Monday, November 14, 2005

Rant: Responsible research

I was home, visiting my folks recently, and as well as a much needed holiday, it meant I got to do a lot of the things I really like doing -- including watching the news, which I am always far too busy to do at home. Anyways, while I was there I heard about some very promising research into how to expand the human lifespan...something to do with worms, I believe.

Now, I'm sure to many of you this sounds like a grand idea, but to me even doing this research sounds plain irresponsible. Why, you might ask would I think a strange thing like that? Well, there are two reasons. The first reason is the gross overpopulation of the world already, and the second is the waste of resources that have gone into this work. Yes, it is highly commercialisable work, yes, the people who figure it out are going to make a fortune, but is it really responsible?

There are a few reasons, to my mind, why this work is irresponsible. There is the problem of the aging population. There is the disparity in life expectancies around the world. And then there is the quality of life issue. In the end, of course, these things all come down to the same thing -- the almighty dollar.

So, in more detail, the developed wold already has an aging population. This causes all sorts of social problems (and no, not just with the grannies on the mobility scooters who all seem to have a deathwish). In a nutshell, aging is an expensive business; when the elderly retire at 60 or 65, in many countries they may expect to receive a state funded pension. On top of that elderly people require and consume more medical care than other sectors of the population (no surprises there, right?) and potentially also consume more social services such as meals on wheels. In an aging population, ever more people are drawing on these services, and ever fewer are working to pay for them. Unless we accept a later retirement age and are healthier when we retire (unlikely, in an age where obesity is causing more problems at a younger age than ever before), having people live even longer than they already do can only exacerbate these problems.

Not only does the deleoped world world have an aging population, but there is a massive disparity between the life expectancies of people here, and people in third wolrd countries. In fact, as life expectancies in the west increase, they are falling in Africa. A child born this year in Norway may expect to to live to nearly 80, and a child born in Japan to over eighty. On the other hand a child born in India this year will live to approximately 64, a Vietnamese child will live to nearly 70, and a child from Bostwana will live only 40 years, a number which has fallen from nealy 65 fifteen years ago, and is set to fall further in the next ten years. There are any number of causes for this, AIDS being one of the more touted ones, but thereare other problems in the third world two (war, poverty and hunger, according to the ads I keep seeing on TV) which seem to me as though they must play a part. For the purposes of this rant, though, the causes do not matter, what does matter is the ethical side of the question, specifically is it ethical to be doing research to keep wealthy westerners alive longer when third world populations are dying in droves?

And now to the quality of life question, the one closest ot my own heart. If someone offered me a drug that would keep me alive twenty years longer in similar health to my present state, I would decline it -- even if it had no side effects and it was free. You might think I am too youg to know that I would do this for certain, and you might think I am just plain mad. I would say no, to both -- I have a chronic illness that for a long time I believed would kill me, and this gives me a different perspective on life. I do not want to live longer unless my (currently incurable) disease is cured -- not put into long-term remission by a drug with side effects, as it is now, but once-and-for-all cured. Now, as mentioned already, many elderly people become sick as they age -- and none of the sicknesses sound very pleasant. I would rather have a shorter, pleasanter life, than a longer, less pleasant one (and if the money wasted spent on this research is not to be spent or sorting out the third world's problems, it would be nice if was spent on debilitating lifelong illnesses, or things that affect kids, or whatever, rather than reversing a natural process).

The only responsible purpose I can see for this research is to help those with premature aging (not just a few lines earlier than they would like, but kids who get old and die by the time they're 18 like in that know, the one with Robin Williams). Otherwise it is just pandering to the western obsession with Peter Pan; we never want to grow old, and we sure don't want to die (for heavens sake, people are willing to undergo life-threatening surgery to look artifical -- and suppsoedly younger). I would ask that we all learn to age with dignity. And if you are a fellow researcher, I implore you to think about the wider implications of your research, and what costs it may have to society as a whole weighed against the benefits.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rave: Pretty Vegas

As much as I would have liked to see Mig win Rockstar:INXS, and as much as I thought Marty would have been a better choice in some ways, I can see why INXS chose JD. I don't think he should have been able to claim it as an original song during the competition, but whatever, I wasn't the boss, and he was able to present to INXS the one, compelling, inalienable reason why they should choose him.

That reason is Pretty Vegas. It is half written by INXS, so it sounds like their music, but it is a thousand times more exciting than that revolting bit of drivel called Easy they had JD sing as their first song as a whole band (a whole new band? perhaps). I also like it more than Us, which JD butchered during the series because he couldn't be bothered learning it before he went into the studio -- like the Pretty Vegas gamble, that paid off for him.

Being as Pretty Vegas is a joint effort, written for the magic of television (yeah, I know, I am piushing it to call realtiy TV magic), it would have become legally problematic had INXS not chosen JD as their new lead singer. There is a certain element of voicework, too -- I think his voice is better suited than Marty's to INXS's work (though I am not sure I could say the same thing with regarrd to Mig's voice); and JD is more likely than either of them to draw one of the bigger groups of music consumers -- teenage girls. JD also seemed more likely to be willing to bend to the will of INXS than the other two. In the end, though, Pretty Vegas was a deal clinhcer.

And why not? Pretty Vegas is a cool song. It bounces along apace, but has enough of a darker side to it to differentiate it from the "happy rock" that mainstream radio stations here seem so enamoured of. The well rehearsed INXS riff contrasts quite appealingly with JD's fresh vcoice and lyrics. And the megaphone and the attitude just add that little extra something to thwe whole thing. If I was already a millionaire, I'd sell my future for a song like Pretty Vegas too.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Letter to Antonio

Antonio probably never knew how much of a difference he made -- hell, I never knew until he died -- but he made a huge difference to my life. He died suddenly and I never got the chance to say goodbye, and even though I only got to Scotts once a week at most, I still miss him.

Here is what I would say if he were here to hear it (and being Italian and therefore maybe Catholic, I can but hope he is reading this from somewhere):

Dear Antonio,

You probably didn't even know my name, you always addressed me as Bella (which, by the way, was very flattering), but I wanted to thank you for the difference you made in my life. By being unfailingly cheerful and polite, and most of all warm, you always cheered me up. You remembered Mike and I, and you always knew what we would order. You always made sure we were looked after. "Ciao Bella, what you want?" is not a call that will easily echo its last in my mind. It's going to take some time to feel completely at home at Scotts again, and not feel sad. We won't stop going though -- that would be a dishonour to your memory.

And it was not just our lives you touched -- I wish you could see Scotts since your death -- it is full of flowers, and your picture is on the door -- three times. Your special blend of professionalism and informality will not be easily forgotten (did you know Italian greetings are de rigueur at Scotts for all staff? I'm sure you did but I didn't until I read your obituary in the Waikato Times). People loved you, Antonio, and though we did not know you outside Scotts, we loved you. We cannot imagine how hard it must be for your nearest and dearest.

I wish I had known your funeral was to be a public affair -- I would have liked a chance to pay my last respects to you, to the Scotts team, and to your family. I would have liked the chance to cry for you -- I have come very close many times. Most of all I would have liked the chance to say goodbye. Unfortunately, I did not know I would have been welcome (knowing your nature I should have known), so I did not go along. So instead, I send this letter out into cyberspace, hoping you can read it whereever you are, and know that you made my life better, and that if I could I would give you another hug (like at Christmas time). You were an amazing, special man, Antonio, and I, a mere customer, feel your loss keenly.

With love, and rest in peace

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rant: Micromanagement and whining

Today I (and my fellow tutors) got an email from our boss, whining about the way we write our weekly reports. We write these weekly reports to keep him up-to-date with where we are on our hours; we each work 256 hours per year. He certainly has a point about keeping the reports up-to-date, but I am afraid the rest of it is not gaining much sympathy. I am even less sympathetic because this man can be a bit of a despot, someone actually said today "Oh, normally Joe* would be much less restrained" -- despite the fact that Joe's famous blowups are completely unacceptable behaviour. The other thing that was said (and bear with me, because I will post the email he sent below) was that Joe would only be happy with his workload if it was zero. So, below is the email that was sent out to us, and the reply I would have sent had it not been so likely that Joe would physically implode, thereby leaving me to teach his classes.

Hi Folks,
now as you are all aware, I have a relaxed attitude to my management role - so long as the job gets done, I prefer to let things roll along. But when I get dicked around, I'm inclined to get a little upset.

I'm a little upset. I'm tired, I'm grumpy, and I'm a little upset. No lets be honest - I'm a lot upset!

Weekly reports are just that - weekly reports. Please complete them
once a week.

I have extra work to hand out. I try to give this to those have done the least. If the numbers show that's you, even though your reports are a month behind, then from now on you're going to get the job.

Now why else am I annoyed? Because at the start of the year I gave a suggested format for these reports. It would help if more of you used it. I don't mind a little variation so long as everything I require is there - but some of you are forcing me to work harder than I think I should have to. I want this info so I know what you've done, and when you did it. Therefore dates help. I don't want to know the week number - people count those in many different ways - so please give a date.
More importantly, give a total - by WEEK! I'm really annoyed that I'm wasting my time having to total up your figures.

Thankyou - rant mode off.


PS Thank you to those of you who have got there reports up to date (and in the requested manner).
Now, here is what I would have loved to have sent in return:

Hi Joe,

now, as you are aware, I work hard and respond well to requests and direction, but when I am micromanaged and interfered with in the course of my work, I tend to get a little upset.

I'm a little upset...I'm tired, grumpy, being pulled four ways to Sunday by the complexities of my various responsibilities at university. No, let's be honest, I am a lot upset.

From now on, I will consider micromangement undue stress, and as you know, I have a chronic illness. I will take stress leave to protect my health when I am future stressed by micromanagement.

I see your point about keeping our weekly reports up to date; hell, I even see your point about wanting easily legible reports. However, the suggested format at the beginning of the year was just that -- suggested. If you wanted people to follow a strict guideline, you needed to make it a strict guideline. In particular, my problem is with your requirement for dates on the reports. I keep my logbook up-to-date, and there is a "date posted" automatically added to each post. I post by weeks, because that is what I can remember -- I work it out from the tutorial I am teaching. Most of us do not actually have access to the calendar functions on our computers; these require admin access. So I actually feel now like I am being asked to work harder than I should have to work; after all my time is limited to 256 hours in the year, and it would be a shame if I wasted time filling out the reports.

The last point I would like to make is that this is information you have never had before -- this level of information and the online format give you more information than has ever been possible in the past -- it also takes us more time. Consider yourself lucky that you have this opportunity to analyse what we're doing, rather than abuse it by micromanaging us.

Thank you. Rant mode off,


PS I am one of the people, by and large, that is following the rules. I suggest you do not alienate those of us who do as we are asked.

Like I said in my sidebar, I'm a smartass, and my opinion tends to get me in trouble sometimes, I thought this was a better outlet for it than putting Joe right into tin god mode.

*name changed to protect my ass

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Rave: Rockstar:INXS

I feel the need to write something (anything) in support of Rockstar:INXS. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with the very hot Dave Navarro (and my other little obsession, Brian Molko, thinks he's hot too), but I am totally, utterly hooked on the show.
Dave Navarro

Now, I will admit to being a bit of a reality TV junkie; I am a fan of The Apprentice and The Amazing Race, but normally anything to do with music makes me want to deafen myself with the nearest skewer. NZ Idol, in particular, is the lowest kind of dross that approves of barely disguised hiphop and painful sounding vocal gymnastics while reviling a good rock performance whereever it may be found.

I hadn't planned on watching Rockstar. I had actively planned on not watching it, in fact. But, some friend of mine had their second baby the day it started showing here. I was babysitting their first, and waiting for the Dad to get home from the hospital. There was a TV guide on the table, and I foolishly read the article about the show, decided Dave Navarro was compelling (but not hot at that stage), and foolishly didn't change channel when the show came on. Now I am completely and irrevocably hooked. Even though the show is three nights a week, even though NZ for some reason is getting the show two weeks behind the civilised world and therefore can't vote, even though some of the so-called rockers irritate the snot out of me. I live for the nights it is on, and spend the other four nights a week wishing it was on. I've never felt this way about a TV show before.

Why do I like it? I love the music, and I love the fact that it is not butchered (generally speaking) by the rockers -- they are true professionals, not Joe-Schmo off the street. Dave Navarro is hot. The little guy from INXS who plays the bass is too cute for words. The show does not focus on the backbiting jealousies of the individual rockers (in fact, as far as I can tell apart from JD pissing nearly everyone off, there aren't any), but rather on their development as stars. And there are some genuinely likeable people on it (Mig Ayesa, if you're reading this, I am talking about you).
Mig Ayesa

None of that, however, makes my absolute love of the show defensible from any sane person's standpoint. I've thought a lot about the show and why I don't feel like it is a sellout for INXS, and why I find it in any way bearable. I think it is a great thing for INXS to do. It has been eight years since Michael Hutchence died, and in that time INXS has sung with a number of people and not found a new lead singer.

This is not a show they have done right off the bat -- it has been in consideration for three years leading up to production. INXS wanted to find the very best person for the job, and they wanted to hear who the public thought was that person too. I don't see how they can do that without a TV show. And yet, INXS have maintained the ultimate creative control -- they make the decisions, not the public. The rockers are also very much in training to be rock stars, each week they do something that will be useful for them in any future rock career, and for the person who is the most right for INXS mean that INXS doesn't have to teach them all that stuff. They are not looking for an idol-type singer, they're looking for someone who can play an instrument and write songs, who can really contribute. And I think they are looking for someone to help move them forward; they responded well to a rocker who decided to take things in their own direction, and then explained that they could not and would not subvert their own personality to INXS.

INXS is not going to be the same animal it was when Michael Hutchence was the lead singer, that much is certain. But what is also rapidly becoming clear, is that INXS accept that, and just want the best new person for the job -- and it is also certain that they will be getting someone very talented indeed. In fact, unless there are weird contractual obligations, I have no doubt we will be hearing from most of the final six or seven regardless of who wins.

In the end, this is the only way INXS could attract talented people and get public input. They are genuinely seeking a new lead singer with a personality. They have maintained creative control over the final choice -- and have exercised it in getting rid of two people in a single show when they felt neither was good enough. And let's face it -- this isn't reality TV; there will be no sequel, and the prize is not a million dollars and go back to your normal life -- the prize is a job, and respect that the person who gets the job will have to earn. Reality TV always makes things way too easy. This is real TV. And I love it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A much belated tribute to the first true leader of NZ

It is a week now since David Lange died in hospital, leaving behind five children, and a couple of wives (well a wife and an ex-wife). The whole thing made me inexplicably and immediately very sad; I have been busy and only just really had time to think on why I have been so sad about it.

I think there are two reasons, the first of them personal, the second...patriotic, I guess. And this coming from a person who has never had a patriotic sentiment in their stunted life.

The personal reason why I'm feeling deeply sad about the death of a man who I never personally had anything to do with (and who appears to have run off with his speech writer later in life) is that he was, for me, a childhood prime minister. He came to power in 1984, the first year I can remember as having had a number, and stayed in power until I was near the end of primary school, in 1989. So, like all things from one's childhood for me he feels like the "real" prime minister, despite the fact I am about to vote in my third general election (and I don't think I have voted for the person who got in even once).

The patriotic reason is much more simple, though. There is no doubt that Lange was an impressive orator, and an extremely intelligent man. He was also a man of much personal inspiration and responsibility; he put himself through law school by working at the freezing works because his dad was a GP in a poor area and didn't charge people enough to pay for his son's education (funny how you learn a lot about the people who have made history around the time of their death).

None of this, however, would have made him a great or important prime minister, or someone to inspire patriotism. What does make him important and patriotism inspiring, however, is the fact that he dragged NZ kicking and screaming into a sense if independent nationhood. There are elements in today's society who will disagree with me and say that (for whatever reason) Lange did not do anything like enough... I don't want to touch this issue with a barge pole.

NZ, from colonization until the end of WWII was largely a colony of the British Empire, going where Britain went and referring to England as "home" -- even those who had never been there. After WWII, we developed a not dissimilar relationship with the US, as evidenced by our involvement in the SE Asian wars. Lange was the person to break this tie, and he did it in a way I feel we can all be proud of as NZers -- he said no to nuclear weaponry, and he put this naysay into legislation. This set NZ apart from the US, and has resulted in a certain amount of punitive ostracism from trade agreements and such. It also resulted in an act of war by the French government, which was dealt with diplomatically. In this single act, Lange enabled us as a nation to have something important to stand for, and gave us a choice in things like whether to get involved in the most recent Iraq conflict (and, quietly, thank goodness we didn't; the idea of terrorists blowing up Auckland just sends my fear about the cost of infrastructure in a small country like this reeling).

Interestingly enough, two days after Lange died we went on our first training exercise with the US military since the nuclear ban came in. Interestingly enough, the National party is promising to "review" our nuclear free status should they be elected this year.

Farewell, David Lange, and thankyou, whereever you are, for giving me something to be proud of as a NZer. Thankyou for giving NZ a choice. And thankyou, perhaps, for deciding who I will not vote for in this election (a question that has been vexing me greatly for some time).

Friday, August 12, 2005

Rant: Why 'House' is a bad show, and doctors have bad attitudes (even if they save your life)

I have a chronic illness. What's more, it's not a trendy chronic illness like cystic fibrosis or MS, it's not pretty... in fact, it is largely an unspeakable disease. People don't like talking about the symptoms, or the diagnostic procedures (one of my friends, a so-called medical professional, has said "eeeeeeuuuuuwwwww" about one of the procedures I have had to have, despite the fact he invades women's private parts everyday, because "you get a better picture that way". Um... Yeah). And this disease occurs in an area of the body that is hard to see or indeed visualize in any way. Because the disease is not trendy(and that is another rant all in and of itself), there is not a whole lot of research funding in it, so the unpleasant diagnostic procedures are still used.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with 'House'? Well, the lead character, the eponymous House, epitomizes all that is wrong with the medical profession. He is willing to treat without adequately diagnosing, and he is willing to subject patients to unpleasant tests on a hunch or a whim. However, the thing that is the most wrong about House is that he gives nary a damn for the patient; all he is concerned with is the diseases the patients carry. It is under the illusion that you can treat the disease without taking the patient's humanity into the equation that can allow him to make the callous and often ego-driven decisions portrayed on the show. The real danger of this is not that the show will inspire medical professionals to behave like House (many of them already do), but that the show will lead patients to believe that this is an acceptable way for doctors to treat them.

It is this disconnection of the patient from decision-making capabilities, feelings, or dignity that allows medical professionals to do things like order an enterolcysis (an xray where a tube is passed via the patient's nose into their duodenum while thy are still awake, and their already-damaged bowel is filled to maximum with contrast -- all this without sedation or pain relief) or do a transvaginal scan (saying objection to this is "sentimental") in the name of getting "better pictures". Is it worth entirely sacrificing a patient's comfort, dignity, modesty and privacy so a miniscule amount of further understanding may be gained about their condition? Is it ethical to refuse to do things any other way? Is pain (and it's deliberate infliction by medical professionals) a legitimate diagnostic tool?

As a professional patient I say no to all the questions I have just asked. For non-surgical procedures, I believe no doctor or medical professional should be allowed to perform a diagnostic procedure without first undergoing it. If they do not have the requisite anatomy, they should not perform it at all (what is with all these weirdo male gynecologists? I mean, how does that ever seem like a good idea?). I believe that for many patients, particularly the ones who are long term patients and need to make decisions about their health every day, informed consent includes offering a selection of different tests and explaining the risks and benefits of each (we, in particular, struggle to maintain dignity and identity as patients). I believe that uncomfortable tests are not legitimated by their lesser cost (than tests equally as accurate, but more expensive).

I understand where the doctors and medical professionals are coming from. To think of every patient as an individual suffering from something unpleasant would be mind-bogglingly difficult, and would result in burnt out professionals very, very quickly. However, treating each patient as a being with dignity, pain and feelings should be considered part of the job. It can be hard when dealing with uneducated patients to explain their options, and it may even be more humane not to explain all the options in every case as decision making can be agonizing for those who are not well informed prior to the appointment (and to educate everyone prior to an appointment would be prohibitively costly). However, medical professionals should be charged with the responsibility of making humane decisions, and in a case where a patient clearly knows what they are dealing with, including them in the decision making process.

Most of all, I believe everyone, doctors, nurses, diagnostic professionals, other healthcare professionals, and patients alike have a responsibility to ensure that 'House' is not what we expect of a medical professional, nor even acceptable.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Rave: "Jamie's School Dinners" music programmer

For the first time tonight I watched a show called Jamie's School Dinners. It's about Jamie Oliver moving into schools in the UK and trying to serve children one nutritious meal per day through school cafeterias. Disturbingly, many of the "dinner ladies" he works with have no training, cannot even cook pasta, and appear not to like to eat vegies themselves. Under the circumstances is it any wonder that an increasing number school-age children are seeing dietitians? Scary stuff.

Anyways, good on Jamie for trying to change things, though had he asked me I could have given him a few pointers on how to make his changes more palatable (in more ways than one) to his wee charges -- for example, the healthy burger -- vegie pattie with wholemeal bun and lots of salad. I know this must have lots of fibre in it (one of the major problems the dietitian interviewed was seeing was kids with malfunctioning colons due to lack of fibre) because it would absolutely slay me. The kids, however, would still see it as a burger. New foods could be introduced slowly.

The real purpose of this post though, is to praise to the sky the music programmers for the show, who have bypassed dross like Britney, Eminem, and Coldplay and picked up in this episode alone Mr. Brightside by The Killers and Twenty Years by Placebo (though it would take a diehard fan like myself to notice that last one -- it was instrumental snippets only. But then I guess the show was for a general audience, and Placebo, generally speaking, are not).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rave: The web as the mother of random creativity

The web really is the source and birthplace of some weird acts of creation. And the more bizarre the acts, the funnier I usually find them. Without the web aid its easy-publish technologies, it is likely these things that have become popular culture may never have happened; for me at least, that would have meant a little less laughter.

The first example of funny meets bizarre that was born on the web that I would like to share is All Your Base Are Belong To Us. Someone created this little video out of some weird text and speech in a Japanese video game, and a whole lot of hard work in Phtotoshop, and it spread around the web like wildfire. Why did they create it? Who knows. I guess the obvious answer is too much time on their hands. But even for something where a person has too much time on their hands that is a lot of work. Whatever the reason behind it, it captured the imagination of a whole lot of people. And as far as I can tell, apart from the t-shirt sales, which may or may not be making enough money to cover web-serving costs, the people who created this have not made any money from it. Nonetheless, this is a little piece of flash that had the whole world going, even if just for a few days. And it is tremendously funny.

The next thing that is funny, creative, and more than just a little random is the specifically web-designed flash technology End of the World. I don't know who sees the world this way (and in the current political climate, it would most likely be somewhere in the Middle East that the US started a war with), but it is damn funny. Somehow, having a web to put it on inspired this random act of creativity that has gone on to make any number of people smile. Not only that, it shows an inherent understanding of something researchers took a long time to come to terms with -- users hate to wait. Even the load screen is designed to both warn and entertain "Sorry, long load time.... STFU already!". Whoever created this deserves a medal.

The most recent (and perhaps the most attention grabbing) act of random creativity, though is the Crazy Frog. Love the crazy frog or hate him (and we definitely know it is a him just by seeing the video, unlike real frogs) on first viewing, it is hilarious. The frog and his moped noises were created by a pair of crazy Swedes and put on the net for fun. Jamster picked up on it, and created the ringtone that is the first ever ringtone to go to number one. And if you don't think the Crazy Frog is funny, think about how funny it is that someone is making a fortune out of it -- people will pay for this stuff. It's just a shame that the Crazy Frog's parents are not the ones making the money.

So, here are just three examples of web-based culture that have swept the world as crazes (All Your Base made it into the Google Zeitgeist for February 2001, the Crazy Frog for May 2005), made people laugh, made people angry, made money for people, and sent a ringtone to number one on the UK charts (even beating out Coldplay, much to my surprise and pleasure). The web is offering the creative among us (well, and even the plain broring like me) the opportunity for instant, near-free publication. Is it a good thing? Who knows. But these things are funny, and my life is better for them. It should be the slogan for the web "try and find something funny that makes your life better today"., or better yet "create something for someone to enjoy today". Now if only Google can solve the indexing problem...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Rant: New Zealanders really are disappointing sometimes

In the past five days there have been numerous war-related historic occasions:
  • The 60th anniversary of the end of WWII
  • The 20th anniversary of the bombing of the rainbow warrior (arguably the only act of war -- or terrorism -- perpetrated on New Zealand since colonisation)
  • The 10th anniversary of a massacre of Bosnian Muslims in former Yugoslavia
  • The London terror attacks
I mention all these to give context to the rant to come. My rant is to express disappointment in some of my fellow New Zealanders. I am disappointed in those New Zealanders who. at an individual and institutional level, have made the decision to show little respect in light of these historic occasions.

At an individual level, some new Zealanders have chosen to attack mosques in Auckland, our largest city. Six mosques were desecrated, one of them ending up with the text "RIP London" spraypainted on the wall.

This pointless act of destruction and disrespect, particularly so near the anniversary of a time where the world's Muslim community was itself the internationally recognised victim of terrorism, makes me very sad. I hope these people are not people who are old enough to reme4mber when we New Zealanders experienced terrorism on our shores; I hope that experience would dissuade anyone fr0mrandom political violence. Still, I had hoped that we, in New Zealand, might be more tolerant and avoid a backlash reaction. Sadly, that has not been the case.

What is worse, however, is the opinion cartoon in today's Waikato Times, a provincial newspaper that nevertheless reaches a significant chunk of the nation's population. I have never found this newspaper to be a particularly intellectually inspired publication, and I never buy it myself. However, today it arrived in the letterbox as part of a promotion, where we are to receive it free for a week. I am sad to say that my opinion of it has not been even slightly improved; in fact I think less of it today than I ever have before in my life.

The cartoon in question shows two views of a generic entrance to the London Underground, one labelled 1941, and the other labelled 2005. In the 1941 picture, a man looking at the sky is running into the underground. In the 2005 view this same 'everyman' is running back out.

My partner and I both have friends and loved ones in London, or who happened to be in London at the time of the attacks. We were travelling at the time of the attacks, and we each spent several tense hours waiting to hear whether those we cared about were safe. One New Zealand family is still waiting to hear about their daughter. So many New Zealanders have been through the same thing this week (New Zealand has much closer ties to the UK than the US, and so this tragedy has seemed much closer to home than 9/11). Nevertheless, our experience, shock, and sadness must be tiny compared to that of Britain, and London in particular. It is disgusting for a cartoonist to make light of this, and even worse for a newspaper to print such a thing.

However, the cartoon does not stop there. It also denigrates the fear felt by Londoners, and the sacrifices made by servicepeople, families, and civilians during WWII on 60th anniversary of the end of the war. I don't doubt that the newspaper has some readers who are among those, who made these sacrifices, either.

Needless to say I have sent a letter to the editor of the paper telling them that free week or no free week I will not be subscribing to their paper now or in the future.

So, so far we have had people attacking the places of worship, a religious leader using the attacks for political capital for his party, and a newspaper making light of the whole thing. I really hope that we will see a vast improvement in the attitude of certain New Zealanders at all levels in the next few days.

P.S. I didn't start this as a political blog. If you're reading I apologise. I will try to write about something less inflammatory next time.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Rant: Fundamentalism at it's most offensive

So, one of my intellectual pursuits is following the antics of the so-named Destiny Church and associated political party in New Zealand. Yes, you heard me right, this is an outfit that has completely missed that whole separation of Church and state that was decided hundreds of years ago with the blood of political and religious martyrs. I have to bless the folks at google news for setting up the news alert thing; it makes my life so much easier to just get the stuff in my email.

Anyways, after watching the horror unfold in London, wondering if my chief PhD supervisor and close friend was okay, wondering if Mike's sister was okay, and generally feeling alternately weepy and ill, I got this link in my inbox.

The background to the story is that the Destiny political party has just announced its candidates for the upcoming general election in New Zealand, and are touring the country having "rallies" where they spew doctrine. The star attraction at these rallies is Brian Tamaki, the charismatic-but-creepy leader of the church side of things, who is not standing as a political candidate at all because he is "called by god to do higher things".

While Tamaki described the London attacks as "despicable" and "tragic" (yeah, he's a real genius, that man) he also had this to say:
"What people in New Zealand don't realise is we have been enduring a type of terrorism of another kind - acts of terrorism against the family."
He claimed that the civil unions bill, teen pregnancies, legalisation of prostitution, and abortions and the lowering of the drinking age to be terrorist acts by the state against the "family".

Now, while I am far from being a young drinker, teen mother, prostitute or veteran of the abortion clinic (and most of that I cannot claim credit for, I had a good upbringing and great opportunities), I nonetheless see a lot of problems with many of those laws. The prostitution law in particular seems to me to have been counterproductive, though I don't have a better solution to the situation. Having said that, though, Tamaki calling this terrorism makes me very angry. These laws were deigned to allow people civil liberties in most cases, and can hardly be said to have killed or maimed innocent people. To compare this kind of lawmaking to the tragedy suffered in London is an insult to the families of the victims, the emergency services, and to any thinking person who was saddened by what they saw on the news. And Tamaki is the leader of a church, with his followers blindly accepting and agreeing with what he says (I say this from experience -- I have friends who were normal, reasonable people until they got involved).

Preaching of this kind is not only rude and disrespectful, it is dangerous. If a person feels persecuted by their government, particularly in a religious way, what is the accepted response these days? Al Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers, SPUC, and the IRA are all example of just how dangerous a group of people can get when they believe (rightly or wrongly, and I am not going to get into what I think of each of those individual cases) that they are religiously wronged. I wonder, if someone who agrees with Tamaki plants a bomb in some public building and kills a number of people in protest against "terrorism against the family", whether Tamaki will consider that "tragic and despicable", or whether he will declare it a victory of God, and I wonder whether he will feel any responsibility for the lives lost. I hope I never have to find out.

Why I'm here

I always wanted somewhere to put my random rants and raves, and this is a mcuh better place to leave them than the ears of my friends. I mean, I can only tell them how awesome the new Placebo CD is so many times, and my political views tend to be too random for anyone else to follow.... (an example of an earlier rant copied from another blog can be found here).

The real reason I have this blog, though, is so that I could have a private account on the blog I created for the colleagues of mine to communicate with our former supervisor (who has just left for Wales). To have a private account I needed a blogger account, and to have a blogger account I needed my own blog. The rest, as they say, is history. I have joined the noisy masses who have reserved themselves space to publish every random thought that crosses their mind.