Friday, June 25, 2010

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: “You’re Fired”

So that’s it.  If you’d told me two weeks ago that New Zealand would finish the World Cup unbeaten and finish ahead of Italy—and that I’d watch all their games—I wouldn’t have believed you.

Still, while our eyes were focussed on events in South Africa, other things were happening around the world too...

  • The commander of the Afghanistan campaign, in which New Zealand troops are involved, has been fired over the Rolling Stone scandal. But surely the real scandal exposed in Rolling Stone is not his criticisms of his bosses, but his widely acclaimed but sadly failing “counterinsurgency” strategy, and how it needlessly imperils soldiers’ lives--shifting the risks from Afghan civilians to Western combatants. Not to mention the politicisation and expansion of a war that started with one simple aim, and now has too many, and all too diffuse.
    McChrystal’s other — deadly — scandal – Eland Journo, VOICES OF REASON
    General McChrystal and the War in Afghanistan – OBJECTIVIST INDIVIDUALIST
  • "It is typical of the spin era that the first serious ‘crisis’ in relations between General McChrystal and President Obama occurs over a few disobliging words the General and his team spoke about the President and his team. The endless rounds of deaths and dangerous patrols, the delays in finding political settlements on the ground and the ubiquitous ability of the ‘insurgents’ to reappear are not apparently worthy reasons to recall the General for talks, but a magazine article is."
    The President and the General – British MP John Redwood [hat tip Samizdata]
  • The only possible element of hope is the appointment of David Petraeus to the Commander’s post. In a message following "
  • Speaking of sackings, Julia-Gillard_0Australia just elected had appointed a Fabian socialist Prime Minister to replace the softcock drongo they finally saw through. Wonder how long it will be before they want to see the back of Red Julia too?
    Julia Gillard - New Aussie P.M.'s Red Roots – TREVOR LOUDON
  • Her biggest and most immediate decision: to can or not to can the iniquitous mining tax grab imposed by her predecessor and his Treasurer to pay for Australia’s ballooning welfare bill by strangling its golden goose.  The Aussie dollar has already leaped up on the back of expectation that it will be canned, but all that’s agreed do far is that the mining tax grab ads will be pulled. Which leaves a lot of uncertainty about a tax her over-spending government needs, but the country just can’t afford.
    Uncertainty over mining tax remains as Julia Gillard takes over – THE AUSTRALIAN
  • By the way, have you noticed talk that the “flood of boat people” into Australia was one of the issues that brought down Kevin Rudd?  How big is this flood of human beings seeking more freedom and a better life?  Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?  Well, no. According to one of the primary instigators of the “flood” meme, the otherwise excellent Andrew Bolt, the critical number is just 1500.  1500 souls in a country of 20 million. If this “flood” of humanity is really is an issue, it’s both deplorable and demonstrably wrong. Just one reason I’ll be adding this new pro-immigration blog to my blogroll very shortly, The Mother of Exiles blog:
    Mother of Exiles
  • And for more links and stories see my own coverage of yesterday’s ejection of Kevin’07 for the woman who looks more and more like Helen Clark with sex appeal.
    A lesson from Canberra – NOT PC
  • “So if he cried, forgive. His end was cruel.”
    No wonder Kevin cried  - ANDREW BOLT
  • And already there’s an episode of Downfall for Poor Kev.
    Kevin Rudd's Downfall – YOUTUBE
  • As country after country realises that organising debt into currency is the way to penury instead of prosperity, Britain finds itself the latest canary in this Keynesian coal mine—and its Con-Dem government releases an Emergency Budget that … still fails to really take advantage of a good crisis.
    Osborne’s emergency budget accepts Labour’s larger state - LIBERTY SCOTT
  • “The government can’t borrow much more, it can’t spend much more and it can’t tax much more; nor can it grow the economy out of its current mess (as if it ever could!). The only other way to pay off its debts is by massive inflation, which would produce a catastrophe reminiscent of the Weimar Republic after World War One. The implications are national insolvency down the road and it is against this background – and the failure of Keynesian spend-your-way-out-of-it policies that the historic Emergency Budget must be judged.”
    Keynesian policies have brought Britain to the brink of ruin – Kevin Dowd, IEA BLOG
    Emergency Budget: real spending will be frozen, not cut – Philip Booth, IEA BLOG
  • And the fact remains that, just like in the Great Depression, it’s proving to be those countries which are limiting public spending that are keeping more jobs.
    Lower public spending leads to more jobs – Richard Teather, IEA BLOG
    Stimulus Spending and Unemployment  - Steve Kates, CATALLAXY FILES
  • Things look bleak indeed, even with these few cuts. Still, Craig Ceely and others want to know who elected Ludwig Von Mises to the High Wycombe electorate!
    Austrian economics come to CentreRight – COBDEN CENTRE
     Labour's legacy is a choice between unpleasant cuts in public spending, a sovereign debt crisis or currency debasement  - Steve Baker, MP, CENTRERIGHT
    Watch for the monetary lesson in his maiden speech from about 3 minutes on…
  • We’re near the breakdown of the present fiat monetary system that Baker so easily describes, a breakdown which was just as inevitable this time as the breakup of every system of fiat money has been.  A good time to look back at Henry Hazlitt’s prescient criticisms of the Bretton Woods system, that mid-century Keynesian abortion premised on organising the expansion of the world’s economies on the back of oodles of paper money backed only by phoney credit. A shame that so much of that plan is still with us.
    Hazlitt's Battle with Bretton Woods – MISES DAILY
  • Here’s a frightening graph (pinched from Kate’s Small Dead Animals blog). It shows the world’s paper “hockey stick” since gold was abandoned in favour of paper money (see when it started taking off around the time of that Bretton Woods agreement in 1944?). 
    And you know what’s most frightening about it? It’s when you reflect that all that paper money was organised out of all the debt that can’t now be repaid. Because that’s (still) the Keynesian way you know…
    graph_goldstandard
  • The problem is everywhere, even as politicians try to spin their way out of it (spin is the only ammunition now in their depleted locker). Yaron Brook looks at the fiction of America’s “Recovery Summer” now being touted from the White House. Just how much good has 800 Gazillion Dollars done to teh economy? Ah . . .
    Recovery Summer: Team Obama to the Rescue! – PJTV
  • Herewith some much needed intellectual ammunition for Tea Party activists, from the same source.
  • So just by the way, what was Obama doing taking BP off the hook for its oil spill?
    "This is no longer BP's problem. Now, it's the president's. The administration's hand-picked fund czar must decide how many fish went uncaught, how many hotel rooms would have been booked if not for the threat of oil-stained beaches, and so forth."
    DISASTER IN THE GULF: That 'shakedown' could be a gift to BP – HOUSTON CHRONICLE
  • But what happened to the rule of law? “Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere. And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”
     Is U.S. Now On Slippery Slope To Tyranny? – THOMAS SOWELL
  • And what’s this nonsense about America having an oil “addiction.” Is that the most over-used world in the postmodern handbook? “… oil’s detractors call it an addiction, downplaying its enormous benefits as fleeting pleasures that will necessarily bring long-term pain and destruction. An oil-based economy will inevitably collapse, they say, because oil is finite and will run out, because foreign oil causes terrorism, because oil, as a fossil fuel, will bring about climate catastrophe. Let’s examine these myths about oil.”
    Three myths about oil – Alex Epstein, FORBES MAGAZINE
  • Poor POTUS. Things are not going well for him—and Washington scuttlebutt says they’re going even worse than what you’re seeing, as the well-connected John Batchelor summarises:

            “Disturbing and mesmerizing whispering that the Oval Office is the scene of stormy
          and romantic melodrama between POTUS and his most senior and trusted advisers.  
          Whispering that POTUS is sleeping poorly and is much aggrieved at slights, shortfalls,
          interruptions. Whispering that POTUS is vulnerable to jet lag. That POTUS has returned
          to chain-smoking. That POTUS hesitates to heed his advisers, because POTUS frets that
          he is being sand-bagged by experts, allies, confidantes.Whispering that POTUS frailties
           most in display in West Wing settings. That POTUS evidences a Nixonian persecution
          mania. Can any of this be confirmed? Not easily. Less detailed, POTUS is said to express
          his opinion to pals in Chicago that he dislikes his job. Wilder whisperings that some pros
           are now weighing that POTUS try an LBJ exit after one term - rather than face a Carter
          collapse.”
        Is Washington Whispering Obama's Name? – DAN RIEHL

  • You know what’s funniest about this Daily Show piece on Obama’s big BP speech and America’s “Energy Independent Future”? It’s because it was also posted at the Greens’s Frog Blog, but when the Greens see decades of lost opportunity in creating their dream (“Oh, if only John Boy & Mary Ellen could have been here to see our latest energy independent future!”), I see the abject and inevitable failure of central planning to plan any damn thing, let alone the future. 
    As they say, fine words butter no parsnips—nor create any new windmills, solar panels or tidal energy stations.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

  • The west now has a confused relationship to risk, elevating “risk avoidance” to an illusory ethical standard, resulting in the production of what Frank Furedi calls "fantasy documents" on policy -- including responses to emergencies -- that provide no real-world guidance. (Are you listening, BP?) Says Furedi, “risk is no longer regarded as an opportunity but as a hazard to be avoided. As a result, risk-taking is now culturally stigmatised. People who take risks are frequently denounced for being, by definition, irresponsible.” But as living beings, we must take risks: the very act of pursuing the values necessary to keep alive entails risk.
    Frank Furedi and Gus Van Horn consider this important question.
    Value Avoidance – GUS VAN HORN
    Why BP is not very slick in an emergency – Frank Furedi, SPIKED
  • Some erudite chap or chappess contributed my post on ‘The schadenfreude of the postmodern president’ to the Bookworm Room blog. Thank you, whoever you are.  And thanks to the Bookworm Room blog for the interest.
    The Bookworm Room blog
  • Here’s another myth that desperately needs exploding:
    The Myth of Retirement Planning – TWIN TIER FINANCIAL
  • Burgess Laughlin takes a good hard look at Bradley Thompson’s important new book, a historically and philosophically deep look at neoconservatism. The  post suggests a more descriptive title for the book might have been: Neoconservatism: Its Philosophical Nature, Historical Roots, and Poisonous Fruit. The neocon movement is very much alive and still a threat.”:
    A Chronology for “Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea” – BURGESS LAUGHLIN
  • How often have you heard the claim that those who were “unlucky” when it came to handing out the talents and opportunities need someone to make their particular playing fields more level? But what if you learned that compensating people for supposedly “unequal” luck in life simply means penalizing the virtuous for the sake of the vicious.
    Compensating for Unequal Luck – Diana Hsieh, NOODLE FOOD
  • Here’s another common myth about rational selfishness, another myth that needs exploding:
    Living for yourself is not living only for yourself – Beth Haynes, WEALTH IS NOT THE PROBLEM

 That’s it for now. More later…

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

One Shot for Glory ! [updated]

The official All Whites’ team song.  Well, sort of official, with Miles Davis (no, not that one), Dave Gent (ex-Dance Exponents) and friends.

UPDATE: So that’s it.  If you’d told me two weeks ago that New Zealand would finish the World Cup unbeaten and finish ahead of Italy—and that I’d watch all their games—I wouldn’t have believed you.  It might be too early to say it, but that’s a great result.

We just drove past Gina’s in Auckland, the home of Italian support in Auckland.  It’s looking awfully quiet.  Much quieter than we feel.  :-)

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Young kids. They blow up so fast, don’t they.

This delightful children’s song produced by an anti-Israeli TV station for children is so touching.

A good time, perhaps, to be reminded of a point well made by then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu back in 2006 when for a brief period of time the rockets being fired into Israel were coming from Lebanon instead of Gaza:

_Quote Here is a simple truth: If our enemies lay down their arms, there will be no more war. But if Israel lays down its arms, there will be no more Israel. For the crux of the conflict is their desire to destroy us.

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A lesson from Canberra [update 6]

In around four hours from now we will know whether or not Australia has a new Prime Minister--and whatever the outcome, John Key will have been delivered an important lesson.

Only last year, K. Rudd was enjoying unprecedented seventy-percent approval ratings, but is now so unpopular that senior Labor party folk consider themselves unelectable with the Krudd at their helm.

The two chief reasons for his unpopularity?  The latest is the usurious tax on mining profits, which threatens to send many of Australia’s biggest mining companies offshore--unpopular not just because it’s an economy-killer, but because the Krudd said he wouldn’t spend taxpayers’ money on advertising such programmes, and he did.

But even that misbegotten behaviour pales into insignificance compared to his backing and filling over Australia’s Emissions Tax Scam, i.e., the very scheme John Key said he’d be following with his own one, not preceding.

And therein, really, lies two lessons for Mr Key. The first is that popularity is not something on which you can bank forever.  It’s here today, and gone tomorrow.  Gone like the dust on the wind. So just because you have the support of a focus group today, don’t expect that same support to be there tomorrow, especially if you go back on your word.

The second lesson is well articulated by Andrew Bolt, and should give Key cause for pause on his own Emissions Tax Scam:

_Quote How strange. Global warming a year ago was seen as the policy supported by everyone of sense, and by all political parties. Since then the leaders of the both [Australia’s] biggest parties have lost their jobs essentially over this issue.

Let that point rattle around the empty crania of the Beehive, and resonate through its corridors. As that sign in Tuesday’s protest suggested ETS (Emissions Tax Scam) could easily mean OTG (One Term Government).

UPDATE 1: Turns out NZ’s Climate Science Coalition was making essentially the same point yesterday in a press release warning “John Key Faces Risk of Rudd-Slinging”:

_QuoteUnless he intervenes to defer implementation of the forthcoming emissions trading scheme (ETS), Prime Minister John Key runs the risk of the same level of sudden electoral backlash that now threatens the re-election prospects of Kevin Rudd’s Labor government in Australia. This today from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, commenting on the description by two Victoria University researchers that New Zealand’s current ETS is “technically obsolete” and “beyond rescue.”

UPDATE 2: Don’t think for a moment that Julia Gillard, Rudd’s likely replacement, will take the country in a different direction, or grasp more firmly the nettle that Rudd refused to. Gillard is simply Helen Clark with lipstick.

Nonetheless, her ascension will allow her to permanently park the Krudd’s Emissions Tax Scam, if she wants to, but abandoning his unpopular Mining Theft Tax will be heck of a lot harder.  It will be harder because Treasurer Wayne Swan was relying on it to pay Australia’s unaffordable and ever-growing welfare bill. That’s the very sharp nettle that any Australian Prime Minister urgently needs to grasp, the scale of which John Humphreys’s now prescient comments from 2005 make clear [hat tip Tim R]:

_QuoteOur top marginal tax rate is higher than the rate in communist (sic) China, our income tax burden is one of the highest in the developed world and Australians are currently suffering from the highest level of tax in our history. An estimated 80,000 people are employed to avoid or enforce taxes, and those taxes result in about $30 billion of lost efficiency every year. The current system of welfare payments is complex, expensive, inefficient and ineffective.  If we distributed the current federal welfare budget directly to the poorest 25% of Australians, each family of four would receive $72,000 per year.11 And welfare spending continues to increase quickly. In three years, we will reach $100 billion federal spending on welfare ($80,000 for each of our poorest 25% of families). And yet, despite this massive level of expenditure, poverty remains and is even entrenched.

Australia’s welfare bill is now $111 billion, making that $88,000 per family, yet this War On Poverty has done nothing to roll back the enemy, it is still entrenched, and as countries from Britain to Greece to Australia are now discovering, it’s a War that becomes more unaffordable every day.

How Gillard seeks to pay that bill, or to reduce its size, will define whatever time she can manage in the job.

UPDATE 3: Via kochie_online, “Final numbers being counted ... Word is 64-70 votes for Gillard... Solid win.”

Andrew Bolt gives a timeline of how it happened.  Apparently, it started with a meeting called over the need to resolve the resource super-profits tax….

UPDATE 4: It’s done. Rudd steps down without a ballot, with no visible blood on the floor to mop up (he really must be wanting that Foreign Affairs job).

And in even better news, ABC news in Australia is reporting that Julia Gillard may take a 'new direction' on the mining tax…

UPDATE 5: Sam Hearne posted this pertinent point at his Facebook page:

_QuoteGillard as PM. Can anyone think of any policy successes that she has had in her portfolios? Can think of a lot of disasters (BER, computers in schools, Medicare Gold, and having responsibility for the training aspect of the home insulation scheme). Additionally, she has been central to every disastrous policy that this government introduced. Same old Labor.

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‘Bather’ – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Image 6.jpg

A Late Renoir, painted towards the end of his life when the early Impressionist was re-reconciling himself to the Classicism of Watteau and Rubens, and “in love with flesh and paint.”  This is just one of many bathers, all of them with the same features. (Compare it to his ‘Study for Nude in Sunlight’ from twenty years previously, below, and see how much more ‘Classical’ he became.)

Which do you prefer?

A new New York exhibition of Late Renoir is just opening. Watch a slide show here of a good selection, and read here for a fair critique of his later work .

nude-sunlight

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: The Egregious Tax on Serfs

_richardmcgrath Libertarianz  leader Dr Richard McGrath ransacks the newspapers for stories on issues affecting our freedom.

This week: “The Egregious Tax on Serfs.”

Yesterday, three libertarians – Don, Olive and myself – joined a march from the Civic Square to the Beehive protesting at the imminent Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). It felt good to exercise our right to free speech and expression in peaceful protest, without harassing anyone in the process. Despite the beautiful Wellington weather, there were only about 100 people marching, and more the pity as the issue will affect every one of us – and soon. The price of electricity and fuel will rise, thus hurting everyone who uses electricity and owns a motor vehicle. But farmers will be worst hit. The agriculture industry will basically be punished, in order to subsidise investors in forestry.

The prime movers behind this tax are Nick Smith, who was previously opposed to the concept of an ETS, calling it a lemon [read John Ansell’s blog for a full account this “Nickpocrisy”], and John Key, who gushed over Al Gore’s movie about Al having “pushed all [his] buttons.” In 2008, the National Party joined ACT and the Libertarianz Party in condemning the growth of the state sector and Helen Clark’s micromanagement of New Zealanders. National was elected on the basis of pledges to shrink Nanny and adhere to core values which apparently include limited government and personal responsibility. In 2010, however, they’ve given up on all that.

The evidence to support the hypothesis that human activity significantly influences global temperature is proving difficult to find. Computer models do not comprise hard evidence, so lets discount those immediately. The high priests of the Church of Global Warming conveniently ignore the observed rises in CO2 levels that don’t precede but FOLLOW rises in global temperature. Tey ignore that recorded temperatures in the 1930s were as high or higher than they are today, without any comparable rise in CO2 levels. They ignore the steady drop in average recorded temperatures from 1940 to 1975 while CO2 levels rose during a period of war followed by re-industrialisation. They ignore the slow but steady decline in global temperature over the last dozen or so years; in fact they want to hide the decline.

They even ignore the fact that their chief propagandist Al Gore, doomsayer of rising sea levels, has purchased coastal real estate since making his propaganda film.   

So what IS the limited government approach to the alleged threat of climate change? The first step would be to depoliticize the field of scientific research – shut down or privatise NIWA and all other government-run research organisations, and free the taxpayer from having to fund them. Let the private sector gather and analyse data on weather and temperature, it can’t be that hard.

Secondly, sit back and let the market respond to the consequences of any rise in temperature. Increased temperatures are an opportunity to millions of people, who will find crops easier to grow and the environment somewhat more human-friendly. Huge frozen expanses in Russia and Canada would likely be more amenable to development. There are endless possibilities whereby humans can take advantage of changing climate, just as humans always have. It is much easier now for people to migrate to new areas. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but neither do politicians and bureaucrats. Entrepreneurs will provide humankind with ingenious life-enhancing breakthroughs that will harness climate trends for good.

The Church of Global Warming are scare-mongerers, whose aim is to stoke people’s anxiety about the weather to new heights and then offer to save them – at the cost of higher taxes, of course. They should be free to spout their rubbish as much and as often they like, but their freedom ends where my nose starts. Their irrational fears do not entitle them to raid my wallet, or yours.  

As former Libz leader Bernard Darnton pointed out a few years back, if socialism doesn’t work at 17 degrees, why should it work at 19 degrees? The ETS is a destructive tax, based on a crumbling edifice of bullshit. Enough is enough – vote out Nick Smith, John Key and their anti-farmer anti-business BlueLabour Party.

As one banner said yesterday: ETS = OTG (One Term Government). That’s a message even Nick Smith should understand.

ETS-OTG

When the people fear the government, there is tyranny - when the government
fear the people, there is liberty.
- Thomas Jefferson  

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GE is in clover

While Greens and former Greens wring their hands in dubiety over the proposal here to use a genetically engineered clover as animal feed in order to reduce agricultural emissions (in simpler words, to reduce animals’ farts, and with them their putatively dangerous greenhouse gases), genetically engineered horticulture has been safely and successfully covering the planet and improving both production and prices. Says Time magazine in a recent reassessment of so-called “Frankenfood,”
_Quote Some 740 million acres (300 million hectares) are planted with GM crops, about equally divided between North America and the rest of the world — primarily Argentina and Brazil…
    Advocates see biotech as a no-brainer, the only way to boost yields while escaping the trends of a growing world population (now 6.8 billion, heading beyond 9 billion by 2050) and finite cropland nourished by stressed water resources … [while] reducing pesticide use (a major source of water contamination) by about 10%.
And the number of documented safety problems with all this? None. Not one.  [See this good summation and dismissal of most of the anti-GE myths that are so frequently peddled.]

Any sane person would see all this a good thing, a very, very good thing—more food for more people at less environmental cost—as a sober illustration that the frequent Malthusian rants about “running out” are just so much ignorant cant.  That so many Green persons are still in hand-wringing mode might lead one either to question whatever supposed sanity one might to grant them with, or to surmise that perhaps the primary reason for their Malthusian opposition to genetic engineering is that it almost single-handedly overthrows all their defeatist arguments about our inevitable doom.

As I’ve been saying for a while. And Mike Moore pointed out very well back in 2005:

_QuoteGenetically modified foods offer us the opportunity to feed a hungry world. It is hard to see how we will provision the world and lower the use of dangerous insecticides and fertilisers without enlisting the new forces of science.
    Of course we must be prudent, cautious and seek high standards, because science can move faster than our moral, ethical or legal capacity to cope. But those who wish to destroy science have as their forefathers those who burned so-called witches, not the heroes who freed the slaves. These small groups, which exaggerate the dangers to a gullible media, represent pre-Enlightenment thinking.

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“The Runaway General”: The interview that earned NATO’s Afghanistan commander a “please explain” [update 5]

What does a general do who’s in charge of a campaign that has its hands tied politically? If that general is Stanley McChrystal, battling regrouped Al Qaeda, Taliban and allied Islamist fighters across the mediaeval landscape of Afghanistan while the politicians fiddle, you give an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, PJ O’Rourke’s former gig, criticising your Commander-in-Chief—an interview published with the sub-heading.:

_Quote  Stanley McChrystal, Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

McChrystal It’s earned him a presidential smackdown and a “please explain” meeting with the POTUS—the last of which occurred when he dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted," saying it would lead to a state of "Chaos-istan."

This time it’s more serious. That was just an answer to one question.  This time he’s answered dozens--none of them in a way that’s pleased his boss.  And this is a war that needs plenty of questions answered—a war that now appears to have no aim outside appeasement of the Taliban, and has only got worse since the addition of 30,000 troops in December.

_QuoteThree obvious reasons why this is so [summarises Jack Kelly at ToThePoint] are the deadline the president set for next year to begin
withdrawal of U.S. troops; ridiculous rules
of engagement [set by McChrystal], and the poisonous relationship Mr.
Obama has established with Afghan President
Hamid Karzai.”

Read the interview online at Rolling Stone. It gives more insight into the war and its White-House related problems than a hundred New York Times editorials, or a hundred-thousand “briefings” by Rahm Emanuel.

UPDATE 10:33am: Gen. Stanley McChrystal has "offered to resign," according to a Twitter post from Time magazine's Joe Klein.  Note: Not resigned, but offered to resign.  The only resignation so far is from McChrystal’s media officer who set up the Rolling Stone profile.  But note also that McChrystal is reported to have seen and approved the profile before it went to press.

UPDATE 10:42pm: Freelance war correspondent Michael Yon, who is always worth listening to and famously criticised McChrystal’s generalship back in April, is picking McChrystal’s resignation to be accepted and Marine General James Mattis to be appointed (Tom Ricks’s thoughts on this are similar to my own, says Yon at his Facebook page).  Meanwhile “Michael Yon's Criticism of McChrystal Deemed Prophetic,” says Kay B. Day at The US Report.  With one addition, Her conclusion on the Afghanistan campaign is sound:

_QuoteI'd also say we need to either face the brutal reality of war and [give] our men and women [a clear goal and let them] fight, or we should bring them home now. We have to admit at some point you can't earn someone else's freedom. They have to do that for themselves and they will do it only if they want it.”

UPDATE 3: Some background here on Yon from early June, covering his disagreements with McChrystal, his criticisms of the Afghan campaign, and why you should take them seriously.  Yon’s quoted comments are on target and, with talk of Mattis’ appointment, both prescient and hopeful:

_QuoteYon believes the war can still be won, but that a change of command is in order. At this level of warfare, he says, ‘McChrystal is like a man who has strapped on ice skates for the first time. He might be a great athlete, but he's learning to skate during the Olympics.’ Yon adds that publicly denouncing the commanding general of a war is not an easy thing for him to do, especially considering it means crossing swords with General Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, two men he greatly admires.
    “Indeed, if anyone can turn this war around, Yon believes it is General Petraeus. He concedes such a return to the battlefield is unlikely, and suggests another general whose name fewer people have heard. "General James Mattis from the Marines.  I get a good feeling about Mattis but I don't know. General Petraeus is a known entity and he is solid gold.’
    “Short of that, Yon's outlook is bleak. ‘Even if the President commits more forces [next year], they will not be effective until 2012.  By that time, more allies likely will have peeled off, requiring us to commit even more forces to cover down. We lost crucial time in building the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army and so forth, and today we are paying the price. This is not to mention that the Afghan government is sorry at best and criminal at worst.’
    He concludes, ‘The trajectory of this war leaves a sick feeling in my stomach.  It's as if I've watched a space shuttle liftoff while sitting at launch control, with full knowledge that it will abort to the Indian Ocean. We are trying to reach orbit with insufficient fuel.’"

UPDATE 4: The headline in The Australian says it all:  “Petraeus steps up as Obama sacks General Stanley McChrystal over Rolling Stone interview”:

_QuoteGENERAL David Petraeus, who saved a failing US mission in Iraq, has been recruited to rescue a faltering war in Afghanistan.
    President Barack Obama named Petraeus, 57, to be the US commander in Afghanistan after sacking General Stanley McChrystal over an explosive magazine profile in which he and his aides belittled civilian leaders.
    The move means Petraeus relinquishes command of all US forces in the Middle East to take over a military campaign that has been stymied by a resilient Taliban foe, rising casualties and deep divisions within the administration…
     It is the second time Petraeus has been called on to turn around the country's fortunes in an unpopular war.

UPDATE 5: Oddly, Rachel Maddow gets it right for all the wrong reasons:

_QuoteBy accepting Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation, President Obama solved one problem: the rancor within his security team… We're still left with the biggest problem: America's strategy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

A strategy that leaves the war without a real goal, and without a means to achieve it.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A World Cup flashback

Before the All Whites, there was another team of underdogs who’d captured the world’s imagination, and mine.  And I don’t mean the 1982 New Zealand soccer team.

Sure, it was great to see them in the World Cup in Spain—and since I was holed up in hospital at the time getting a knee repaired, I managed to see all their games.  But since the team and its management was largely made up of itinerant poms, rather than Kiwis, the excitement was more than a little muted.  And the results of all those games were, let’s face it, embarrassing.

But this time it’s different, isn’t it. Today’s All Whites are not exactly all local boys, that’s true—no-one could really call naturalised Dane Winston Reid a local, not without crossing their fingers and all their toes—but in Reid and Tommy Smith and sundry other Kiwi irregulars plying their trade overseas (don’t call them amateurs) coach Ricki Herbert has scoured the world to make up a cracking team from our diaspora. A team with real character.

Just like that other team of footballing underdogs who took a whole nation on a great sporting ride in the early nineties: the Irish. As a ride, that was a hell of a good one too. I remember it well.

Honorary Irishman Jack Charlton had put together a team made up from the Irish diaspora, from anyone who’d ever had a drink in Kilburn. From that famous game in 1988, when they beat the English 1-0 in the Euro champs in Stuttgart, to reaching the Quarter Finals in the 1994 World Cup, it was a haze of success and celebrations that I was lucky enough to follow. I blame my Irish drinking companions for that. Too many years drinking with Irishmen in London got me bitten with their World Cup bug, but sure and everything it was a great time to follow Irish soccer.

And until last week, that 1994 tournament was the last time I watched a soccer game. But as I wandered home on Monday morning after yelling my head off in an Italian restaurant in Auckland (thanks to everyone at Gina’s), the parallels almost made my smile wider.

Houghton The time in the morning was the same, and it was still an Italian restaurant. But that time it had been in a little village in the west of England, and the Italian staff were far less gracious than the fine people at Gina’s when that famous first-half goal by Glaswegian Irishman Ray Houghton followed by seventy minutes of resolute defence gave Ireland their famous victory over an Italy featuring football icons such as Roberto Baggio and Roberto Donadoni, neither of whom were able to score. “Ooh aah Paul McGrath, Say ooh ah Paul McGrath!!

That morning, the staff threw us out before the game was over (probably because of our singing, to be fair) so we had to enjoy the 1-0 victory over the Azzuri over the radio.  But we sure as hell did enjoy it. “We’re all part of Jackie’s Army!”

You can get some idea of how much fun it all was—and could be here—from this YouTube clip celebrating Saint Jack’s team song. “Put ‘em under pressure!”

From this hilarious scene from the Roddy Doyle movie, The Van.

And from this Christy Moore song harking all the way back to that famous Irish victory over England in Stuttgart in 1988.

Slainte!

PS: For all the fun that was, this is why I haven’t watched soccer since then: Soccer Players Faking Injuries.

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Power, power-lust and where the real power lies [updated]

buffetwarren-100x129There are people around who think that real political power lies not with governments, but with corporates and rich businessmen.

Think again.

When a Warren Buffett declines an “invitation” to come to Washington to “share his thoughts on a variety of financial matters,” a minor, mid-level bureaucrat can demonstrate to the third richest man in the world and head of the powerhouseedelbergwendym-100x114 Berkshire Hathaway corporation who’s really the boss in that relationship. A click of the fingers, the issuance of a subpoena, and a piece of paper beginning with the words “YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED” is thereby delivered to his door by the police.

Turns out the gun really does trump the dollar, at least when it comes to making threats.

Simon PowerThe latest local example is Simon Power-Lust’s peremptory ministerial decision to invade the businesses of the South Island’s richest man, Allan Hubbard, and his wife—and to place they themselves under “statutory management.”  As Mark Hubbard (no relation) explains,
_Quote Allan Hubbard's company Aorangi, and seven underlying charitable trusts, would not have needed a prospectus … but have regardless become the subject of a probe by the Serious Fraud Office, and they, along with Allan and his wife, are now under statutory management by the Nanny State. Aorangi never solicited for funds from the public, it was simply Hubbard's business associates and friends who had traveled with him over the last thirty years, most of whom he has made rich men. Unfortunately, it seems to have allowed a snake in, who has turned on him for who knows what personal vendetta, or trying to make up for losses he/she was not prepared to stand (after the event).
   “As Aorangi did not need a prospectus, these were investment transactions between consenting adults: the government had no right to be involved here: none.
Allan Hubbard. Photo / The Listener    “This is an historic day. Not because we drew 1-1 with Italy, but for the first time we have seen that a politician, and a bunch of no-hoper parasite bureaucrats can decide to take, to all extents and purposes, your life according to their whim. One second he’s the richest man in the South Island, the next (due to the ruthless intrusion of the State), because all of his private bank accounts are frozen, he can't even buy a pie at the local dairy.”
So where does the real power lie?

UPDATE: "Oh, but the finance industry couldn't be unregulated!" It isn't.
    "Financial services [in the States] have long been subject to detailed regulation by multiple agencies. In his book on the financial crisis, Jimmy Stewart is Dead, Boston University Professor Laurence Kotlikoff counts over 115 regulatory agencies for financial services. If more hands in the pot helped, financial services would be in fine shape. Few believe such is the case."
We don't have all the regulatory agencies here in EnZed, but  we do have all the regulations.

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Shame Jones and friends

Guest post from our Tauranga correspondent, Graham Clark, aka The Tomahawk Kid

What’s the difference between Shame Jones, Chris Carter, Len Brown and all the other thieving politicians running amuck with taxpayer money, and the Tauranga couple caught recently ripping off $250,000 worth of benefits?
There is only one difference: the couple got an eighteen-month jail sentence. The politicians didn’t.
OK, in the case of the benefit fraudsters the total may have been a bit larger, but the sentiment behind the theft was the same, that being: “I want something for nothing”—I want something that belongs to somebody else, and I don’t care how I get it.”
No morals, no principles, just pre-meditated theft and a rampant case of Entitlitis.
And the end result of all these thefts was the same, i.e.. in a time of recession, hard-working, honest, tax-paying individuals had their money taken from them by force and deceit, by people either unable or unwilling to earn it.
The moral position is the same.  Perhaps the only difference is that the political creeps pretend to work, whereas the creeps in Tauranga do not. These creeps were happy, knowing they were taking food from the mouths of my children, just so they didn't have to go to work themselves.
The tragic thing is that the Tauranga creeps will still be entitled to vote at the next election for the political creeps who promise to give them more of the same.
Oh yes, they will all pay it back I’m sure. The couple at 50c a week (taken from their benefit probably) and Shame Jones from money taken from other people in the form of tax--hardly a just punishment at all.  
Jones and the rest should get at least the eighteen months in jail the beneficiary fraudsters got. But no. He will be back to ripping us off (legally of course) in no time at all.
Vote for No Shame.

Graham Clark is a self-employed graphic artist, and the writer, singer, harp player and prime mover of the fabuous, most groovy Brilleaux, delivering Maximum R’n’B.  Proudly NOT taxpayer funded.  Come and see them in Auckland on the 30th. (NB: No discounts for the unemployed, but maybe a few job offers.)

Brill Live poster

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Sack the Censor

So Chief Censor Bill Hastings is stepping down, and after twelve years in the job he maintains the steady diet of sex, violence and bestiality he watches in his day job has left him wholly unaffected.  Since the argument for the Censor's office consists largely of saying that repeated exposure to that sort of material is going to turn you into a beast, seems to me that makes him a walking refutation of his own position.

Seems to me, therefore, that Hastings stepping down is an ideal opportunity to ask, "Why have a censor at all?"

Whose business is it what I watch in the privacy of my home? Not a government flunky, that's for sure.

Whose business is it what a private cinema-owners chooses to show on his own screen?  Not a government-appointed busybody, that's for sure.

Whose business is it what consenting adults choose to make in the privacy of their own motel rooms? Not some prissy puritan arguing that he speaks for all of us.

The resignation of Bill Hastings offers an ideal opportunity to recognise the foolishness of having a bureaucrat whose job it is to determine what your neighbour’s standards are, and then to enforce them on you.

So grasp the opportunity with both hands. Don't appoint a new chief censor, shut the damn place down.

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TWA Terminal -Eero Saarinen, 1962

DCF 1.0 Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal, now sadly abandoned while awaiting its relaunch.

Talking of curves, as a commenter was a few weeks back, inspired me to think about all the post-war enthusiasm for all those gorgeously expressive buildings using the potential of concrete shell, including Eero Saarinen's beautifully expressionistic 1962 TWA Terminal--designed to express the new age of jet travel back when that age was in its very infancy, and and which has been long outgrown by developments since.

The sculpted, naturally-lit spaces seemed to perfectly express the spirit of the new age of the post-war travel explosion.  As architect Stephanie Stubbs said about the building when renovations began being planned a few years back:

_Quote Saarinen's TWA Terminal—the great, swooping concrete bird—captured the essence of flight poised on the threshold of the Jet Age. It is fitting that all efforts be made to preserve its beauty for us, and for future generations. However, it is apparent that the building just cannot function as an airline terminal anymore.
The proposals shown here with the original terminal building at its centre give just a small idea of how much jet travel has changed in forty-odd years, and how flexible and easily-altered the modern airline building needs to be.
And just see what else has changed, based on present requirements:
_Quote...the Port Authority [the present owner] does not feel the whole building can be a modern terminal with "no room for curbside check-in, no way to move baggage efficiently through the building and no place to put security equipment like bulky explosive-detecting devices...the gently arched tubular bridges do not meet modern requirements for people with disabilities." But PA does say it could become an airport centerpiece, pending the future AirTrain system, as well as a place for the airport's employees.

Sadly, it seems that Saarinen's terminal managed to express and to fit the new age of jet travel so well that when jet travel moved onwards and upwards, as it has done every decade since, changing the way we see the world in the process, that the building itself could not easily be changed to fit the new era—or, at least, the owners of the building would not hire those who could make it so.

It takes a little more thought to expand a terminal like this one than it does the ever-expanding super-boxes so favoured these days, but the process can be far more rewarding all round.

However, even by the early seventies Saarinen’s bird was starting to find its feathers a little frayed. As bureaucracy took over the traveller and long delays at airports weighed down the spirits of every would-be passenger, surveys were already suggesting that Saarinen's beautifully soaring terminal was often cited as the one causing frequent flyers the most dissatisfaction. The reason? Apparently, the building itself gave the expectant traveller such a magnificent feeling of being up-up-and-away that all the hassles and problems associated with modern jet travel – the paperwork, the bureaucracy, the delays—that that the contrast proved too much for too many, and too frustrating for most.

A true story, I swear. Just another way bureaucracy kills off excitement.

LINKS: Saarinen's TWA Terminal and the moment of truth
- AIArchitect (Sept, 2001)
Saarinen's beloved TWA Terminal and air travel for the future: can this marriage be saved?
-
AIArchitect (Sept, 2001)
Saarinen's TWA Terminal to reopen?
- The Gothamist (Oct, 2003)

3d Visuals
- JonSeagull.Com

twa2-713270Just the sort of space you’d expect to find Emma Peel & John Steed lurking. Or James Bond on his way from Key Biscayne (Live and Let Die depicts James Bond arriving at JFK on a Pan Am 747—just one film defining an era that leaned on the terminal’s good looks.)

twa1-743304

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Mysticism in the Gulf

The strife in the Gulf of Mexico really is revealing people’s flawed fundamental premises. Last week the Obamessiah, this week there’s this abject idiocy from Sarah Palin.

palin

As Trey Givens observes (from whom I pinched this) she really is serious.

Which says everything, really.

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How New Zealand refutes the decline of the west [update]

I was musing amusedly about the post below this one, and the one below that, and figured I had good grounds to flog the PJ O’Rourke title I very nearly quoted above. PJ O’Rourke used a red-hot Italian car to refute the decline of the west; I’m going to use a red-hot embarrassment of Italy’s soccer heroes. So listen up.

For years we’ve been bleating that NZ has gone PC; that we’ve forgotten how to win; that we’ve become a nation of whingers who need their hands held even to be able to show up. For the most part, it’s the All Blacks that have provided the litmus test for that critique—the brainless, brawnless, limp-wristed loss to France in the Quarter Finals of the last Rugby World Cup being the most-cited piece of evidence for the prosecution—but while the mascaraed and cossetted rugby heroes have been having their hands held and complaining about “burn out” and other rigours of the professional sporting life, other New Zealanders have been getting out there and playing well above what the local talent pool would suggest would be our station.

Two cases in point:

  1. the Tall Blacks under Tab Baldwin, who played out of their skins at the 2002 FIBA World Championship, including completely unexpected wins over Russia and China to finish up with fourth place, two ahead of the United States.  At basketball!!
  2. the All Whites, under Rikki Herbert, who just played out of their skins to humble the world champions into throwing embarrassing theatrics to steal a draw.

How can you look at results like that and say New Zealand is as mired in political correctness as we might have thought?

These were two national teams without any of the natural skills and talent to be anywhere near the results they achieved, but who pulled down success out of the clouds by courage, clear-sighted appreciation and application of their skills they did possess, and a fierce all-encompassing will to win. 

It’s like a philosophy lesson in miniature.

Faced with the reality of competing above their station, they refused to fake reality and instead focussed on what they could do, and set out to do it.

Looking at the talents and skills their team with which their team was endowed, they dug deep into their reservoirs of character to make themselves resolute in their performance, succeeding by focus and sheer willpower.

Never mind the vicissitudes of the All Blacks, let’s celebrate the spirit of those Tall Blacks and these All Whites.  Between them they help refute the claim that all NZers have learned in recent years is how to lose.

ruggersSalut!

UPDATE:  Reader “Gantt Guy” reminds me that perhaps the finest refutation is provided by the stunning victory over the weekend of the Nude Blacks over the Welsh Leeks.

I crave his pardon.

Watch it on video to see grass roots rugby at its best. If you know what I mean.

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The Decline of Civilization

Gus Van Horn linked to this graphic illustration of the west’s philosophical decline “in terms of the kinds of questions we are asking.”

what

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Woohoo! Italy 1, NZ 1!! [update 2]

Smeltz

Unbelievable!!

A 1-1 draw against the world champions of falling the fuck over.  A hard-fought draw against the leading exponents of taking a dive.  A shared World Cup point—only New Zealand’s second ever-- against the undisputed masters of milking a penalty.

And frankly, that’s all the Italians had to show for themselves in ninety-five minutes of soccer: twenty-five ham-fisted Hollywoods and seven shots on target, all but one of which New Zealand resisted.

That’s got to be goddamn good for the sport!  And goddamned fantastic for New Zealand!

Woohoooo!!!

PS: And it made ‘em go awfully quiet in Gina’s Pizzeria, I can tell you.

Some reaction from round the world:

  • ESPN: All Whites shock champs
    “The biggest result in New Zealand's football history. They were immense.”
  • TEAM TALK: Heroes of the Day:
    Step forward the mighty All Whites of New Zealand, who were outstanding in their 1-1 draw with reigning world champions Italy in Nelspruit.
  • IRISH TIMES: Champions upended by minnows
    “Defending champions Italy have been held to an embarrassing draw by an extraordinarily industrious New Zealand side…”
  • (UK) TELEGRAPH: New Zealand shine to claim notable point
    “Italy dominated a compelling Group F contest thereafter but could not find a way past outstanding goalkeeper Mark Paston.”
  • CBS: Italy 1-1 New Zealand
    “The New Zealand defence led by Ryan Nelsen and goalkeeper Mark Paston deserve much of the plaudits for keeping the world champions out. Meanwhile New Zealand coach Herbert, who claimed last week's draw against Slovakia to be the best result in their history, has another major scalp to add to his list.”
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS: Italy held to stunning 1-1 draw by N. Zealand
    ”At the final whistle, however, the celebration was located in one corner of the Mbombela Stadium, where a small section of New Zealand fans marked their country's historic result by taking off their shirts and waving them around deliriously.  ‘I'm very very proud,’ coach Ricki Herbert said. ‘We knew we'd be up against it, but we had great resilience and stayed organized.’”
  • GATHER.COM: New Zealand Stuns Italy With 1-1 Draw
    “In one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, unheralded New Zealand has worked Italy to a 1-1 draw.”
  • THE ROAR: All Whites: What a story!
    ”The night the bunch of mostly part-timers did ‘The Italian Job’. Italy don’t even deserve a mention – it was incredibly New Zealand’s night.”
  • BELFAST TELEGRAPH: Italy held to shock 1-1 draw by N. Zealand
    ”A controversial Vincenzo Iaquinta penalty spared champions Italy from World Cup embarrassment against minnows New Zealand this afternoon.”
  • GOAL.COM: World Cup 2010: Italy 1-1 New Zealand -
    “ Group F minnows hold defending champions in another shock result. Holders in danger of early exit after draw...”
  • YAHOO EUROSPORT: Tiny New Zealand defy Italy
  • Comment in NEW YORK TIMES: Great result for NZ; Red faces for the Azzurri
    ”New Zealand, which earned its first-ever World Cup point with a tie in its opening game, adds its second against the defending world champions. It’s hard to underestimate how stunning the result really is: the teams are divided by about 70 places in the FIFA rankings, with New Zealand behind the likes of Uganda and Panama.”
  • GUARDIAN: New Zealand hold defending champions Italy to a draw
    ”…though New Zealand did their share of dogged defending they created at least as much as their opponents did in terms of opportunities to win the match.”
  • THE SUN: Sweet Smeltz of Success
    “The All Whites came under increasing pressure as the clock ticked down but Paston stood firm to ensure they claimed a famous result.”

TheSun

UPDATE 1:  Glad to see a few others felt as sick as I did at all the blue jerseys rolling around on the grass clutching parts of their anatomy.

NZ captain Ryan Nelsen called the Italian propensity to fall on the ground at the first sign of contact “a joke,” and the referee who rewarded the crybabies with over two-dozen free kicks for the ploy, including the penalty by which they equalised, a chap overawed by Italy’s apparent star power.

The Monsters and Critics website sums up some related reaction with this headline: Italy's Hollywood stars and referee roasted in New Zealand:

_Quote Italy's theatrical footballers, and Guatemala referee Carlos Batres, who fell for their acts, were roasted by New Zealand sports writers reporting their country's 1-1 draw in the World Cup.
    'Make no bones about it - Italy, winners of four World Cup crowns - cheated to get back into the game' after New Zealand opened the scoring, wrote Tony Smith, on the Stuff news website.
    He said the referee fell 'for the worst dive of the World Cup by the most theatrical Italian since (director) Federico Fellini,' when Daniele De Rossi flopped to the ground in the New Zealand penalty area alleging he had been pushed by defender Tommy Smith.
    'Smith had had a little tug of De Rossi's blue shirt, but he'd let go long before the Italian floundered on the floor,' he wrote, dubbing it an act unworthy of a world champion.
    New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen told New Zealand Herald writer Michael Brown: 'The penalty was ridiculous. Even De Rossi was laughing to me. He couldn't believe he (the referee) had given it.'
    Nelsen said he thought the referee 'got stars in his eyes' because the Italians were the world champions. 'The referee just buckled. If he's the best that FIFA offer up, then, gee whizz, I would hate to see the worst. It was very sad to see. He ruined the game.
    'For me, FIFA have to start looking after the game for guys who are diving and guys looking for fouls. They have to look at guys who are faking or conning the referee.'
    Smith wrote that it added salt to a raw wound that De Rossi won the Man of the Match award.
    'What a joke. If a team ranked fifth in the world has to resort to deception to subdue a side ranked 78th, then what hope is there for the World Cup?'
    Brown wrote: 'Every team is culpable of 'simulation', as it's known in official circles, but some countries are better than others. The Italians are masters of the dark art and milked it as every opportunity this morning.'
    Another report on the Herald's website said, 'If the World Cup is a stage, Italian footballers are clearly the best actors.
    'Every time forwards Rory Fallon or Chris Killen came within three feet of the ball, the nearest Italian player clutched a part of their body, grimacing in pain.
    'Azzuri players littered the field at Nelspruit in several histrionic retakes of the 'dying swan', as they traded knocks with All Whites players in the hustle and bustle of the group F match.'

The “dying swan” is one reason soccer generally turns me off.  It nearly turned me off again last night.

UPDATE 2: Sydney Morning Herald gets it right: Italian theatrics cost New Zealand famous win over defending champions Italy

_Quote Central American referee Carlos Batres has fallen for the worst dive of the World Cup by the most theatrical Italian since Federico Fellini. By doing so, he cost New Zealand's All Whites a famous win over football's reigning world champions … Make no bones about it - Italy, winners of four World Cup crowns, cheated to get back into the game.
    “Smith had had a little tug of De Rossi's blue shirt but he'd let go long before the Italian floundered on the floor. Only one person in Mbombela Stadium fell for the risible ruse - referee Batres who pointed to the penalty spot. Adding salt to a raw wound, De Rossi won the man of the match award. What a joke.”

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