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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

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.

Three brief notes.

Lord Monckton was invited by Rep. Joe Barton, the senior Republican on the US Energy & Commerce Committee, to speak alongside Al Gore at a global warming policy meeting in Washington.

Democrat members decided this was not such a good idea, and Monckton’s invitation was rescinded.  Cowards.

Also from Climate Depot:

Al Gore has claimed that climate sceptics are akin to people who believe the moon landings were faked.

Inconvenient truth alert:  Moonwalker and Award-Winning NASA Astronaut/Geologist Jack Schmitt is a global warming skeptic.

“The ‘global warming scare’ is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the (Geological) Society’s activities,” Schmitt, who flew on the Apollo 17 mission, said in 2008.

 “As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a “consensus” that humans are causing global warming when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. ‘Consensus,’ as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science,” Schmitt explained.

And finally: I think my ‘Profits of Doom’ is the best simple introduction to global warming science.

But Joanne Nova’s Skeptics’ Handbook is entertaining reading, and a very useful guide to debate with Chicken Littles.

The key question to keep asking is, ‘What is the evidence of any correlation between human activity and changes in global climate?’

There isn’t any. Computer games (sorry, climate models) do not count as evidence.

The World Health Organisation has warned that “all of humanity is under threat” from a potential swine flu pandemic and called for “global solidarity” to combat the virus. The plea came as the WHO raised the swine flu threat awareness level to 5 out of 6, indicating that the world is on the brink of a pandemic.

Ten people have died. Only one outside of Mexico – and he or she was a small child just over the Mexican border. That’s sad for them and their families. But ‘All humanity under threat?’ There’s no evidence so far that this strain of Swine Flu is any more infectious or any more deadly than ordinary flu.

I’m more inclined to think it was WHO funding that was under threat.

There are two major problems with these constant dire warnings about minimal or non-existent threats.

Firstly, funds are diverted from real problems that are genuinely causing harm now, into dealing with imaginary problems that just might maybe cause harm at some time in the future.

Secondly, when the WHO and the IPCC cry wolf in an effort to get more funding and more influence, they discredit themselves and the UN. OK, who cares? But they also discredit science, and that does matter.

Sooner or later there will be a real crisis – one which demands real, rapid action. A strain of Ebola which is capable of airborne transmission, for example. The risk is that when the real crisis does arrive, people will be so jaded by the constant shouts of alarm that they will disregard the calls to take action that really will be needed.

The sky is not falling. Let’s just get on with making a difference in ways that matter now.

Clean water for everyone, and stopping TB and Malaria would be a good place to start. These three things could be done now with less money than is being wasting on the fairy tale of ‘combatting climate change.’

PS

Perhaps ‘Swine Flew’ could be the WHO’s new theme song:

Up on my feet and moving
Got a strange new runner´s high
See me sprouting eagle´s wings
This pig is gonna fly…

(Look, up in the sky!!! It´s a bird?! It´s a plane?! It´s Superman!
No man, it´s not Superman. It´s ONE BAD PIG!)

Swine flew

A couple have been arrested for having sex on the lawn at Windsor Castle. They have been cautioned for ‘outraging public decency.’

The pair, in their early thirties, stripped on a private grass bank at the castle, where Her Majesty was in residence.  And went at it as if they were in their own bedroom.

Most of public present at the time seem to have been amused and entertained rather than outraged. Tourists filmed the couple for twenty minutes, and Royal Protection Squad officers also managed to get a reasonable view from the palace windows.

Apparently there was a bit of encouragement from both tourists and guards.

The really outrageous thing, of course, is that the couple ‘even ignored the Please Keep Off The Grass signs.’

“This is a modest number,” said Huang Yueqin, the director of the National Centre for Mental Health.

Mental illness has now overtaken heart disease and cancer as the biggest burden on the Chinese health system, according to the World Health Organisation.

Does this mean that one in every thirty people in the world is a mentally ill Chinese?

And why do socialist dictatorships have such high rates of mental ilness?

A few people, including Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt, have picked up these comments from Sir Michael Caine, originally published in the  UK Telegraph:

The Government has taken tax up to 50 per cent, and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America,” he said at the weekend. “We’ve got 3.5 million layabouts on benefits, and I’m 76, getting up at 6am to go to work to keep them. Let’s get everybody back to work so we can save a couple of billion and cut tax, not keep sticking it up.”

Sir Michael is a perfect example of someone who came from nowhere and got somewhere, by thinking, planning and working.

Lots of people don’t like to think or work, and would rather imagine that the poverty and dullness of their lives is caused by people with money keeping them down, or by bad luck, or indeed by anything except the likely real causes, stupidity and laziness.

The best hope for people who are in that situation is not to have some bleating social worker pat them on the hand and say ‘There, there, it’s not your fault, the system is keeping you down, you never had a chance.’

Sir Michael and thousands of migrants to Australia prove that no matter what your background, you can succeed if you are willing to think and work hard.

People who are unhappy, poor, lonely, need to hear that in many cases their unpleasant situation is a result of choices they have made. And (and this is something that really is empowering) that they can change their situation by changing those choices. That is, if they want things to be different, they have to act differently.

Gordon Brown’s (UK) and Kevin Rudd’s (Australia) government do not see things in that way. Both seem to be driven by resentment of people who have worked hard and done well.

Both Brown and Rudd are determined to introduce tax regimes which will undermine future economic development. Those regimes will undermine development by taking so much of the income of those who risk money they have saved for years, mortgage their homes, etc, to develop new ideas and new businesses, that no sensible person would bother.

 Or if you were going to bother, you would go to some other country to do it.

Such policies are economic suicide. Taxes come from successful, profitable businesses, and the people they employ. Without profitable businesses, there is no tax income. If there is no tax income there is no legislature,  no infrastructure, no social services.

It takes two to make a loan.

Borrowers are losing beds, TVs and washing machines after taking out short-term, high-interest “payday loans” they cannot afford to repay, say consumer advocates.

So, don’t take out the loan. Stop drinking. Give up smoking. Eat something other than takeaways. Stop buying Lotto tickets. Get a job. Take some responsibility for your life. Everything that happens to you isn’t someone else’s fault. It is not someone else’s job to keep paying for your mistakes, or laziness, or both.

John Brady, national compliance manager of City Finance, which lends money to people who need to fix cars or buy a new fridge… says his typical customer borrows $1500 and pays it off over a year, paying a 43 per cent interest rate and application fee of up to $380.

Yes, they are scoundrels. They take advantage of the poor.

But the answer is pretty simple. If you can’t afford to repay a loan, don’t get it.

Britain’s new ‘Equality Bill’ replaces nine other diversity laws, so that employers will find it easier to put into place a range of inefficient and unneccesary measures thought up by people wo have never run a business in their lives.

Great idea comrade! Let’s make it even harder for small businesses to employ people capable of doing the work they are employed to do. That should help the economy along.

TV shows fall under the bill. Including, gasp of horror, Top Gear.

Dr Louise Livesey, tutor in sociology and women’s studies at Oxford, accused Top Gear of “entrenched, institutional sexism”.  There’s a big surpise.

But Top Gear executive producer Andy Wilman claimed it was “utter drivel” to suggest that the show excluded women, saying: “If the show is allegedly female-unfriendly, why is almost half the audience female?

“Secondly, if we are to have a female presenter just to represent the sexes, then by that logic Loose Women needs a bloke in the line-up pretty sharpish.

“I actually believe these sorts of mandates are patronising to women viewers, because they assume that women can’t enjoy a show’s presenters on merit, but can only appreciate a program if spoken to by one of their own sex.”

Preach it, brother.