Sunday, July 29, 2007


Just a bookmark for myself really - an interesting interview with Paul Krugman.

Can't really think of a title for this...

In Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, one can find this little newspaper snippet on page 135:

The Alabama Supreme Court yesterday upheld a death sentence imposed on a Negro handyman, Jimmy Wilson, 55, for robbing Mrs. Esteele Barker of $1.95 at her home last year. Mrs. Barker is white.

Although robbery is a capital offense in Alabama, no one has been executed in the state before for the theft of less than $5. A court official suggested that the jury has been influenced by the fact that Mrs. Barker told the jury that Wilson had spoken to her in a disrespectful tone.

A spokesperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called the death sentence 'a sad blot on the nation,' but said that the organization is unable to aid the condemned man because it is barred in Alabama.

- Des Moines Register, 23 August 1958

My father was 18 years old when this took place and I'd like to think of it as a positive story about how much can change in so little time, but right now I'm mostly just horrified.

Cat Powers

Cat's, as any cat owner will tell you, come imbued with there own set of mystifying powers. Our own cat can find the most comfortable place in the house within 2 seconds of entering it, he has a special cute face which makes it impossible to be angry with him and so on. But he's not even in the same league as Oscar. Bear in mind that this article is from the New England Journal of Medicine (a fairly reliable source, n other words).

Here's the chase scene:

Since he was adopted by staff members as a kitten, Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone. For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More and Better Aid

Last Thursday I spoke at the Victoria University International Development Society's debate on whether the meeting of the 0.7% ODA target would help reduce global poverty. It was, in my humble opinion, a great debate, enhanced no end by the 'anti aid' team having one very good speaker. Hopefully, VICIDS are going to put it up on their website over the week. If they do I will link to it. I didn't help my own cause much by not actually reading the debate question before I wrote my speech but anyhow, in lieu of a proper blog post, something I'm just too busy to do right now. Here are my speech notes.


According to the best available estimates, almost half the world’s population live in extreme poverty. This is the sort of poverty that dramatically reduces life expectancy. The sort of poverty that significantly harms peoples’ health. The sort of poverty that leads to the deaths of over 10,000 children every twenty four hours.

This is the sort of poverty that deprives hundreds of millions of people of the most basic capabilities; things we take for granted such as being able to read and write.

It is also poverty which exists in a world of plenty. A world which can afford to spend $40 billion dollars every year on pet food. A world which is home to over 800 billionaires. A world where one man, the Sultan of Brunei, could afford to spend $30 Million on his 50th birthday party. A world which spends over a trillion dollars every year on arms.

From such discrepancies arises a compelling moral case for aid; the case simply put, being that the suffering of the world’s poorest is acute while the sacrifice required from the world’s wealthiest in giving aid is trivial in comparison. We ought to give because the cost to us is small – only 70 cents out of every hundred dollars our nation earns, in the case of the Point Seven campaign – yet, at the same time, the potential benefits to others are huge.

I can flesh out the philosophy under this claim in the discussion later if people are interested but for now, with limited time, I want to look at the key question mark that hangs over the moral case I have provided. The question being: does aid work?

Because if it doesn’t – if it does no good or maybe even harms recipient nations – then it becomes very hard to cling to the argument that we should be obliged to give more of the it.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the claim that aid doesn’t work is the argument most often heard from those who believe that we shouldn’t increase aid: people such as Helen Hughes of the ironically named Australian business interest group “the Centre for Independent Studies”.

And these critics have an enviable arsenal at their disposal when arguing that aid doesn’t work. This is because there are numerous examples of squandered aid money and failed aid projects. Examples that they appeal to when they make their arguments against aid.

The story they tell is often a convincing one. Yet it is also relies on a profoundly one-sided reading of the evidence at hand. This is because, for every tale of an aid failure, there examples of aid successes to counter the pessimism. A recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine written by three more honest aid sceptics notes as much, conceding that:

Aid has accomplished some great things. On the health front, smallpox has been eradicated, infant mortality rates have been lowered, and illnesses such as diarrhea and river blindness have been widely treated. Aid programs have improved women’s access to modern contraception in Bangladesh and Egypt and helped increase school enrollment in Uganda and Burkina Faso…In the last decade, aid has helped restore peace and order after conflicts in places including Bosnia, East Timor, and Sierra Leone. In addition, aid can be a vehicle for policy advice and dialogue between recipients and outsiders.

Aid in short, can work, but – at the same time – it can fail: something that happens too often.

Which brings me to the central point that I want to make tonight: I think that we should increase aid, and meet our obligations to the world’s poor. At the same time though I think that this increase needs to be part of a contract between New Zealand’s aid community and the New Zealand taxpayer. The contract being that, as we increase aid levels we need to increase our efforts to find out what works.

In saying this, just to be clear, I should point out here that we are not, as it stands, completely ignorant in when it comes to figuring out what sort of aid works. Already we have some indication of what best practice in aid giving looks like. For a start, the aid that is given needs to be given genuinely – something that didn’t happen in the cold war and still doesn’t happen with many country’s aid. However, in New Zealand, we do avoid most of the worst aspects of so-called boomerang giving. We don’t for example give aid that is tied to purchases of New Zealand goods.

There are also numerous guidelines for effective aid practice in existence, such as the Paris Declaration. And these I think are useful, but they are not perfect and tend to rely on assumptions of best practice rather than proven outcomes.

The aid community also, it should be noted, makes a concerted effort – via monitoring and evaluation – to assess the effectiveness of aid projects. And this is useful – although I think that it tends to be constrained by scope.

What is needed is to compliment this existing work is rigorous quantitative research that looks beyond individual projects and examines whole regions and countries. This is the sort of research that involves health researchers, sociologists and economists.

And this is what I think we need to increase as we increase our aid levels.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fingers Crossed. Anxious.

In 2005 I acquired ear infections whilst surfing. The infections were painful and persistent. And worse, within a month, they appeared to trigger the worst relapse of arthritis that I have had thus far. I was reduced to steroids, far too much ibuprofen and crutches. The relapse arrived more or less overnight. (I’ve had even swifter relapses before, one took place literally over the space of a couple of hours while I was watching TV – I sat down, veged out, and then almost couldn’t get back up again).

This is all in the past of course, except that now I have another ear infection. Just one ear thus far and nowhere near as severe, but persistent.

Now I don’t know for certain that it was the ear infections that triggered my last relapse. The bacteria involved was not one of the classic ReA triggers but the timing of the relapse is highly suggestive.

And there’s every good reason to be hopeful that this infection – not as severe, treated sooner, possibly different bacteria – won’t have the same impact.

But it’s hard not to worry: if I get that sick again, I’ll loose many of the activities I’ve learnt to enjoy living with again; I’ll struggle to keep my job. And it could all happen overnight. So I worry.

How Very Wellington

Well it has been raining here in Wellington more or less non-stop for the last month. But the city does have its redeeming features. On Tuesday joined my union rep who was heading off to the FSWU picket of Qualmless Cleaners (as an aside, using economic strangulation in an attempt to win a battle with low paid workers is beyond the pale – shame on you Spotless.) From there I raced up to university where I sat in on a very interesting lecture on development practice. I then trundled down the hill to Bowen House to watch the people from the Point Seven campaign award half-time oranges to various politicians for their commitment to raising ODA levels. I’m not a function person, but it was a nice chance to catch up with a few friends and other nice people (including at least one very decent politician). This was to be followed by going to a Greens-fundraiser showing of Amazing Grace at the Penthouse, but we were running late, so we settled for pub dinner instead. On Wednesday I went on the China Human Rights march and on Thursday it was back up to uni to sit in on another very good class. Today it was film festival time: “Tales of Earthsea”. Of course, several of the events above I would have much sooner not attended (i.e. China Protest – I’d like to live in a world where such protests were unnecessary) but it is still good to be able to live in city where you can join others in taking action, even if it is only a small step.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bloggers for Hospital Workers

Read more here, but this is a worthwhile campaign.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Moral Equivalence of Fools

I'm not a communist. I've never been a communist. I don't think communism could ever work. But there's a conservative talking point that pops up from time to time on the New Zealand blogosphere which bugs me no end. And it runs like this:

Nazis killed many millions. We all agree that Nazis have no place in our public discourse. Communists have also killed many millions, yet the left still provides them with a legitimised voice in its discourse. This is wrong.

At the time of the anti-Iraq War protests the argument ran like:

You're marching alongside communists; would you march alongside Nazis.

So, just to get this off my chest:

Nazism and Communism are not moral equivalents.

Communism was horrible in practice but its ideals of equality and freedom are not morally repugnant. The entire ethos of Nazism, on the other hand, is.

It is true that attempts to put communism into practice lead to grotesque human rights violations. To me it seems probable that communism cold never be set in place without such violations (this is one of the many reasons I am not a communist) but, and this is the important point, most communists clearly don't think that this has to be the case*. They don't want a world where people's human rights are repressed.

Nazi's do - it is inherent in their vision of utopia.

And that's why attempts to draw moral equivalence between communism and Nazism aren't just wrong - they're silly.

*To be clear there were, and very occasionally still are, some some ruthless and repugnant communists but that doesn't have anything to do with the utopia they are selling. They're just nasty people. A lot like quite a few conservatives around this part of the world. Yet, no one's saying that conservatives should be marginalised.

The Great Global Warming Swindle, Swindle

Earlier this year the 'documentary' the Great Global Warming Swindle was screened in the UK and then made its way onto the internet. This was cause for some congratulatory chest-beating over on the right side of the New Zealand blogosphere.

The documentary recently broadcast on the ABC in Australia. You can watch snippets of the video itself here.

The ABC also did the decent thing and sent one of their reporters to ask Martin Durkin (the movie's producer) some hard questions. The results weren't pretty:

Part 1

Part 2

The pain continued in the panel discussion after the movie. (Click on the debate tab).

As John Quiggin points out not a good night for the delusionists.

Oh, and the audience questions afterwards. Mercifully, the audience are Lerouchies and RCPers and not representative of the Australian public.

If it ain't broke...

...or even if it's moderate broke...

don't fix it, says Richard Layard.

Which is fairly sensible advice.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Take That!

Ok, so I'm not the biggest Michael Moore booster around, but this is fun, and should be watched by all connoisseurs of good shouting.

Hat tip Harry Hutton.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Meanwhile in Farraria

Ho ho. David Farrar does sarcasm:

"Bosses are thieving parasite dogs, thieving and parasiting is how capitalism works"

Maia as always take an intelligent analytical approach to the complex issues.
Um, David, best, perhaps, that you clean up your own house first. No?

Oh yeah - and particularly this. How. Fucking. Repulsive.

And so...

...combining my last two posts we get:

...if only after the manner of the charming mainstream orthodox economist (or member of New Zealand's treasury, for that matter) who, when asked whether she believed in welfare enhancing state interventions, said, "I do not; but they are there anyway".
[Update: which is unfair on mainstream orthodox economists, almost all who would admit to the welfare enhancements of some government interventions, but presumably it was them who was asking those questions of Card's graduates].

Paradigm Policing Economics Style

Via Dani Rodrik we learn that the New York Times has caught on to the Great Heterodox Economics debate. The article isn't great, but this caused a double-take:

The experience of Mr. Card’s graduate students suggests how the process can work. Mr. Card is by no means on the fringe, but he said his research on the minimum wage in New Jersey “caused a huge amount of trouble.” He and Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton, found that contrary to what free-market theory predicts, employment actually rose after an increase in the minimum wage.

When Mr. Card’s graduate students went on job interviews, he said other economists would ask questions like “What’s wrong with your adviser? Has he started drinking?”

Which is mostly just humourous, until you read the next line.

This is why Mr. Blinder said he advises graduate students “not to do what I do” when it comes to challenging the standard model.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Can't argue with that...

I'm too tired to make heads or tales of the substantial arguments in this AC Grayling article but this, I thought, was wonderful:

...if only after the manner of the charming old Irish lady who, when asked whether she believed in leprechauns, said, "I do not; but they are there anyway".

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Defending their right to say it...

Johann Hari channels Voltaire to support Hizb ut Tahrir's right to exist:

The middle class professionals who make up Hizb ut Tahrir's British branch pine for the creation of an Islamist empire imposing shariah law over the whole planet, where I would be killed - and so would most of the readers of this article. Are you a woman who shows her hair in public? Are you gay? Have you ever had an affair? Are you a Jew? Are you a Muslim who has had doubts about your faith? Then I'm afraid a strict interpretation of their draft constitution for the New Caliphate - which they want to build after taking power through the ballot box - would entail your execution.
Hizb ut Tahrir are ... like the British National Party - a group with deeply evil ambitions, but pursuing them through existing political structures. The best way to defeat them is not to abandon liberal values by banning them, thereby feeding their martyr complex, but by acting on liberal values by discrediting and destroying them in argument. It's really not hard. How many Muslims living in a free society will be tempted by a Taliban-style global state where they will be hellishly oppressed at every turn? It is preposterous to believe Hizb would ever win at the ballot box in Britain - so we can argue back and whittle down this deranged ideology over time.

In his fascinating book 'The Islamist', the young Eastender Ed Hussain explains how he was drawn into Hizb ut Tahrir - and why he left. The group offered him a transcendent cause where he could imagine he was the victim of "a great gay-Jewish conspiracy" and fighting for the rights of people in Afghanistan and Iraq. (He deliberately didn't find out much about what Islamists were actually doing in those places). He soon had no white friends, and no female friends.

He did not lose faith in Hizb because people showed "respect" for their ideas, or deferred to his "culture." He left because people challenged their agenda. When Hussain went to University, he heard people vehemently deconstructing the Hizb agenda for the first time. And he began to remember his life at a mixed primary school in Tower Hamlets, where white non-Muslim teachers had showed great kindness to him. "When I doubted my affinity with Britain, those memories came rushing back," he writes. The next generation of British Muslims will have fewer such memories, because they will have been increasingly ghettoised into 'faith schools'.

At the moment, Hizb ut Tahrir is not being challenged with the verbal agression it deserves. The reasons are complex: great wodges of Saudi money for British mosques makes these arguments for shariah seem more mainstream; decent liberal people are frightened of being called 'Islamophobic' or receiving death threats; and the great liberal majority of Muslim women are too often intimidated into silence. If we want to undermine Hizb ut Tahrir, we need to end each of these by lavishing cash on Muslim women's groups.

A true victory over Hizb ur Tahrir will not come through banning them. It will come from ensuring that every one of their meetings is greeted by a picket of Muslims liberals and Muslim women - people like Ed Hussain - declaring loud and proud that when they denounce Britain as a brothel and call for a Caliphate, they do it Not In My Name.

And he's right: the only way, not an easy way, to preserve liberal pluralistic society in the wake of a violent totalitarian threat, is to win the battle of ideas. If you excessively restrict freedoms to win the fight, you end up abandoning the liberalism you are fighting to protect. You also strengthen the case of your opponents . Of course, 'winning hearts and minds' requires more than just wittering on about free speech but also about helping marginalised groups become stakeholders in our society. Something that isn't easy, which explains why - perhaps - we continue to fight the wrong battles in the War on Terror.

Representative Democracy, John Bolton and Armageddon

A person searching for evidence to support arguments on the limits of representative democracy could do worse than to point to some of the people whom it has let near positions of power in the United States recently.

John Bolton is a case in point.

When the Bush administration belatedly started to engage with the North Korean regime here's what he had to say:

This Pyongyang visit symbolises the full return of Clinton-era, bilateral negotiations with North Korea. The Bush administration has effectively ended where North Korea policy is concerned, replaced for the next 18 months by a caretaker government of bureaucrats, technocrats and academics.
How terrible. I mean the Bush 'Administration' were doing such a good job on the Korean peninsular after all.

Anyhow, here, according to Mark Leon Goldberg, is what has happened since Bush 'Administration' 'policies' were ceased:
the reclusive government of Kim Jong Il has taken actual, concrete steps to dismantle the plutonium producing facility at Yongbyon. On June 28, the North Koreans let an International Atomic Energy Agency assessment team visit Yongbyon. This was the first time since 2002 that IAEA inspectors had been allowed inside North Korea.

Before the team left the country, the government even struck a technical agreement that would allow the IAEA to oversee the shutdown of the facility. This morning, the IAEA board of governors met in Vienna to approve the agreement and authorised a new verification mission to North Korea.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cat Woes

Sigh - it hasn't been a great month for the pets that my partner and I care about. First my family cat got put down, then her family dog. Now our own cat has kidney failure. Courtesy of an, er-herm, change in his drinking habits...

...we figured out the problem relatively early on. And the vet is confident that an expensive course of pills and dry food will arrest, or at least slow, the degeneration. But I can't help feeling ever so slightly worried. I'm not really enjoying loosing small parts of my fingers every day at 'pill o'clock' either.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dear Adolf

Dear Adolf,

Please offer my compliments to the surgeon who performed your brain amputation; it appears to have been a near perfect job.

Yours Sweetly,


Food Miles - Bad Idea

As argued in the Guardian.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Wise Guy

Hegemony's everywhere. Everyone knows that.

[shuffles off]

Chinese Environmentalists


The Case for (Engaging With) Hamas

With the aid of a serving of Fred Halliday, Paul from the Fundy Post takes a jab at those engaging in the 'Jihadism of Fools': radical leftists who see organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah as allies in their war on imperialism. Now, personally, I've always thought that there are far fewer leftist fools for jihad than Halliday makes out, but they're there: Paul finds us a local example on UNITYblog. Having a peek around I found another:

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes that key elements of the global political context include...
  • The weakening of the US state's ability to assert its will by military force as a result of the heroic resistance of Iraqi people to the imperialist occupation of their country.
hhhhmmmmm...nothing more heroic than ethnically cleansing Shia neighbourhoods, I guess.

Such are the dangers of Manichean world views: hold them too long and eventually your skull will split, and your brain fall out.

Having said all that I still agree (mostly) with Alastair Crooke: the West's failure to engage with Hamas has a been a shocking mistake.

It's a mistake for three reasons:

1. Hamas. Were. Elected. And if, like me, you think that democracy is a jolly good idea, you need to support, not undermine, it - even when it produces results you don't like*. To do otherwise, as has happened in Palestine, simply exposes you as fraud. And makes democracy appear little more than another tool for US control of the region. Which is unlikely to increase its chances of spreading across the Middle East.

2. Hamas may make crazed statements but, in their actions, there lies an element of pragmatism. Include them in the political process and there's every chance that this will grow as there becomes too much to loose by discarding it. Exclude them and you loose your leverage. They're never going to be lovable but they my become live-wtihable.

3. As Johann Hari (a man whose anti-theism makes Paul Literick's atheism seem like wimpy agnostic hand-wringing) points out: undermine Hamas and what do you get? Islamic Jihad. Now they'll be easy to deal with...


*Up to a point - obviously being democratically elected does not give license to
commit terrorism or human rights abuses. But it seemed like Hamas were willing to hold truce on these.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Lomborg Fallacy

Actually, there are quite few Lomborg Fallacies all working together to produce this Guardian column. The gist of which is contained in the following paragraphs:

Yet, the world faces many other vast challenges. Whether we like it or not, we have limited money and a limited attention span for global causes. We should focus first on achieving the most good for the most people.

The Copenhagen Consensus project brought together top-class thinkers, including four Nobel Laureate economists, to examine what we could achieve with a $50 billion investment designed to "do good" for the planet.

They examined the best research available and concluded that projects requiring a relatively small investment - getting micro-nutrients to those suffering from malnutrition, providing more resources for HIV/AIDS prevention, making a proper effort to get drinking water to those who lack it - would do far more good than the billions of dollars we could spend reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change.

The first fallacy is that the Copenhagen consensus, in all probability, understates the costs of not acting on climate change.

The second fallacy is one of composition - quite literally. Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus gang of economists seemed ever so slightly preselected to produce a particular outcomes (several already had stated anti-climate change mitigation positions; while lots of other development orientated economists - Stiglitz, Sachs, Sen etc - who one would have expected to be invited weren't, quite possibly because they may have taken different positions).

But it's the third fallacy which is the biggie. And which I want to write about tonight. This is the assumption - key to the whole shebang - that money spent on mitigating climate change must come from aid budgets. Without this assumption we wouldn't be comparing budgets for tackling malaria with budgets for tacking climate change.

So the key question is, is climate change spending really analogous to aid spending? And there's a simple answer to it: No.

This is because, when it is genuine, aid is given for a large part because we want to help others. True, as I've argued elsewhere, some aid giving stems from enlightened self-interest but a considerable proportion of the reason for giving is something akin to altruism.

Tackling climate change, on the other hand, is simple self-interest on our behalf. If we don't, odds are, things are going to get much worse for us. For this reason, the money for tackling climate change should, if Lomborg wants to be honest, be weighed up against military budgets and the like. And once you start doing this there is more than enough money floating round. Not only for tackling climate change but also for increasing aid.

As John Quiggin* puts it:

Adverse impacts species extinction and loss of biodiversity are mostly of concern to people developed countries, and other impacts such as loss of coastal land affect rich and poor countries alike. Similarly the costs of mitigation will be spread across the economy, not funded from a specific government budget item that could be reallocated to foreign aid. Treating climate change as a foreign aid project fits Lomborg’s own framing of the issues, but it is not an accurate representation of the actual problem.

*And I owe Quiggin the Wise a big ol' hat tip for many of the arguments here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Foreign Intervention as a Development Strategy

Dani Rodrik quotes Niall Ferguson summarising aspects of Paul Collier's new book on international development.

The most controversial of those solutions is the call for Western intervention to prevent civil wars and maintain order in failing states. Here is Ferguson:

Reflecting on the tendency of postconflict countries to lapse back into civil war, he [Collier] argues trenchantly for occasional foreign interventions in failed states. What postconflict countries need, he says, is 10 years of peace enforced by an external military force. If that means infringing national sovereignty, so be it.

At a time when the idea of humanitarian intervention is selling at a considerable discount, this is a vital insight. (One recent finding by Collier and his associates, not reproduced here, is that until recently, former French colonies in Africa were less likely than other comparably poor countries to experience civil war. That was because the French effectively gave informal security guarantees to postindependence governments.) Collier concedes that his argument is bound to elicit accusations of neocolonialism from the usual suspects (not least Mugabe). Yet the case he makes for more rather than less intervention in chronically misgoverned poor countries is a powerful one. It is easy to forget, amid the ruins of Operation Iraqi Freedom, that effective intervention ended Sierra Leone’s civil war, while nonintervention condemned Rwanda to genocide.

Ferguson himself has long been a proponent of benign imperialism, so it is not difficult to see why he likes this particular prescription. But it is hard not to keep in mind "the ruins of Operation Iraqi Freedom" when thinking about the efficacy and desirability of this option.

Given Ferguson's track record of apologetics for imperialism, it's a pity that the NY Times chose him to review Collier's book. It's also a pity that Iraq gets chosen as the model for intervention since it was such a terrible screw up.

A more interesting example is the RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands) intervention in the Solomon Islands that Australia and New Zealand (and some other countries, largely tokenistically) are involved in.

  • RAMSI (probably like Iraq) was initially supported by the majority of the population effected.
  • RAMSI (unlike Iraq) is still, probably, supported to some degree by the local populous.
  • RAMSI (unlike Iraq) happened within the rule of international law
  • RAMSI (unlike Iraq) was a response to an immediate crisis*
  • With RAMSI (unlike Iraq) there were no apparent alternative solutions.
  • Solomon Islands (unlike Iraq) had a recent and desirable equilibrium that it might return to post intervention. In Iraq what such equilibrium might be was far from clear.
  • RAMSI (unlike Iraq) stood a reasonable chance of success.

And succeed it did, up to a point. The immediate crisis was stemmed. Some peace-building took place. As did disarming. Unlike Iraq, it is very hard to argue that Solomon Islands is currently worse off thanks to the intervention.

Yet RAMSI has been far from smooth sailing. Right from the start Alexander Downer's rhetoric was bellicose and hardly indicative of partnership. In many ways the intervention has been needlessly heavy-handed too - particularly when it has started to suffer from mission creep (such as the Julian Moti affair).

Also, while Solomon Islands are more peaceful again now in terms of development they are still struggling. This, of course, isn't wholly RAMSI's fault by any means. The same factors that led to Solomon Islands initial problems also mean that development is difficult and will take time. However, from what I've heard from friend's, much of Australia's (but not New Zealand's, funnily enough) development efforts have been flawed. This is not to say that doing better would be easy, but simply that they probably aren't doing the best. Which is hardly surprising given the ideology of the political parties in power in Australia.

Poor development outcomes have led to considerable numbers of unemployed young men (always a recipe for trouble) while heavy handedness means that RAMSI has squandered some of its goodwill.

These two factors combined mean that it's chances of success are now much lower than they might have been.

*In saying that the humanitarian situation in Iraq did not constitute an immediate crisis I am not claiming that there was anything pleasant about Hussein's regime. I'm simply noting that, at the time of intervention (unlike say in the immediate wake of Gulf War 1) there wasn't wholesale humanitarian crisis taking place. This is something important when calculating the balance sheet of any intervention.

British Protectionism in the 19th Century

Did someone say kicking away the ladder?

Bzzt. Wrong

post missing

A World Of Dying Words

: "50 percent of the world's 6000 languages are no longer taught to children."
(Or, in other words, they are endanger of becoming extinct.)

It seems sad to live in a world of dying words.

FPA Strikes Back!

It's the very least they could do having given space to Karl Du Fresne's nasty and dishonest attack on FPA, but on Thursday the Dom published the Family Planning Association's reply to Karl Du Fresne.

Some of the good bits:

The Family Planning Association's constant and publicly-stated position is that we encourage young people to delay becoming sexually active until they are emotionally, intellectually and physically ready. That said, we are pragmatic enough to understand that young people will, as they always have, engage in sexual activity and it is the responsibility of parents, schools, Government and organisations such as FPA to provide quality information and services.

The statistics quoted by du Fresne do not reflect those collected by Statistics New Zealand which show that the number of teenage births peaked in the 1970s.

In the early 1970s, 70 out of every 1000 teenagers had a child in any year. By the mid-1980s the figure had fallen to 30 per 1000. Subsequently, it varied between 30 and 35 per 1000 until 1997. The most recent figures, those for 2006, put the teenage pregnancy rate at some 28.5 births for every 1000 teenage girls aged 15 to 19.

That said, we share du Fresne's concerns about New Zealand's teenage pregnancy rate and its implications for the long-term well-being of the child and its young parents.

Abortion statistics have also remained relatively constant, with those for girls aged between 11 and 14 moving between 0.4 per cent and 0.6% between 1991 and 2006. For girls aged between 15 and 19, abortion rates have moved between 19.7% and 22.2% over the same period. In both 2004 and 2005, abortion rates decreased for all women aged 15 years and over, while in 2006 there was a rise of 2.3% over the previous year.

Caution should also be exercised when viewing the statistics on sexually-transmitted infection rates. Infection statistics are rising but this should be balanced against increased numbers of people presenting to sexual health clinics, family planning clinics and student youth health clinics for testing, and against better reporting and recording systems.

Du Fresne suggests that young New Zealanders are "drenched with information about sex and have never had easier access to contraception". The facts, however, do not reflect this view. The cross-party New Zealand Parliamentarians Group on Population Development reported in April this year that despite the Government's sexual and reproductive health strategy and the health and physical education curriculum, sexuality education is inconsistent and young people are facing barriers in accessing sexual health services.

The Family Planning Association believes that parents should be the primary educators of their children around sex and sexuality. Unfortunately, not all parents feel comfortable discussing sex with their children or the conversation just never happens.

Sexual and reproductive health has officially been part of the school curriculum in New Zealand only since 2001. FPA welcomed this development but remains concerned that there is no national standard for this education.

Access to contraception is another part of this equation. For many young people, accessing contraception can be difficult, particularly in rural and provincial New Zealand where anonymity is an issue and service providers are limited. Contraceptive use is a complex behaviour requiring considerable skill in negotiation and repeated motivation to use a method of contraception, so information alone is not sufficient.

Du Fresne's column ended with a personal attack on former FPA executive director Gill Greer. This is the most striking difference between our organisational position and that taken by du Fresne.

Our staff work in a non- judgmental way to offer all New Zealanders the information, the clinical services and support they need at a time when they need it most.

Strangely enough, David Farrar, who linked so swiftly to Du Fresne's original column hasn't got round to linking to the reply. I wonder why?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Irrepressibile Info

With my hat tipping towards binary heart I've added Amnesty International's Irrepressible Info campaign to my side bar. Slightly worried as I can't actually read the much of the info I'm irrepressing (French not that good, Arabic worse) but I like idea. And I hate the idea that there are countries out there that still restrict people's free speech and right to information.

Of course with the vast numbers of visitors that this site gets, my signing up doesn't mean anything in practice, but it feels good to do something.

[Update: and on the subject of the repression of information, I've just finished reading this article in the New York Review of books which chronicles further depressing steps in the steady erosion of press and civil society freedoms in Russia.]