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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

That’s what the headline says: 3 Abus surrender, undergo grilling. That is, three members of terrorist organisation Abu Sayyaf have surrendered, and are assisting with investigations.

Philippine officials say they expect to ‘extract information’ from the three terrorists about the whereabouts of hostage Eugenio Vagni. I can only hope no caterpillars are being used.

Meanwhile, other sources say Vagni is about be released, because of ‘continuing government negotiations.’

Which negotiations, as I noted before, have been of the ‘No we don’t want to talk to you. Just give him back or we will hunt you down’  kind.

There’s always another reason to panic.

According to Alzheimers Australia, we are facing an avalanche of dementia. If avalanche is not scary enough, try ‘dementia tsunami’, a reference to the ageing baby boomers who are living longer but who are increasingly needing care in the home and sometimes outside the home.

Those blasted aging baby boomers again. I won’t be able to afford a new iPod because of them. And I’ve had enough of last month’s model. It’s so unfair.

The former New South Wales deputy premier, John Watkins, is now head of Alzheimer’s Australia in that state. He says the Government must act now to address the huge financial impact that dementia will have on the economy. “It’s an extraordinary situation we are facing, Australia has never faced a social health issue like the threat of dementia before.”

Nope. Never had a threat like this one before. Not until next week, anyway.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, recently returned from the UN’s Conference for Racism and Anti-Semitism, says that Australia’s indigenous people will be hardest hit by climate change.

If temperatures in North Queensland continue to rise, icebergs in the Torres Strait will begin to melt. This will result in dangerous sea level changes, distressing crocodiles and poisoning banana trees.

OK, you got me. He didn’t say that. But what did say was almost as ridiculous.

“According to all the experts, Australians will be hard hit by climate change and none more so than indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are at risk of further economic marginalisation as well as perpetual dislocation from, and exploitation of their traditional lands, waters and natural resources.”

Wow. All the experts. It must be true then.

It isn’t clear how economic marginalisation, or exploitation of traditional lands and natural resources, could be made worse by climate change. And in any case, there is no evidence of sea levels rising at unusual rates, nor of changes in average temperatures in northern Australia, nor of any increase in extreme weather events.

But hey, Tom, don’t let that stop you.

Wait a minute. I thought women were going to be hardest hit by climate change. Or was it minorites? Or Africa? Or Southeast Asia? Or fish? Or formerly common species of salamander? Or snow?

Or beer?    Arrrgh! No! Australians must unite in demanding a stop to climate change now!

A $1.2 million arson attack on forestry equipment. Selfish, irresponsible, idiotic, criminal. But pretty much no risk of anyone being harmed.

But attaching wires to trees where loggers cannot see them to make those trees fall in ways loggers will be unable to predict?

MP Daniel Hulme claims activists have put lives at risk by setting up booby traps. He said they were to blame for a trap in the Styx Valley, which Forestry Tasmania said could have seriously injured or killed a timber faller.

A strand of fencing wire was strung between two trees in a forestry coupe last month, 30 metres above the ground so the wire could not be seen from the ground, Forestry Tasmania told police.

A contractor discovered the trap after a tree limb was snapped by the wire as a tree fell to the ground, fortunately missing the faller. Such traps redirect the path of falling trees or limbs, meaning workers, believing they are standing in a safe spot, can be struck.

This is a callous disregard for life – greenies believing their political views are so important that it doesn’t matter if workers are killed or injured.

I wonder what their views on waterboarding are?

The Rann government’s ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags starts today. I predict chaos and frustration at supermarkets around the state.

Tim Blair notes that the people who grow marijuana are subject to a fine of $300, while those who provide their customers with a plastic shopping bag are subject to a fine of $315.

This is a letter I wrote to my local paper about this late last year. ‘The Islander’ is the Kangaroo Island paper. The arguments still apply.

I am all in favour of more thought about environmental issues, including the use of plastic shopping bags.

Thinking without acting is pointless, but acting without thinking is dangerous.

A basic level of thinking is ensuring that one has one’s facts correct. Bernard Baruch once said “Every man has a right to be wrong in his opinions. But no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.” Those who undertake to change public policy have a special responsibility to ensure they present their case fairly and without distortion.

This is one of the reasons I have become concerned about the debate over the use of plastic shopping bags.

Three weeks ago the front page of The Islander claimed that the government was going to ban single use polypropylene bags. This claim was repeated on page nine of the November 6th edition: “Old Bags Day is about shoppers saying no to single-use poly-propylene bags.”

I would wholeheartedly support a ban on single use polypropylene shopping bags. Polypropylene is a tough plastic which does not easily break down.

There is only one problem. The government is not proposing to ban single use polypropylene shopping bags, because single use polypropylene shopping bags have never been available in Australia. What the government is proposing to ban is light-weight polyethylene bags.

I was astonished to see, also in the November 6th edition of the Islander, a photo of a shop employee putting a product packaged in plastic into a reusable bag printed with the words “Put an end to plastic bags.”

This is almost beyond parody, given that the bag with these words printed on it is made of a highly durable plastic – about fifty times as much as plastic as a light-weight shopping bag. Just as astonishing was the caption “(the shop assistant) packs a reusable bag instead of using plastic.” No, the reusable bag is made of plastic.

Imagine this conversation. “So you’re going to ban light-weight plastic shopping bags to benefit the environment. Sounds great! What are you going to replace them with?”

 “Well, instead of giving people light-weight bags made in Australia, we are going to sell them bags which contain about fifty times as much plastic, of a type which takes much longer to break down, and which are made in China.”

“Oh.”

The argument is that because they last longer, re-usable plastic bags will in eventually result in less plastic waste.

The state government, on its Zero Waste website, thoughtfully tells us that its calculations of the environmental benefits of the ban are based on the assumption that one reusable polypropylene plastic bag will replace ten ordinary light-weight plastic bags each week for two years. Does this strike anyone else as manifestly ludicrous?

This means that if you take home ten bags of groceries and other products each week, the government’s case for banning light-weight bags is based on the assumption that from now on you will take all those groceries home in a single reusable “green” plastic bag.

A more reasonable estimate would be that each reusable plastic bag will replace two light-weight shopping bags a week for six months. At the end of the six months the total amount of plastic used is about the same.

But instead of light weight polyethylene mixed with starch or oxidising agents, which breaks down over 12 to 18 months, you are left with a dense mass of polypropylene which may take up to 1000 years to break down.

But it gets worse. Once ordinary shopping bags are replaced by denser reusable plastic bags, people will have to buy other plastic bags; bin liners, dog poo bags, nappy bags, etc to replace the light-weight shopping bags they used to re-use for those purposes. The end result is more plastic waste, not less, much of it a harder plastic to dispose of.

People are right to be concerned about the impact of plastic waste on wildlife. Plastic shopping bags are a very small part of this problem. Of course any wildlife lost to plastic bags is unacceptable. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that the best solution is to ban them, any more than rusting car bodies left in the bush is a reason to ban motor vehicles.

Instead, we should ensure that litter regulations, and the already stringent international laws banning the disposal of plastic at sea to which our government is a party, are rigorously enforced.

Don’t be bullied into a “solution” which is inconvenient, more expensive and offers no benefits to the environment.

Poor Rabiah.

Former surfie chick turned jihad groupie Rabiah Hutchinson is complaining about the nightmare of living under ‘constant surveillance.’ After all, she is just a 55 year old grandmother with diabetes and arthritis. So why is anyone picking on her?

To start with, she looks like something out of a teen slasher flick.

Jihad Groupie Rabiah Hutchinson

Jihad Groupie Rabiah Hutchinson

Rabiah has the right to wear whatever she likes. But then the people who see her have the right to be alarmed and suspicious. Or annoyed when she terrifies their children in the aisles at Woolworths.

But her appearance is not why she is of interest to Australian security forces.

After backpacking in to Bali in the 1980s, Hutchinson married a muslim and converted to Islam. Through some student friends she met Abu Bakar Bashir, eventually becoming a close friend.

Bashir is regarded as the ‘godfather’ of terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiah. JI was behind the Bali bombings, and Bashir was found guilty of conspiracy in relation to those bombings in an Indonesian court in 2005.

Well, maybe she is just unlucky in her choice of friends. And by the time of the Bali bombings, Hutchinson was no longer living in Indonesia.

In 1984, she married engineering student Abdul Rahim Ayub in a ceremony at Bashir’s school. They returned to Australia, where Ayub was appointed the leader of JI’s Australian branch, Mantiqi 4.

Maybe she was just unlucky in her choice of husbands as well. Ayub was her third.

But in 1990 she divorced him and took her six children to join jihadi forces in Pakistan. There she met Osama bin Laden, and eventually travelled to Afghanistan.

She married a member of al-Qaeda’s governing council, Mustafa Hamid. She got know to bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and his wife became one of her closest friends.

al-Zawahiri is regarded as one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, the ‘brains’ of Al Qaeda, and a consistent planner and promoter of violence and suicide bombings.

His latest message of peace and goodwill, released only a few days ago, can be found on the NEFA Foundation website.

After the 9/11 attacks and subsequent US attacks on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Hutchinson fled to Iran, where she was detained before being returned to Australia.

In 2006 her two sons Abdullah Mustafa and Mohamed Ilyas were arrested in Yemen and accused of being part of an Al Qaeda cell smuggling weapons to Somalia. They were eventually released wihout charge, but were deported to Lebanon. They were forced to leave Lebanon after authorities there refused to renew their visas.

But according to Rabiah, this is all just bad luck, and she is just a cuddly old grandma.

ASIO (the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) thinks differently.

According to the article in The Australian linked above, ASIO believes that there is “a strong likelihood” that further travel by her would involve “participation in, or support and preparation for, acts of politically motivated violence”.

Rabiah Hutchinson’s life, and her movement in and around Australia are not restricted in any way. She has full rights of citizenship, except a passport.

But I for one am glad someone is keeping an eye on her.

Any excuse for a day off.

Baggage handlers at Paris’ Orly airport walked off the job claiming their lives and health were at risk from Swine Flu if they carried baggage on flights from Mexico or Spain.

French health authorities say they will issue face masks to customs, police and airport workers whose jobs bring them into contact with passengers. Way to increase the pointless panic, guys.

They might have been better suggesting travellers avoid Orly airport altogether. When the baggage handlers are either lazy or brain dead, who knows where your luggage might end up?

Former US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice talks with students at Stanford University.

As always, she is intelligent, dignified, respectful of others. She respects the students who question her enough to listen to them, and to give straight answers to their (often poorly informed) questions.

 

Key moments:

First, do what’s right…

Unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11 you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that we faced in trying to protect Americans. A lot of people are second guessing now but let me tell you the second guessing that would have hurt me more is if there had been 3,000 more Americans dying because we didn’t do everything we could to protect them…

Do your homework…    Read….

In relation to waterboarding, etc:

1) Torture is illegal in the US.

2) The President made it clear that no matter how urgent the need to protect the US from further attacks, anything that was to be done had to be legal.

The story of a decorated war veteran being chewed by mice in an Australian nursing home has been much in the news over the last few days, usually with comments about how disgraceful the lack of care must have been, or how this demonstrates systemic failures in the health system.

I am not so sure. There is nothing in the news reports to indicate that this had happened before, or that staff were negligent in any way. But if staff were not negligent, what happened?

At the moment we have a minor mouse plague on Kangaroo Island. We have been catching up to six mice per night inside the house. That does not include mice caught by our two cats, or equally enthusiastic small terrier.

The mice are quick and bold. Two nights ago one strolled across my desk as I was typing. I chatted to it briefly, explaining that its presence was not especially welcome, then went and got a trap and put it next to a pile of papers. A few minutes later, snap, and it was contemplating the mousy version of eternity.

But this is nothing compared to the mouse plagues we experienced in Western Queensland.

Like most people I made bucket traps. This is a ramp leading up to a bottle suspended over a bucket  of water. You smear the ramp and bottle with peanut butter (by far the best bait for any rodent trap). The mice follow the scent out onto the bottle and slip into the water where they drown. I had two such traps and would regularly catch twenty in each per night.

This video, taken in Queensland near Dalby where the nursing home is, shows just how fast and how numerous the mice can be (and a warning, some people might this video disturbing):

 

People in Western Queensland are aware of the mouse problem (how could they not be!), and health services are normally careful to ensure buildings are sprayed, baits laid, etc.

If anyone is to blame for that incident, it is not the nursing staff, but the environmentalists and bureaucrats who demanded that no sprays be used.

On the other hand, this really was neglect, of the most vile and uncaring kind:

A Melbourne woman allowed her mother to be eaten alive by maggots and left her dying on a floor surrounded by her own waste, a court has heard.

Kateryna Pyrczak’s St Albans house allegedly smelt like a “rotting corpse” when she was discovered by paramedics lying on her kitchen floor with gangrenous legs on November 10 last year.

Police allege the 72-year-old’s right leg was gangrenous from knee to foot and was being eaten by maggots and her body was covered in ulcers.  Ms Pyrczak was rushed to the Western General Hospital but died from multiple organ failure and septicemia later that night.

You may have some hesitations (as I do) about whether waterboarding or putting a caterpillar in someone’s room can reasonably be called torture. See a couple of posts below.

But there is no doubt about the enhanced business disagreement techniques used by Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan — one of 22 royal brothers of the President of the United Arab Emirates (which include Dubai.)

This link takes you to a clip of an ABC report, which includes parts of the torture video smuggled out of the UAE by US businessman Bassam Nabulsi.

The man being tortured is Mohammed Shah Poor, an Afghan and former business partner of Sheikh Issa’s. Issa tortured Shah Poor for more nearly fifty minutes, assisted by a number of men in UAE police uniforms.

A rifle was shot into the ground around Shah Poor, blasting sand into his eyes. Sand was pushed into his eyes and mouth. He was poked with with an electric cattle prod. He was repeatedly beaten on the buttocks with a board with a nail protruding from it. He was kicked in the head multiple times, lighter fluid was poured on his genitals and set alight. Finally he was run over with Sheikh Issa’s Mercedes.

The tape is gruesome. It has also been censored, because some parts of the tape were thought too horrific for viewing.

I am not suggesting that because worse things are done elsewhere, that makes it OK for us to treat people in cruel or brutal ways.

But the Sheikh’s torture tape puts the debate in some perspective.

Despite the media fuss, not a single person at Guantanamo was actually injured. The ‘enhanced’ techniques in question made three known terrorists scared or uncomfortable. The memos make it clear that CIA personnel and legal advisors were trying to act in ways that would be effective in gaining information to prevent further attacks and save lives, and which were also reasonable and legal.

Were they wrong?

And 99 more awesome thoughts about the 100 days of awesomeness, from Doubleplusundead.

Here’s a sample:

12 When his wife twisted off the Queen of England’s head like a beer cap, he reattached it with nothing more than the sweat of his brow
13 You can see his awesomeness from space
14 He fires CEOs like other presidents change socks
15 He can hold two contradictory opinions and still be the model of consistency
16 White House maids report that the Presidential Toilet smells like roses and honey even when he forgets to flush
17 He encourages hate-mongers to moderate themselves via his silent presence, like he did at the Summit of the Americas.  Or in his church.

I have been meaning to say something about this for a while.

I have studied ethics, both in secular university classes and in seminary, and those classes and more recent reading have been a useful background. But I have not had time to do the further reading and thinking I need to do to be confident of what I say. I don’t yet have enough information to have an opinion.

There are three basic questions.

First, do the ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques used with three Guantanamo prisoners constitute torture?  I have not been helped by the certainty of some commentators that they were, that everybody really knows they were, and that anyone who disagrees is therefore either lying or morally bankrupt.

Second, if those enhanced interogation techniques were torture, could the use of such techniques ever be justified? Just saying ‘no’ is not an argument.

Third, if the use of torture can be justified sometimes, no matter how rarely, was it justified in the case of the Guantanamo prisoners?

I hope to get my thoughts together over the weekend, and write something more substantial on Monday – normally my day off from the shop.

In the mean time, Ann Coulter has written a typically funny and pull-no-punches column about what she might call the CIA’s Fisher Price approach to interrogation, including the dreaded ‘Caterpillar.’

This involved putting a live caterpillar in the subject’s room. The horror! Although, as Ann notes, the effectiveness of this method was probably diminished by the refusal of Justice Department lawyers to allow interrogators to trick the terrorist into believing the caterpillar was a “stinging insect.”

Ann’s approach to this is entirely different from mine, but it makes refreshing reading after the loud, self-conscious, and complacent breast-beating of some liberal commentators and mainstream news outlets.

 Here’s an excerpt, but it is worth clicking the link above and reading the whole thing.

As the torments were gradually increased, next up the interrogation ladder came “walling.” This involves pushing the terrorist against a flexible wall, during which his “head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a C-collar effect to prevent whiplash.”

People pay to have a lot rougher stuff done to them at Six Flags Great Adventure. Indeed, with plastic walls and soft neck collars, “walling” may be the world’s first method of “torture” in which all the implements were made by Fisher-Price.

As the memo darkly notes, walling doesn’t cause any pain, but is supposed to induce terror by making a “loud noise”: “(T)he false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock and surprise.” (!!!)

If you need a few minutes to compose yourself after being subjected to that horror, feel free to take a break from reading now. Sometimes a cold compress on the forehead is helpful, but don’t let it drip or you might end up waterboarding yourself.

The CIA’s interrogation techniques couldn’t be more ridiculous if they were out of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch:

“Cardinal! Poke her with the soft cushions! …
Hmm! She is made of harder stuff! Cardinal Fang! Fetch … THE COMFY CHAIR!

So you think you are strong because you can survive the soft cushions. Well, we shall see. Biggles! Put her in the Comfy Chair! …

Now — you will stay in the Comfy Chair until lunchtime, with only a cup of coffee at 11.”

Further up the torture ladder — from Guantanamo, not Monty Python — comes the “insult slap,” which is designed to be virtually painless, but involves the interrogator invading “the individual’s personal space.”

Just don’t do this. OK?

Swine Flu Prevention Methods Ignored

Swine Flu Prevention Methods Ignored

Fiji is the new Burma, a ‘virtual dictatorship’ (whatever that means) according to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

But if Rudd is so concerned about dictatorship, freedom of the press and the rule of law, why is he is so jolly chummy with China?

Frank Bainimarama asked today for a three way meeting with Kevin Rudd and NZ PM John Key. Rudd flatly refused to consider a meeting, saying ‘The people of Fiji deserve better.’

So do the people of Australia, but that is hardly the point. What counts is doing whatever can be done to help one the smallest nations in the world maintain a society which is open and free and fair to all its citizens.

Fair to all its citizens is the point at issue. The constitution of Fiji entrenches a racist system in which nearly half of the population are and forever will be second class citizens in their own country. It is a system designed to ensure that indigenous Fijians always have control of executive and legislative power.

The votes of non-indigenous Fijians do not have the same value. No non-indigenous Fijian, regardless of where he or she was born, or how long his or family has resided in Fiji, can ever be president.

It is all very well to talk about the importance of the rule of law. But what do you do when the law is bad?

South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth in 1961 in part because of protests about a system that reduced the rights of a substantial part of its population on the basis of race. Why has a similar system been considered acceptable in Fiji?

The answer is that Frank Bainimarama, and surprisingly, a number of the old ruling elite, including the Mara and Ganilau families, do not consider it acceptable. They believe that the long term stability and prosperity of Fiji, not to mention natural justice for all its people, demands a consitution in which rights of citizens are not determined by race.

Changes to remove the racism from Fiji’s constitution were impossible under former PM Laisenia Qarase. But if a vote was taken now, with the existing constitution still in place, with its different valuing of votes depending on race, Laisenia Qarase would almost certainly be returned to power.

Frank Bainimarama has committed to elections in 2014, saying it will take that long to make the changes needed, both on paper and people’s hearts, for truly fair elections to be possible.

Bainimarama may be mistaken. He may even be mis-stating his motives. But it is too early to make those judgements, and he is right at least about this: the existing system in Fiji is wrong and will take time to change.

In the meantime, he and the people of Fiji deserve do deserve better. They deserve a fair hearing. They deserve a chance to have their say. They deserve support and guidance as they try to undo a racist sytem and replace it with something just and open.

They certainly deserve better than shallow judgments and threats from popularist leaders like Kevin Rudd, who while condemning Bainimarama are happy to cuddle up to China.

He he.

I noted a couple of days ago that Fox was sticking to its usual programming instead of screening President Obama’s 100th day press conference.

I’ve been waiting for the ratings results, and here they are, courtesy of JammieWearing Fool:

FOX  Lie to Me 2.4/7 2.1/7 7.88
CW  Top Model 1.8/6 2.1/7 4.00
ABC  Obama 1.6/5 1.4/5 6.12
CBS  Obama 1.5/5 0.9/3 6.01
NBC  Obama 1.6/5 1.1/4 6.68
UNI  Obama 1.3/4 1.3/4 3.224

Beaten by ‘Lie To Me’ and ‘Top Model.’

I think there’s a message in that for all of us.