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Really strange weather in Northern Australia (pictures)

There appears to be a tropical cyclone developing in Australia's north. This is not normally unusual - this is, after all, the time of year that cyclones develop in that part of the world. What is unusual is that the cyclone appears to be developing over land. More than that, it appears to be developing over an area that is not exactly known for its wetness - Australia's semi-arid north. In the BOM satellite pic below, you can clearly see a massive swirling cloud around 20° S 130° E. The swirling cloud is moving in a clockwise direction, which, in the southern hemisphere, is indicative of a low pressure system.


A just-released BOM synoptic chart shows that the low pressure system is a whoppingly low 955 hPa. And look to the East, there we see Tropical Cyclone "Jim" heading east towards the Solomon Islands. Notice what pressure that system is - 975 hPa. This means that the low centred over Australia's north is a more intense low than the cyclone to the north-east. They haven't called the low a cyclone yet - but for all intents and purposes there is one there!


I keep a daily eye on the ENSO figures these days, and things are looking good for a La Nina event. As the following graph shows, there is a sea temperature difference between Darwin and Tahiti of around +13 degrees. This means that, historically, Australia's north should produce more low pressure systems and cyclones and cause a lot more rainfall. Moreover, in the winter months, a positive ENSO result (indicating La Nina) means that there is a greater chance that these low pressure systems will continue, and bring a wetter winter to Australia's East Coast. La Nina is the opposite of El Nino, whereby low pressure systems are harder to develop because the water is cooler in Australia's north... and causes droughts in Eastern Australia. I'm sort of guessing that the land-based cyclone developing in Australia's north is a result of an increasing La Nina effect.


Here's the BOM weather warnings:

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Northern Territory
Darwin Regional Forecasting Centre

at 1024 CST Sunday 29 JANUARY 2006

North of the Alice Springs District.

Widespread falls of 10-20mm north of the Alice Springs district with lighter
falls across the northeast Top End. Heavier falls 40-80mm over the far southern
central Top End, eastern Victoria River District and into the western Barkly.
Isolated falls to near 100mm.

A deep monsoon low lies over the eastern Victoria River District near Elliott
and has recently moved a little to the southwest. The monsoon trough extends
from the low and across the Barkly and these features are the main focus for
rainfall, particularly the low. The low is expected to remain slow moving until
at least Tuesday.

FORECAST for the rest of today and Monday
Widespread falls 15-20mm and scattered moderate falls 20-50mm. Isolated heavy
falls of 60-80mm in the far southern Top End, western Barkly and Victoria River
District may lead to significant stream rises and flooding of low lying areas
while other falls may cause localised flooding and significant stream rises.

OUTLOOK for Tuesday and Wednesday
Widespread falls of 10-20mm, though less frequent about the northern Top End.
The active slow moving monsoon trough and low are expected to lie across central
parts of the NT between Katherine and Tennant Creek. The heavier falls about the
low will be of about 60-80mm while scattered falls of 40-60mm falls will
continue in the Victoria River District and across the Barkly and Roper-McArthur
Districts. The movement of the low from Tuesday is difficult to predict, but the
Victoria River District is still likely to receive some heavy falls with a
possible trend to increasing falls in the southern Victoria River and
northwestern Alice Springs District if the low drifts southwards. These falls
may lead to localised flooding and significant stream rises.

Around 11 am Monday

DARWIN Regional Forecasting Centre.


Not saying the "I" word

The latest editorial from the New York Times, Spies, Lies and Wiretaps, is a wonderfully dense text that outlines clearly the massive problems facing George Bush and his illegal NSA wiretaps. One by one, the editorial exposes and destroys the cynical arguments put up by the president and his staff in defence of their actions.

But you can almost see the writer/s of the editorial wondering how far they should go. They build up a big case... and then, nothing.

The editorial should have been more courageous. Rather than ending with a limp reminder to the Congress that they should "rein in" the president and "not betray the public once again" they should have been more strident. Maybe it was the fear of being labeled partisan. The Times has, in recent weeks, been highly critical of the Bush administration, but there is one word they have yet to print - "Impeachment".

I know that the Times has a long and glorious journalistic history, but the last few years has seen three major journalistic scandals that have tarnished their reputation: Jayson Blair, Judith Miller and the decision to withhold reporting on the illegal NSA wiretaps for twelve months. Their integrity in tatters, the Times deserves to fold, and the journalists who wish to maintain their own reputation need to jump a sinking ship.

But as the ship sinks, it would be wonderful if it takes the Bush Administration with it. Two out of the three scandals I just mentioned directly benefited the president: The first, the Judith Miller scandal, allowed the administration to plant false news stories in the Times (and thus in other Mainstream media publications) in order to bolster the case for invading Iraq; the second, the illegal NSA wiretaps, was kept from the public for a full twelve months until the Times belatedly reported it a few months ago, thus allowing George Bush a reasonably scandal-free presidential campaign in 2004 - one wonders how Bush would have fared had the news been broken then?

The impression that I now have is that the Times, humiliated by their failure to behave ethically and angry at how they have been used by the White House, has now decided to target the administration. Drawing upon what is left of their reputation, the Times has begun to forcefully disagree with the president's decisions, expose the administration's faults, and call for action. This activity may be considered "partisan" by supporters of the Bush administration, but, to me, it is simply the result of various revelations over the last 12 months that show the adminstration's incompetence and lies. While it is important to remain neutral in its factual reporting, the Times does have a responsibility to editorialise for the good of the American people - which is why it has taken this recent anti-Bush stance.

But, as I said, "Impeachment" is missing. If the Times is truly concerned for the people of America then shouldn't they be as clear and as truthful as they can? While they have exposed the administration's lies and illegalities, why not take such an argument to its logical conclusion? Why not say "If the president has broken the law, then congress should seriously consider impeachment"? How hard is it to print that? Such a sentence should have been added to this editorial because, firstly, it summarises the seriousness of the crime in question and, secondly, because it calls for a formal investigation into the matter which allows for a full and fair response to what has happened. Remember, "Impeachment" does not mean removal from office, it means "considering removal from office" - Bill Clinton was impeached, but was not removed from office. If Bush has not committed "high crimes and misdemeanors", then he will walk away from the proceedings an innocent man.

As the Senate Judiciary Hearings into the illegal NSA wiretaps gets closer (I think they meet in early February), the Times (and other members of the mainstream media) should "ramp up" their calls for justice by including impeachment in their editorials. For the Times, at least, it will be a chance for them to restore some pride and maybe, just maybe, drag the Bush administration down with their own sinking ship.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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N Cameron LBW Reynolds 3

2006-01-28 Bruise from cricket

We did win the game though.

America's Economic Slowdown

America's economy grew at an annual rate of just 1.1% according to figures just released.

We need to understand that this growth rate is quite low compared to growth figures of 3-4% recently. The low growth rate is a warning signal that things are getting a bit tight, but what will the future bring?

Economists are notorious in getting predictions wrong. One of the reasons why I gave up reading The Economist was that they predicted "stellar growth" in 2001 - only for a recession to hit. I myself have dabbled in economic prognostication and realise that I may end up with some egg on my face.

Nevertheless, the "vibe" I'm getting about the world economy, and the American economy in particular, is fairly negative. Because of that I will continue to make broad-based predictions about what will eventually happen, without getting too specific about when.

In a way I'm hedging my bets. This period of low growth could simply be a small hump that will be ironed out by improved rates of growth as the year progresses, or it could presage an economic slowdown or even recession in the near future.

I'm hoping that it will be a recession.

I mean that. I actually do hope there will be an economic slowdown, a rise in unemployment and an increase in personal and corporate bankruptcies. Does this make me evil?

You see, I'm of the opinion that America's economy is imbalanced. Debt levels are just too high, personal savings rates are just too low, the federal budget deficit is just too big, oil production is just too tight and the American consumer is just too contented. In other words, the conditions are actually quite bad.

An economic slowdown / recession is both the result of and the cure for an imbalanced economy. The reason why I am hoping that a recession will occur this year is simply because, if it doesn't, then the recession is postponed. Moreover, the recession that eventually will hit will be much worse than if it occurs sooner. If the pain of the future is brought forward to the present, we can deal with it better.

Commentators have linked the current slowdown with the impact of post-Katrina oil prices. Although there is some truth in this, we need to remember that prices were already quite high in the months before Katrina. Moreover, the price of oil as I type this is is between $67 and $68 per barrel - near the levels experienced in September after Katrina damaged oil distribution infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico. The reason this time is, ostensibly, because of the heightened threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program, but is probably more due to production shortages caused by a drop in Light Sweet Crude extraction.

While it is obvious that the world economy has managed to "shrug off" much of the increases in oil price, a point would naturally be reached where it would begin to affect economic growth rates. Moreover, high oil prices affect longer-term economic growth, which means that high prices now affect economic growth in the future. The tepid growth of the US economy in the last quarter is probably due to both the immediate Katrina shock and the longer-term effects of high oil prices preceding that.

But I'm not willing to lay money on a recession beginning next quarter - while I think it is likely there is just too many variables to make accurate predictions. America may, in fact, continue their debt binge for another year, promoting growth but, eventually, being set up for an even bigger fall.

So while there appears to be two choices - recession or return to a debt-binging growth - there is actually a third outcome: "economic stagnation". By this I don't mean a recession, but a long-term period of low growth, where the economy is expanding at a reasonably slow rate on a continual basis. This is actually my preferred outcome, but will require tighter than normal monetary policy by the Federal Reserve. Faced with an upcoming recession, the Fed may be tempted to drop interest rates again. I think that this may be the wrong move - certainly monetary policy may require loosening, but I think the inflation target needs to be lower than what it is now. Higher interest rates will encourage private saving and kerb domestic spending - both of which will lead to a reduction in debt levels and a re-balancing of the current account. Hopefully this rebalancing will lead to higher levels of consumption in America's trading partners such as Japan and China, which should reduce the trade deficit and, especially in the case of China, rely more upon their own vast domestic consumption as the engine of their economy rather than relying upon the US.

I think the world economy is going to enter a unique period where America's consumption is going to be responsible for less and less of international economic growth. I think countries like America, as well as Britain and Australia, have come to the end of their standard economic systems. Both America and Australia need to address their current account deficits, and the coming period of instability will be a result of, as well as the cure for, the current mess. Still unknown is the effect of Peak Oil and the predicted oil shortage that will come in the next 5-10 years, something that will cause oil prices to rise ever higher, if not the cause of the current rise.

Whatever happens, it will certainly not be boring.

From the Osostrian School Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Abortion - the war American Evangelicals can't win

Being an Evangelical Christian means, amongst many other things, that I find abortion to be morally wrong. Based on a number of fairly clear passages in the Bible, Evangelical Christians believe quite strongly that human life begins at conception. For a more detailed summary, go to the Wikipedia article on the subject.

Of course, this tends to conflict with my politically liberal side - or at least with the pro-choice narrative that many liberals have. But I will admit without shame that I see myself as an Evangelical Christian first.

Nevertheless, I feel that many American Evangelicals have got it all wrong when it comes to abortion - specifically when they approach the issue of Roe v. Wade. It cannot be doubted that a very clear majority of Americans support abortion. Polls taken throughout three decades not only indicate this clear majority, it also shows that the numbers in support of abortion are actually increasing.

A USA Today / CNN Gallop poll asked just over a thousand adults recently about various questions regarding current events. They also compared these results to previous polls to discern trend lines.

When asked whether the Supreme Court should completely overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling, 66% of people said no, while 29% said yes. Polls from 1989 to 2002 show a fairly steady 60/35 relationship between those who wish to keep the ruling (the majority) and those who wish the court to overturn it (the minority). In recent polls, the numbers in support of Roe vs Wade have increased from 60% to around 65% today, while numbers who wish to overturn have declined from 35% down to 30%.

Now being an evangelical, I can still believe that abortion is wrong since God's truth is not determined by popular opinion but by God himself. In practice, this means that I see the Bible as divinely inspired. The fact that the majority of Americans support abortion does not make it right.

But even though most evangelicals would say a hearty "Amen" to those previous three sentences, the fact is that these statistics should worry American evangelicals greatly. What these polls indicate is that America is becoming increasingly secular.

US Census figures over the years have shown that "No Religion" has grown from 8.4% in 1991 to 15.0% in 2001 - that is a massive increase and is clearly indicative of a nation that is no longer seeing itself as linked to historical Christianity At the same time, Baptists (a traditionally evangelical grouping) have declined from 19.8% to 17.2%. Newer evangelical movements like the Pentecostals and Charismatics have continued to grow, but are actually quite small in comparison to the rest of America. I don't see any reason why these census figures should change much by the next census.

Essentially my argument is this - America is getting increasingly secular and the churches are still emptying... and as a result of this, more and more people are accepting abortion as being a fact of life.

So what should evangelicals do?

What they should NOT do is what they're doing at the moment. Evangelicals are ripping their garments in woe and anger at the recent anniversary of Roe vs Wade and reaffirming themselves to direct political action to ban abortion in the United States. Money and time is spent in political tooing and froing, lobbying, letter writing and harsh words on radio. Some Christians decide to picket clinics and voice their opposition.

But while it is vitally important that Christians involve themselves in the running of worldly governments, trying to set up a law based entirely on Christian morals and beliefs in a society that has by and large rejected them is, to put it bluntly, incredibly stupid. While I concur with my fellow Evangelicals that abortion is a grevious sin, I cannot see any positive outcome with the direction my brethren are headed at the moment.

The reason is simple - the majority of American people support abortion and are not Evangelical Christians. If this simple fact were not true then maybe, just maybe, Evangelical political action may actually work.

In this article I've used two statistical pieces of evidence. The first is the USA Today / CNN Gallop poll that has been following societal trends towards abortion and which shows an increasing support for it amongst ordinary Americans. The second is the US Census figures which show an ever increasing secularity amongst American society and a marked decline in church membership, even amongst evangelicals. Do I really need to quote any more primary sources to convince anyone that American Evangelicals are declining in both number and influence?

It is obvious that Evangelicals are fighting the wrong battles: The pomposity of Justice Sunday; the naked hate of Westboro Baptist Church; the dirty politics of James Dobson; the sheer hypocrisy of Ralph Reed; the increasingly bizarre Pat Robertson; I have to admit that I am thoroughly embarrassed by all of these public expressions of Evangelical Christianity. The only reason why I remain an Evangelical, and not turn to atheism, is my solid belief that God himself shares my frustrations.

What should evangelicals do? For starters, they should, in the words of Bill O'Reilly, JUST SHUT UP. Words are cheap, and morally outraged Evangelicals are doing no one a favour when they start complaining about how un-Christian America is. What? America isn't Christian? Well duh!

The second thing evangelicals should do is get back to the basics - knowing and living the gospel of Christ and the Word of God. It's amazing, but ironically the Bible is the least read document in American churches. Instead of preaching from the Bible, most evangelicals preach a spiritualized self-help philosophy based more on Anthony Robbins than the Spirit-inspired word of God. Some even preach the "health and wealth" heresy that will ruin the lives of many once the next recession hits. Hey, fellow Evangelicals, the answer is simple - just teach what the Bible says, not what you want it to say. And preach Christ crucified, died and risen again.

The third thing evangelicals should do is interact with the world lovingly. This does not mean compromise or airy-fairly relativism, but it does mean letting your actions match your words. It also means shutting up (again) and listening to people.

And who knows, some of these people you deal with may end up becoming your friends. More than that - shock horror! - they may even choose to not have an abortion because of your influence! Chances are that this will work much better than bombing clinics or paying corrupt lobbyists to push a Roe-hating federal judge through congress...

From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Know Your Internet Memes #3



Know Your Internet Memes #2


That's a dog on her lap.

Know Your Internet Memes #1

Admiral Ackbar

"It's a Trap!"

Behind the numbers

You have a car and you're driving happily along the road on a trip. You enter a freeway and the sign says you can travel at 100kph (or 60mph in America), you put your foot down and accelerate your car to the speed limit. Your tank is full, it's a sunny day, paradise.

I reckon people think of Gross Domestic Product in the same way as a car.

It's simple. You calculate the current quarter's results, compare them with the previous quarter's results, adjust for inflation and voila! If the result is increasing then obviously everything is okay - the car is travelling well.

But I think one of the major flaws in this understanding is what is happening behind the numbers. In other words, what are the specifics?

I would class myself as a fairly conventional economist in this sense. I believe that balance is the essence of understanding how economics work, and that any imbalance will lead to problems.

Angry Bear, a progressive economics blogsite, has today released some rather disturbing figures about America's economy. While the post is ostensibly about President Bush's approval ratings, the author reveals the following statistics:

· U.S. household debt hit a record $11.4 trillion in last year's third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, after shooting up at the fastest rate since 1985, according to Fed data.

· U.S. households spent a record 13.75 percent of their after-tax, or disposable, income on servicing their debts in the third quarter, the Fed reported.

· The trade deficit for last year is estimated to have swollen to another record high, above $700 billion, increasing America's indebtedness to foreigners.
It was that second figure - households spending an average of 13.75% of their after tax income on servicing debts - that got my jaw dropping.

The fact is, of course, that America's economy is growing - but this growth is increasingly dependent upon borrowing. There's nothing wrong with borrowing of course, it's just when growth depends on borrowing year after year after year that problems arise. And the only way that America's economy can grow at the moment is due to its overseas borrowing.

Put simply, America thrives because of an overvalued dollar.

The fact is that America could easily thrive if the dollar was lower, and if the economy was geared towards production rather than consumption, and towards investment rather than borrowing. In fact, given America's level of overseas debt, it would help balance things out if America focused on these areas.

The easiest way to do this would be to increase interest rates and kerb domestic consumption. Although this would have the effect of raising the value of the dollar and making imports cheaper, the net effect would be a brake on consumption. Sectors of the economy which depend upon more international demand, such a manufacturing and mining, would not be directly affected.

A measured, gradual increase in interest rates and a deliberate slowing down of the US economy is actually more preferable than the current high-growth track being taken. Like any "bubble", the US economy is ever more likely to go bust the longer it stays headed in this direction, thus making the problem even worse. Every day that passes without America's economy going into recession will, strangely enough, make the inevitable recession worse.

But I feel that this solution - a measured and gradual increase in interest rates and a deliberate slowing down of the US economy - will not necessarily lead to a recession. It will lead to low economic growth (say between 0.5% and 1.0% per year), but this will ensure that the imbalances are worked out slowly and more methodically than they would if the market was simply allowed to determine when the correction takes place.

The alternative - which appears to be the track currently being taken - will inevitably result in a market correction. At some point, US businesses and households will reach a point where debt is so expensive to service that bankruptcies and defaults will result. There will also be a correction in the value of the US dollar and the Fed will be forced to quickly raise interest rates to keep control of inflation. Recession will inevitably follow.

Given that there are only two alternatives, which is more preferable? To wait for the inevitable correction or to act now to rebalance things? Given the current thinking going on in the White House and in the Fed, it seems that they have chosen the waiting game. Watch out America.

From the Osostrian School Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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The heat in the Left-wing Blogosphere

...has increased markedly in the last week. I'm really sensing a massive "vibe" of dissatisfaction and anger that I haven't seen before. Who knows where it will go to?

The first big thing that has riled us on the left has been the Washington Post, or WaPo as it is called. The Newspaper's Ombudsman, a woman by the name of Deborah Howell, made a rather big mistake in asserting that the Abramoff scandal was bipartisan, and that both Democrats and Republicans are involved. This invoked a storm of heated comments at the WaPo web site that was eventually switched off. Howell returned and, while admitting that the Republicans were the ones who were suffering the most about Abramoff, she pointed to some documents that WaPo had in their possession which showed that the Democrats had had money directed to them by Indian tribes on Abramoff's behalf.

Now some of you might know that recently I wrote an article about how frustrated I was that certain Democrats were involved. I'm not going to take that back just yet, but from what I have read the left-wing response to Howell's article was actually quite fair. At issue is this money that the Democrats received from these ubiquitous Indian tribes. These transactions were above-the-board contributions made to a political party in the same way as any person or business in America can do. So the transactions themselves were not illegal. Moreover, since Indigenous Americans have traditionally supported the Democratic party, these contributions have been going on for decades. What is interesting is that after Abramoff got involved, these contributions to the Democratic party went down, and more money was directed to the Republican party.

So it wasn't obfuscation - as though the lefties were indulging in problems of definition.

All this, to me, has convinced me that the Abramoff affair is entirely a Republican problem. There is the issue of James Clyburn (whom I complained about last week), but that appears to be an aside.

The lefties are very angry about how the MSM (Mainstream Media) have been influenced by Right-wing talking points without critical comment. They are howling for blood and poor Deborah Howell at the WaPo (who, as ombudsman, is supposed to be neutral and should listen to readers' comments) has been targeted. I can sense that the pressure in this area will force a backdown of sorts from the WaPo.

The second big thing that the lefties have been fighting over is the recent Osama Bin Laden announcement - well, not really, but about a right-wing commentator's reaction to it. Chris Matthews, from MSNBC, commented on air that Bin Laden seems to sound and act like Michael Moore. This linking between the world's no. 1 terrorist and America's best known lefty agitator has got a lot of lefties hopping mad. Associating Moore with Bin Laden essentially links American lefties with terrorism, something they are not going to stand for. Michael Moore reacted in a very Michael Moore way, and begun to post photoshopped images of Bin Laden and Chris Matthews going bowling together, drinking beer together, sleeping in bed together, and so on. As soon as Chris Matthews opened his mouth and uttered his stupid sentence, he essentially gave permission for every lefty (including Michael Moore) to satirise and parody his position.

So why is this big? John Aravois at Americablog is planning some diabolical activity with some of his agitator mates against MSNBC and Chris Matthews.

And the third issue is something in the background, but has really disturbed me as an Evangelical. Darksyde, one of the contributors at DailyKos, came up with the following:

The modern GOP is a precarious alliance between moderate, sane, conservatives, corporate interests understandably focused on short term profits, and a fundamentalist mob whose social policies poll anywhere between unpopular to repugnant among the majority of Americans.

The moderates are the official face set forth in PR efforts, the corporate interests drive the money, and like in any feudal system, the cultish masses provide the votes and do the grassroots work. But there's a glaring weakness: Expose that extremist base for what it is, flip that rock over to illuminate the ugly squatting trolls hiding underneath, and it's game over folks. Here's one way to go about doing that, and in all fairness we should thank the GOP shills on Cable News and all across the blogosphere for bringing it our attention and warming up the soundbite for us so nicely.
This belief may not be totally correct, but it is certainly indicative of how feelings are beginning to run. I have pointed out a few times that this period in history will see the "high water mark" of American Evangelicalism, which will, after the entire Bush/Iraq mess is sorted out, become one of the more despised groupings in America - not just among lefties, but among the general populance. I've seen American Evangelicalism's theological failures - a failure to preach the gospel of Christ and a failure to read, understand and apply God's word - and I am also seeing their political and social failures. These two major failures will dovetail together.

But the heat that I am sensing amongst the lefties will actually go somewhere. I think it is the fact that time and again their warnings have been correct and that they have not been listened to. Who knows where this will go to?

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Iraq suffers under America's heel

Here in Australia there has been considerable coverage of the Australian Wheat Board's "dodgy" contracts with Iraq during the oil-for-food programme. I won't go into details, but it looks as though the AWB was complicit in getting quite a few million extra dollars to Saddam's regime.

All up, the statistics are interesting. According to the Wikipedia article, the Oil For Food programme generated $65 Billion over the years that it was running. Of that amount, $46 Billion went directly for humanitarian needs, with the rest being directed towards Gulf-war reparations, UN administrative costs (for the programme) as well as directly funding weapons inspectors operating in Iraq during that period.

In addition to this $65 Billion, it appears that Saddam managed to gain $10.1 Billion via oil smuggling and ilicit surcharges.

Sadly, because of the investigation into this corruption, it appears as though many have "written off" the programme as being entirely given over to corruption and graft.

The reason why the Oil for Food Prgramme was set up by the UN was in a direct response to reports by UNICEF that the infant mortality rate in Iraq since the Gulf War was horrendously high. UNICEF, a department within the UN dedicated to helping children in underdeveloped countries, managed to convince the UN hierarchy (ie the ambassadors sent by every nation that meet in the General Assembly) that something needed to be done to ensure that Iraqs were able to gain food while at the same time keep Iraq free from developing WMDs.

I will say this simply - the Oil For Food Programme was a complete success. According to a UN foundation website:

...the OFFP enabled the importation of enough food to feed all 27 million Iraqis. During its existence, the average daily caloric intake of the people of Iraq increased 83 percent, from 1,200 kilocalories to 2,200 kilocalories per person per day. In addition, malnutrition rates in 2002 in the central and southern part of the country were half those in 1996 among children under the age of five; in the three northern governorates, chronic malnutrition decreased 56 percent.

According to an article in the November 21, 2004 edition of The Washington Post:

"International aid efforts and the U.N. oil-for-food program helped reduce the ruinous impact of sanctions, and the rate of acute malnutrition among the youngest Iraqis gradually dropped from a peak of 11 percent in 1996 to 4 percent in 2002."

This same article documented that malnutrition rates in Iraq have increased substantially since the end of the Oil-for-Food Program, from 4% to 7.7%.

Between 1997 and 2002, the capacity to undertake major surgeries increased by 40% and laboratory investigations increased by 25% in the center and south of Iraq. Communicable diseases, including cholera, malaria, measles, mumps, meningitis and tuberculosis were reduced in the center/south of Iraq during this period. As of May 29, 2003, there had been no cases of polio in Iraq for more than three years. In the three northern governorates, cholera was eradicated and the incidence of malaria reduced to the 1991 level. Vaccinations reduced measles morbidity considerably.

Preliminary findings indicate that between 1996 and 2002 there was a reduction in the number of underweight children from 23% to 10%; chronic malnutrition decreased from 32% to 24%; and acute malnutrition dropped from 11% to 5.4%. There were also significant improvements made to transportation, water and sanitation treatment facilities, agriculture, telecommunications and education among other infrastructure benefits.

So while Saddam was getting $10.1 Billion in illegal money, and while various people (including the AWB it seems) were also getting wealthy due to corruption, Iraqi children and families were getting more food and medical supplies, and the weapons inspection team obviously was able to keep Iraq from developing WMDs (something which is obvious now that none have been found).

All of this raises the question again of why it was necessary for America to invade. The UN sanctions which had kept Iraq from developing WMDs meant that Iraq was no threat to the US nor to any other nation. These sanctions unfortunately ended up exacerbating an infant mortality rate that was always going to high after America destroyed most of Iraq's civil infrastructure during the 1991 Gulf War. The Oil For Food Programme ensured that these negative social effects were being addressed and was in the process of fixing them quite successfully at the time America invaded in 2003.

So while it cannot be denied that Saddam and others made money on the deal, the fact is that the Programme managed to keep Iraq from developing WMDs, while at the same time feeding ordinary Iraqis and reducing infant mortality rates.

Moreover, the deaths attributed to the sanctions cannot be blamed upon Saddam, but upon the sanctions that were set up by the Gulf War protagonists - sanctions that killed Iraqi infants until UNICEF, part of the United Nations, managed to convince the world that something needed to be done.

Sadly, it appears as though the current rebuilding effort is completely corrupt and is going nowhere. "Riverbend", the pseudonym of an Iraqi woman living in Baghdad, has posted a recent article comparing the current rebuilding efforts done by international contractors with the rebuilding done by Iraqis after the first Gulf War. In this article she points out with pride that ordinary Iraqis managed to rebuild the nation within two years of the 1991 war, while two years on from the 2003 invasion, there is much to be done. She says:

Two years (after 1991) and approximately 8 billion Iraqi dinars later, nearly 90% of the damage had been repaired. It took an estimated 6,000 engineers (all Iraqi), 42,000 technicians, and 12,000 administrators, but bridges were soon up again, telephones were more or less functioning in most areas, refineries were working, water was running and electricity wasn’t back 100%, but it was certainly better than it is today. Within the first two years over 100 small and large bridges had been reconstructed, 16 refineries, over 50 factories and industrial compounds, etc.

It wasn’t perfect- it wasn’t Halliburton… It wasn’t KBR…but it was Iraqi. There was that sense of satisfaction and pride looking upon a building or bridge that was damaged during the war and seeing it up and running and looking better than it did before.

Now, nearly three years after this war, the buildings are still piles of debris. Electricity is terrible. Water is cut off for days at a time. Telephone lines come and go. Oil production isn’t even at pre-war levels… and Iraqis hear about the billions upon billions that come and go. A billion here for security… Five hundred million there for the infrastructure… Millions for voting… Iraq falling into deeper debt… Engineers without jobs simply because they are not a part of this political party or that religious group… And the country still in shambles.

All of this is, to me, anecdotal evidence that the Iraqis are far worse off since the invasion than what they would have been under Saddam. This is not to somehow say Saddam is wonderful and great - but it should indicate just how much worse the American occupation actually is compared to a tinpot dictator.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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James Spurgeon

You said you'd play nice, but you haven't even turned up yet....

Evangelicals and the Iraq War

I have just read a quite brilliant essay at The New York Times (of all places), written by an Evangelical Christian named Charles Marsh. It is titled "Wayward Christian Soldiers". I will copy and paste the entire article below since I think it is a very important step in looking at how American Evangelicals have erred in their support of the war and in their desire for direct political action.

Wayward Christian Soldiers

Charlottesville, Va.

IN the past several years, American evangelicals, and I am one of them, have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?

Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.

Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen by millions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor. "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible," said Mr. Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers." In an article carried by the convention's Baptist Press news service, a missionary wrote that "American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former advisor to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular "Left Behind" series, spoke of Iraq as "a focal point of end-time events," whose special role in the earth's final days will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that "God is pro-war" in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.

The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.

Some preachers tried to link Saddam Hussein with wicked King Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame, but these arguments depended on esoteric interpretations of the Old Testament book of II Kings and could not easily be reduced to the kinds of catchy phrases that are projected onto video screens in vast evangelical churches. The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.

Such sentiments are a far cry from those expressed in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974. More than 2,300 evangelical leaders from 150 countries signed that statement, the most significant milestone in the movement's history. Convened by Billy Graham and led by John Stott, the revered Anglican evangelical priest and writer, the signatories affirmed the global character of the church of Jesus Christ and the belief that "the church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology."

On this page, David Brooks correctly noted that if evangelicals elected a pope, it would most likely be Mr. Stott, who is the author of more than 40 books on evangelical theology and Christian devotion. Unlike the Pope John Paul II, who said that invading Iraq would violate Catholic moral teaching and threaten "the fate of humanity," or even Pope Benedict XVI, who has said there were "not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq," Mr. Stott did not speak publicly on the war. But in a recent interview, he shared with me his abiding concerns.

"Privately, in the days preceding the invasion, I had hoped that no action would be taken without United Nations authorization," he told me. "I believed then and now that the American and British governments erred in proceeding without United Nations approval." Reverend Stott referred me to "War and Rumors of War, " a chapter from his 1999 book, "New Issues Facing Christians Today," as the best account of his position. In that essay he wrote that the Christian community's primary mission must be "to hunger for righteousness, to pursue peace, to forbear revenge, to love enemies, in other words, to be marked by the cross."

What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world. The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness.

Charles Marsh, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia, is the author of "The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today."

(my italics and highlighting - OSO)

Some interesting blogspots

I rarely do blogspots - which is sad since I spend more time reading other people's blogs than writing my own.

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, is one of the most infuriating Christian bloggers. One the one hand, he is everything that I am not - a political conservative and a borderline theological liberal - but on the other he is capable of writing pieces that I just find fantastic. His current blog about the Chad Allen furore is an example of this.

Tom Hinkle has a piece about the same subject. In fact it is so close to what Michael has written that I'm wondering who has copied who, or if there is some redactor present.

Tim Challies has come out of the closet... and told everyone that he is a fan of Oswald Chambers. I might be straining at gnats here, but I became very wary of Chambers' teachings years ago. Tim is positively reviewing a book that I actually own and have used to try to discern Chambers' particular brand of holiness theology. While it is not surprising to be told that this particular book was promoted by Christian Musicians, I would have thought that Tim would have understood that the Holiness Movement that Chambers was a part of has some serious theological problems, which in turn makes it hard to support any growth of godliness that these people seem to promote. For Tim to say "The guy was a bit dodgy theologically but he is great for getting us to be godly" (my paraphrase) is to separate orthodoxy from orthopraxis. So, with my tongue set firmly in my humourless Calvinist cheek, I now condemn Tim Challies to hell.

Frazzled Sister is a young-ish Christian woman I bumped into at One Veteran's Voice and is giving some very good responses to some of my points raised over there.


Nude Bono

I heard this story a few years ago:

12. Did Bono really take off his clothes in the middle of a crowded restaurant?

This is true. From Newsday March 27, 1992: At a dinner earlier this week at London's celebrity haunt, Nikita, Bono surprised his 18 dinner guests by removing all his clothes - including his black bikini briefs - for no apparent reason. During the Russian meal of mainly vodka and caviar, we're told the Irish rocker sat naked and acted as if being nude in a plush, crowded restaurant was the most natural thing in the world. Which, in some quarters, we suppose it is. "Sometimes people drink vodka and do strange things," Nikita owner Sylvain Borsi told us. But didn't he find Bono's behavior a bit eccentric, to say the least? "No, he was very nice and very civilized," Borsi said. "I think he just felt more comfortable with nothing on." But he had a really good reason! From Newsday March 30, 1992 : His spokesman says Bono was actually being interviewed by a journalist during dinner when the Irish rocker decided to undress, as we reported. "The writer was so unimaginative, so frozen, so unloose that Bono thought it would be a good idea to take his clothes off," the spokesman said. "And there wasn't much of a reaction." [MJS]

I suppose Bono was merely expressing himself in a pre-edenic state...


Upcoming Region 4 DVDs I want

This list is just for me to remind myself.

Millennium - Season 3 - 8 February (Part 1, Part 2)
UFO - Volume 1 - 1 March
Wallace and Gromit Wererabbit - 1 March
The Comic Strip Presents - 1 March
Brothers Grimm - 15 March
Lost Highway (Roadshow) - ??


Maddox is always right... always

Blogger: Term used to describe anyone with enough time or narcissism to document every tedious bit of minutia filling their uneventful lives. Possibly the most annoying thing about bloggers is the sense of self-importance they get after even the most modest of publicity. Sometimes it takes as little as a referral on a more popular blogger's website to set the lesser blogger's ego into orbit.

Then God forbid a blogger gets mentioned on CNN. If you thought it was impossible for a certain blogger to get more pious than he was, wait until you see the s*** storm of self-righteous save-the-world b******t after a network plug. Suddenly the boring, mild-mannered blogger you once knew will turn into Mother Theresa, and will single handedly take it upon himself to end world hunger with his stupid links to band websites and other smug blogger dips***s.

- Maddox

Left-wing obfuscation in Abramoff affair

One of the big points that left-wing bloggers and Democratic leaders have been pushing in the last few weeks is that the Abramoff scandal is a Republican scandal. So while the mainstream media have been speaking about how "both sides" are affected by the scandal, the left has been adamant that it is clearly a Republican problem.

But today, John Aravosis at AMERICABlog, one of the more popular and influential lefty blogs, is incensed that the Democrats have appointed an "ethically challenged Democrat to lead (the) ethics reform fight". The Democrat in question, James Clyburn (SC), is apparently linked to a 1997 trip to the Marianas, paid for by lobbyist Jack Abramoff - an event that is being investigated by the legal team that is prosecuting Abramoff.

Of course, many are now complaining in the comments thread at Americablog that this revelation essentially contradicts the left-wing chorus that Democrats are not involved in the Abramoff scandal. The replies to this are quite disheartening - well, the explanation goes, we weren't saying that Democrats weren't involved, all we were saying was that no Democrat recieved campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff.

This is clearly obfuscation, and it will hit left-bloggers hard. Why is it obfuscation? The idea that has been presented for the past few weeks is that the Democrats are clean, the Republicans are dirty, and the only evidence showing some level of monetary exchange is from an Indian tribe to a Democrat or two - which is obviously not clearly from Abramoff.

To say that I'm disappointed is obvious. No doubt I believe that the Republicans are caught in this net to a large extent, but to deliberately mislead the public and attack the mainstream media for arguing that the Abramoff scandal is not linked to the Democrats at all is exceptionally unhelpful.

I'm likely to get people commenting or disagreeing with me here and there is obviously a great chance that my conclusions are, in fact, wrong. If I am wrong, please show me where and I will publically recant - that is not some turn-of-phrase but a real and genuine promise.

At issue here is the impression left upon me and many others who have trusted left-wing blogs and the various talking points that the Democrats are quite clean in this scandal. This is not about specifics, it is about generalities. I suppose if I did examine the minute detail of the pronouncements I may well discover that when people said "The Democrats are clean" they actually meant "The Democrats did not receive campaign contributions", a qualification that opens the door to Democrats being implicated in other corrupt activity that Jack Abramoff was involved in - which is now clear with James Clyburn.

Let me try to be clearer - the intention of the "Democrats are clean" campaign was to argue generally that Democrats were not involved at all. It was not intended to be a specific argument. Intention is the key here. And because that was the intended message, now that James Clyburn has appeared and is being touted as a Democrat who is being investigated for his involvement with Jack Abramoff, people who now complain are now discovering the "fine print" of the "Democrats are clean" campaign, which essentially puts the blame back on the readers for not realising that it was about campaign funding only.

Left-leaning blogs and Democrats should be clear and totally unambiguous. When the Abramoff scandal broke, members of the left should have made it clear that at least one Democrat was being investigated, rather than attempting to cover it up with the obfuscation of the "Democrats are clean" campaign.

As a political leftist myself I am angry that this has happened. The campaign sacrified long-term respectability for short-term political gain. Truthfulness, accountability and transparency are things that we should fight for, not things we should be trying to avoid for the sake of political gain.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Majority of Americans want Bush Impeached

What a great title to a blog! It could convey all sorts of information that, without thinking, could lead the casual reader to think that the majority of Americans want Bush out of the White House.

Certainly there is a growing number of Americans who want this, but remember that when I say "Impeached" I mean that a formal investigation is undertaken by congress, the outcome of which is to determine whether the president should be removed from office. Only two presidents in US history (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998) have been impeached, and both survived. The fact that Bush gets impeached does not mean that he will be removed from office - that's for congress to decide.

As far as I know, impeachment consists firstly of members of the house deciding whether or not the Senate should impeach the president. This is done by a simple majority. Once a majority of house reps say "yes" to impeachment, then it goes up to the Senate. Once it reaches the Senate, and after lengthy debate, a two-thirds majority is needed to remove the president. With Clinton, the simple majority (228-206) of the House got the Senate to do their stuff, but the Senate did not have a two-thirds majority (it was 55-45 in favour of Clinton). So while Clinton was "impeached", he was not removed.

So what does this mean for George Bush?

It means that the majority of Americans want his wiretapping to be investigated. While many obviously think that the wiretapping deserves removal, many more are obviously concerned enough to demand some form of investigation - one that will either indict or exonerate the President.

The poll was done by Zogby, and there are two downloads you can examine for yourself:

Zogby (results that cover American adults) - pdf file, 20.8kb
Zogby (results that cover those who intend to vote at the next election) - pdf file, 25.2kb

While the two results may give the impression that two polls were taken, the fact is that only one poll was taken and it was broken into two results - one that covers the general population (American adults) and one that covers those who intend to vote. Obviously there is a considerable overlap between them.

The question asked was:

If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment?

The summary of the results are: 1216 polled, 51.7% want congress to consider impeachment, 42.8% don't want congress to consider impeachment, and 5.5% don't know.

But there's some rather telling and/or surprising results:

  1. The greatest amount of "don't knows" come from the South (9.1%)
  2. While all regions have a majority desiring impeachment, the slimmest margin is in the Midwest / Great Lakes region (49.4% want impeachment, 45.7% do not)
  3. The region with the biggest margin in support of impeachment is in the South. (52.6% want impeachment, 38.3% do not)
  4. Support for impeachment is greatest among those aged 18-24 (89.7%), followed by 25-34 (52.9%). Support is then equally balanced among 35-54 year olds (46.9% agree, 46.9% disagree), and is directed more towards Bush among 54-69 year olds (49.3% disagree, 46.7% agree) and is given great support by the 70+ age bracket (52.5% support, but 8.8% don't know - the highest level of all age groups).
  5. States that the Republicans won in 2004 have a 50.7% support for impeachment, while states that the Democrats won in 2004 have a 52.7% support for impeachment.
  6. Support for impeachment is weakest (49.5% but still a majority) amongst those who shop at Wal-Mart on a weekly basis.
  7. Of those who belong to a political party, the results are obvious. 71.3% of Democrats want impeachment while 70.5% of Republicans are opposed to it. Independents have a 58.5% support.
  8. Interestingly, the higher the educational achievement of the person is, the less support they have for impeachment. 71.6% of High School dropouts favour impeachment, 58.9% of High School grads (who have not gone on to college) support impeachment, 52.1% of college dropouts favour impeachment, while 48.1% of college grads (a majority) do NOT support impeachment. This result is obviously affected by racial elements - eg the majority of high school dropouts being African Americans, college grads being white, and so on.
  9. White Americans are divided but slightly favour non-impeachment (46.7% yes to 47.7% no)
  10. Hispanics are not impressed with Bush (56.3% yes to 38.0% no)
  11. African Americans appear to despise the guy (74.8% yes to 20.6% no)
  12. Asians are even less impressed than the Hispanics (60.7% yes to 32.6% no)
  13. Those who live in large cities (55.6% yes) or small cities (58.1% yes) want Bush impeached, while those who live in the suburbs (48.9% no but a majority) or in rural areas (49.6% no but a majority) do not want him impeached.
  14. Catholics (50.0% yes) want Bush impeached while Protestants (50.0% no) do not.
  15. 62.5% of Muslims do NOT want Bush impeached (a statistical anomoly methinks, less than 10 were clearly identified in the poll)
  16. 83.0% of Jews want Bush impeached.
  17. 57.4% of Born Again Christians do NOT want Bush impeached (groan!!)
  18. Married people are more likely to NOT want impeachment (52.1%), while 74.8% of singles and 53.4% of Divorced/Separated/Windowed do want Bush impeached.
  19. 49.0% of members of the armed forces want Bush impeached, while 44.0% do not.
  20. 49.7% of NASCAR fans want Bush impeached, while 46.5% do not
  21. Regular church attenders do not want Bush impeached, while less regular attenders support impeachment.
  22. 48.5% of men want Bush impeached, while 45.9% do not.
  23. 54.6% of women want Bush impeached, while 39.9% do not.
  24. Those who earn less than $50,000 per year want Bush impeached. Those who earn more than that amount do not want him impeached.
And, of course, a note on Zogby. According to the Wikipedia article, John Zogby, the guy who runs the polls, is pretty much the "Liberal Democrat" and blogs for The Huffington Post. His predictions for the 2000 election were spot-on but he was mistaken in the 2004 election. I'm not too concerned that the guy has a political stance, but I am naturally concerned if his political bias means that facts get changed around. Nevertheless, Zogby polls are increasingly respected in the mainstream, and hopefully other polling agencies will supply their skills to confirm or deny whether most Americans want Bush to be investigated for his wiretapping.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Heckuva Bubble for Bush

US Presidents are often tagged with lines uttered in public that go down in history as expressions of their incompetence or political failures. With Bush Sr, it was "Read my lips, no new taxes" spoken clearly and concisely some months before he raised taxes. With Clinton, it was "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" as he testified lamely before the Grand Jury.

George W. Bush certainly has a bit of time left to come up with similar gems. At the moment, however, one of his more popular phrases is "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job", as he assessed the work done by FEMA director Michael D. Brown in helping the people of New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina. Given the obvious incompetence of FEMA at the time, and the reports of suffering going on in the Superdome and other places, this phrase is now used quite ironically by Bush opponents to ridicule and criticise him - "You're doing a heckuva job (insert name of incompetent Bush-appointed offical)".

So it is with a measure of surprise that Dubya has used the phrase again - not just anywhere, but in a speech given to people in New Orleans about the rebuilding effort. Speaking to these citizens, he pointed out that New Orleans is "a heckuva place to bring your family".

There's no doubt that Dubya said this innocently and without any idea of what he was saying - and that's the problem.

White House staffers, advisors and other Bush hangers-on would no doubt have be aware that his praise of Michael Brown was erroneous, and that the praise "You're doing a heckuva job" was becoming a popular anti-Bush phrase. So why did the president innocently utter it? The answer is simple - no one has told him of the problem.

That's right, all these people close to the president have not informed him of the awful truth that this innocent phrase should now be verboten. Not one of his advisors took him aside in the last few months and said "Mr President, I'm afraid that the expression you used to praise Michael Brown - 'you're doing a heckuva job' - is now being used by your political opponents. I really suggest that you be careful to never use that phrase again in public, because the phrase is now quite embarrassing".

Something similar happened during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in April, 2004. Things got so bad that the President made a speech live on television about it. What was interesting during that speech was that he mispronounced "Abu Ghraib" several times. This was not an example of Bush's inability to read, after all, most people did not know how to pronounce "Abu Ghraib" previous to the scandal unfolding. Nevertheless the question needed to be asked - why was George Bush mispronouncing a name that virtually everyone had heard and knew how to pronounce by the time the president appeared on TV?

Think of the generic 20th or 21st century president sitting at his desk in the White House. An advisor enters and says "Mr. President, an Air Force B-52 carrying nuclear weapons has crashed in Tajikistan." As he listens to the report, he is mentally saying to himself 'Ah, that's how you pronounce that word' ".

Had Mr. Bush been properly briefed about the issue, he would have been surrounded by advisors and staffers all pronouncing "Abu Ghraib" constantly around him as they talked about damage control. Through this process of being exposed to the name "Abu Ghraib", the president would have known how to say it.

But he didn't. On the night he made the speech, he mispronounced it several times. The only reason I can think of is that he had never been exposed to the name in the first place - or at least once or twice by the speechwriters before he sat down before the cameras.

Both the "Abu Ghraib" and "Heckuva" events show that George W. Bush is kept apart from the world. News items, talking points and important events that we are aware of are barely on the president's scope. For whatever reason, his advisors have learned to keep certain information from him - possibly because the president does not wish to know or even acknowledge these sorts of details.

All of this begs the question - what else does the president not know? The answer to this is probably frightening.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Home Loan Unaffordability

One of my least favourite lobby groups is the Housing Industry Association (HIA). For some reason, I find their pronouncements to be almost always self-serving, and speak of the housing industry as if it were the engine room of the Australian economy and woe betide anyone who says otherwise.

Today the HIA announced that the housing affordability "crisis" is now over. Since the housing industry has been suffering from a deflating bubble in the last 2 years, you'd think it was time we filled the streets and partied.

But the stats are more depressing. According to figures supplied by the Real Estate Institute of Australia and AMP Banking and featured at the MESI wesbite - the Home Loan Affordability Indicator - housing has been exceptionally unaffordable in Australia since June 2004. The recent figures that the HIA are touting are not wrong - but they need to be seen in context. Yes, housing has become more affordable, but it is still exceptionally expensive.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Suffering in "The John"

The John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle is the city's largest and newest hospital. It not only serves the people of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, but is also the hospital many people from the north coast and north-western NSW go to when they have a complicated condition.

It has no air-conditioning

Yes - you read that right. "The John", as it is unaffectionately known, is a hothouse in summer. While the reception area has its own air conditioning system, the wards do not. That means that sick people, nurses and doctors often have to live in temperatures of 30 degrees or more quite often during summer. Some wards do have their own air conditioning system, but most do not.

It is absolutely incredible in this day and age that a major hospital does not have something so basic as air conditioning. Moreover, it is also incredible that a modern hospital should have no air conditioning.

There are so many design flaws at the John that it must represent the worst piece of central planning ever by publically funded health services. It's almost enough - almost - to prove the belief that government cannot do anything with any sort of efficiency.

Take parking at the hospital. Since Newcastle does not have a 24-hour medical centre anywhere in the city, sick people are often forced to go to hospital emergency departments. A few months ago I was concerned that I had developed a chest infection and so off I went - in the early evening - to the John to see a doctor. I entered the parking area, got myself a ticket and then drove around for 5-10 minutes looking for a space. Do you think I could find one? Then I had the frustration of paying a $4 parking fee on my way out when I decided to go to the Martyr emergency department instead (which has just as impossible to enter). Things are so bad with parking that people are hired to move cars in the staff parking area so that Nurses and Doctors can actually put their cars somewhere.

There's also only one road in and one road out - and the road is located at a major intersection. If there is a traffic accident at that section, then the hospital is temporarily cut off from the rest of Newcastle.

The John is designed as a long three-story building. Between floors two and three there are gaps in the floor reminiscent of a shopping centre - you can walk along floor three and gaze down at people walking on floor two. On the ceiling are skylights to allow natural light in, which is okay during the winter but in summer it adds to the heat. Moreover, because of safety, these "gaps" have ugly safety nets draped over them.

Most Newcastle people I know - especially those who work there - are totally frustrated with "The John".

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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My cartoon

Very badly done, but go here to see what I'm actually trying to do.


As much as is fit to print is now up. Go visit.

Any cartoonists out there?

I can't draw very well, and I have no ability to create anything with help from my computer. I suppose I could try but it would take me ages.

But I've just thought of a great new comic strip that is lefty-political in tone. I've come up with two strips already with the dialogue. If you'd like to be my cartoonist, please contact me. No money will be made (it'll come under a creative commons license)

C'mon! I've made about a dozen now, and they are all scientifically proven to be hilarious.

Meme of Four

Thanks to Maxspeak for this one. Pass the meme on...

Four Jobs you've had:
1. High School Teacher
2. Security Guard
3. Purchasing Officer
4. Console Operator

Four Movies you could watch over and over:
1. Brazil
2. The Big Lebowski
3. Apocalypse Now
4. Dead Man

Four places you've lived:
1. Cheltenham, NSW
2. Carlingford, NSW
3. Croydon, NSW
4. Waratah, NSW

Four TV Shows you love to watch:
1. Millennium
2. The Simpsons
3. The Young Ones
4. Big Train

Four places you've been on vacation:
1. Cawdor, Scotland
2. Hollywood, California
3. Kangaroo Island, South Australia
4. Leeton, NSW

Four Blogs you visit daily:
1. Eschaton
2. One Veteran's Voice
3. The Texas Baptist Underground
4. Pyromaniac

Four of your favourite foods:
1. Thai Chicken Curry (Green/Red/Panang)
2. Spaghetti Bolognese
3. Butter Chicken
4. Laksa

Four Places you'd rather be:
1. King Island
2. Devonport
3. Kamchatka
4. Cobran Road, Cheltenham, NSW

Four albums you can't live without:
1. Ride - Going Blank Again
2. U2 - The Unforgettable Fire
3. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
4. Pixies - Doolittle

Four Vehicles you've owned:
1. Honda VT-250F
2. Suzuki Swift
3. Mitsubishi Lancer
4. A Chopper