of misogynistic abuse that spilled out on the internet - at the centre of which was a website called Don’t Get Me Started ‘owned’ by a male (I cannot bring myself to call him a ‘man’) by the name of Richard White.  DGMS was a forum where members were encouraged to say what they think on any topic and to be as abusive as possible. What its members thought about Mary Beard was largely unprintable but, before we feel too superior, the same sort of splenetic, hate-full things were written here about Helen Clark.

The males who wrote in about Beard weren’t interested in a reasoned debate over the merits of her views – they got off on competing with each other over who could post the most vicious, personalised, misogynistic and cruel comments about her appearance. But they picked on the wrong woman. She went to the media and turned the spotlight back onto the poisonous little turds.  The site’s owner was ‘outed’ and, deprived of internet anonymity, he closed the site.  Way to go Mary!

When Prosser writes about the ‘twin evils of multiculturalism and diversity’ creating an enemy within, he is using Amygdala Brigade code for people of colour. He is drawing on negative sterotypes; demonising whole sections of society and in essence, dehumanising them.  It is an old, ugly and ignoble political tactic and he needs to be ashamed of himself – the more so because he chose to keep writing this tub-thumping racist propaganda after being elected as an MP.

When Prosser refers to Islam’s oppression of women he is appealing to a political mindset that is itself steeped in misogyny. The fact that many of the men who indulge in this rancorous behaviour do so as a compensation for their own impotence and powerlessness makes their conduct no less harmful and hurtful.

But, dislike them as much as I do, I reserve most of my condemnation for the men and women with power who cynically use the impotent rage of the powerless as a weapon against other powerless people. Their's is the far greater offence.

Friday, 8 February 2013

How are the mighty fallen ..

A sports writer for Yahoo!NZ, writing under the pseudonym of The Man in the Stands,  joined the feeding frenzy around Lance Armstrong’s professional corpse. 

In a piece that, even by Yahoo!NZ standards, was remarkable for its emotive hyperbole, the writer expressed his disgust, shock, horror and revulsion at the - cowardly, cold-blooded, lying, deceiving, stealing, swindling, pilfering, cheating, con artist, ragbag, scumbag, monster. 

All that in a 440-word blog,

Unlike a lot of people who are queuing up to kick his corpse, I’ve never had a lot of time for Armstrong, but I refuse to join the likes of TMITS in baying for what they call 'justice' – but which, in truth, is vengeance. They want to see Armstrong suffer and they justify that by claiming that they feel sympathy for his 'victims' and outrage at his dishonesty. The truth is they’re full of anger, which prevents them from thinking and creates the potential for them to behave as badly as the object of their ire has done.
Armstrong’s offending is not unique; it’s not even unusual. He's the product of the confluence of massive corporate sponsorship of cycling (which started with American cyclist Greg LeMond) and European cycling organizations that wanted to break into the rich US market. 
Armstrong was in the first-class carriage of a fast moving gravy train but he wasn’t the driver and he didn’t own the locomotive. He was able to do what he did because his corporate sponsors and sports officials turned a blind eye to what was going on and they did so because his high-profile success was making them a load of money.
Nor is road cycling the only corporate-funded gravy train in professional sport and it’s far from being the richest. You have only to look at golf, tennis, football and basketball to see that Armstrong’s wealth and his attitudes are anything but unusual.
Armstrong’s an elite and extremely skilled athlete in a demanding and very dangerous team sport; the use of drugs, plus his organizational ability and obsessive competitive drive, made him a phenomenal athlete. 
Had he been content with equaling the tour wins record he may have got away with it, but celebrity and power are notorious corrupters and he came to believe his own ‘narrative’. He also hurt and angered enough people on the way up for his fall from grace to be emotional and very public. But, what made him behave badly is a quality common to all elite athletes - a single-minded determination to win. It is a small step from single-minded to ruthless.  
When Floyd Landis won Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France, anyone who knew cycling could tell he’d taken something and, given the way he was riding, that it was most likely to be testosterone. He went from riding like a stunned mullet the day before, to riding like a man possessed. That was incredibly dumb. 
Armstrong was clever and systematic in his use of banned substances and procedures, just like he was in his training and his team organization. The training systems and procedures Michele Ferrari developed (EPO use aside) and which Armstrong utilized, and Armstrong’s race tactics, are now part and parcel of how professional cycling works. And Armstrong built on the American revolution in team organization and application of technology that was started by Greg LeMond.
Did Armstrong force his team to use banned substances? In the sense that, to be of use to him they had to perform to his drug-enhanced level, that’s probably true. But, they did not have to stay with him and if they did so, it was because the rewards, in terms of money and professional profile, were great enough to stifle medical or ethical concerns. 

What of the claims that Armstrong ‘destroyed’ people? 

Tyler Hamilton is doing the reformed character bit with his best-selling confessional book and appearances on the after-dinner speaker circuit. 

The most high-profile accuser is Betsy Andreu who speaks often and emotively about Armstrong having tried to destroy her family. However, Frankie Andreu worked with Armstrong for years after he and Betsy say they heard him admit to using banned substances in 1996, and they all remained close friends. The split came after the Andreus didn’t get the rewards they expected, first a contract renewal and then a Directeur Sportif job.  

In an interview with Sports Illustrated recently, when Andreu was asked if she felt proud about her moral stance, she said “Yeah, I get that. But sometimes it feels like there's no profit in the truth, right? Would you rather have Lance's money right now, or my reputation?” 

Betsy Andreu may be as hooked on celebrity as Armstrong. She is also an absolutist and is as driven and obsessive as he is but is emotional and an ardent Catholic, while Armstrong hides his emotions and is an atheist. If he suddenly found God, perhaps America and Betsy Andreu would find it easier to forgive him.

Andreu said that she knew Floyd Landis’ Christian upbringing would lead him to confessing his sins but the path to that confession took a remarkably circuitous route via a book called "Positively False," solicitation of legal funds from his fans, and attacking Greg LeMond

In 2010 Landis filed a lawsuit against Armstrong and others to force repayment of the $30m+ in government sponsorship of the US Postal team. Landis (eventually) admitted to doping while riding for the team which he now claims ‘defrauded’ the US government, a fraud that he benefitted from, and he now stands to make $millions by suing Armstrong and his financial backers, for that fraud. If successful, the action will give Landis 15-25% of the $300m if the U.S. Department of Justice joins the suit and takes the lead role, or 25-30% if he pursues the case alone. This is a travesty of whistle blowing legislation but perhaps he’ll donate the proceeds to charity. 

If Landis, or any of the other post-hoc bean-spillers had serious moral scruples about doping they would have distanced themselves from Armstrong.  If Armstrong is personally to blame for what he did, so are they.  The only people who have a right to be aggrieved are the completely clean riders who might otherwise have won stages or tours, and the lower order of domestiques who could reasonably claim to have been pressured into doping.

Armstrong’s greatest mistake was to deny his offending past the point where the denials had any credibility. His nemesis, David Walsh, has been on anti-doping crusade for thirteen years and his pursuit of Armstrong became as obsessive as Armstrong’s pursuit of power and success. Walsh was right but there is a strong vein of moralism running through all this and it suits that narrative to cast Armstrong in the role of a ruthless Machiavellian mastermind. It also makes for great press and television and now the only way he can slide out from under it is to turn supergrass like Landis - or find God.

Professional sports people and those who back them always skirt the rule boundaries and the rewards, in terms of money and celebrity, are now so enormous that many take the risk of doping. 
The US Olympic cycling team used blood doping in 1984 and it may be endemic in many sports that have not yet had the scrutiny to which road cycling has been subjected. The reason doping became endemic in road cycling is partly due to the physical demands of the sport itself and partly the pressures imposed by corporate sponsorship.
Before we all drown in the sea of smug, sanctimonious twaddle that is pouring out of the media, let’s consider where the pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs comes from and where performance enhancement starts. It’s ok to use a hyperbaric chamber and to train at altitude but not to use EPO, which has the same effects. 

It can be argued that the prophylactic use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories enhances performance in that it allows athletes to push their body beyond its normal limits in competition. NSAIDs can be bought over the counter and team doctors hand them out during events and matches, despite the fact that the drugs are a metabolic and circulatory time bomb and especially dangerous if the person taking them is dehydrated. Logically, NSAIDs should be banned in sporting competition just as they are banned in horse racing. 
I’m not excusing Armstrong but I think the greater fault lies with corporate sponsorship of sport and its branding mania. Commentators should reserve some of their hyperbole for Nike, Trek, Oakley, Shimano, the TV networks and all the other corporations that made $billions out of Armstrong and those that are making $billions out of other elite sportspeople.

I reserve my pity and concern for the workers in poorly regulated countries, who are paid a pittance to produce shoddy commodities that mythologized athletes are grossly overpaid to sell to a dumb or uncaring public. 

In that sense, we, the consumers of those products, are as much to blame as athletes who take shortcuts. If we really cared about ‘cheating’ we’d stop buying the products that encourage it.