September 27, 2004

Delayed Morality

Isn’t it interesting to see the US Government finally taking the major tobacco companies to court? And isn’t it strange, given that the dangers of smoking and associated civil lawsuits have been known for decades, that they would take action now, and not before?

I’d always assumed that the tobacco companies and the tobacco farmers were just like the oil companies, with powerful Washington lobbyists and political sway, and that’s why they escaped federal cases. So what’s changed? Has the Bush administration been smitten with a fit of altruism?

Alas, and of course not. The tobacco industry is in decline in the USA. Not in terms of consumers as much as producers. Much of the arable land in the South that used to be planted with tobacco is now planted with other crops because tobacco is produced far more cheaply in other, poorer and less regulated countries. So the farmers’ interest lobby no longer needs to promote tobacco subsidies; in actual fact, the former tobacco farmers are now looking for government assistance packages to help them covert to other crops.

Just like this silly country. If what is written on tobacco packages is true: “smoking causes 7 times more deaths than car accidents every year” then one would imagine that any clear-minded government would say “You know, let’s just ban tobacco.” Instead of spending, say, millions of dollars immunising against one strain of an illness like meningitis, which will kill maybe 10 people a year, maybe we could bite the bullet and declare tobacco an illegal drug, which would save hundreds of lives each year and also mitigate the suffering of related conditions like heart disease, glue ear and asthma.

Don’t get me wrong. I only just quit smoking cigarettes, and I enjoy cigars. But come on, really! If tobacco is killing your citizens and maiming others, through choice or through passive smoking, then as a responsible country you have to get rid of it. I haven’t heard a single positive thing about smoking cigarettes. It doesn’t get you high. It doesn’t taste nice. It doesn’t kill pain or ease anxiety. It is only social when you’re doing it with other smokers. It doesn’t have any accepted health benefits.

“This product will make you cough and stink and die. Use of this product may also kill other people, especially children and the elderly. You are contributing to pollution, the over-stretched healthcare system, and exploitation of the poor around the world.”

But the thing is, dire warnings don’t make any difference. When I smoked I used to request packages with different warnings on them just to collect the set. When you’re addicted to something you lose the logic circuits in your mind. I’ll happily smoke a packet with a label “Smoking Kills” but I will only buy organic fruits and veges to avoid all those nasty pesticides, and I puff contentedly on my cigar while checking earnestly with the waiter to make sure that steak is BSE-free…

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September 21, 2004


Mills was almost serviced by a large Rottweiler yesterday when out for a bathroom break. I don't think I'll mention the episode to Deb...

I am babysitting Alex at the moment, I fear perhaps a little haphazardly. I'm really feeling crummy with flu, but Mel was stuck and it's not like babysitting Alex is arduous. I'm just kind of fuzzy... loud crashing sounds and cries of "Yeah! Good one!" took a couple of minutes to register and that's never a good thing :)

I just read "All Quiet on the Western Front", which has been on my list for years. It was good, but probably would have had far more of a shocking impact on people when it was first published. I guess the strange thing is that even the knowledge of the horror of war doesn't stop more wars and bizarre rationalisations for sending people off to die.

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September 20, 2004


Mills is on heat, so I am dog-sitting to keep her from the amorous attentions of Charlie Brown, stud dog. Never to mind that Charlie looks like a big shaggy brown teddy bear rather than a begetter of generations. Apparently he is more than up for the task.

So Mills is lying in a contented white and golden pile at my feet while I type this. She’s a lovely dog and when a little older she will have great pups. I hope they inherit her personality, she’s so friendly that she woke me up at 5.15am by licking my face, nose, ears, neck, hands and, when no flesh was visible, the sheets. I shall suggest to Deb that she market the pups as emergency facecloths for the disaster-prone-but-hygienic.

I don’t really have much else to write about at the moment, I have struck a real dry patch when it comes to writing. I think I’ll put it down to the flu, which seems to be back with sore-throated, snotty vengeance. My head feels like it’s stuffed with hot cotton wool so frankly, it’s a miracle the old CNS continues to function!

(okay, okay, exaggeration. But me would feel much better if tucked up in bed with hot lemon drink, endless DVDs and a morphine drip.)

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September 15, 2004

I Keep My Ego in a Thimble

I am in a bit of a bad mood with myself today. I hate it when I open my big mouth and say something really thoughtless without even noticing, and then 10 minutes later I think "my god! did I really treat my good friend that way?!", but there's nothing really I can do to change it. *bleh*

Sometimes I feel so indebted to my friends that I just want to crawl under a rock with shame. It's humiliating to realise that as an adult I am of necessity having to abandon the fierce independence I nurtured from childhood. I think it's one of the worst failings of the welfare system. Not only do I feel like a second-class-citizen for being on the benefit in the first place, but because the benefit does not cover basic living expense, let alone incidental costs, it means that welfare doubly robs people of their self-esteem and independence.

Not only are beneficiaries humbled to the government, but they have to humble themselves to friends, family, loan-sharks, ministers and charities as well, regularly, just to make ends meet. It's not a one-off begging that you can swallow and say "ok, well, when I get back on my feet I'll be able to redeem my pride and hold my head high", it's a constant dripping of abasement that leaves me feeling worthless and a failure, but also fiercely angry and humiliated. "Please can you give me $20 so I can buy food?" "Please, I had to go to the doctor twice last week so I'm $80 down and can't afford to rego the car" "I'm sorry I have to ask you again, but... "

And all the time I'm having those conversations with friends that I love and respect and don't want to do this to, I'm just loathing myself for doing it, loathing my life that's led me to having to do it, and loathing the government for only giving me enough to allow me to die more slowly.

Forcing people to this level of desperation and humiliation is just creating a bunch of desperate people who are angry with the whole world, who have nothing to lose except life itself, which is none so sweet for them...

Posted by phreq at 11:02 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 13, 2004

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

... probably by confusing and/or boring us all to death.

For a preview of the upcoming apocalypse, read this:

(Thanks to TC for the link! Quite why you were reading through that incredibly fascinating section I’ll leave to the jury… )

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September 12, 2004

Clever Things That Work

Traffic lights are managed through an amazingly efficient system. The people that designed it have probably saved more lives than any cop. But because it is such a good system, it goes unnoticed until it malfunctions. Then we swear at the lights and sit nervously waiting for some bold idiot (probably in a company car) to charge into the intersection and make the decision for us.

The world is full of very clever, well-designed systems that save countless lives every single day. Someone should sponsor an award, or do a TV series, on the people who design, implement and maintain these services in New Zealand. They deserve to be sung heroes occasionally.

I was reading the other day in my book on Iraq about a major road (the major road, really) through Iraq and into the mountainous border region. It’s called the Hamilton Road and was designed by a New Zealand engineer by that name in the 1920’s. It would be interesting to research a book on the history that the road has contributed to. Even from the passing references in the book I read, you can tell that the history of the whole country in the 20th Century could have been very different if that road was never built.

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September 10, 2004


It's finally spring! All of a sudden I can feel it - the weather is warmer, the blossom is out, daffodils spear gracefully through dark loamy soil, and the car windscreen is perpetually covered in pollen. All that sex, just swirling about us, getting up nostrils and coating out tongues. Claratyne is kind of like the morning-after pill, when you think about it like that. So it's probably best not to.

I've had the flu over the last few days, but seem to be getting over it now. It's nice to be back online but I have very little to say. My thoughts over the last week have largely consisted of "... tissues!... *snork*... there's nothing on TV... *snork*... yeah, death would be ok, really... ooh, an infomercial... *snuffle*..."

I'm thinking of dog-sitting Millie at my place this weekend. Long walks and cuddles will be nice for us both. And she's the quietest of the lot of them so she shouldn't be a hassle. (and if she is, her mum's place is only 15 minutes away...)

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September 04, 2004

Faulty Pattern Recognition

Did you know that the Americans expect to be in Iraq for at least 10 to 20 years? The extracts below are from an op-ed piece in the New York Times:

When asked this week on CNN how long the U.S. military is likely to remain in Iraq, Senator John McCain replied "probably" 10 or 20 years. "That's not so bad," he said, adding, "We've been in Korea for 50 years. We've been in West Germany for 50 years."

That's not the understanding most Americans had when this wretched war was sold to them, and it's not the view most Americans hold now.

If Senator McCain is correct (and the belief in official Washington is that he is), then boys and girls who are 5 or 10 years old now will get their chance in 2015 or 2020 to strap on the Kevlar and engage the Iraqi "insurgents" who, like the indigenous forces we fought in Vietnam, will never accept the occupation of their country by America.

It's just so sad. I'm reading a book on Saddam Hussein at the moment so I will be writing more on the topic I'm sure. But the agony of watching this unfold and being so utterly powerless to change it... where is the gentleness that people display as individuals? Why does the collective intelligence of a mob seem to subtract 5 IQ points per participant?

You can see why people want to believe in a god, in a plan, in some sort of sense in the chaos of life. Just like the Americans want to believe in their President, in their army, in the rightness and justice of their actions, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Posted by phreq at 09:37 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Justice, Phil Goff Style

How is it justice to take compensation for abuse awarded to an inmate and give it to their original victims? It would seem to me that this is emotional reaction, not detached justice.

It just doesn’t make sense. Going up the chain of victimhood with all compensation makes it a culture of irredeemable error. The original victims are very likely criminals too – they went over the speed limit from time to time, or didn’t turn in that wallet they found to the cops, or threatened to “kill someone” occasionally. It’s just that the person who perpetrated a crime against them was caught, and the crime was “bigger”.

Justice in NZ relies on laws, checks, balances, and historical precedent. To suggest that a person convicted of a crime should be unable to pursue justice against another person who commits a crime against them is ludicrous. It’s not the same as a criminal profiting from their crime by selling books or memorabilia. It’s saying that with one strike, you lose all your human and legal rights. So there goes our mythical rehabilitative prison system.

Thank goodness Phil Goff is only an MP who shoots off his mouth for a public response, rather than a judge. I have a lot of respect for NZ’s judiciary, much more than for, say, the police or the government!

Hey did you guys know that in WWII Germans laid mines in the Hauraki Gulf and sunk the Niagara, and also attacked and sunk the Turakina in the Tasman? I had no idea that they were actually that close to NZ… makes the Home Guard seem a little less laughable.

What do people think of the latest Green gripe about Willie Munchright, the McDac’s animated character from the US? Seems to me that the Greens are perhaps getting their knickers in a twist. It’s not as if Willie is known in NZ or associated with McDonald’s in any way over here. My “altruism alarm” goes off regarding McD’s “gifting the character to the nation to use, free of charge” – but I think it is going to do much more good than harm. And thank goodness they’ve finally developed a public-service campaign that doesn’t cost the taxpayer!

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September 03, 2004

Religious Intolerance: Not Just For Monotheists Anymore

I see the the Nepalese Hindu majority are carrying out attacks against the Nepalese Muslim minority (3%) in revenge for the 12 Nepalese murdered in Iraq. Mosques and more than 100 Muslim-owned business and homes were burned and looted.

I'm sure it improved the situation no end.

My parents are coming down to Christchurch on Monday. Dad's on business so Mum is coming along. I'm not too sure how long they're down for, but I'm sure it will be long enough.

... and then some.

Not much else to report, really. *tapdances off stage*

Posted by phreq at 11:46 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 02, 2004

My Inner Criminal

I always have a sneaking admiration for large-scale corporate criminals. There’s something about a Hollinger or an Enron that just makes me look at the photos and grin “cheeky bastard”. Now, I know stealing is wrong, and hurts people, and so on. I know. I just can’t help thinking that if I were in a position to steal $400 million from a company over 4 years, and the biggest outside risk I ran was a 5 year stint in jail… hoo boy. I’d like to say I’d keep my hand out of the cookie jar, but I just don’t think I’m really that honest.

I never feel this way about smaller larcenies – breaking and entering, identity theft and so on – or with violent or destructive crimes - but I think it’s harder to see an identifiable victim when it’s a large multinational. So basically, I think my inner criminal is a white-collar-multimillionaire.

Father’s Day pisses me off. All the ads make my power-tool envy much more intense. How come no-one ever gives me a “Mouse” sander, or a jig-saw, or a laser-level, or a circular saw, or a multi-drill for Christmas? Hmm. A few Christmases ago (when I was younger, and richer… I hope that’s not a trend) I bought myself a Swiss Army knife, a really good one. And you know what? Nearly four years later, and I still use it almost every single day. It’s my screwdriver, my sharp kitchen knife, my letter opener, my pliers, my Allen key, my scissors, toe-nail clippers, bottle opener, corkscrew, can opener and (before the ink ran out) an emergency pen.

I have run out of duct tape, speaking of incredibly useful things. I must buy some more. I don’t feel right without a roll in the house; or, preferably, in my handbag.

You know, having listed all those things that I would like to own, I can totally see why people haven’t given me those things. I many want other things far more! Like The Simpsons seasons collections on DVD, or some new sneakers… or a vacuum cleaner and a toilet brush! *grin* Still, when I am a millionaire, I will own a vast collection of specialised and vitally unnecessary power tools.

*pant pant* ok my heart should kick back into a normal rhythm shortly… there it goes. Good. Ok, so I was sitting quietly incinerating plant matter while watching The Simpsons when *THUMP THUMP THUMP* on my window! I say “Who is it?” with as deep a voice as I can manage. “Police! Open the door please!” I started shaking then and continued shaking through an earnest discussion about why the security light outside my window stays on constantly. He gave me such a fright! He didn’t fix the light, unfortunately.

I’d like to put in a mild kudos report to the designer of the new Fanta bottles. They are much easier to hold and pour out of than the standard Coke-style bottles. So rah Fanta.

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September 01, 2004

Baking or Cooking. Pick One

Ok, I have a theory that needs data. The theory goes that people have a natural aptitude for either baking or cooking, but not usually both. The same holds true for woodwork and metalwork. Personally, I can cook well but bake indifferently; I can make some beautiful things in wood but all I can do with metal is cut and burn myself.

Is this consistent with other people’s experience? Send your stories, along with a stamped (but not addressed) envelope, to

Hooray for a change of mayor in Auckland. Can’t stand that smarmy John Banks! I’m not sure if Dick Hubbard is good mayor material – I don’t know much about him at all – but I just want to get JB off my TV screen, and I’m not really that affected by the outcome in any other way 

Who dunnit in the Puketitiri farmer murder case? I have a completely uninformed and reactionary opinion, and I will be interested to see if it is borne out.

I wonder how on earth Winston Peters gets the dirt on so many people? It’s phenomenal. The man has a nose for dirt like a sewer rat.

I wonder why Americans idolise their political leaders, especially their Presidents, so much? I can’t think of anyone that in love with a politician in NZ, or most countries overseas. Most populations seem to view their politicians as a necessary evil. And certainly, it's only in communist countries that one otherwise hears "our great/dear/anointed leader". I think it's the “Emperor Has No Clothes” syndrome on a massive scale, probably made worse by having such a narrow political spectrum. If your electoral process involves obscene amounts of money and essentially flipping a coin at the end of it all, you probably don’t want to examine things too closely.

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