Sunday, September 24, 2006

Things Not To Do on Your OE - Part 1

Something I've learnt from my time tripping around the world is that travelling with the Irish is both fun and nerve-wracking. Somehow I don't think "consequences" is a word many of them understand. However if you put this minor shortcoming aside travelling with an Irishman is guaranteed to take you places you'd never expect. The following tale is a case in point.

In late 1996 I was meandering my way through Turkey as part of my sojourn in the Middle East. I'd done all the really touristy places (Istanbul, Fethiye, Gallipoli, Cappadocia etc) and was making my way along the Black Sea coast when I ran into Kevin, formerly of Belfast. He was a gregarious bloke (the Irish generally are) and we got on pretty well. Anyway we got to talking about travel plans, where each other was headed, and how we intended to get there - that sort of thing. I was heading south towards Syria and so too, it turned out was Kevin. Figuring there's always safety in numbers we decided to travel together for a while.

It was a day or two into the journey when we got to Trabzon and were mellowing at a bar with an Aussie (whose name now escapes me) that Kevin came up with the bright idea that we should climb Mount Ararat. It was a bit out of the way he argued, but since we were in the neighbourhood we'd be fools not to give it a crack. Hang on, says yours truly, it's late autumn and you're suggesting we climb a sodding mountain and get caught in a blizzard. Doesn't sound a particularly good plan to me.

Many beers and persuasive Irish dialogue ensued.
"Whaddaya, a nonce?"
"No, I'm just not a fan of frostbite"
"Bigod have another beer will yez ... look it'll be fine. A quick climb up and down and a story to tell your kids"
"If I climb Mt Ararat and get caught in a blizzard I might not have any kids! Anyway don't you need a permit to go up there?"
"Permits are for poofs ... have another beer ya Keewee idjit"

So many, many, beers later I was persuaded and, once the hangover was over, off to the village of Dogbayit trundled the intrepid trio (The Australian having decide to join us)

In hindsight I should have realised the plan had risks. Any sentence that starts "An Irishman, a Kiwi, and an Australian were on Mount Ararat ..." should ring all sorts of warning bells. However I was young, and fairly foolish, so I blithely proceeded with no regard for the consequences.

As I suspected permits were needed to climb the mountain. Permits we didn't have and couldn't get, unless we were prepared to back-track to Ankara to get them. Even then, the locals said, they were unlikely to be issued. Like the twits we were we didn't think to ask why that might be.

Needless to say Kevin wasn't going to let a small issue like a permit get in the way of a chance of a lifetime. We had a tent, warm gear, plenty of food, and with judicious cash donations to the right people we were going up this mountain. And that's what we did.

If the truth be told it wasn't that difficult. The climb wasn't hard at all. The view was spectacular, but despite our best efforts we didn't find Noah's Ark. However clambering up and down mopuntain did take a while, which necessitated an overnight bivvy in an almost cave on Ararat's lower slopes. It was chilly, but we had hot food and plenty of alcohol to keep us cosy and drifted off to a well satisfied sleep.

It was at around five AM the next morning that the shit hit the fan. There was an almighty bang as something exploded outside our shelter. Ears ringing I half sat up in my sleeping bag only for another stupendous flash of light and colossal crash to send me into a small huddled ball of quivering fear. The next thing I know is half a dozen guys in camouflage and armed to the teeth come storming into our shelter yell and screaming at us in Turkish. Then they got a look at us and stopped dead in their tracks. They were definitely surprised (though nowhere as surprised as us) to find three white boys in a cave on Ararat.

Anyway once the initial tensions eased, machine guns were lowered, and explanations were forthcoming. Firstly from us explaining what we were doing there, and then from them as to why they were throwing stun grenades at us and poking rather large guns at our heads. It turns out the part of the country we were in was where the Kurdish separatists (or terrorists depending on your point of view) the PKK were operating. The Turkish Army had put some specialist groups into the field on some sort of search and destroy mission. They'd seen a light in our cave, and because no permits had been issued for tourists to climb Ararat, assumed we were Kurds and had been about to deal to us in a fairly permanent way.

Anyway once the misunderstanding was cleared up, (the soldiers thought the whole situation was hilarious) they offered us us breakfast and in exchange for some cigarettes and booze gave us a ride back into the nearest town. Very generously they didn't dob us in for being where we weren't supposed to be.

Once the dust had settled somewhat the three of us were sitting at a local cafe, basically really enjoying life and the fact we were still alive. Irish Kevin takes a long swig of his beer, looks at me and said
"Ya see Keewee, I told youse have a good story to to tell from this trip"
"U huh"
"Now how's you fancy going to Iraq?"

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Paranoia Balance.

The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.

The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

Inspired by Rob.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Thinking Chickens.

I think I cluck, therefore I am a chook.

More philosophical musings from Green MP Sue Kedgley.

Chicken carnage revealed in MAF report

A report prepared for MAF that purports to show chickens are relatively well treated in New Zealand broiler farms actually indicates some 3 million chickens die per year as a result of the appalling conditions in which they are forced to spend their brief lives, Green Party Animal Welfare Spokesperson Sue Kedgley says.

”This report was dressed up with classic PR spin, claiming that conditions were better for broiler chickens in New Zealand than elsewhere. What it has done is lift the lid on a quite appalling reality.

“By the report’s own figures, some 3.8 percent of the chickens surveyed died prematurely, from such things as heart failure caused by forced growth, and from culling because of the leg deformities fostered by the crowded conditions..Given that some 80 million broiler chickens are raised annually in New Zealand, that means over 3 million chickens die prematurely, due to the cruel and abnormal environment in which they are raised.

Chickens are living, sentient creatures. Yet they have been packed 20-30 to the square metre. All birds in the survey suffered in varying degrees from leg weakness, and therefore many of them spend a lot of time lying down rather than standing up..This results in skin abrasion and dermatitis, from being in contact with faeces in the soiled wood shavings strewn beneath them, which – the report reveals – are usually not changed over the term of their lives. etc etc etc

Plugging The Leaks.

Literally the only Parliamentary leaks ever to receive remedial action

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Something I forgot to add.

There's been a bit of gossip around the blogs about why the media chose to run the Brash story. Some are arguing that Labour MPs were hounding the Gallery to encourage them to run with it. Well my Molesworth mole tells me the only senior Labour MP to do the rounds on the Gallery corridor of late was Steve Maharey, and that was on the day Trevor Mallard made the "affair" comment during question time. He was sent down by the 9th floor to see how it gone down with the Gallery .... the response (so I understand) from at least one newsroom, was to tell them to pull their bloody heads in.

Now back to why the Brash story was run. The week before last TVNZ put Helen Clark on the spot on the pre-question time bridge run about the rumours currently doing the rounds about her husband, Peter Davis. As you can imagine it got a very frosty denial.

But what it did result in was an editor of one of the daily papers deciding, that if that question was going to be asked of Clark, then Brash had to be quizzed on the affair allegation. One of his reporters duly did so on the day National was holding its caucus meeting. That saw Dr Brash go back into Caucus and raise the matter as he feared (justifiably) that a story was going to be run, and that he should warn his Party colleagues about it. Rakaia MP Brian Connell then asked if him if the allegation was true ..... and the rest we all know.

Likely Candidates.

The best way to get hits on NZ blog these days is to post just three words.

"Don, Brash, affair"
After months of no bugger reading this blog last week I had a sudden surge and those were the words responsible. What an irresponsible bunch of gossips you are! Anyway the beast must be sated so here's some more for you to digest.

The question everyone has been asking in Parliament since Wednesday is who was the person that leaked the caucus tiff over Don Brash's alleged affair to the media? My initial suspect was Rakaia MP Brian Connell as he's a loose cannon, no friend of Dr Brash, and the type of person who would do him a bad turn if the opportunity presented itself. But it seems I owe Brian an apology as it seems while he did have the argument he wasn't the one that leaked it. Caucus rumour is that it was someone with a much longer political history.

So here are our suspects:

John Key.

John Key is the man everybody is picking to be the next leader of the National Party. He's a good debater, more than holds his own against the Minister of Finance Dr Michael Cullen, and is popular with the public. A self made millionaire he's the perfect man to connect with the ordinary bloke and big business. He's been playing down his leadership aspirations but it's an open secret he wants the job one day. However it's unlikely he's the leak. Caucus rumour says it's someone with extensive political experience and Key is only in his second term as an MP. For the time being we can rule him out.

Gerry Brownlee.

Suspect number two is the Party's current Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee. He fits the bill for the political experience rumour as he's been around for quite a while now. Also he's another that's been known to hold strong aspirations for the leader's job. Hopwever the subtle machination of the leak, setting up Brian Connell as the fall-guy suggests Gerry Brownlee is not the culprit. This is not a reflection on the man's intelligence but it's not his style. Brownlee is a debater and a brawler and takes the shortest route to his goals. Convoluted plotting is not something he's known for.

Bill English.

Now this is the guy who I think has to be the prime suspect. My reason are as follows; He was formerly the Leader of the National Party until he was rolled by Dr Brash after losing the 2002 election. National's support from the business community evaporated largely because of the campaign being run by the Business Roundtable for installing Dr Brash as leader - no Brash = no money. The coup that rolled Bill English cut deep and it showed as it was some time before he was back to his effective best on the opposition benches. He's never said it publicly but it's well known if he could get his own job back he'd grab it in a flash. Bill English has the best motive of the lot, revenge. He also has political experience when it comes to rolling party leaders .... remember Jenny Shipley?

The problem our leadership hopeful has (whoever he may be) is there's been a lot of public sympathy for Dr Brash following the affair accusations. To make a move for the leadership will be seen by many as cynical and underhanded, not a good move if you want public support to win the next election. This leaves two options; One, persuade Dr Brash to leave now on the basis his credibility is gone. Or two, run a long term low level destabilisation campaign until it's simply untenable for Dr Brash to remain. By then sufficient time will have passed to be distanced from the Caucus leak.

Given Dr Brash's intention to stay and fight it looks like option two is the one that will be played out. We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Muck Raking.

As I suspected last week, NZ politics has just got a lot murkier. National Party Leader Dr Don Brash is now away from Parliament to deal with marital difficulties. In essence a rumour that’s been circling for some time that he was having an extra-marital affair has become public knowledge. Not since Labour Prime Minister David Lange left his wife for his then speech-writer Margaret Pope has a political party leader had to deal with such a personal issue under the glare of public scrutiny.

It’s a line that the NZ media rarely cross and it’s worthy of analysis to try and understand how this state of affairs has arisen. The catalyst was probably comments made in Parliament during Question Time last week when Dr Brash was quizzing Prime Minister Helen Clark over the Taito Phillip Field affair. Labour Cabinet Minister Trevor Mallard interjected challenging Dr Brash to elaborate on his own affairs. It was a very unsubtle dig at the National Party Leader’s personal life and patently obvious to those who witnessed it.

Now it’s not uncommon for snide suggestions to be made in Parliament about political opponents. But when another Cabinet Minister joined the barracking, David Benson-Pope, the suggestions went well beyond a veiled hint or a sly dig. In effect it was gutter politics.

However Labour can’t be solely blamed for the affair hitting the headlines. Some of the responsibility lies within National’s Caucus. At National’s Caucus meeting on Tuesday one of its MP’s asked Dr Brash whether there was any truth to the rumours. Dr Brash said he wasn’t going to be talking about his personal life. Things then degenerated as the MP kept pressing the matter in face of some strong opposition from his colleagues. It’s my understanding this MP was the one that leaked details of the Caucus meeting to Independent Financial Review reporter Tim Donoghue. The result was a front-page splash this morning. The National MP broke established rules, shattered Caucus confidentiality, and basically cut the legs out from his leader. He has to bear some responsibility for what has happened.

Questions also have to be asked of the MP’s motivations. Some time ago he was slapped down by Dr Brash and demoted after breaking the ranks on a party policy. Is it too far fetched to assume he may have been holding a grudge?

Whatever his reasons Dr Brash’s leadership of the National Party is under pressure again. The ever-present leadership vultures are already circling. The Party may circle wagons around Dr Brash for the next few days, but depending on how he handles the situation, those with aspirations for the top job will roll him if they can.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


The problem with mountain biking is that occasionally shit happens. This I discovered this afternoon while having a blat around Makara. Fortunately this time I was only peripherally involved. This is what happens when a jump goes wrong.

Th young fellow involved took a nasty knock to the head, a definite concussion and a possible broken nose. Definitely not compos mentis and necessitated a medevac courtesy of the good people at the Westpac Trust Rescue Helicopter.

A big up to the crew as well. The area where the accident happened is right where high tension power lines run through, so it required some pretty good skills from the pilot to get in to us.

And with a cloud of dust (and all our bike gear scattered to the four winds) off they flew.

In the midst of keeping him warm and awake yours truly had to make a call to his parents to give them the bad news. Not the sort of situation you ever want to be in.

Fortunately the young lad was wearing a helmet so hopefully all he'll have from the whole affair is a headache and a few days of school. I doubt he'll remember any of it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Playing Dirty.

There’s a box in politics that’s never really been opened in New Zealand. That is the personal peccadilloes of our MP’s. Politicians, though it may sometimes seem otherwise, are really no different to the rest of us. Like all human beings they’ve made their share of mistakes, done things they might not be proud of, and have skeletons in their closets they’d much rather prefer never saw the light of day. Unlike the USA and the UK this territory has been regarded as out of bounds for both the media and political opponents. The reasoning being if what they do in their personal life doesn’t compromise their professional performance there’s little to be gained for it to be splashed across the public domain. The closest we’ve come to is to have gossip columnists, such as Bridget Saunders, print vague innuendoes that only those in the know can readily identify.

But now it seems that could change.

All of a sudden National has gained some major traction in its attack on Labour’s use of the pledge card at the 2005 election. Public opinion has been swayed against the Government and its 446 thousand dollar pledge card costs. Costs which were funded out of the taxpayer’s pocket. A move, which according to the Chief Electoral Officer, the Solicitor General, the Auditor General, and the Police, the Labour Party shouldn’t have taken. This, coupled with the furore surrounding Labour MP Taito Phillip Field, has significantly raised the stakes for the Government. Previously it’d been able to tough out the scandals (e.g. Paintergate, Peter Doone, the motorcade etc) and eventually they’d fade from public view. But not this time. Opinion polls reveal the voters are sitting up, taking notice, and aren’t impressed with what they see.

The result’s seen a torrid few days in Parliament. After taking accusations of corruption on the chin for several weeks or more Labour decided enough was enough and that the best defence was a strong offence. It was time, they decided, to highlight National’s corporate funding, and what relationship, if any, National had with the religious sect the Exclusive Brethren at the last election. However the strategists went one step further and that saw Labour bovver boy Trevor Mallard threaten to dish the dirt on certain National MP’s. He even went so far as to give some very strong hints about some specific people and some specific activities.

The line from Labour on this has been that Mallard was acting on his own initiative but that’s clearly a steaming pile of the proverbial. Mallard is Labour’s attack dog. He doesn’t take these kinds of steps without direction. This strategy has come direct from the ninth floor of the Beehive. Evidence to back it up are the calls the PM’s made to senior press gallery reporter and the tour that Cabinet Minister Steve Maharey made of the Gallery corridors mid-week to test the mood. It’s only when the Government is seriously spinning that he appears in those doorways as normally it’s a task carried out buy the PM’s press secretaries David Lewis and Kathryn Street.

The mistake the Government’s made is to play the man and not the ball. Its arguments over the connections between National and the Exclusive Brethren have some merit. One point two million dollars is lot for a Church to spend in an attempt to sway voters against the Government and it’s na├»ve to accept that there wasn’t at least some strategising going on with National. Its polish suggests the hands of someone with political nous was involved somewhere along the line. This is what Labour should be focussing on, not revealing personal details about its opponents. That smacks of venal opportunism of the worst kind.

Once one side launches an attack of this kind it sets the precedent for the others to do the same. Like it or not Parliament is a den of rumour and scandal. Stories abound about the behaviour of certain MPs, stories which until now have been confined to the beltway (if I may use a term of Helen Clark’s). I’m not giving details here but off the top off my head I can think of at least a half dozen tales involving varying politicians that I’m sure they’d prefer never ended up in print.

The key is in Pandora’s Box and it’s been twisted. This week will see whether cooler heads will prevail and MP’s step back from the brink. Or it could see a big box of trouble opened for all to see and the face of New Zealand politics changed forever.

I, for one, have my fingers crossed and hope it’s the former.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ask Taito.

Lifted from the Parliamentary PEN earlier in the week (it's a email notceboard type thingy)

9. Wanted: Tiler
Can anyone recommend a good tiler in the Titahi Bay/Porirua area for bathroom work? XXX ext. ????

(Numbers and name removed for privacy reasons)

Surely someone was taking the piss??