Monday, July 31, 2006

Carpe Diem

You all probably have someone you love very dearly, whether it be a partner, relative or friend.

I just have one piece of advice, cliché’d though it may be, but it is carpe diem.

Life is finite – enjoy it with the people you love. Seize each day with them as if it is your last.

While often every day may seem like the one before – it wont always be that way. Although often it is easy to get into a routine of expecting things to remain the same, to expect people to always be there, even though you know that it is probably not true. It is always better to live as if you are alive, than to live as if death is upon you.

Some of the people you love the most will be gone one day. The point of your time with them is to savour each moment of being with them, to enjoy what you like, to share that, to smile and to know that this is living.

Sometimes you wake up and find that person is gone, sometimes you get a warning about how terminal life is – you should take that warning.

I can’t blog about politics or philosophy right now. I was going to mention the last Top of the Pops on BBC2, Jeremy Clarkson being considered as Tory candidate for Mayor of London and to expand on Not PC’s great column about collective responsibility for child murders as “we” are responsibe. I had written shreds about these things yesterday. For the moment, I can’t write about such things as they are not important to me right now.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Want to bludge an upgrade? (of course you do)




I fly a lot, and I don’t fly between Europe and NZ in economy class. I simply wont do it. Call me a snob, but sitting in an upright seat for stretches of 10-13 hours with bugger all legroom is no fun, after eating the plain meal, watching movies, queuing up for 15 minutes for the toilet, which is usually stinky because there are very old or very young passengers who find it hard to avoid soiling it, either having to get people to stand up to let me out, or having to stand up to let others out – long haul flying in economy is drudgery.
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By contrast, business class with seats that increasingly fold down flat as beds, is a relief, with classy meals, more room and an overall civilised experience. Business class has evolved from large reclining chairs to the lie flat but slide down seats of Singapore Airlines and Qantas, to the lie flat bed seats of Air New Zealand (pictured) and British Airways. Once you’ve tasted being up the front, with the room, the sleep, the service, the lack of queuing for most things, plus the lounge access, the lack of wait for luggage, you simply don’t want to go down the back again on long flights.
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So, besides paying three times the price of economy to sit up the front (and sometimes there are cheap deal, like 2 people travelling for the price of 1 full business class ticket), how do some people get an upgrade? Are some “lucky” while others are not? Well a lot of people annoy check in staff at airports trying to bludge a seat up front, particularly in the UK and US. I’ve been upgraded umpteen times, but most times it is because I used airpoints or had an upgrade voucher from the airline because of my frequent flyer status, only a few times was it spontaneous and always on Air NZ (which probably also reflected by frequent flyer status).
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So, assuming you don’t want to pay to go business or first class, the first option is:
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Use frequent flyer points to pay for a standby upgrade: Usually whatever programme you are in (Air NZ Airpoints, Qantas frequent flyer etc) will explain on its website what points you need for an upgrade. Most airlines only allow upgrades on standby, so you will probably only know if you are upgraded when you check in or even at the gate. Air NZ does allow confirmed upgrades with airpoints, but you need a lot of airpoints dollars to do that.
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It helps if you aren’t just a basic grade frequent flyer. Air NZ and Qantas grant upgrades in priority from their top tier status flyers down. So for Air NZ, the priority order is Gold Elite, Gold, Silver then the basic grade (Jade). Of course depending on the airline, status frequent flyers themselves can get free upgrade vouchers (2 in Gold Elite and Gold, 1 in Silver for Air NZ). US airlines are particularly good at this for domestic flights. Of course, the way to get status is to fly on the same airline or its alliance partners more often, and not on the ultra cheap fares. In other words, this option really only works if you fly regularly. If you only do a couple of domestic flights a year and go overseas every couple of years, forget it, unless your overseas trips involve going business class to Europe for work (then you should get enough points to get an upgrade on one flight at least).
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By the way, airlines vary in how easily they upgrade with frequent flyer points. Air NZ is more likely to grant an upgrade than Qantas, simple as that. It is easier to earn Qantas frequent flyer points than Air NZ airpoints dollars, but harder to spend Qantas frequent flyer points - so that's the tradeoff. However, upgrades are also by far the best value you can get from frequent flyer points – the upgrade is worth a lot more than the economy class seat (if you paid for it), and usually costs less points that getting a free economy trip.
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OK, so you’ve checked and you don’t have enough points. What now? Well, to be honest, by and large the odds are low that you’ll get an upgrade. Whether it happens depends on a whole host of factors, of which the ones below will add or subtract from your upgradeability:
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Frequent flyer: If you are a member of the airline’s frequent flyer programme (regardless of status), this definitely helps. If you are a member of one of its partner airline’s frequent flyer programmes, this helps a little less (check Star Alliance and OneWorld websites to see). If you are not, then you’re just like many tourists – you fly the airline occasionally, so your loyalty matters less than everyone else who is a frequent flyer. Don't try claiming because you are a competitor's frequent flyer that makes you special - it doesn't (but remember the airline partners - the competitor might actually be in an alliance with the airline you are flying and you can earn points with it)
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Dress, appearance and hygiene: What this basically means is this - the better dressed and tidier you are, the more likely you will be considered “upgradeable”. If you look like a backpacker, or like the main benefit you'll get from business class is more alcohol – forget it. The airline will more likely upgrade passengers who will quietly enjoy the experience and not wreck it for others. The messier, noisier and smellier you are, the less likely you are wanted in business. Airlines don’t want people who paid to sit up front complaining about you (frankly it would be nice if you did this anyway).
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Be polite: If you are hoping for an upgrade, then be nice to the check in staff. If you are rude, ignorant or demanding then why should they bother? Be complimentary about the airline, be grateful for the service, say thank you a lot and be gracious. Act like a guest, the only reason to get angry is if the airline screws up on something basic - remember the staff have most of the power, and in their shoes, would you upgrade someone who treated you like dirt?
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Lying or claiming you have “some right” because of your trip or condition: This is a huge negative. Don’t even try it. People make all sorts of things up to get upgrades. In the UK one survey indicated that 1 in 10 people pretended to be a celebrity to get an upgrade. 1 in 20 claimed to be pregnant (because that gives you the right!) and 13% tried to bribe their way to an upgrade. Others claim there is a medical reason – in which case presumably you are stupid enough to fly against medical advice in the back of the plane. All of these fail miserably. Saying you’re going to a funeral doesn’t work either, neither does “you’re on your honeymoon” – (forget the Friend’s episode, Monica and Chandler showed you exactly what happens when you ask). At best you’ll get a polite decline, but more likely you scuttle your chances of being considered and might even get a poorer seat allocation in economy. Check in staff have heard it all before, you’re not the first and probably not the first on that day. They are more likely to think of you as just another timewasting try hard freeloader.
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Special meals: If you have requested a special meal, you won’t be upgraded (unless we are talking about an upgrade request made with airpoints before the day of flight). Special meals cost money to make, and the airline wont throw away that meal to get you a flasher one in business – and it wont go through the logistics of loading an economy class special meal to carry to business class for you. Forget it.
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Children: If you are travelling with children, forget it. You wont be upgraded with your kids, because children don’t get upgraded. They are the least predictable travellers and can be the greatest nuisance for others, so why risk upgrading children to sit beside adults who have paid. You wont be upgraded without your kids, because the airline doesn’t want to be parent to them. Your kids wont be upgraded without you for the same reason. If you have bought business class for you, and economy for your kids then basically tough luck. After all, what the hell do kids need a flat bed, pre takeoff bubbly and after dinner port or cognac for? BA’s policy when parents ask for an upgrade for the kids when a parent is in a higher class than their children is simple - offer the parent a downgrade – capisce? Sit down the back with men, or pay to take them up front. Yes, quite a few parents do (I've seen it).
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Travelling together or in a group: The more the less merrier. If the odds of upgrading you travelling alone are low, they are extremely low for two of you and zero for more than two.
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Where do you request?: Many spontaneous upgrades happen at the gate, not the checkin. This is because airlines often wait to see how many booked passengers on an overbooked flight turn up, then if a cabin is overbooked, move some forward. Requests at checkin are more common that at the gate, though more are trying at the gate now. Requests at the lounge may have greater success, BUT you have to have the right to lounge access in the first place (which means either frequent flyer status or member of Koru Club, Qantas Club). If you have status or a paid up club member you already are ahead of the proletariat in terms of your upgradeability.
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Busier flights/holiday periods: Essentially this means you have more chance of being upgraded on flights full in economy than not, because if the flight is overbooked the airline needs to do something with the extra passengers. It costs the airline to put you in a hotel or shift the ticket, both in money and in pissing off the passenger (“but I paid for this flight”), so if the next class up has spare seats, the airline will bump people up. It may even bump up two people one step, (shift premium economy to business and economy to premium economy) to make space. The bump up will give priority to frequent flyers with high status etc etc. Also note that holiday periods have less business traffic so more business class seats.
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Routes with poor business class sales: Some routes are packed with business class passengers, others are nearly empty. For example, Trans Tasman routes where the airline uses larger planes (e.g 747s, 777s, 767s, Airbus A340s) will tend to have a reasonable number of premium economy or business seats empty – but not those using 737s or Airbus A320s. Auckland to LA and San Francisco tends to be busy in business and premium economy. Auckland to Osaka tends to have plenty of business class seats (almost everyone on board is Japanese and not paying business class and not being entitled to an upgrade). On Air NZ premium economy is less popular to Asia (where the class is not offered by most Asian airlines) so flights to Asia may increase your chance of an upgrade. Similarly premium economy LA-London is not popular, but business class is. Tahiti to LA typically is full in business because of wealthy American tourists, but Rarotonga to LA is not.

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Dates with poor business class sales: Midweek and Saturdays are less likely to have business travellers, and Sunday morning departures as well. However it is route dependent. Plenty leave on a Saturday to get to Europe on Sunday for a meeting on Monday. Few businesspeople fly midweek to Europe because they would arrive at the destination on the weekend or Friday.
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Be willing to move seats when asked: If the airline calls you at the gate and offers to change seats (probably so a couple can sit together or to sell another seat in your class), there is a chance the new seat you are offered is an upgrade.
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The fare you pay: The cheaper the fare you paid the less likely you’ll be upgraded. Full fare economy passengers are more likely to be moved first, because they are more valuable customers. “smart saver” or “super saver” fares will be last chosen. If there is a small difference between the bottom fare and the next one up, it may be worth choosing, especially if you get more frequent flyer points.
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Airline policy: Airlines have different policies and it is difficult to glean what they are. Assuming you aren’t ruled out by one of the points above, one article I read suggests the following:
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Qantas and Singapore Airlines do not respond to upgrade requests and upgrade spontaneously only when absolutely necessary (frequent flyers have preference).
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Thai, United and American Airlines tend to respond to upgrade requests positively if there are spare seats, but preference given to their own frequent flyers with status, and then partner airline frequent flyers with status.
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BA, BMI and Lufthansa tend to respond to upgrade requests only if the passenger is in economy, and it is overbooked and you are a frequent flyer with status. Partner airlines' frequent flyer status comes next.
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Genuine complaint: If the airline has screwed something up (don’t lie about this) and you have a genuine complaint, you are more likely to get upgraded if there is a seat available. My girlfriend did this on a recent flight from LA to London, and got bumped up to premium economy because the checkin staff were rude, denying something that had previously been agreed with the airline over the phone. You can’t plan this, and you probably don’t think yourself lucky if there is a balls up by the airline. This will be done to assuage you, but it wont be done if you demand an upgrade in compensation. It is more likely if you are polite, humble and explain what happened and why you are unhappy, and be grateful for the gate or lounge staff for listening.
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Even if you can tick all of the above, you still are, most of the time, going to miss out. Either some have “paid” for upgrades with vouchers or airpoints, or business class is sold out. Just because it looks empty when you walk, doesn’t mean it is – many business class passengers sit in the lounge and get called for the flight as the final call, so they get on last.
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Remember, most of this advice is the hard way of getting a seat up front on the plane. The easy ways still are:
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1. Buy a business class ticket;
2. Use frequent flyer points/upgrade vouchers to request an upgrade (the airline has given you these as a reward for loyalty).
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An alternative is to try premium economy, it is between 20% and 50% more than economy class, and gives you about half a foot more legroom, double the recline and a bit more service. It isn’t business class, but is a relief from the cattle class down the back. Air NZ is the only airline flying to NZ which has premium economy, but BA and Virgin (which fly to Australia and the US) both have it as well.
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You might not feel it when you fly down the back on a long haul flight, but most airlines make little money from economy class passengers. In fact, if there are no first/business/premium economy passengers, your economy class fare would probably be about 50%-100% more than it is, or the plane wouldn’t be able to fly. So don’t sneer at those who personally or through work have paid 3 or 4 times what you have for their tickets – they are, in effect, subsidising your flight.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

George Michael's standards aren't high



Bloody 'ell!
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George Michael (scheduled to be hooked up with his man in a civil ceremony shortly) has been caught at Hampstead Heath (about 20 minutes walk from where I live) messing around with another man.
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So, first you have to wonder about George Michael - presumably he's into anonymous sex with men, well fine - assuming his man doesn't mind (he alleges this). George admits that he regularly cruises Hampstead Heath for this purpose - which no doubt will increase its popularity no end. Now I'm no gay man, but I'm guessing he would be reasonably popular given his fame and the legions of girls who thought he was beautiful. So more gay men will be up the Heath looking up George (one way or another) (maybe some ex. groupies spotting him as well, the 30 something former teens who loved him!).
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However, the description of the man he was caught with makes you wonder if either he's exceedingly desperate for sex, has low standards or unusual kinks. The man was an unemployed van driver (class). Better yet, George Michael is reported to have compared the man to a Bernard Manning lookalike.
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"Michael said: 'As much as I don't want to be ageist or fattist, it's dark out there but it's not that dark. 'I've no idea who that guy was, but thank you very much."
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By now, those of you who don't know who Bernard Manning is will have figured out that the pictures are of him - now if this is what George Michael looks for to have a quick bit of rumpy pumpy with, then old obese gay men of London, start heading up the Heath at night. The rest of us, can go in the other direction.

Islamic Republic of Iran - evil child murderers


I'm furious, absolutely livid and so should you be. You see, the tragic conflict of Israel and Hizbullah is across borders and gets a lot of coverage. Understandably so - but the tragedy within states is limited to what reports leak out, particularly those states where the media is under state control.
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So this time I want you in New Zealand to do something, particularly those who protest against war, or for womens' rights or human rights. It is about time you went to 151 Te Anau Road, Hataitai, Wellington (the Iranian Embassy in NZ) and protested. You could organise a march from the city, around Oriental Bay, up to Roseneath to this address - you could burn an Iranian flag and you could make the Iranian Embassy staff see the sort of hatred usually dished out to the USA and Israel.
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Go on you so called “peace activists”, go on feminists, who say you want to defend women’s rights. Go protest against a state OTHER than the US, UK or Israel committing atrocities – one that executes teenage girls.
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The photo in the corner is one of many reasons why. It is of a girl who lived her life the way she wanted, like many do in the West. Certainly in ways that the Christian right would disapprove of, and maybe in ways that some feminists would say is wrong - but I think she simply lived.
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Atefeh Rajabi was hanged in Neka, Iran on 15 August 2004. Her crime? She had sex with a married man. She had been convicted five times before of sex with unmarried men, and she received 100 lashes for that every single time. She was 16 by the time those convictions had been chalked up. The Iranian government claims she was 22 when executed, but her lawyer was convinced she was 16 – and her parents had even specifically produced her birth certificate proving that she was 16 (proving that she's not an adult) and the ruling clergy of the town of forged papers and insisted that in fact she was 22 and that that was enough reason to hang her. Her age though, is almost neither here nor there.
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This is what happened when she was executed. You have to read it – just as you have to, once, see what happened in Auschwitz. It is the same evil:
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Witnesses report that she begged for her life as she was dragged kicking and screaming to the makeshift gallows. She shouted "repentance" over and over again – a gesture which, according to Islamic law, is supposed to grant the accused the right to an immediate stay of execution while an appeal is heard. Atefeh's cries were in vain. Haji Rezaie, the judge who presided over her trial, put the noose around her neck himself. He said he was pleased to do it. "Society has to be kept safe from acts against public morality," he insisted. He ordered that her body be left hanging from the crane for several hours so people could see what happened to teenagers who "committed acts incompatible with chastity".”
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I’d put a bullet through Haji Rezaie’s head in a moment to stop him doing this to others. He is like a Nazi extermination camp commander - utterly without redemption. The married man received 75 lashes and was then freed - but these sorts of men run Iran.
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There are plenty of Iranians who hate this, who hate their murderous Islamist slave state. This brilliant article by Siamack Baniameri at the time tells all about Atefeh Rajabi’s character – she wasn’t deterred by the thugs who told her what to do with her body, she was a rebellious teenager – and they killed her for it. This is the spirit of life that the Iranian regime denies, and which will spill up and overthrow them in due course. We should support efforts to broadcast alternative news and information, drop leaflets and support non-Islamist dissidents.
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If that doesn’t shock you enough, how about the case of Leila M, who is condemned to death for “acts incompatible with chastity”, she was 19.
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The Daily Telegraph continues:
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“She was sold into prostitution at the age of eight by her parents. She recalls the experience of when her mother "first took me to a man's house" as "a horrible night. I cried a lot … but then my mum came the next day and took me home. She brought me chocolate and cheese curls."
Forced by beatings and threats to continue "visiting men" from that night onwards, she became pregnant and had twins when she was 14. She was punished with 100 lashes by the Iranian courts for giving birth to illegitimate children
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What should the state do when it discovers this? Take care of the child, and imprison the parents for selling her, and the men for abusing her. Noooo, in Iran girls from 9 up are considered capable of committing crimes against chastity – so the evil scum (fine if they rape little girls) beat her.
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how about Kaveh Habibi-Nejad, a 14-year-old boy was flogged for eating outdoors on Ramadan. He died from the injuries because the metal cable used to flog him hit his head.
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Note of course that sentences for men involved in any crimes are far less, the men who rape children get little, and for some reason girls down to 9 are legally able to be executed, but boys need to be 14.
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This is the state that many on the left think is fine to have nuclear weapons. Does the US government execute girls who have been forced into prostitution, does it execute girls who have sex with married men? Does any Western country? “No, but..” you say. No! There are no “buts”. This is unspeakably evil, reprehensible beyond words.
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How about ordinary Iranians, what happens when they question this barbarity? Well..
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“Mahbobeh Abbasgholizadeh, an Iranian academic, was arrested on November 1 after having queried some aspects of Iranian justice in a speech she made at a conference. She was held for a month before being released and charged with "acting against the security of the country". If she is convicted, it could mean an indefinite prison sentence. “
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So there, another slave state. By the way, it is a death sentence if you convert to another religion from Islam too.
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But no, big bad USA. Moral relativists can protest, but protest against the system that allows them to protest
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Or maybe the executions of gay men will upset you enough?
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Expect the UN to care? Well given that Iranian Prosecutor General Saaed Mortazavi is its delegate to the Human Rights Council, you must be joking. This is Iran's repulsive document supporting its candidacy for the Council, it wasn't elected to be on the Council, but it attends the meetings. Human Rights Watch reports:
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"General Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in June 2003 while in the custody of judiciary and security agents led by Mortazavi. Lawyers representing Kazemi’s family have alleged that her body showed signs of torture, including blows to her head, and that Mortazavi participated directly in her interrogation. "
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I guess the UN would have let Nazis stand for election on the Council too. Nevertheless, China and Saudi Arabia are on it. All members in the Western Europe and Other States group should boycott the Council while such vile regimes remain on it.
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So I dare you to protest, fight back and declare openly and repeatedly what you think of Iran's atrocities against its own citizens. I fucking dare you, then you wont be anti-American moral relativist scum, the type that sits in your cozy Western house, hating the society that sees you living in comfort, while remaining silent about a pre-modern state of utter barbarity. I dare Helen Clark to make a statement in Parliament, but no… nothing beats being diplomatic when teenage girls get hanged! I bet the Embassy in Tehran did nothing, the MFAT profile on Iran is sterile.
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However you wont will you? You’ll be upset about Israel and go on about war, but you’ll sit back and do nothing about the murderous Iranian regime. You’ve give me every excuse under the sun about why you, as a feminist, liberal or whatever nomenclature you have, wont burn the Iranian flag, but happily cheer when the US flag is burnt. You’ll simply prove that this is either a game, and only by being anti-American can you and your mates get a party protest going and feel good about yourselves, or your so called beliefs are hiding your true nature. You’re happy to have children beaten and executed by a regime, because it is opposing the USA.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Clark's anti-Israeli comment and is Hone Harawira anti-semitic?


Stuff reports that Helen Clark couldn't wait to deplore the tragic Israeli attack on the UN peacekeeping post, but Keith Locke quite rightly has pointed out "I'm a little concerned that the prime minister on one hand says that Hizbollah should stop its attack, yet she only asks Israel to cease its disproportionate violence." She also said "Government statements have been very carefully balanced to condemn violence on both sides. Two wrongs never make a right and we would like a ceasefire now". Oh, so that means if you are attacked, then sue for peace - when Germany attacked Poland, Britain should just have said "no Mr Hitler we'll negotiate". THIS is the defence policy of this government "two wrongs never make a right"!
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Don Brash has called for peace and correctly said "Tragically, there appears little prospect of lasting peace in the Middle East until all parties recognise the right of Israel to exist." Indeed, something Hizbullah, Hamas, the Palestinian government, Syria and Iran don't accept.
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Peter Brown from Winston First endorses Clark's comments "100 %". Gee the brainbox handle was being cranked quickly for that one. I thought Whingers First would approve of foreigners killing each other if it reduced the risk that they may immigrate.
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Rodney Hide refreshingly said "I ask New Zealanders, and this Parliament, to consider what would be New Zealand's response if we had to confront a neighbour right on our borders who had committed such atrocities, and whether we would stand idly by and talk about a proportionate response". Yes exactly.
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However, Hone Harawira said, in Maori "The violence perpetrated by the Jews must stop".
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Pardon me? For starters, Hizbullah started this tit for tat. He doesn't mention the terrorists at all, you'd think Hizbullah was sitting back taking it and had done nothing to provoke this. More disturbingly is his view that it isn't Israel, but it is "perpetrated by the Jews". "The Jews" live around the world, quite a few live in New Zealand. This is the sort of sneering collective accusation language that you'd see in Nazi Germany in the 1930s - one sided - not even denying that Hizbullah is to blame, but as if Hizbullah is doing nothing, as if Lebanon is just some peaceful country with no foreign backed terrorists attacking Israel. Blanking out one side's culpability completely.
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So what does Harawira think of "the Jews"? and is this a surprise, given he is an MP from an avowedly racist party?

Greens talk bollocks on transport (again)


Green MP Russel Norman claims that the government is subsidising the country’s trade deficit because he claims road transport is subsidised ahead of other modes. His theory is that rail is always more fuel efficient than road, so by definition the more road freight the more money spent on fuel, hence a greater trade deficit.
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Now first it is wrong, as it ignores whether the road freight is generating exports that would not have otherwise occurred. It totally ignores the output of transport (facilitating trade in both directions), and Russel has no figures to argue this either way.
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However, his main use of figures is to cite two reports to support this, unfortunately both have figures that are slightly dated, and one of the reports he has used very selectively indeed.
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For starters he claims that “road freight transport is the most energy intensive mode of transport consuming four times as much energy for each tonne of freight per kilometre compared to rail; and nine times as much energy as coastal shipping (according to a 2000 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority report).”. Well, the “four times” figure was a comparison made in 1981 (and truck efficiency has increased more than rail efficiency). Railways ran a test comparing a train with a truck moving the same weight of goods between Auckland and Wellington - this was part of its justification for the government continuing to cover its mounting annual losses and to argue against deregulation of freight transport (at the time trucks were legally prohibited from hauling most goods greater than 150km). Since then technology has moved on, particularly for road transport. When comparing long haul bulk/containerised freight today, road uses about 2.5 times more energy than rail. However, note the proviso – long haul bulk/containerised freight. Most freight trips are short to medium, and involve less than wagon loads of freight. Rail is generally no more efficient for trips of less than 150kms (i.e. Auckland to Tauranga, Wellington to Wanganui), and certainly never efficient for moving less than wagon load (a wagon being a modern one which has the capacity of a large truck not the old little 4-wheel ones) of freight.
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Secondly he claims “a 2005 Ministry of Transport study showed that truck users pay only 56% of the costs they impose on society while rail freight users pay 82%”. Now this study covered data for the 2001 year, since then the government has committed $200 million to subsidise rail infrastructure for freight. However, more importantly Norman hasn’t burrowed down to see what these so called “costs” are.
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Strictly financial costs (costs that government actually pays directly – roads, police, administration) see trucks producing a surplus of $45.6 million (from Road User Charges, although this is reinvested in upgrading the road network). Beyond that though, the costs Russel is concerned about are monetised costs for air pollution, accidents, climate change and noise. Now air pollution is largely a factor of particulates, and the amount of sulphur in diesel (which is the source of most particulates) has been reduced by two-thirds since the study (as the Marsden Point refinery is getting upgraded). It is about to be reduced by another 90%, so in fact this is changing. The figures for air pollution should be different now and about to be even more different.
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It is also not a monetised cost – the cost is from health expenses, which are notoriously difficult to attribute to “trucks”. The accident costs are largely born by the private sector (damage to property, time etc), and the ACC no fault system that we have for personal injury by accident means that it is difficult to attribute costs to those who actually cause the accidents. Most trucks are not involved in serious accidents. The climate change cost is only relevant in terms of meeting Kyoto Protocol obligations, so is not a cost independent of government decisions, and noise – well that is factored into property prices. What is ignored are positive externalities, like increases in commercial land value for truck access, and the spinoffs for business in having transport for inputs and outputs of production. Never mind, no other sector covers any of these either.
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So this simple comparison is not so simple at all.
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Russel ignores other parts of the report that don’t suit his “world view”. One is the detailed case studies into long haul freight, which actually looked at the marginal cost of shifting freight between rail and road on three routes. Table 3.6 of the main report indicates that moving freight between Auckland and Wellington, the marginal cost of rail is HIGHER on environmental grounds than road. It is the same between Napier and Gisborne, but a quarter between Kinleith and Tauranga. Kinleith to Tauranga by rail is, of course, through a tunnel, whereas the road is over the Kaimai ranges. The results, in other words are not so black and white.
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What other results he wont like from the same study are:
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1. Rail passengers pay only 35% of the total cost of providing Auckland suburban passenger train services. In Wellington it is 56%. (page 57 of the report)

2. The roads that recover the least of their operating costs are rural local roads (page 50). Urban state highways recover the most (hardly a surprise that the busiest roads generate the most revenue). Railways aren’t going to be an alternative for lightly trafficked rural local roads. The problem with local roads is that they are rates funded, which carries its own inequities.

3. The environmental impact of buses in cities is around 18.2 times that of cars. This means a bus should ideally be replacing 18 cars, to break even with cars on pollution. (page 64)

4. For trucks “Current charges (mainly RUC) are in most cases greater than the level of marginal provider/external costs (principally accident externalities and marginal road wear).” (page 107)

5. For freight comparisons between road and rail “For the primarily rural movements analysed, the environmental impact costs are similar in magnitude by the two modes.” (page 107)

6. On Auckland and Wellington passenger trains and buses “If charges were to be set to cover only the marginal costs in both periods, then peak charges (fares) would broadly double, while off-peak fares would reduce by half or more.” (page 106)
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The Greens are good at selectively using facts. I have just done the same, and there are some important points about transport in the report, but it does not simply say "trains good trucks bad". The study needs updating, as subsidies for rail have increased markedly, and charges for road use (and money for roads) have also increased (while a major source of pollution has been reduced). Now there are problems with road transport, for starters ratepayers shouldn’t be paying for local roads – that should come from road users. In addition, congestion in cities should be managed by charging being higher at peak times and lower at other times - but that requires replacing fuel tax with electronic tolling.
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However, it is simply false to claim road freight is subsidised more than rail freight – and that shifting freight to rail through subsidies will automatically be cheaper for the country and better for the environment. Sometimes rail is cheaper and cleaner than road, usually in the cases when it is most widely used - sometimes road is. It is a not a banal contest which says "wheels on steel good, wheels on bitumen bad" - although sometimes you have to wonder if that is what drives Green thinking on transport.
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Draw your own conclusions if you dare, from the full main report of Surface Transport Costs and Charges study.

Blair urges people to take more responsibility

According to the Daily Telegraph, one of Tony Blair's advisors said:
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"It is really important that you should take more exercise, it is really important you should worry about children's obesity, but we are not the ones who should make you do it."
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In short, he is saying the government can give people information, but it is up to them as to what they do. In essence he has acknowledged that Nanny State wont work and that the problems with the NHS are due to a lack of personal responsibility. Blair himself said:
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"It has got to be about prevention as much as it is about cure," he said. "This is important because going forward we can't afford the health care costs if we don't take some of the responsibility as individuals for our health care."
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Indeed, Tony. A start would be to shift national insurance contributions to being personal ones, and varying them on risk, or allowing people to shift them to private providers. He wont do that though. What he might do is deregulate medicine a trifle:
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"Mr Blair said barriers between the NHS and the private and the independent sectors needed to be broken down and more use made of the expertise available in pharmacies. Richard Baker, the Boots chief executive, has urged ministers to let doctors and consultants practise in his stores. Mr Blair praised the company for helping people lead healthy lives."
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Heaven help the NZ Labour Party advocating such a thing.

Greens want Nanny State to nanny your kids

So the Greens support Cindy "Stalin" Kiro's grand plan to plan and monitor all children from birth till....
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Essentially it means "Checks would be done during the first two years of a child's life, when children went to school, during their adolescent years, and in the "youth transition period" when teenagers left high school to take up jobs or enter further education. " You're paying for these checks, and would I be right in guessing that when it comes to actually checking those kids in "at risk" areas, that there wont be the staff willing to go around Kaikohe, Wairoa or Flaxmere? Far easier to check all those middle class kids in Takapuna, Karori and Invercargill isn't it?
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A grand big nanny-state plan that has as its basic premise that parents generally don't know what is good for their kids. Now I believe that, by and large, they do. Some don't, some are so appalling at it that they should never have custody of children again. However, just because there are cases of nearly useless parents and guardians neglecting and abusing their kids, doesn't mean that Nanny Cindy should be keeping her eye on what you're doing.
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I pointed this out before when she commented on the Kahui case. So what IS a solution? I suggest a targeted response. Let's remember that most kids turn out ok, most don't get murdered, raped or become hardened criminals. Let's also remember that the fault of those kids who are neglected and abused is not YOU, or ME, or the state, it is the parents! You see in post-modern world, we don't blame anyone for bashing their kids to death. You don't dare deprive parents of their biological children - it offends too many to say that, but in cases you should. So a few steps:
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1. Include in sentencing for serious violent or sexual crimes the denial of future custody of current or future children if there is reason to believe the offender could, on the balance of probabilities, pose a risk to a child.
2. Deny any parents convicted of physically or sexually abusing their own children custody or the right to be alone with their own children, until the children are adults.
3. Deny any person who has a serious violent or sexual conviction welfare benefits of any kind, including state housing.
4. Have the right to use adoption and fostering to permanently or temporarily remove children from parents who repeatedly put them in danger from adults who are past offenders. It is one thing for a single parent to hook up with someone who she didn't think was abusive and boot him out/charge him if he is caught abusing - another thing to remain in the relationship knowing the kids are getting harmed. If you can't protect your kids then you lose the right to have them.
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The failure is NOT families not getting the support they need - it is families failing the kids. People are to blame - they are to blame for hurting children, for neglecting them and for failing to be good parents. These are people you make us pay for, that sit on their arses and beat up their kids or ignore them. They are human scum - they are the cause of so much of what is wrong with society, the kids who turn out bad, the unemployable, the people that others fears, that vandalise, steal and hurt others. There are few of them, but they should not ever have children - they shouldn't breed. They don't abuse because they are poor - poverty does not make you punch a child in the stomach - it is a complete lack of any empathy, concern or willingness to be a parent, or a civilised human being.
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Stop this nanny stating about - call scum scum - it is what most people think they are, because most people don't need their kids monitored.
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The glee at which the planners find new ways to plan your childrens' lives is insipid and vile, and Lindsay Mitchell rightly points out that there may be an issue with inflating child abuse figures.

End to long distance rail travel in the North Island (updated)


I am slightly sad that the Overlander (Wellington-Auckland train) is ceasing to operate from 30 September, if only because it is the end of the era of long distance rail travel in the North Island. Since 1908, when the main trunk line was opened, business, tourism and simple access between Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton and numerous communities in between was facilitated by train. It took two days back then, but was down to 16 hours and today 11 hours. It has gone from 3-4 trains a day to only 1, and reached it peak in the 1960s, before the Boeing 737 and cheaper cars and better roads saw people drift from the rails. Businesspeople increasingly flew and families went by car, and with competition in the air from the 1980s, more people flew. Air fares have continued to plummet as Air NZ has worked to increase the size of the market and ironically - the state owned transport operator has killed off the operation of a privately owned one running on government owner track. However, the killing off has been due to demand - neither Air NZ's main trunk operations nor the Overlander are subsidised.
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I caught the Northerner and the Overlander, and its predecessor the Silverfern, several times as a student and as a child, as well as trains to and from Napier to visit relatives. It was a relaxing way to travel, and in recent years has been air conditioned, with reasonable food and comfortable seats - but alas, no more passenger trains on the Main Trunk line (outside Auckland and Wellington commuter runs).
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It is for good reason it is ending. It's unprofitable, and newer more comfortable buses undercut the train at the budget end, and cheap airfares at the top end. Certainly I've not thought about catching a train from Wellington to Auckland for around 14 years or so. The trip is also not really scenic enough to attract tourists, there are some great scenes in the central plateau but most of the trip between Wellington and Hunterville and Te Kuiti to Auckland is dead boring.
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The Greens are claiming that "peak oil" will bring it back, but they are dreaming. For starters, Toll can run the Palmerston North-Hamilton service with electric locomotives but it is not worth it. As I blogged about a few weeks ago, the high price of petrol is benefiting buses because they are newer and more fuel efficient - but there simply isn't enough people travelling Wellington to Auckland on a budget willing to take an 11 hour train trip. Flying is such an enormous time advantage that it is beyond belief that one would do anything else. Fortunately the Greens aren't asking for a subsidy but that the infrastructure be retained - since the main trunk line is one of the most profitable sections of railway for freight (on average a train every hour), I doubt it is at risk.
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By the way, do the Greens take the Overlander every time they travel between Auckland and Wellington and the centres in between? Honestly, do they?
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Anyway, if you want to take a trip before it goes, just to see the scenery or show your kids what its like to go on a big train (because you can be sure the last trips will be filled with rail nuts and Sue Kedgley catching the train for the first time, like she did with the Bay Express a week before it stopped), go here and get a ticket.
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UPDATE: The RMTU chief Wayne Butson wants you to subsidise his members’ jobs and those who want to catch the Overlander. Given you don’t subsidise the bus or airline companies that compete with it, why the hell should you subsidise the train? (the train was subsidised from the 70s through till 1988, when Prebble told the Railways that the government wasn’t into subsidising long distance passenger train travel, and suddenly the service improved dramatically, and it stopped losing money).
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Butson claims “We have a rail network which is supposed to pay its entire cost of operation through the operator at the same time as we have a national roading system which is available for any commercial entity to use at minimal cost when the vast burden of the infrastructure is paid for by the private motorist.” He is talking nonsense. The government is pouring taxpayers money ($200 million) into the rail network, which is hardly being paid by the operator. Given the train has largely lost out to airlines, the road network is only part of the competition and bus operators pay road user charges (which are not “minimal cost”) to use the highway. That RUC easily pays for the damage caused by the buses to the highway, a review carried out five years ago proved that.
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Fortunately, the Greens aren’t calling for it to be subsidised, which is surprising but good.
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UPDATE 2: The Waikato Times reports Hamilton East MP, David Bennett (National!) saying the government should intervene to ensure the Overlander continues! What sort of muppets are National getting selected as candidates? If Labour and the Greens wont "intervene" what the hell is a National MP asking for? Is he is in the right party?? Shouldn't Don Brash be giving him a right bollocking?
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UPDATE 3: Ruapehu District Council's Mayor wants you (through the government) to be forced to pay to subsidise the train, because its loss will cost jobs in the district. Yes it will. However, it is a privately provided service. Presumably the councillors concerned used the train several times a year? There is nothing stopping anyone else wanting to start a service on the route once Tranz Scenic has withdrawn. It is one reason, after all, why the government renationalised the rail network from Tranz Rail. So roll up, roll up, if you care, put your money where you mouth is - either invest in another train, or use it between now and September enough so it is worthwhile for Tranz Scenic to keep.
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UPDATE 4: Stuff report the subsidy Tranz Scenic sought to keep the Overlander was $1.75 million p.a. with a $0.5 million capital injection! That's over $32 per passenger. Dr Cullen was smart enough to say no. Jeanette Fitzsimons says the $120 million spent on maintaining the rail network is peanuts compared to roads - no shit sherlock - got a railway going to every house, every shop, every farm and every town?

High density housing and public transport not the answer

Not PC has done a great job of fisking the anti-sprawl dogma that completely dominates most NZ, Australian, UK and many US local authorities, who have taken on the mantra that says:
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1. The problem with cities is that people "drive too much" and use "too much land". They use too much energy.
2. Less land and less driving would occur if everyone lived closer together, and the places they want to go (work, shops, leisure) were all sited in centres.
3. People should lived in high density housing around corridors for public transport, which is a good thing, because it means people don't drive.
4. The best public transport is rail, because it just is, it doesn't involve roads. It is also the most expensive, but don't let that put you off, people like trains more so it is worth paying 3-4x the cost of buses. You need lots of people living close together near railway stations all wanting to go to the same places.
5. People buying big houses with sections on their own are bad, because it wastes land and energy, and they are far away from everyone else - this means they drive needlessly and are "dependent" on their cars. People in apartments living on top of each other are good, because the use less energy and can walk places more.
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What they ignore is that high density living doesn't mean people don't want cars, also because planners want you to live in an apartment doesn't mean you do. People still want houses and they don't want to live next to the railway.
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An article in the Toronto Globe and Mail by Margaret Wente continues to make the point:
"The idea that people will use public transit to get to work ignores the fact that most people don't want to live near their work. And because people are so mobile, they no longer have to. On top of that, people use their cars for much more than commuting. According to one study, 20 per cent of all trips by auto are for work, 20 per cent for shopping, and 60 per cent for things that are "social." The idea that public transit can replace the car in people's busy lives is a fantasy."
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Indeed it is, you see public transport can be sustainable and profitable (unsubsidised). Half of the buses in Auckland used to be like that, until the ARC started pouring money into rail and making some of the bus routes no longer viable. Hong Kong and Singapore's metros make profits. The London Underground is not far short of breaking even too.
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"Very few people believe that they themselves live in sprawl. Sprawl is where other people live, particularly people with less taste and good sense than themselves. Much anti-sprawl activism is based on a desire to reform these other people's lives"
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Indeed, and Wente herself is pretty good on figuring out what the solutions to urban air pollution and congestion actually are. She said:
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"If we really wanted to tackle smog and congestion, we wouldn't be fantasizing about massive new investments in public transit. We'd be investing in transportation infrastructure, less polluting fuels, more intelligent roads and vehicles with sensors to control traffic flows, peak-time user fees and more flexible forms of public and private transport, such as group taxis. But you won't find the planners talking about these things because, to do so, they would have to concede defeat to the unwholesome lure of the automobile -- to say nothing of the overwhelming preference of the public. And that would be very, very wicked."
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Given I have heard one of the Green Party's key advisors on transport say that anyone who owned a car with an engine above 1.3 litres is evil, then I find it hard to believe that those on a mission to promote trains and not roads, are simply just on a crusade. Private transport is hear to stay, it is roads that need to be managed better.

Market working again! *sigh*


According to Stuff new large car sales have plummeted, because of petrol prices. From around 24% of the market in 2000 to 11% today, that's quite a shift - it may be because of demographics too (baby boomers kids starting to leave home, so large cars are less needed), but nevertheless consumers are reacting to market based price signals, and buying more fuel efficient cars because they want to.
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Not because some nanny statist environmentalist wants them to, not because of some tax incentive, or preferential motor vehicle licensing fee or the rest, but because they want to.
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Amazing really – a resource becomes more expensive and more scarce – the government and environmentalists worry themselves silly that it will run out and demand that something be done so people don’t keep “wasting it” – the price goes up, and consumers make their own judgment about whether they are willing to pay or not, and quite a few choose to save on fuel (buying smaller cars, catching public transport). Money goes from buying large cars and more petrol, to smaller cars and other things, or buses.
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Planners can’t make this happen. It is the decisions of thousands weighing up how best to use their own money – and they happen to know better than the government.
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Unfortunately, former Labour Cabinet Minister Peter Neilson (now Chairman of the Business Council for Sustainable Development) wants the government to use YOUR money to subsidise the price of buying new small efficient cars. Why should you, whether you own a car or not (and many don't), especially since most people don't buy brand new cars, subsidise those who do? Neilson calls for up to $3000 per vehicle. $3000!!! Money that you could spend on your kid's education, or shoes, or a holiday, or books, or a secondhand car. Hopefully the Greens will reject a subsidy for car ownership.
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By the way I noted a report in the Times motoring supplement (not online) that sales of hybrid cars are declining, because motorists are increasingly wary of paying the premium for a car that isn't that much more fuel efficient than many new diesels - in addition, the resale value is poor.

Labour's tax cuts

So Labour is talking about tax cuts? Now there’s a strategy to try to win the next election – given that the current one nearly lost it for them last time. It is a vindication for National, that Labour is now adopting a small part of its policies and all of the leftwing naysayers either eat their words about tax cuts, or can oppose Labour. However, it does appear to be because United Future and NZ First demanded it – you wouldn’t be getting this with the Greens and Maori Party. (Peter Dunne and Winston will go on about this endlessly no doubt)
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However, no reason to get too excited, and few are (the state sector unions predict doom and gloom because their solution to prosperity is to take more of your money to "invest" in what bureaucrats do) it is mostly about cutting company tax from 33 to 30% (nice but only a first step and the top personal rates should also follow it), targeted tax credits (more picking winners) and changing depreciation rates. Dr Cullen has said this also could mean changing thresholds for income tax – hardly exciting stuff since he announced that in last year’s Budget. Remember the 70c a week tax cut? Maybe it will be a dollar - wow.
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So I’m underwhelmed, at best it shows that even Labour sees some merit in tax cuts – the question is whether you want hardly any (Labour), some (National), quite some (ACT), or a lot (Libertarianz).
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although with it being reported that National would "probably" cut company tax, you have to wonder! Why the "probably"?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

News on Sunday - leftwing incompetence at its best

On TV last night was a hilarious documentary called “lefties” where the BBC reminisces about the “good old days” when unreformed communists were fighting for a socialist Britain. This has been a series that I have largely been missing, but last night was classic – it was about a failed attempt at a national socialist newspaper in Britain (bigger than the Morning Star and more leftist than the Guardian) – the News on Sunday. It was inspired by John Pilger and the desperation of trade unions and socialists “convinced” that despite Thatcher winning two elections, the mass of the British public could be encouraged to vote Labour (pre-Blair get Britain out of NATO Labour) because socialism was good for them – if only they realised it!
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The News on Sunday attempted to mobilise the working classes to support Labour and its hard left agenda of socialism. It failed, the Daily Mirror and the Sun have proved that, by and large, the British working classes want newspapers with royal/celebrity gossip, football and pictures of women with big tits - they don't want to read about strikes in Mexico, Brazilians selling kidneys for cash, or any bunch of murdering militia that the left supports this decade.
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However, back to the paper. It was a catalogue of disasters in many ways, and showed a litany of sheer incompetence. Remember, these sort of people wanted to take more taxes, run your education and health system and economy. Why oh why would you trust them?
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1. In the early days Pilger fled to Australia to make one of his “documentaries” for several months, and when he found out the editor was putting together the paper in ways he didn’t like and not running it past him (kind of hard given he was far away), he immediately resigned and wrote articles in other papers damning the News on Sunday before it was even published.
2. The paper was based in Manchester, because it didn’t want to be London focused and saw its heartland as being the working class north. As a result it was distant from capital city politics, and advertising agencies and a pool of more experienced potential employees.
3. The paper advertised for journalists. Something not done in the print media as people usually are discovered or passed on by word of mouth. The number of applications were so high that most did not get a reply, after a few were looked through they were given jobs, there were few interviews and no screening of the vast bulk of applications. Very fair employment policy.
4. Virtually all of the senior staff had never worked on a national newspaper before, many not in the newspaper sector. So there was very little experience of the business.
5. Many of the senior staff had no experience in their administrative roles. For example, the head of personnel had never worked in HR (a qualification that is positive in my view for today), the head of finance had never done accounts for a business, ever!
6. There was an “equal employment policy” which effectively meant if you were an ethnic minority, disabled or gay/lesbian you were more likely to get the job. The goal was to have more diverse points of view in the paper – the result was a combination of hiring people with little skill or at worst incredible patronising of some groups. The black editor had no experience being an editor before. The head of HR described how the paper treated disabled people “we hired all deaf people in the mailroom and to do deliveries, because they could communicate together”. How fucking patronising is that?
7. There was a focus on political correctness rather than good management. One former staff member described how around a week before the first issue he had arrived to work at the office to find it empty. The whole staff were sent on a “deafness awareness course” which consisted of “walking around Manchester wearing earplugs”. How mind numbingly stupid is that?
8. Decisions were made on “consensus” were certain key individuals having “golden shares” that meant they could veto decisions. In effect, there was no clear leadership and endless committee meetings and relitigation of decisions. A democratically controlled workplace saw people observed saying one thing in one meeting and changing for another. As a result, it was dysfunctional.
9. The £6.5 million raised to fund the paper came from trade unions and local authority pension funds. The stereotypical loony leftwing Labour council was not just a stereotype, as several Labour controlled councils frittered away their employees’ savings on this venture. How utterly incompetent is that? What pension fund decides a good way to make money is to back a new leftwing newspaper that is run by amateurs? Why weren’t the councillors being sued by the union? Gee, I wonder.
10. The paper commissioned an advertising agency to launch it. The agency came up with the slogan “no tits but lots of balls” to make the point that it wasn’t a page 3 girl tabloid, but “gutsy journalism”. It upset the feminists too much that the word “tits” was mentioned (as it is degrading to women to use the word – shame so many women use it”), that the campaign was dropped.
11. Leftwing millionaire businessman Owen Oyston offered to take over the paper and inject more money into it if the “golden shareholders” agreed. They didn’t, he walked away and it went bankrupt.
12. The paper ran at a loss through to the 1987 general election, with the staff working to ensure it didn’t go bankrupt before the election – because it would look like major Labour supporters can’t even run a viable newspaper. Which of course, they couldn’t.
13. Owen Oyston bought it off the receivers, and lost around £2 million before folding it 8 months later. Subsequently Oyston was sentenced to six years for raping a girl of 16, this was not the first allegation of rape against Oyston and he claimed it was a conspiracy to “set him up”.
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The first issue sold 500,000 issues, not bad? Well it needed 800,000 to break even. By the eighth week it was down to a circulation of 200,000. Alan Hayling, who is now head of BBC documentaries (!! Yes the BBC is so demonstrably unbiased) who used to work at a Ford assembly plant, became the Editor – and got several ex. Ford employees to piss money down the drain invest in the project. Those workers were more abused by Hayling and the left than by Ford.
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Pathetic really - a wonderful test of trust (pillaging pension funds and pissing them down a drain), anti-capitalist principles of running business (no decision making, no accountability - everyone blamed everyone else, few with skills or competence) and the reality of leftwing politics - it is an orchestrated arrogance of intellectual minnows who claim to know what's best for the so-called "working classes" when the working classes don't actually want it!

Hizbullah proud of hiding behind civilians

What's it going to take for the moral relativists and the supporters of Hizbullah - the ones who chant down Queen Street and want to "burn Israel" to sit back and see Hizbullah for what it is.
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"Victory to Hizbullah"
"Up, up Hizbullah"
"Burn down Israel"
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If this was 1940, no doubt they would have been cheering the Nazis (after all "national socialism" seems such a nice idea, and Hitler and Stalin were allies, both nice anti-imperialist anti-capitalist men). I hope they put their money where their mouths are and become human shields for Hizbullah. Peace? My arse. These evil bastards have NO interest in peace when they chant "burn down Israel". I would also like to see them go to Iran, go see how much chance they have to protest on whatever they want, see how easy it is to be openly atheist, to wear what you want, to listen to music you want, to be openly gay or lesbian, to publish leaflets promoting what you want.
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Hizbullah is NOT liberal - it is NOT tolerant and furthermore, it is PROUD of its civilian casualties and PROUD that it is hiding behind civilians, including children - the "martyrs" for their evil cause. So fucking lovable that little self-obsessed wanky students, union officials and other flotsam and jetsam of society want our society overthrown for Islamic fundamentalists.
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Hizbullah is proud of this – proud that they hide behind civilians and they bear the brunt of the suffering, while they can fire back behind them. In any civilised society this would be seen as barbaric and cowardly – but what do you hear from the left? Nothing, but hyperbole about how Israel is out to destroy Lebanon. What utter rot. Israel has explicitly said it has no quarrel with the Lebanese government, Israel has no desire to eliminate any country in the Middle East, unlike Iran, Syria and its agent Hizbullah – and there was little upset from the left when the totalitarian Syrian government sent troops into Lebanon and occupied portions of the country for the following 19 years. You see, it is one thing for US backed Israel to do it, but when (then) Soviet backed Syria – a one party state with no freedom of the press, a secret police that crushes dissent and a personality cult for the Presidency (which has just been passed down by inheritance) , silence because Syria is at least not the evil pluralistic, open USA.
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Check out Not PC for an excellent image which can be applied to Hizbullah.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Church says flying is a sin

"If man was meant to fly God would have given him wings"
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No not that, but it may as well have been. The Bishop of London has been reported by the Sunday Times (London) as saying:
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"Making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car are a symptom of sin. Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.”
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How absolutely evil. A large car could be because you have a large family. Flying might be because family or friends live far away, or because you want to learn about cultures outside your local nutty leftwing parish. The consequence of flying is that you arrive somewhere quickly, and efficiently and can enjoy different cultures, places and people. It is called civilisation. e'll want us to turn the light off when we aren't reading, or use less appliances. How about that wasteful blogging, using up energy.
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Claire Foster, the church’s environment policy director, said: “Indiscriminate use of the earth’s resources must be seen as profoundly wrong, just as we now see slavery as wrong.”
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What rot. So wasting water is as wrong as enslaving a man? Nonsense. The church wastes the eart's resources, and time and produces nothing. If all religion was shut down, there would be an enormous amount of energy saved, time for family and friends and productive activity. I think it is profoundly wrong that the futile nature of religion causes such waste.
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Besides which, if the Church of England (surely one of the longest running charlatan churches on the planet) wants to exercise "moral authority" on the environment, it should be pointing fingers at the Supreme Governor of the Church - the Queen. She regularly has entire planes just for herself, her mad racist husband and their entourage - so send the Queen by boat everywhere, and her family, then come back to me.
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Meanwhile I've booked my flight to NZ and back for Xmas/New Year - and the Church of England can get fucked if it thinks that is sinful.
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UPDATE: Interesting article in the Telegraph fisking the Bishop, who took a free luxury cruise, including connecting flights, over Easter. Although, it still buys into the protestant "don't fly as much" ethic.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ding dong Ta Mok is dead


Another one, one of the worst, of the murderous butchers of Cambodia is dead.
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Ta Mok, believed to have directed the most deadly of the purges of the Khmer Rouge regime, died on 20 July after falling into a coma.
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Words cannot describe the brutality and cruelty this man was a part of - the movie the Killing Fields showed, believe it or not, a sanitised version, the book Survival in the Killing Fields by Dr Haing S Ngor (who played Dith Pran in the Killing Fields) tells it all.
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Dr Haing S Ngor survived the brutality that Ta Mok inflicted with his comrades, supported by Maoist China, while leftist pinup boy Noam Chomsky claimed stories about the Khmer Rouge horrors were "concocted by the CIA".
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In order to survive Dr Ngor had to pretend to be an illiterate taxi driver, when he was in fact, an obstetrician. His wife died in childbirth as he watched and could do nothing, because had he revealed his medical skills, he would have been murdered for being "too clever". The Khmer Rouge only valued uneducated labourers, everyone else was a capitalist exploiter or had "foreign allegiances". Dr Ngor, escaped, told his story, the book and movie were made, and then was murdered by a streetgang who demanded the locket around his neck (which contained a picture of his late wife). He refused - the thugs who killed him are in jail.
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Unfortunately, Ta Mok never saw justice. 2 million Cambodians died due to the Khmer Rouge, Ta Mok is responsible for plenty of them.
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Nobody should forget what happened in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 - it was the logical end point of radical collectivism and anti-capitalism. The individual was explicitly nothing, money was abolished, any form of foreign education or intellectualising (besides Maoism) was reason to kill. People who used their hands not their heads were worshipped and lauded, everyone who used their minds was put into slavery or killed. Individual homes and all private property was abolished - you lived together, worked together, slept together (not that way), ate together and then had to criticise each other and yourself. Who else thinks money is the root of all evil?
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Shame Chomsky didn't visit Cambodia like Scottish Khmer Rouge apologist Malcolm Caldwell did mid revolution. Caldwell was killed by members of the Khmer Rouge keen to "embarrass" the regime - justice indeed.

Hizbullah says children they kill are martyrs


Yes, these are the people that so many are willing to appease. Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, on Al Jazeera is reported as saying that the two Arab children killed by one of Hizbullah's rockets in Nazareth were "martyrs for the Palestinian cause".
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Pig.
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That's a great excuse. Of course, if they were Jewish, Christian or atheist children, he would damn them to hell. By the way, that goes for your children too.
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You see Hizbullah's patrons, Iran - that nice regime that has not been meetings its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and wants to wipe out Israel and the USA, should know about children being martyrs. It used to send teenagers into war.
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In addition, on May 23, 2005, Amnesty International reiterated its calls to Palestinian armed groups to put an immediate end to the use of children in armed activities: "Palestinian armed groups must not use children under any circumstances to carry out armed attacks or to transport weapons or other material". In 2002 current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said "At least 40 children in Rafah became cripples after their hands were blown off by pipe bombs. They received 5 shekels [slightly over $1] to throw them". Not Hizbullah? No, but its spiritual allies.
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and yes. I know Israeli attacks have killed children in Lebanon. There is a difference though. Israel wont call them martyrs for its cause, and wont celebrate their death. Israel doesn't want to wipe out Lebanon. Israel was not the party that started this conflict - Hizbullah did, and it is responsible for putting at risk Lebanese civilians who live near the sites where it launches attacks.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Credit card carbon

According to the Daily Telegraph, UK Environment Secretary David Milliband has proposed carbon “smartcards” whereby people would have a set allowance of carbon which you would need to use (or buy more from others) to spend on energy, transport and well anything I guess. He doesn’t say anything, even though he should. After all, a tin of pineapples could well have used more energy in its production and transport than a drive to the shops.
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As usual, the analysis is one sided. Carbon dioxide emissions are bad and must be stopped. It isn’t asked WHY the emissions happen. You’re emitting carbon dioxide now, should you pay for that?
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Milliband says that people on low incomes would benefit because they could sell credits. Sell them to do what? They can’t have a car, or travel, or buy an appliance that uses energy. Marvellous – they might be able to buy a turnip. Then there are those buying them. What happens if it is your work that flies you overseas, does a company get credits or does work buy credits off of someone else, or use yours and if it can’t, can you not go inspect that project underway?
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For starters, it isn’t carbon per se, it is carbon dioxide, and that is not the only “greenhouse gas”. Methane is another significant one, but let’s not have the science get in the way of a great way for government to control what you buy.
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Secondly, who is going to value the “carbon content” of what you buy. What regulatory body will carbon rate shoes made in Indonesia (were they shipped or flown?), bread made in the local bakery (did they use gas or electric, do they get credits for selling products made using carbon like GST or is it double counted, so that the power generation carbon is paid by the power company, the bakery and the bread buyer?), Sky TV transmissions, or how about that bus when you’re the only passenger (do you pay marginal costs or total costs, will it vary per trip?).
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Thirdly, what happens to migrants and the new born. Do children get an allowance too, is it the same? Does it encourage people to breed (yay we can use the new kids carbon allowance to pay for the new car) which is hardly environmentally friendly? When do they get control of it, does everything you buy for someone else have to use your carbon credits or theirs, if yours does that mean the end of gift buying (Happy Birthday Mum, I bought you some plants because it’s the only thing I could get credit to come visit you in my car).
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Fourthly, what happens to exports and imports? Does it kill off exports because it would make them uncompetitive? Do imports get hit even though you may have no idea what carbon content there is for something made in Peru? Does it create a new class of smuggler?
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Fifthly, do people or companies undertaking activities that remove carbon dioxide (e.g. planting trees) get credits? If so, do inspectors come round and assess the value of your tree? Does it mean major companies will buy up forests en masse? Does it mean the government owning national parks has credits it can dish out to its friends or spend on things it likes doing? What if the government hasn’t enough, does it tax you some credits as well?
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Finally, do energy companies have to buy credits if they discover more hydrocarbons? If so, does it mean the hydrocarbon industry may as well give up now, what are the consequences for global wealth and income?
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You see it is part of the Green religious faith that the main problems in the world are transport and energy, ignoring that these are also two of the most fundamental pieces of infrastructure for civilisation to function. Without energy, it’s cold (or hot) and dark with little way for people to control their environment, without transport you are stuck with what you can get within walking distance. The “twin evils” are in fact what makes the world go round – unless you are living as a subsistence farmer in Africa, in which case you would dream about having such things. It might be nice if they stopped interfering in the energy and transport markets in ways that promote the retention of inefficient technology and practices - that might make a bit of a difference.

Bush vetos stem cell research bill for the wrong reason

George W. Bush’s greatest failing is his faith applied to politics. It is no secret that one major reason Bush was re-elected in 2004 is because he fired up the significant minority of evangelical Christians in the USA to vote. For all of the Democrats who despise Bush, he fired up the hell and brimstone religious conservatives to keep him in power. He hasn’t forgotten them.
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He has used his Presidential veto the first time in his Presidency to veto a Senate Bill for federal government funding to use human embryo stem cells in medical research.
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I'm an atheist and I believe it was the right thing to do, but not for the reason Bush believes. The federal government should not be using taxpayers’ money – money taken by force – to fund research that many taxpayers would not choose to fund themselves. That is what the bill was about - it wasn't about allowing stem cell research. That is not prohibited, it was about the federal government funding it.
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Unfortunately, Bush’s veto had nothing to do with freedom, but everything to do with his own personal view. He believes stem cell research is immoral. It isn’t. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supported the Bill, and many Republican Senators did too. As typically conservative Senator Orrin Hatch said “A critical part of being pro-life is to support measures that help the living”.
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Embryonic stem cell research could bring enormous medical benefits to cure diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons disease and spinal cord injuries. This should be wholeheartedly supported – but it should be supported from money given out of choice. I would certainly do so.
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However, government does not exist to force people to pay for research that offends them. If the federal government was funding research into the “intelligent design theory” it would be widely derided, and rightly so. Similarly if it was funding research into alternative therapies, like reiki or iridology, or how about whaling for scientific purposes. How about government research into whether masturbation was good for you? .
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How about research being funded by those who support it?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why democracy is not THE answer

It is generally a truth that democracies don't wage war - this is one reason why the US and its allies have been promoting democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. Open transparent democracies do provide A check on government's abusing their authority and attacking their citizens and neighbours. However, many democracies are not open and transparent (South Africa is slipping down that path, Egypt isn't much of a democracy and neither is Russia), and it is A check not THE check. You see, it is fine if the majority want peace and to live in harmony with each other and their neighbours - but what if a democracy votes to destroy a neighbouring democracy? This is what the Ayn Rand Institute rightly points out in its latest Op-ed - because the US promotion of democracy is entirely consistent with Hizbullah being part of the Lebanese government, and with Hamas running the Palestinian Authority.
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"The essence of democracy is unlimited majority rule. It is the notion that the government should not be constrained, as long as its behavior is sanctioned by majority vote. It is the notion that the very function of government is to implement the "will of the people." It is the notion espoused whenever we tell the Lebanese, the Iraqis, the Palestinians and the Afghanis that the legitimacy of a new government flows from its being democratically approved.
And it is the notion that was categorically repudiated by the founding of the United States."
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Exactly. The US was founded on having a constitutionally limited democracy.
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The op-ed continues:
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"America's defining characteristic is freedom. Freedom exists when there are limitations on government, imposed by the principle of individual rights. America was established as a republic, under which the state is restricted to protecting our rights. This is not a system of "democracy." Thus, you are free to criticize your neighbors, your society, your government--no matter how many people wish to pass a law censoring you. You are free to own your property--no matter how large a mob wants to take it from you. The rights of the individual are inalienable. But if "popular will" were the standard, the individual would have no rights--only temporary privileges, granted or withdrawn according to the mass mood of the moment. The tyranny of the majority, as the Founders understood, is just as evil as the tyranny of an absolute monarch. Yes, we have the ability to vote, but that is not the yardstick by which freedom is measured. After all, even dictatorships hold official elections. It is only the existence of liberty that justifies, and gives meaning to, the ballot box. In a genuinely free country, voting pertains only to the means of safeguarding individual rights. There can be no moral "right" to vote to destroy rights."
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Germans elected Hitler and his allies, and they then destroyed German democracy, freedom and went out to destroy millions of people.
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Democracy is now being used against the US and the West, because it has handed to people on a plate, the tool to legitimise their murderous intent.
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"But then, if a religious majority imposes its theology on Iraq, or if Palestinian suicide-bombers execute their popular mandate by blowing up Israeli schoolchildren, on what basis can we object, since democracy--"the will of the people"--is being faithfully served? As a spokesman for Hamas, following its electoral victory, correctly noted: "I thank the United States that they have given us this weapon of democracy. . . . It's not possible for the U.S. . . . to turn its back on an elected democracy."
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So is it any wonder that some in the Muslim world believe the US is hypocritical. It has been pushing the wrong barrow. It is harder to promote individualism is a world dominated by nationalist, religiously inspired tribalists dedicated to bullying their way around the lives of others.
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The point about democracy has been made by PC several times and myself. Democracy is not THE answer, at best it is one small component. Government is like an engine on a car, democracy is a steering wheel, but without individual rights - there are no brakes on it.

Indonesia tsunami

On Monday afternoon, in less than an hour, Java gets hit by a Tsunami that has killed 500 and 50,000 are homeless. You see according to the BBC "It currently takes scientists up to 60 minutes to receive and analyse the data from 30 seismological stations and send out a warning. ".
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Well that's helpful. Tsunamis should always be well over an hour from shore.
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"We were told that there had been an earthquake and the tsunami might come in a couple of days... we never expected it." said one local.
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So even when the information is disseminated it is wrong. Yes, it is difficult to get this right under short notice, but the excuses are appalling. Broadcasting messages across all radio stations is easy, sending police vehicles with loudspeakers around villages is easy.
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"US and Japanese agencies issued tsunami alerts for parts of Indonesia and Australia, but the Indonesian government says it was unable to relay the message to the coast. "
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Funnily enough, while Indonesia is now relatively free and open, totalitarian societies very quickly round up dissenters and put down demonstrations because it is in their interests to do so. Presumably it wasn't sufficiently a priority for the Indonesian authorities to warn their people of the tsunami. Hopefully there wont be a third time.

Hotter still


35 degrees where I am, which is why the Daily Express (ugh) printed this photo. Predicting 37 degrees. Smart people are leaving dogs in closed cars or sheds without water - something which should be done back to them.
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Nice to see British roads being torn up too, maintenance on many London roads is utter crap because it is decided by politicians who prefer to direct funding to largely empty buses.
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The Daily Mirror reports that London public transport is experiencing temperatures illegal under EU regulations for transporting animals:
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"One bus hit 126F(52C), while 117F (47C) was registered on the Central Line Tube. EU guidelines say animals should not be transported above 81F (27C)."
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Of course the fun Nazis are out in force, including the school that banned pupils taking sunscreen to school in case it gives any of the other kids an allergic reaction. "We have over 200 children and some might have allergies to nut oils and other allergens. They'd go into each other's drawers, share it and might even eat it." said the HeadMistress, who to be fair was only following "health and safety rules". Well maybe the teacher could have it and apply it, nooo that might be sexual abuse rubbing sunscreen on a child's legs - what is a teacher to do?
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Damn Britain is weather obsessed, I wont blog about this again!