Friday, September 29, 2006

I am my own wife: review

Since the youngest was born, we've not often been out to theatre despite having frequent access to free tickets. Last night, we went to I am my own wife at the Sydney Opera House. The play is based on the life of Charlotte von Malsdorf who established the Gruenderzeit Museum in East Belin and survived both WWII and life under the Stasi despite being openly a transvestite.

It is a one (wo)man show and is outstanding. The actor, Jefferson Mays, play 8 - 10 characters with remarkable clarity and distinctivness. The set is a brilliant design that transforms from the interior of a small suburban home into a vast chamber overflowing with grandfather clocks, phonographs, and antique furniture. The script is tight despite the complexity of the story and elegantly shifts from Charlotte's present to her time in both Nazi and Stasi controlled Germany. I particularly like that the script didn't solve the ambiguity about Charlotte's involvement with the Stasi, which included being an infomer (apparently 1 in 3 East Beliners were) and allegations that she informed on another collector (and possible lover) leading to his imprisonment.

This play genuinely deserved the standing ovation it received last night and apparently many others.

Though they focus on very different people and stories, this play reminded me of the Gary Henderson's Skin Tight which we saw in Wellington in 96 or 97.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Disappearing military blog

I recently stumbled across the blog of an Australian, Ben Dullroy, serving with the ADF in Iraq which, though I only read a few posts, was pretty interesting reading. I subscribed to the rss feed but didn't check back for a while. On noticing a new post, I was disappointed to discover that the new post simply announced that the blog had been deleted.

The story appears to be that Dullroy was advised against continuing his blog as the ADF had no policy governing military blogs (this being gleaned from another blogger, Mike Fitz, who re-registered the blog name to avoid squatters).

I guess, at one level, this is a pretty extreme form of censorship however, I avoid blogging on issues related to my work because, as a public servant, I realise I have access to information that the public don't (some of which is sensitive and not within my discretion to disclose). I guess Dullroy's blog has the potential to compromise military or civilian safety or could provide a clue about the ADF's strategy. This being the case, the ADF need to update their policies to reflect the potential for near immediate and uncensored publishing... but does this mean no room for personal military blogs? As Mike Fitz notes, consider "how letters from Gallipoli are revered by today’s historians."

Interestingly, comments on the (in)actions of the ADF are mixed with at least one commentator, Colleague in Army, criticising Dullroy's actions stating "You should have known better. It took you four years to get a deployment and you did this". Ouch!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm ok, the Brethren are too

Unsurprisingly, the most conservative leader in the First World does not have a problem with the Exclusive Brethren. Money laundering, child abuse, institutionalised sexism and technophobia... what the hey, they apparently funnel money into Johnny Howard's campaign so live-and-let-live he says:
"I did make the observation that I've met a lot more fanatical people in my life than the Exclusive Brethren. They have a different, a more disciplined, perhaps some would say a more narrow interpretation of the Christian religion than others, but I respect their right to have it."
Sure they do John, however it's not their beliefs that cause concern, it's their actions not only in terms of how they treat their members and ex-members, but also their shadowy forays into politics - how would Howard react if an Imam surreptitiously produced attack advertising targeting the Liberals? I think we know, he'd reconsier their right to be citizens.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I accepted support from Christians...

Yeah so it was just in student politics, WSU in 1993/4, but I've remembered now it in the context of all the brouhaha about the Exclusive Brethren's covert support for National.

In my defence, I only accepted their support 'cause they couldn't support the other candidates, one whom was quite staunchly left wing and the other who was a bit of a boozer and a lad (both were also damn good friends and remain so today). But I did accepted the support of a Born-Again Christian group in Hamilton.

Now I could say things about them that I didn't like, and they certainly did some things that I didn't agree with but (and this might simply be to make myself feel better) I was straight up with them that I supported several of the projects and groups that they opposed (particularly various initiatives designed to reduce homophobic harassment on campus) and they never asked anything of me, so why decry them now? They were also pretty upfront about what they were trying to do and did talk to all three candidates (I was also the only one that had gone to a Catholic school which could just as easily have counted against me).

Some of the people that supported me in 93/94 went on to do things that I actively opposed and I can't say that I didn't expect as much when I was elected. The stakes are lower in student politics of course, however not in every respect - the prejudice that openly gay students dealt with was real and immediate and couldn't be tolerated. That said, I was lucky to have avoided some of the drama encountered on other campuses - the worst situation I faced was when the student calendar ended up with something like 6 images of penises and a representative of the Church objected in the local newspaper.

Tragedy of Cults: Exclusive Brethren

ABC's Four Corners documentary on the Exclusive Brethren disturbingly chronicled four or five cases of families cleft apart by fear, threats of divine retribution, as well as allegations of alcoholism, infidelity, child abuse and illegal financial activities. The documentary didn't deal much with the recent political activity in NZ, Australia and in Canada and elsewhere.

A number of cases of families in NZ and Australia were examined, all of which cohered to the same pattern of abuse where fear, financing and family were used by church leaders against recalcitrant members to first bring them back into line or, failing that, to permanently exclude them from the church and from access to family within the church.

In one case, a member was excluded and offered the rights to a business as a trade for his two sons whom the church wanted to retain. In another, a mother was counselled against leaving to be with her excluded husband and provided with cash as inducements to stay. In a third, a family that left the church was told that God would punish them by taking one of their children - when their eldest son died in his sleep many years later, the parents struggled with the guilt that perhaps God was vengeful afterall?

The documentary also examined the behaviour of the church leaders, including the leader of the Chuch in the '50s, Jim Taylor who entrenched their isolation by banning members from eating or socialising with anyone who wasn't a member of the church. Allegations against Taylor included infidelity and alcoholism, as well as allegations of tax avoidance. A head of the Australian Church in the '80s, Ron Fawkes, claims that he personally illegally transported "tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars in cash" to the US for then leader, James Symington, and that the Exclusive Brethren have hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.

A full transcript from the documentary is available here and an online forum can be viewed here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More training but who should pay?

Today's Australian Financial Review (offline only) covers the argument over who should pay for increased vocational training. What's unusual about the story is that the argument isn't between the Commonwealth and the States, but instead between the three leading national business organisations.

On the one hand the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry argue for income-contingent loans (i.e. individuals should pay more) on the other, the Australian Industry Group, with muted support from the Business Council of Australia, argue that industry, governments, and individuals all need to pony up. As an aside, the Australian Industry Group back up their claim with this excellent research.

Unsurprisingly, I'm in the latter camp although I think it is increasingly difficult for TAFE to argue against fees while at the same time providing more and more higher level qualifications.

It is now a near universal consensus that more training is vital to support continued economic growth (this is a variation on the 2002 federal Treasury's Intergenerational Report), however it is good to see some of the more ludicrous statements challenged in the media.

Poll result sets up difficult times for both parties

The latest poll will certainly please Don Brash but is it good news for National? Hard to argue it isn't, but it does make life difficult for any aspiring alternative leaders.

Brash's leadership remains a live issue, not least of all because he keeps making it one, and therefore every other utterance from senior Nat's will be assessed as for or against a leadership spill. In this light, Rich and Brownlee's comments regarding the Exclusive Brethren are a conscious attempt to distance themselves from Brash (and secure their position post a change). Key's equivocation and English's low profile also suggest continued planning.

But, Brash has just delivered the best poll position the Nat's could hope for - can the National caucus move against a leader who is up in the polls? It'd be a change - Bolger, Shipley, and English were all casualities of consistently bad polls.

I think they can and should move against Brash and do so now. Replacing him now enables them to blame the "dirt" rather than his numerous self inflicted wounds. Replacing him now gives any new team just 8 weeks of Parliamentary, during which they'll enjoy some media honeymoon, followed by the Christmas break. Replacing him now gives the new team long enough to develop their own brand and position before the election.

On the downside however, which leadership team has the talent to lead National for the next two years?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Citizenship test updated White Australia policy

Ok, it's not, not really, but it is a move in that direction, a bit of dog whistle politics designed to appeal to the latent racism of the Australian electorate. You'd expect Labor to challenge the move, and they are, but rather than question the merit or motive of the test, Labor are focused on the timing.

Beazley's line is that it's too late, you know, that it should be administered earlier - perhaps in the foreign departure lounge before they board whatever boat, plane, floation aide they're planning to travel on.
"Why wait until somebody applies for citizenship before making them commit to live as part of our society? I don't see the sense in waiting three years to demand a fair go"
Beazley's not the Opposition, he's simply another pretender to the crown; no less unctuous that Costello, Abbott or Downer.

The other thing that makes me think of the White Australia policy is the coincidence of the citizenship test with the suggestion that frequent flyers ought not be subjected to the same scrutiny as everyone else - not content with the Qantas Lounge, corporate cabs and late boarding, now the business traveller wants to avoid the embarrasment of having your privates check for incendiary devices. This isn't racial profiling, it's the reverse, income preferencing.

The other thing about this that annoys me is that all of this debate is going on at precisely the same time that Howard is easing the process by which skilled workers can come and work in Australia. His rhetoric is almost entirely inconsistent with his actions, not for no good reason either, Howard knows that, particularly in the trades and in manufacturing, there's no more South Africans left in the Republic and Australia will have to source new labour from Asian nations (or worse, NZ).

Ahh sod it, thank god the Soprano's is back on tv, pity it's so damn late - 10.40pm.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Brash's leadership at risk

I've blogged plenty on my reservations about Brash's leadership of the National party. I think he's frankly inept and accident prone. I didn't like his election strategy and particularly his comments that Labour supporters weren't "mainstream" New Zealanders - the first time I've noted a kiwi variation on the "unAustralian' epithet common on this side of the Tasman.

That said, politics is a cruel profession and news that is marriage is under threat is just sad. Debate over at kiwiblog, under the horribly ironic heading of Corruption and Morality, is predictably about who is to blame (predictably might be too strong given that I think David had hoped the thread would stay focused on the pledge card). Labour, for seeding the story? NZFirst, for having copies of leaked emails that allegedly contain references to Brash's alleged infidelity? The mole in National for leaking the emails in the first place? Or Brash himself?

I almost don't care. I almost dispair actually. I think an MP's private life should generally be off limits but I suspect this will only get worse before it gets better. Muldoon's treatment of Colin Moyle is probably the high tide mark but Judith Collins allegations against David Benson-Pope were outrageous and cowardly. I also think Brash's comments about Clark's marriage were pathetic. My team are, of course, not innocent - I think the occassional comments about Nick Smith's mental health are gratuitous to say nothing about this current situation.... however that it now seems likely that Brash will be forced out by his own colleagues is almost Shakespearian in its comic tragedy.

Monday, September 11, 2006

World Bank ranks the NZ economy second most business friendly

Well, I've no idea how the right wing blogosphere in NZ will try to discredit it, but NZ has again received a very high ranking as a great place to do business.

The World Bank report, summary here, awards NZ second place overall (last year NZ was first, this time Singapore is) compared with 175 other nations and measured against 10 criteria. NZ achieves the top mark for the registering property and protecting investors criteria and has improved its ranking for paying taxes, enforcing contracts and starting a business. NZ has however, gone down in rankings against licences, employing workers and closing a business.

I'm picking the right will ignore that NZ has ranked in the top two for two years running and will instead decry the negative indicators.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blair really is going... soon

There will be many, on the left and right, who'll be happy to see Blair depart Number 10; I don't share their sense of schadenfreude.

I distinctly remember Blair's 1997 election, it appeared to me as ever increasing towers of red eclipsing a computer generated map of the UK as New Labour swept the decaying Conservatives out of office. At the time, I was working in the NZ Labour Party Research Unit and we were hoping that just as the Conservatives seemed to have dissembled out of office, so too would National in the coming election (they did).

Blair is now political history. The BBC includes authorised comments from Number 10 confirming that he will soon announce his departure date, suggested to be May 2007, leaving the way for Brown to take the reigns (that is if he too isn't fatally tainted by this shambolic situation) with two years left before the next election.

What it will mean is difficult to assess. In NZ, Clark will need to reassure the public that her ally's demise in no way foretells her own. The Nat's will enjoy talking up the prospect that the New Labour movement is coming to an end. Odd really, given that British Labour ain't so far from where, I imagine, many within National would like to be positioned; economically othodox, socially liberal, internationally active. What it'll mean for Bush and the so-called Coalition on the Willing is far more important. As commentators over at roadtosurfdom suggest, with Aznar and Berlusconi gone, will the Shrub be the last surviving member?

The end of an era? Turning of the tide? Hard to know. I'm hopeful that progressive labour-friendly policies remain ascendent in the UK and NZ (they most certainly are not in Australia). I guess comparisons could be made with the Thatcher/Reagan era but they're weak and premature - Blair and Bush's alliance doesn't stretch beyond Iraq and their domestic policies have little in common.

I'm sorry Blair's going, I admire his ability and respect his achievements. I'm entirely unconvinced of the merits of the war in Iraq and wonder if he had his time again, would he still be so supportive of Bush?

Strip show leads to global warming

God awful headline I know but I just couldn't resist it.

The SMH carries a story about strippers being the after dinner entertainment at the Australia New Zealand Climate Change Forum in Canberra. I wonder if Generation XY will run a competition for the best gag? Anyone know if Merepeka Raukawa-Tait was there?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Watching, listening, reading

I've noticed a fewer bloggers regularly report on things they're reading or watching and so on. I guess I've tended to just talk about the issues I'm interested in rather than what I'm doing but I've found it quite interesting to learn what others, who's writing I enjoy, are reading or listening to. So in this spirit.

Watching: we recently finished watching the first series of Love My Way. Outstanding television drama with excellent acting and compelling story lines. I'll not spoil it by talking about the plot but I will we cried intensely during the last few episodes. I genuinely don't think I've cried that much in years.

Reading: Cocaine: An Unathorized Biography by Dominic Streatfeild. I have read a lot of books about drug culture, including Marching Powder by Rusty Young which I thoroughly enjoyed and strongly recommend, this is a bit different. Its biographical in so far as it examines Cocaine's pharmacology, its history, its economy and, of course, its use. Streatfeild's writing is also very good.

Listening: Modern Times by Bob Dylan. Still unbelievably good despite being in his 60s. This album reminds me of Paolo Conte, JJ Cale and Tom Petty. I'll not speculate as to who has influenced who.

Bush assassinated: documentary

Those Brits sure now how to get a laugh. Apparently, More4, a digital channel in the UK is going to screen a mock documentary that deals with the fictional assassination of President Bush. According to the Guardian:
The drama takes the form of a fictional documentary looking back at the assassination of Mr Bush in October 2007, after he has delivered a speech to business leaders in Chicago. When Mr Bush arrives in the city he is confronted by a massive demonstration against the Iraq war and is gunned down by a sniper as he leaves the venue. The hunt for Mr Bush's killer focuses on a Syrian-born man, Jamal Abu Zikri.
Hat tip: browncardigan