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A brave busker versus the Evil Dunedin Council of Doom (EDCOD, P.O. Box 666, Dunedin Central). Ha ha.

I learned the pipes as a teenager, and love pipe music. But I am also a business owner. In this case I think my sympathies are with the local shopkeepers.

There’s a time and a place for (almost) everything. A retail centre during shopping hours is not the time and place for a piper.

I was in the airport in Auckland the other day and saw this headline. Well, it didn’t actually say that. The magazine was upside down, and that’s what it looked like. It actually read ‘Obama Changes Words Into Deeds’.

I think my version is truer. The proposed stimulus programme will not, cannot, do anything to improve the economy. Simply increasing spending cannot help. What will help is increasing productivity. To do that you need measures which increase business confidence, and make it easier to employ people. This will increase business investment and raise employment levels, and this increases spending in an appropriate, affordable and sustainable way.  Simply increasing spending will only increase debt, and prolong and deepen the recession. Richer countries may be able to cope. But this is a disaster for developing nations, and will not win friends for the US in the long run.

As for changing words into deeds, well, what exactly?

Given the well documented use of the internet by sexual predators, I don’t know whether to be alarmed that so many registered sex offenders were users of just one of many social networking sites, or delighted that they have been identified and removed.

A little of both I think.

Interesting that before MySpace commissioned a private firm to create one, there was no national US database of registered sex offenders.

‘MySpace said on Tuesday the technology had enabled it to identify 90,000 users as registered sex offenders – people who have been found guilty of sex crimes and ordered to register with law enforcement officials – and had removed and blocked them from the site.

“We can confirm that MySpace has removed these individuals from our site and is providing data about these offenders to any law enforcement agency including the Attorney-General’s in Connecticut,” MySpace’s chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a statement.’


This is a good thing, not just for Obama’s administration, but for the credibility of the US overseas. Daschle may be talented, but his appointment would not have passed the ‘smell test’.

Tax issues with Killefer, who was to ‘be a chief performance officer’, allegations of corruption in the form of favourable treatment for political donors by Bill Richardson, who was to be Commerce Secretary, and other tax issues for Timothy Geithner, whose role would have included oversight of  the Internal Revenue Service…

There were suggestions from the press that the McCain campaign had fellen down in its vetting processes because Sarah Palin’s daughter was pregnant. I could never make any sense of this. It always seemed like unseemly gloating. How did that very human and normal family situation that didn’t involve anything she herself had done, diminish Sarah Palin’s capacity to function as vice-president?

But favours for mates, taxes unpaid, and goodness knows what hasn’t made it into the media? Unless backhanders to political donors and cheating on your taxes are not considered anything unusual in some circles, it is hard to understand how these things were not picked up before the nominations were made public.

Poor Britney. She has made some very foolish choices.

But it seems to me she is basically a decent person, who like most decent people, assumes everyone else will do the right thing. She does not seem to have had much luck in choosing her friends and advisors, many of whom seem to have seen her and their association with her as an  opportunity to enrich themselves at her expense. Especially that human sewer Ghalib.

I am not making any comment on the rights or wrongs of any particular legal matter. I just wish they’d leave the poor girl alone.

Via Kathy Shaidle, this report from  the Catholic Register.

‘In elementary school, teachers tried to deprogram students of any anti-Jewish sentiment we might have heard at home. In high school history class, we watched footage of what Allied soldiers found at the newly liberated concentration camps. Sometimes girls would faint or vomit. “Never again,” said our teacher. “Never again,” we repeated.

We also thought that, in those circumstances, we would all be heroes. We would be the one who hid Jewish friends in our attics. We would be the ones who didn’t vote in the Nazis. We would be the ones who spoke out against anti-Jewish hatred. That’s what we said.’

But even though it is 2009 not 1939, not much has changed. It is still easier to be part of the crowd and to be silent in the face of abuse rather than risk the wrath of the abuser.

I have heard the same kind of courageous statements from clergy when talking about the martyrs of the early church. Yet those same clergy would frequently rather be complicit in hiding abuse (I don’t necesarily mean sexual abuse, but also bullying and abuse of spiritual authority) than to stand up againt a bishop or other church leader, even though all that is at stake is their job, and the good opinion of those in power.

Courage is not about words. It is about facing your fears and overcoming them, and being being willing to say and do what is right, no matter what others think.

Yes we can be heroes if we want. But we have to want to do the right thing more than we want to be popular, and more than we want to be comfortable.

If it is true that Michael Phelps was smoking dope at a party, then he is a very silly boy. The four year ban for drug taking means that he would not be able to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. 

On the other hand, I have looked pretty closely at that picture, and cannot see any signs of smoke. Add to this that he has had over 1500 drug tests and never failed one, and maybe there is room for some doubt here. A urine test should be able to confim either way. If it was me, and I was innocent, I would be rushing to the nearest testing centre.

But even if he was just mucking around with an empty bong, it is still a dumb thing to do.

I came across this self-righteous article yesterday. Apparently the mother of the octuplets born in California last week, had once filed for bankruptcy, and already has six children. According to the report this ‘casts an unflattering light’ on her.

The article goes on to report the mother’s mother as saying that her daughter had multiple embryos implanted last year and declined to abort any of them. Well, obviously she’s a ratbag.

There’s an unspoken assumption in the article that more children are a bad thing, that children are a burden, that people who have large numbers of them must necessarily be irresponsible.

In fact the woman had no way of knowing how many of the implanted embryos would take, and that she declined to abort any of them casts a more, rather than less, flattering light on her in my view. The rights and wrongs of IVF as a whole I leave for another time.

There’s not enough information in the article to judge whether the woman is irresponsible or not, and anyway, what’s so special about us that we should feel entitled to make such a judgement?

But that wasn’t what caught my eye in the article. Instead it was the claim by Dr. Charles Sophy, medical director of Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services that ‘it costs roughly $2.5 million to raise a child to adulthood.’ And according to the doc, that’s only enough for basic stuff, no extras like swimming lessons.

I have worked in ministry and other low paid jobs most of my life so far. I expect my lifetime working income to total about $1.6 million. According to Dr Sophy that’s enough to raise about two-thirds of a child, with nothing left over for a stamp collection.

Oh well.

A group of Melbourne girls invited a sixteen year old intellectually disabled girl to their home, saying they would be her friend. Then they took her to a nearby park where they beat her up so badly she could not stand up after the attack and had to be taken to hospital. Bad enough. A mob of other teenagers stood around shouting encourgement. Even worse.

But what made this story really horrific for me was that the mother of one of the girls videoed the incident on her phone (the video was later posted on MySpace) while shouting “Hit her, hit her harder,” “I taught you better than that” and “Hit her like your dad would”, and giving the girls advice about how do more damage while kicking the victim.

The story of the kidnapping of Sean Goldman has become much more widely known in the couple of days since the US Dateline report on January 30th.

For those who don’t know, Bruna Goldman took her son Sean ‘on vacation’ to her home in Brazil in 2004. She never returned. David Goldman has struggled ever since to regain custody of Sean.

Although David has US and international law on his side, and has made frequent trips to Brazil, Brazilian authorities have refused to allow him to return Sean to the US. The situation has been complicated by Bruna’s death in 2008, and subsequent battles for custody with Bruna’s Brazilian husband.

It is tragic situation in which David and his son Sean have been treated unjustly.

But one thing that concerns me a little is that nowhere on the Bring Sean Home website is there anything about what Sean wants, or what is best for Sean. In any custody dispute the deciding factor should be what is best for the child. Children are not possessions to be divided up.

Bringing Sean ‘home’ would in fact mean taking him from what he knows as home, to a country he does not know, to a father he by now barely remembers. There is no reason to think that David Goldman is anything other than a responsible and loving father. But there is also no reason to think that his step father does not genuinely love Sean, and certainly no reason to think that he cannot provide for Sean a safe home, medical care, education, etc.

Of course if Sean does stay in Brazil, then Sean’s stepfather will have won in the end by holding out for as long as possible. He is a lawyer, he knows the Brazilian system, and perhaps has been able to use the influence of his powerful family. This was wrong. It is unfair.

But the deciding factor cannot be what is fair or not for the adults concerned, but what is right for the child.

So no, don’t bring Sean back to a home he doesn’t know. Love him enough to let him stay in the caring home he has.

The mandatory disclosure of thousands of contributors to Proposition 8 on the secretary of state’s Web site has led to numerous acts of vandalism, boycotts and even death threats, lawyers for the Prop. 8 campaign said in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.’

Even if this is an exaggeration, and there’s no reason to think it is, recent history, and in particular the use of privileged personal information to target individuals, churches and businesses, suggests they are right to be concerned.

This is not about ‘hiding their shame’ as some gay news sites have suggested. It is about being protected from violent and abusive behaviour.

These words from a gay man who is a retired LA police officer:

I thought about the events that took place even before the election:

•The Modesto man who was beaten for trying to place “Yes on 8” signs on his lawn
•Five gay men arrested in Fullerton for the destruction of “Yes on 8” signs (they had just left a gay “No on 8” rally.
•A gay Palmdale man posted a message on MYSPACE which stated, “Burn down the Mormon Church!”
Even where I live in sleepy little Acton (California), I saw several young men destroying “Yes on 8” signs. After committing their crime, they ran to a waiting car with a “rainbow” sticker attached to it.

Earlier this week, a gay man in my circle of friends (a West Hollywood resident) used his Los Angeles City computer workstation to transmit an E-mail in which he suggested his intent to commit “cyber terrorism” against those who provided money and support to the Yes campaign. Many of the addresses he posted also were government addresses, and the City of Los Angeles has strict policies which prohibit the use of City equipment and computers for personal reasons. LA City employees and police officers have been disciplined and fired for the misuse of city computers.

Long Beach protesters were arrested for crashing through police lines. In Palm Springs, angry mobs forcefully ripped a plastic cross out of the hands of an elderly woman in a yellow dress. What COWARDS! What kind of courage does it take to attack an old woman and stomp her cross? As the hateful mobs of intolerant idiots stomped her cross into oblivion they nearly knocked the women down. Given her advanced age, any fall could have caused her serious injury.’

No surprise, given how strong the FBI audio tape evidence semed to be.

Illinois senators ‘found Mr Blagojevich guilty of engaging in a lengthy pattern of pay-to-play politics in which he traded campaign donations for political favors and tried to swap his ability to pick Mr Obama’s replacement for a cabinet post, ambassadorship or high-paying job for himself or his spouse.’ Amongst other things, prosecutors say ‘tapes show Mr Blagojevich pressuring a racetrack owner for a hefty campaign donation in exchange for help passing favorable legislation.’

Two notable things about this. First, Blagojevich genuinely seems baffled by what has happened, and unable to comprehend that he has done anything wrong. He claimed that senators from both sides had been involved in all of the projects and processes now being described as corrupt. They didn’t seem to like that.

And second, five of the past nine Illinois governors have been indicted or arrested for fraud or bribery. Mr Blagojevich’s predecessor is serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for fraud and racketeering.

Interesting place.

Israel closed its crossings into Gaza on Tuesday after a bomb attack on the Israel-Gaza border killed an Israeli soldier. The crossings were later re-opened, allowing 174 trucks of food and other aid into Gaza on Wednesday, and 149 on Thursday.

But the crossing from Egypt at Rafah remains closed, with some two dozen aid trucks waiting to go through. Local Egytian officials say they do not know why.

It is obvious to everyone that controlled border crossings need to be open to allow aid into Gaza. Hamas launches attacks on border crossings, and steals aid and sells it to the highest bidder, yet Israel keeps its crossings open and allows hundreds of aid trucks through. But directions from high in the Egyptian government command that the Rafah crossing should be closed. Why?

Egypt doesn’t want Hamas in control of Gaza any more than Israel does. As long as Hamas is in charge, there will be no peace with Israel, and no lasting reconstruction or building of infrastructure. The best outcome for the people of Gaza, and for neighbouring nations like Israel and Egypt, is a change of regime. This cannot be imposed – it has to come from the Palestinian people.

There is no doubt many wish for change. But with stories like this, of Hamas torturing and murdering anyone who opposes them, it will take a huge amount of courage from a few, or a massive popular rebellion from the people of Gaza for that change to come. Perhaps Egypt is hoping that frustration and desperation as people wait for aid, along with the manifest mismanagement and aggression of Hamas, will be a sufficient driver to motivate such a rebellion.

For the common sense of ordinary people.

Penny Wong, The Australian Federal Minister for Climate Change, says three hot days at her place prove global warming is real. And what’s more, no one is going to convince her otherwise, and she’s going ahead with emission controls, even if it wrecks the economy, because that’s the responsible thing to do.

Fortunately, the people Penny is supposed to represent have a considerably better grasp of the situation than she does (something she would no doubt regard as a worrying sign of a lack of appropriate education – more funding, please). In a poll run by The Australian (not a paper noted for its conservative views), 67% answered ‘NO’ to the question ‘Are heatwaves in Victoria and South Australia evidence of Global Warming?’

67% say no!

The President Tries to Enter the Oval Office Through a Window
Obama tries to enter the Oval Office through a window.

To be fair, those look like they could be French doors, and he’s only just moved in. It sometimes takes me a few weeks to remember where the light switches are when I move house.

It is not the trivial mistake by a man in a new house that makes this worth mentioning, but the difference in the way the media has reported this – that is, not at all – and the delerious gloating that greeted President Bush’s trying to open a locked door when on a visit to China, in a building he’d never been to before.