30 September 2021

Covid testing and quarantine : Is it causing people to NOT get tested?

I have had three Covid19 tests all up, I had two when coming through managed isolation in 2020 and a third in Australia when departing earlier this year, and they were qualitatively different in terms of experience.  The standard New Zealand PCR test is akin to "nasal violation" with a swab taken through the nostril to the back of the throat. It is invasive, painful and highly unpleasant. However, the PCR test in Australia was a throat swab followed by a nostril swab which was only around a centimetre or so inside.  Heaven help those who get the nasal violation swabbing regularly because of their jobs, but is there a good reason why the former and not the latter is used in NZ? Certainly saliva testing is less reliable, but can be done more frequently.  

So are people who have had one nasal violation test LESS likely to have more? Is NZ's unwillingness to adopt more patient friendly tests reducing the rate of testing? I'd be very reluctant to get tested (in NZ) unless I was clearly symptomatic, are others like this?

Then there is what happens if you are found to HAVE Covid. There is a fair chance you get shipped off to a quarantine facility rather than being able to isolate at home.  What does the fear of THAT do to people to cause them to hesitate being tested?  If you had rent to pay, and a job, would you want the state taking you away from your home and family for several weeks?  Wouldn't you be MORE likely to get tested if you knew you could self-isolate at home (bearing in mind you may have already passed it onto those you live with, if you haven't then it is another story)?

Does the unwillingness to take a more patient centred approach risk more people having Covid, not being tested and not isolating?

21 September 2021

AUKUS - best news in some time

So much to cheer in the new AUKUS alliance. 


1. It enhances Australia's and the region's defence. It enables Australia, New Zealand's most important ally, to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, which will much better serve the defence of Australia and its allies, than the diesel-powered retrofitted French ones, that the Malcolm Turnbull government ordered.  

2. It cancels the previous disgracefully wasteful defence contract, which was a A$90 billion pork-barrel deal to win votes in South Australia, driven by former Minister Christopher Pyne. It was a disgrace, and economically destructive whilst delivering little strategic benefit.

3. It annoys the Communist Party of China, which, given it is the political party responsible for the greatest famines and slaughters in human history, is entirely moral.

4. The mouthpieces of the Communist Party of China took nearly 12 hours to respond to the announcement, indicating that Beijing doesn't have quite the effective spook or snooping network that it might want, otherwise it would have promptly issued a line of comment in response.  AUKUS took Beijing by surprise.

5. So-called "peace" activists are unhappy, as is the Australian Green Party, whilst all fail to protest Beijing's military exercises against Taiwan, imperialist occupation of rocks in the South China Sea and skirmishes with India. It just shows them up for what they are, supporters for any tyrannies that confront liberal democracies.  

6. It has annoyed the Government of France the most, and even the supine European Union has shown sympathy to the gallic sooks.  France was not remotely this concerned about China's occupation of the South China Sea, undermining of rule of law and freedom in Hong Kong, authoritarian racism in its Xinjiang Province or indeed just about any other international incident in recent years. The French response is totemically beautiful, by confirming and reinforcing every stereotype about French hyper-arrogance and emotional incontinence about their entirely onanistic-pneumatic honour.  It's particularly delicious that France withdrew ambassadors from Washington DC and Canberra but not London, demonstrating, once again, France's unbounded Anglo-phobic arrogance, of a kind that it is claimed too many British people use as a stereotype. France EXCEEDED stereotypes about itself, proving that you cannot make up how absurd they can be.

7. The European Union has demonstrated its virtual irrelevance in international strategic defence circles. With France its only serious defence member, and almost all of its members pathetically irrelevant in their funding of defence (and some being neutral), it has been sidelined.  

8. For all of the self-serving puffery of the New Zealand Labour Party about the supposed importance of the Fourth Labour Government's nuclear free policy in the 1980s, New Zealand was, once again, proven to be utterly irrelevant in serious strategic international defence circles. New Zealand was sidelined (as was Canada), because it not only has little to add, but its adolescent nuclear-free policy is an inhibitor, not an enabler, of more robust defence of the region. Jacinda Ardern can claim "New Zealand wouldn't want to join", but it demonstrates that the "nuclear free moment" is more a display of performative virtue signalling, than anything of substance or impact on anyone, except those claiming how wonderful they are for the act of keeping nuclear powered submarines just over 12 miles off the coast of New Zealand.  What New Zealand does is of little importance to those who are committed to the international peace and security, and is of equally little importance in climate change, no matter the egos in Parliament who wish you believe otherwise.

So good for Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden (even if Joe isn't necessarily fully aware), this was a great leap forward in dealing to a whole host of issues at once.

oh and don't anyone think for a moment that the EU was going to offer Australia a useful free trade agreement, neither France nor the EU really care about free trade.

11 September 2021

Remembering 9/11

I woke up at around 5.40am on 12 September 2001, in Wellington and switched on National Radio (as it was then) to hear a broadcast, with American voices, describing some disaster. At the time I was living alone, having broken up with my wife the previous year.

I didn't think much of it for the first few minutes, thinking it was some recorded show syndicated by RNZ, until it became clear it was a live feed, from CNN.  It took around 10 or so minutes before I started piecing together what had happened, one, two, three planes flying into buildings, it seemed surreal. So I got out of bed, switched on the TV and watched for about 20 minutes, the largest terrorist attack on the United States. It was all too much, I was 31 years old, and the scenes of the World Trade Center towers were dramatic and devastating. I thought for a moment that perhaps had my life been only a little different, I might have been working in an office in one of those towers, and the people trapped above the flames with no way out, and those below, streaming down stairwells for their lives, in horror. For so many it was too late. Barely over four years later I would be working for a large multinational American consultancy, in London, months after the 7/7 tube attacks, all inspired by the same ideology of misanthropic theocratic death worship.

I showered, got dressed for work and left for the office, at just after 6.30am, because it was too much to watch. I was at my local bus stop in 3 minutes standing, when the only other person standing there, a women in her 30s took a phone call, and it was clear she hadn't heard the news beforehand, as she spoke in utter disbelief. The bus came and after the usual 20 minute ride I arrived stunned at work, much earlier than normal, and nobody else was there yet. Of course I got more of the news on the internet, and as others trickled in, there was only one topic to discuss.  How many people had died? Were other attacks on the way? Who was responsible? How would the US respond?  US airspace was shut down, and so much would never be the same again. Whether it was New York, the Pentagon or indeed the hapless brave victims of UA 93 who fought back, it was a series of events far more profound than fiction.  People born in 90 countries died in 9/11, it was an attack on humanity.

We'll never know the true cost of 9/11, the cost of the lost of the thousands of lives, what they might have created, what their children might have created, and how much richer humanity would have been for it.  It was an attack not just on them, but on an idea.  The idea that free people can choose how they live, to work, to trade, to enjoy life, and to not have their lives owned by others, by self-serving authority bowing to an ideology that shackles them to the literal interpretation of some aged religious tracts. The idea that Government should be to subordinate people to the will of theocratic bigots, rather than exist to protect their rights and established by the people to protect them from those who wish to take away those rights.  Yes, the United States in 2001 (let alone 2021) has many many flaws, and has never met that ideal consistently, let alone for all Americans, but the idea of the United States was and is revolutionary - and Al Qaeda hates that.  The Taliban hates that, ISIS hates that, indeed autocrats of many different stripes hate the United States, because it is antithetical to what they want for humanity. 

The US response to 9/11 should have been a rallying call for freedom, for civilisation, for modernity and to seek to confront not the religion of Islam in some sort of new crusade, (for as with all religions, people can follow religion in their private lives and not seek to attack a free, pluralistic society), but to confront Islamist fascism - the application of fundamentalist Islamic sects, such as Salafism and Wahhabism, to impose Islam and Islamic theocratic rule.  This was, sort of, what George W. Bush was looking to target in his "war on terror", but he couldn't really confront it, because one of the great protagonists of Islamist fascism is a US ally, and one of Bush's great enemies was not really an Islamist fascist, but just a fascist - Saddam Hussein.

Attacking and seeking to destroy Al Qaeda was right and moral, as was overthrowing the Taliban.  There was no way the USA could let Afghanistan be. However, the US was never willing to take over Afghanistan and mould it into a tolerant liberal democracy, like it did with Japan, and West Germany.  It allied itself with the then Northern Alliance, who were a bunch of warlords united more by tribal and economic interests than a grand belief in Islamist fascism. Perhaps if the US had sought to occupy with the brute force, sheer numbers and cost it once had done in the 1940s and 1950s, it could have not only defeated the Taliban, but understood Afghanistan enough to convert hearts and minds, and the events of the past few weeks may never have occurred.  However, Americans were unwilling to sacrifice the blood and treasure needed to achieve that, so instead they spent 20 years treading water and keeping the Taliban at bay, just.  So Jo Biden could leave them millions of dollars of military equipment.

However, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as moral as it was, also suffered from a lack of US willingness to follow through, to establish government that could prevent the deadly insurrection, fuelled by Iran, that killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq. That ultimately spawned ISIS.  Saddam Hussein was not remotely behind 9/11, but Bush had a score to settle, and although it was credible to believe that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction (since he demonstrably did use them before), it was proven not to be.  The US spilt much blood and treasure mismanaging Iraq, again because it was unwilling to impose a liberal democracy on a population that wasn't liberal.

In all of this remained Saudi Arabia, the great funder and fuel of Wahhabism, and the Gulf states which themselves kept free from Islamist fascism because of their own wealth and ad-hoc ruthlessness.  Saudi is a US ally, because they have needed each other. Saudi needed protection from the USSR and more latterly Iran.  The US wanted the dominant oil producer on its side (although fracking has completely undermined the importance of that). Furthermore, the chance that the House of Saud would be replaced by a worse regime if it were overthrown. So Saudi Arabia, which spawned those who committed the 9/11 attacked, became the great ally in the "war on terror" as the war on the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

Al Qaeda, and indeed no other Islamist terrorist has been able to come remotely close to inflicting a similar scale attack on the US, but 9/11 inspired the multiple Islamist fascist attacks in Europe.  It remains the great watershed of the 21st century, almost the point when the optimism of the end of the Cold War was smashed, as it was followed by a new age. An age not only of sporadic Islamist terrorism, but Putin's Russia turning the clock back to a Cold War era hysterical nationalism, and irredentism. A few years later the Global Financial Crisis knocked economic optimism and more recently Xi Xinping reawoke China's past remoulding it into an increasingly monstrous Mk. 2 Maoism of authoritarian-corporatist Marxism-Leninism, willing and wanting to become the world's number one economic and ultimately military and political power.  

For me this date has another significance. My Mum died five years ago today. She had been ill, and had had a successful colostomy operation the previous day, but was too weak and passed away in the early hours of 12 September NZST.  I was and am profoundly sad I didn't get to see her or be with her that night, as I had already booked flights to come see her days later.  She died weeks out from her 78th birthday.  I miss her greatly, and indeed am reminded of her daily as we spruce up her (and Dad's) house to sell in due course.  She was a great source of resilience, strength, warmth and courage for me, as someone who had many trials in life, from emigrating with next to nothing in the 1950s, to looking after her terminally ill mother in her 20s, to her first marriage ending in divorce due to discovering her husband was, in fact, gay when it was a crime, to not being able to have children with my Dad (and then adopting me).  So on 12 September, we'll be having dinner and raising a glass to my Mum, and to the memory of those who were killed so tragically on 9/11.

06 September 2021

Terrorist attack raises questions

Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen, is the name Jacinda Ardern doesn't want repeated by anyone, which is silly, because if nobody supports him, nobody should fear his name. Samsudeen wanted to kill people in New Zealand because he had become a jihadist fascist, and we can all feel very lucky he does not appear to have succeeded. What he has done though is awful enough, to take advantage of people under Level 4 lockdown, already under considerable stress, to attack the community that gave him a place to live and gave him more freedoms than the country he came from, or that he would grant to others.

Terrorism is, after all, an act of war. It is a political act to of violence to spread fear and incite change. It is incompatible with a free society which offers ample opportunities for people to express their views, and have them judged in the marketplace of ideas. Of course those with totalitarian ideologies are uninterested in having such freedom, although they will happily exploit it to spread their ideas and to do harm to others.

There are important questions to answer, that can't be answered quickly:

  1. Did the Police follow all of the reasonable steps they could in surveillance of the terrorist? I've no reason to think otherwise, but it matters as the whole point of the exercise is to protect the public, and if there is any opportunity to not observe what the subject is doing, it is a risk to the public. If it isn't optimal, it should be revised.
  2. Should the assessment of refugee status be tightened up, and more scrutiny given to such applications? Particularly noting that the psychiatric assessment appeared to be an exercise in tricking the psychiatrist (let's not start to think how much of psychiatry is snakeoil)
  3. What should be the threshold for deportation for committing a serious offence? Should defrauding immigration about your status enable deportation?
  4. The terrorist was granted "protected status" presumably out of concern he may be tortured or subjected to cruel treatment if returned, but if the person presents a real, present danger to the public should this be able to be overturned if the "protection" obtained was on false grounds? Does the right to be protected from another state get overriden when his intention is proven to be to wage terrorist attacks against NZers?
  5. How long did he study under his student visa? Is there any indication that he breached its terms and if so, what sanctions were imposed, if any?
  6. Is "protected status" being generally applied to Tamils from Sri Lanka, or did specific conditions of his case indicate he was likely to be tortured or subjected to cruel treatment? Were these verified better than his original false claims for refugee status?
  7. Should terrorist protection orders be possible, so that someone who has expressed interest in waging terrorist attacks on NZ can be subjected to preventive detention?
  8. On what grounds was he denied GPS monitoring? 
  9. He was sentence one year with supervision, at a local mosque. How well did it supervise him?  Does anyone who interacted with him at the mosque share sympathies with ISIS or jihadist views generally? Was his supervision inclusive of a deradicalisation strategy?
  10. Who paid for his defence lawyers and his immigration appeal? Was it him or supporters of his, taxpayers or a charity? Have his sources of finance, or any charitable support be investigated?

Should the law be amended? Quite possibly, and sure care needs to be taken with reform.  However, it is important to recognise that the core role of the state is to protect the public. Terrorism goes beyond criminal law and into defence, and the state should not act against people simply because of concern about what they think or what they are interested in, if they haven't expressed intent or taken action to support or engage in violent acts.  The threshold for that is very difficult to define, but in this case the patterns of behaviour are multiple.  Besides lying to obtain refugee status, he broke censorship laws about possessing content depicting murders and violence, and he demonstrably aligned himself with jihadism.  Jihadism isn't just Islamist theocratic totalitarianism, but a belief in using violence to wage war.

So what now?

First and foremost, hopefully all of the victims will recover fully. Their ages are vast, and there is no sense yet of them being targeted for any reason other than being peaceful people going about their business. However that is what terrorism is all about.  The victims deserve to be the priority, because the state has failed them.

Secondly, there should be a full investigation of procedures, from Police, through Immigration and the SIS. I'm not assuming anything was done wrong, but this could well have been much much worse. What if he had had a bomb?  We can't take the assurance of any politician or official that everything that could have been done was done, on face value. It needs to be demonstrated that there weren't further actions that could have been taken and that needs an independent investigation.

Thirdly, if the law permits a dangerous individual who clearly presents an imminent threat to wander the streets, albeit with intensive surveillance, then this must be changed. NZ is fortunate that the number subject to this is so few, because this situation would be unsustainable with ten times this number of budding terrorists.  It is important to preserve a right to a fair trial, but when someone has entered into the realm of supporting and promoting terrorism, it is not just a crime, it is an act of war and the state must act to protect people when the threshold is crossed in demonstrating intent to do violence.  The line between simply expressing support for a theocratic Islamic state and actively supporting and expressing interest in engaging in terrorism is a careful one to define, and whether intervention to deradicalise is useful in some cases, vs. preventive detention in others needs to be considered.

Finally, the ideology behind the terrorist must be called out for what it is and is not. ISIS comes from Salafist jihadism, and it is a cancerous, toxic and murderous ideology incompatible with any civilised modern liberal democracy. Absolutely this is NOT what most Muslims in NZ belief, which is very important, but it is simply wishful tihnking to continue the fiction that it is "nothing to do with Islam". It is something to do with Islam. It's disingenuous and absurd to pretend it isn't primarily to deter Muslim hatred.

Those who tout Muslim hatred aren't fooled by pretending that ISIS isn't from a branch of Islam, just like pretending the IRA had nothing to do with Catholicism, even though in both cases it is clear that most adherents of both religious utterly repudiated terrorism in the name of their faith. The blatantly anti-Muslim attacks of the Burmese government have roots in radical Buddhism, but to taint Buddhists everywhere with that is wrong, but it is also wrong to pretend that the link is not there.

It is enormously positive that the Al Noor Mosque has spoken against the attack, and completely unsurprising that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has utterly condemned it. The GiveALittle page from the Al Noor Mosque is particularly generous and positive. Ahmadiyya Muslims are known for being possibly the most open, tolerant and generous sect of Islam, indeed it was five years ago that an Ahmadiyya Muslim in Glasgow was murdered by an Islamist who thought he was an infidel. Ahmaddiya Muslims have a special risk of being attacked by jihadists.  Long may all of this continue, and long may NZ remain immune to the rise of jihadism seen in the past two decades in Europe.

As a footnote, it's also notable the somewhat different response by some to this attack, compared to the Christchurch mosque attack. Maybe it's because nobody has been killed, but the actions of Tarrant, the Muslim-hater (who happened to have an incoherent ideology which included respect for the Chinese Communist Party and environmentalism) saw an outpouring of calls to confront white-supremacy, "division" and hatred towards Muslims, which is fair enough. Yet the calls to confront Salafist and Wahhabist jihadism have not come, the calls to confront jihadism are muted.

After all this call by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is right, in that white supremacy should be dismantled:

So have any Green MPs called to dismantle jihadism? All racial eliminationists ought to be confronted, but religious eliminationists too. Is it that white supremacy particularly agitates the hard-left, but Islamic jihad is seen as, somehow, not quite as distressing? We shouldn't forget the use by Green MPs of the long-standing slogan "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free" used by Hamas to promote the destruction of Israel (as it means to clear Israel away from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean). Now by no means are they supporters of jihadists, but do the Greens think white-supremacy is widespread in NZ, but jihadism isn't? Why not confront both with equal vigour?

The Greens are loud on supporting Palestinian rights, as they are entitled to be, but hand in hand should be absolute clarity that jihadism is as morally repugnant as eliminationist white supremacism/neo-Nazism, and there should be no tolerance of either.  This message should be clear across all political parties.

There is reasonable concern of some sort of moronic backlash against Sri Lankans and Muslims more generally. Only a moron would think this is anything to do with Sri Lankans (most aren't Muslims), and it's immoral and absurd to think innocent people deserve to be abused for actions they have nothing to do with.  It is natural for people to fear the sorts of reprisals seen in some societies, but this concern has been expressed in a curious way by the Executive Director of Amnesty NZ:

Why just white people? Are white people known to be particularly antagonistic towards Muslims?  Is Muslim hatred not seen in people of Chinese, Indian or Maori descent, or is it just the "ruling" "dominant culture" "racist" white people (who in the critical race theory hierarchy are the most privileged, powerful, depraved and guilty)? This will be news to the Rohingya facing oppression from Buddhist Burmese, or Muslims in India facing Hinduist bigotry, Uighur facing Han Chinese acts of genocide, or indeed Sri Lankan Muslims who in their homeland fear the Buddhist Sinhalese.

What "counter narratives" does she want put out? That Muslims don't support this? Reports so far demonstrate this, and it is far more credible promoting what Al Noor Mosque has done, than to have a self-righteous left "liberal" try to convince you (from the class of people deemed to be bad in character) to not abuse of people who share the same broad faith of Samsudeen.  Indeed unless you circulate in circles of people who tend to think like knuckle draggers, this is at best pointless, and at worst going to generate antagonism. The terrorist was responsible for his actions, others are responsible for theirs. Would she ask Muslim people to put out counter narratives against ISIS and other Islamist jihadist groups, condemning them? Perish the thought. That alone demonstrates how absurd this really is. 

People who engage in moronic counter-attacks against Muslims or Sri Lankans apply the same ideology as the dominant critical theorists do in believing white people are to blame for the jihadist, or indeed for Tarrant himself. They all share the philosophical view that individuals can only be understood by categorising them in identity groups. That what people are born as is determinative of their lives much more than their own actions, and that life and society is about battles of power, privilege and identity.  

One of the clear ways to combat jihadism and white supremacy, and every other ideology branded lazily as "extremist" is to confront it with the focus on the rights of the individual, to respect the right of each other to live in peace and to pursue their own lives in peace, and for individuals to associate and interact voluntarily, and to find solutions to life and the universe under the non-aggression principle, and for the state to have as its number one priority, protecting us from those who reject this absolutely.