The Higgs Singlet ~ Be Afraid ?

March 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

I’ve had another of those WTF ?? !! moments, this time triggered by perusing that reputable organ of record, the Fairfax Online outlet, The Brisbane Times.

(This is actually me having some fun with what is actually a fascinating, and serious, science story, one which not a few outlets boosted into low earth orbit and, yet again, covered in ways which confirmed the very low views serious scientists often have of journalists always scrabbling for the ‘break through cure for cancer asteriod’s gonna pulverise Earth we’re all gonna die’ stories. Is this yarn really about a time machine being developed by physicists at a major world research laboratory? Read on, gentle reader…)

It all turns around the proposition that there is, or might be, something called the Higgs Singlet and just what does this all really mean.

Firstly, though, WTF is this Higgs Singlet anyway?

Are we really talking about some very clever product placement by the manufacturers of Chesty Bonds underclothing, perhaps having replaced their older male model with some newer version, perhaps a recently retired footballer, whose name is Higgs?

Me being me, I deployed the mighty MacBook Pro and my Net searching skills to see what I could find, and the closest I initially got was a Wikipedia entry explaining the Next-to-Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model which, when I tried to understand it, promptly gave me a severe headache.


Andrew Daddo was also bemused about The Higgs Singlet but I suspect he knows even less than I do about cutting edge theoretical or applied high energy particle physics and, like me, wouldn’t know if he was hit by a Higgs Boson or a Higgs Bozo unless he, too, was strapped into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which, if the more serious reports are right, might start behaving like Dr Who’s Tardis, particularly if new research into the Higgs Singlet is proven correct. It seems to be about the possibility of time travel.

A Higgs Boson, by the way and if you haven’t followed current affairs, are across modern science, or followed the links helpfully provided above, is apparently the so-called God Particle, the fundamental, elemental, something which existed before everything else and what they’re trying to find using the Large Hadron Collider,

CERN ~ Large Hadron Collider

which is a huge, extremely expensive, mind-numbingly complicated yet delicate circular pipe-like machine larger than both the Vatican and Tuvalu using more electricity than a couple of mid-sized countries with lots of very sensitive magnets and detectors around it which, if what look like calculated miracles occur, will do exactly that, thereby Making It All Clear.

Follow?

(Detect the cleverly subtle inter-textural references above to Pink Floyd… ‘… in a world of magnets and miracles…’, High Hopes off The Division Bellgedditt ??  Oh, well… sigh… )

Theoretical Diagram ~ Higgs Bozo

A Higgs Bozo is, as most intelligent people who use Apple Macintosh computers, read science fiction literature, and like British latter 1970s Prog-Rock, already know so I needn’t explain it to you so stop reading for a second… a person like me whose PhD isn’t in advanced theoretical particle physics but in advanced sociological theory who then tries to explain the immediately former by reference to the latter.

Still with me?

To catch up on all this, we do suggest readers visit, or re-visit, one of the classic papers, ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’ by Alan Sokal in Social Text, 46/47, Spring/Summer, 1996, Pp. 217 – 252. Widely regarded as one of the finest examples of post-modernist theory deployed to interrogate and deconstruct a central aspect of modern physics (or, actually, still one of the finest intellectual hatchet jobs on this foul branch of modern ‘thought’.)

Prof Fred Dagg ~ Kiwi Polymath

I may be trying to channel that renowned New Zealand polymath, Professor Fred Dagg, as he would certainly know how to explain the principles of advanced theoretical particle physics sufficiently clearly for even somebody like me to grasp, whose calculating capacity doubles in summer when I wear my sandals, which I never wear in the disgusting British way, with socks.

But Prof Dagg, a long term Australian resident, is retired from science journalism and now does political commentary on ABC TV’s 7.30 most Thursday evenings with his Australian-born side kick, Brian Dawe. Quite often, they do make a lot of sense of 0therwise impenetrably complicated topics, like the Australian tax system or anthropogenic global warming. I’d just love for them to take on explaining the Higgs Singlet.

I cannot speak for my learned interlocutor, Ethical Martini, though I also suspect he’d be as worried about a Higgs Singlet enveloping him as the Jatravartids are of The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief or I am of agents of the Lesser Elder Gods breaking through one of the multi-dimensional barriers to suck my brain and my soul out of my ears for their dark, dire, eldritch and eternal purposes while chanting verses from the songs by that great 1960s band, H.P. Lovecraft.

That’s why we can all rest safe and secure in the sure and certain knowledge that Bob Howard and The Laundry are no doubt monitoring all activity at the Large Hadron Collider lest some pointy headed geek with a planet sized brain whose name isn’t Sir Timothy Berners-Lee actually crack the Turing Paradox or the Quantum Zeno Effect thereby creating a two way trans-dimensional, or worse, a multi-dimensional, gateway for the Lesser Elder Gods to… etc and so forth…

Large Hadron Collider

What they’re doing at the LHC, as far as I know and can find out, does not require the sudden generation and collection of human death energies which is what the Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft das Ahnenerbe e.V. were still attempting when Mr Howard and the Laundry finally shut them down, as described in Mr Charles Stross‘ works The Atrocity Archives and The Fuller Memorandum. So sticking somebody into the maw of the LHC so they, too, could experience the wonders of the sub-atomic universe up very close and personal, and thence understand the differences between the Higgs Boson and  Higgs Bozo, or time travelling using a Higgs Singlet, is both not necessary and seriously contra-indicated.

By now, I was pretty certain that this Higgs Singlet wasn’t a clever product placement but I still didn’t have much of an idea just what it really is.

Sooo… I rose to the challenge, really got serious, plunged into the dark matter of the Deep Web, rummaged about following several strings of investigation, and glommed on to The Original Paper dated March 7, 2011, by Cho Man Ho and Thomas Weiler entitled ‘Causality-Violating Higgs Singlets at the LHC’ which started all this.

Here’s the Abstract -

We construct a simple class of compactified five-dimensional metrics which admits closed timelike curves (CTCs), and derive the resulting CTCs as analytic solutions to the geodesic equations of motion. The associated Einstein tensor satisfies the null, weak, strong and dominant energy conditions; in particular, no negative-energy “tachyonic” matter is required. In extra-dimensional models where gauge charges are bound to our brane, it is the KK modes of gauge-singlets that may travel through the CTCs. From our brane point of view, many of these KK modes would appear to travel backward in time. We give a simple model in which such time-traveling Higgs singlets can be produced by the LHC, either from decay of the Standard Model Higgses or through mixing with the SM Higgses. The signature of these time-traveling singlets is a secondary decay vertex pre-appearing before the primary vertex which produced them. The two vertices are correlated by momentum conservation.

Ah Ha!

Now I get it!

A  Singlet in theoretical physics is not a sleeveless shirt but, as the Wikipedia entry helpfully explains, “… usually refers to a one-dimensional representation (e.g. a particle with vanishing spin). It may also refer to two or more particles prepared in a correlated state, such that the total angular momentum of the state is zero”.

OK…

So a Higgs Singlet is a theoretically proposed sort-of envelope which, if the numbers hold steady, could turn up alongside a Higgs Boson and its theoretical behaviour suggests it might actually exhibit time travel by appearing before the Higgs Boson which created or energized it appears. Sort of…

The UK Daily Mail bought into the story with admirable clarity, and a very good graphic which seems to make it all even clearer.

So calm down everybody.

We’re not quite at the development stage of a real-life Tardis and exploring the possibilities of actually testing the Grandfather Paradox or actualising The Philadelphia Experiment but you can now show how erudite and learned and cultured you are by knowingly discoursing about the Real Higgs Singlet at dinner parties or over Friday drinks at the pub. You, too, could even get criticised as a real life Onanistic Higgs Bozo.

Back to worrying about Alien Space Bats, and what that space probe which recently went into orbit around Mercury might actually find on its Dark Side.

(Ooooohhh… Dr Hayes’ on another of his Pink Floyd jags   :)  )


What’s wrong with this picture: One plucky demonstrator, two an anarchist criminal

March 27, 2011

Protesters against the government of Syria set fire to offices of the ruling party today while hundreds of political prisoners were released in a bid to appease the rioters.

Syrian protestors torch officesThe Independent, 26 March 2011

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the police operation, said: “I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends.”

Activists attempt to hijack anti-cuts demoThe Independent, 26 March 2011

An interesting contrast in the way that anti-government protests are reported in the news media. Half a million demonstrate in London and the media focus is on a small group of anarchists (as identified by the media, btw); but in the Middle East the same small groups of militants are cheered and championed in the British press.

The top example here relates to those plucky, angry and totally-justified protestors who set fire to a building in Damascus – surely a criminal action

The second is how the UK’s top riot police officer describes British protestors who vent their anger by occupying an upmarket dairy (Fortnum and Mason) and smashing a few windows.

It’s OK for the British press to champion the cause of the Syrians because that doesn’t threaten privilege at home. But, of course, any action that does challenge the comfortable lives of the British ruling class is instantly dismissed as criminal behaviour.

Even the Guardian takes up this trope:

The generally good-natured mood was soured by violent and destructive attacks on symbols of wealth including the Ritz, banks and a luxury car dealer, and an occupation of the upmarket food store Fortnum & Mason.

Anti-cuts march  draws hundreds of thousansds as police battle rioters, The Guardian, 26 March 2011

Contrast this with the coverage of similar violent riots in Yemen and Bahrain which have left hundreds dead. The Independent and The Guardian can afford to be on the side of the Arab protestors and condemn the violent way that police handled those demonstrations.

Serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas and backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters cleared protesters from Pearl Square, which has been the gathering point for protesters.

Bahrain and Yemen declare war on protestors, The Independent, 20 March 2011

Wow, “serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas”, isn’t that exactly what’s just today happened in London too?

One Guardian columnist does make the explicit link between London and Cairo, and this is the real point that the news media can’t grasp.

Western elites are, instead, stressing the differences between east and west as they scramble to morph their longstanding support of north African dictatorships into sudden solidarity with rebels. This revisionist view holds that the uprisings are mainly about the desire of young people in the Middle East to live in western-style democracies.

Priyamvada Gopal, Trafalgar has much in common with Tahir, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

Not only are ruling elites scrabbling to cover their burning arses on this one, they are also having to struggle with locals making the same connection between Trafalgar Square and Tahir Square. The news media – often a faithful mouthpiece for elite opinion – is also struggling with the complexity and contradictions in their position.

On one hand, supporting the dangerous, violent and often bloody protests in the souk and the Arab street is good for business, ‘we’ want these dictators to fall:

In eerie succession, one after another, autocrats and despots across the region are coming down with freedom flu.

Simon Tisdall, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has been struck by freedom flu, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

But they can’t help the knee-jerk reaction that condemns angry protestors who take matters into their own hands – at home; while simultaneously cheering the exact same actions in foreign lands.

Hey, guys, wake up and smell the revolution – this is global capitalism after all.

It’s not that hard to think clearly about this dialectic of the front-page,  as Priyamvada Gopal shows us:

It is simplistic to assume that protests in the west and the Middle East are fundamentally different because “they” are fighting “blood-soaked” despots while “we”, after all, live in liberal democracies…

Both capitalist democracies and dictatorships use political means to concentrate wealth, power and privilege. In Britain and the US, the right to fight corporate power collectively – and effectively – through unions is under ongoing attack. In Britain, the state uses demonisation, brute force and disproportionate punishment to contain mass demonstrations and talks of making some peaceful means illegal. In the US, Democratic legislators resisting anti-union measures, which were then forced through anyway, were threatened with arrest. Britain has seen policies destroying public services hastily enacted without a clear mandate while civil liberties are constantly eroded and inequalities expand. If Gaddafi screams “imperialism” when things get sticky, our politicians find it convenient to denounce “multiculturalism”. What unites the interdependent ruling elites of Britain and Bahrain is the priority they give to the entitlement of the few at the expense of the many, often embodied by dodgy business deals.

Thanks Priya, you show these numbnucks how it is done. Dodgy business deals are universal and the occupation of Fortnum and Mason is because the business owner, Lord Green, is a tax criminal. No, he’s not Mubarak, but I bet they exchange cards at Christmas, and that dear Hosni likes F&M tea very very much.

 

 

 

 

 


On Useful Idiots and Dictatorships ~ Part One ~ UpDate

March 25, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

“Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend.”

Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1390

“If you’re going to sup with the Devil, you’d better bring a long spoon.”

UpDate ~ April 10, 2011

The London School of Economics (LSE) has set up a Site which contains its version and position on the Gaddafi Libyan funding scandal.

On my reading, typical of the very carefully worded official statements of this kind which really doesn’t fully explain or defend their ‘constructive engagement’ with the Libyan regime.

It does contain a Link to a personal statement by Prof David Held.

Meanwhile, Dr Anne Corbett, an honorary LSE Visiting Fellow, reflects on Fred Halliday’s vision of what a university ought to be and do, drawing from a 1998 lecture of his she attended. This has universal resonance.

UpDate – March 31, 2001

While Prof David Held hasn’t directly responded to Prof John Keane’s Open Letter – see below & links (at least as far as I know; always open to being proven wrong with supporting evidence) – Anthony Barnett, co-founder of Open Democracy, and a friend of the late Fred Halliday (who argued vigorously and unsuccessfully against LSE taking money from the Gaddafi regime) – does canvas the issues with this Post – Fred Halliday, David Held, the LSE and the independence of universities.

… the argument was not a dispute about whether or not to enter a “critical dialogue” with Saif. I never knew Fred Halliday decline a critical dialogue with anybody. The dispute was over what risks the LSE should be taking. Having a “critical dialogue” with Saif is one thing. Taking the regime’s money through him and then having him give a Miliband lecture is another. The more you have dialogue with representatives of a tyranny’s ruling clan, the more important it is not to be beholden to them. This was the warning Halliday repeatedly put.

Even now Held remains deaf to it, it seems, by suggesting that Saif never was a representative and his money was not official. As evidence for his belief in Saif’s “independence” from his father’s regime Held writes that Saif “turned down a number of offers to work directly at the heart of the regime”.

Original Post continues -

While following developments in the Middle East, including the continuing horrors in Libya, I’ve occasionally come across the continuing controversy surrounding the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) and its fairly recent engagement with Libya.

Saif al-Gaddafi at LSE

The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent programme broadcast an excellent wrap story, entitled ‘Monster Makeover’ which brought together many of the elements of the rehabilitation of Libya in the closing years of the Blair Government, including touching on the LSE controversy. Well worth a look, and then catch up on the deeper, murkier, details of this significant angle to the continuing Libya story.

On February 25, 2011, BBC TV’s Newsnight programme also explored the connections between Saif Gaddafi and LSE.

The Guardian offers an entry point into this issue. The (London) Telegraph probes deeper into ‘The Real Scandal at the LSE‘. The Daily Mail adds a very good diagram of the webs of influence between the Gaddafi regime, LSE, and elements of the British intelligence community.

Sir Howard Davies fmr. LSE Director

By no means do I claim to be fully across all the details of the LSE business, which are now under external investigation, and which led to the resignation of LSE director, Sir Howard Davies, but I was drawn to look a bit closer by two posts to the British-based Blog and comment site, Open Democracy, which I follow quite closely.

It’s much deeper and murkier than just a very public spat between prominent intellectuals, spiced by its site, a prestigious British higher education institution almost at the Ox-Bridge level, or grievously, ill-advised, perhaps politically incited, and financially lubricated opportunism by a possibly cash strapped leading university and a high profile governance studies think tank.

On my reading of the issue, LSE, and its main actors in this scandal, cannot be lightly or easily dismissed or attacked for simply being naive, or worse, high grade ethically ‘flexible’ money or status grubbing opportunists.

This continuing scandal goes to the heart of issues raised anytime anybody considers “constructive engagement” with a regime of questionable legitimacy, especially though not exclusively if the “engagement” is financially greased.

I’ll return to global or regional pariah regimes, such as in Fiji in a later Post, though, I emphatically hasten to add, Fiji is absolutely nowhere near Libya, Burma, North Korea, or Zimbabwe on the International Loathsome or Pariah Scales. Fiji just happens to be the military dictatorship closest to Australia and New Zealand.

Prof David Held London School of Economics

The protagonists on Open Democracy are leading political theorist, professor David Held from LSE’s Global Governance center and professor John Keane,

Prof John Keane Uni of Sydney

an internationally respected scholar of democracy now based at the University of Sydney.

My main reason for keeping an eye on Open Democracy is that one of its main international affairs commentators is the Bradford University Department of Peace Studies professor, Paul Rogers, under whom I studied in 1980 and into 1981 when I did my MA there.

Prof Paul Rogers Bradford University

Prof Rogers’ highly focused, exceptionally informed, and acerbically dry commentaries, including his periodic SWISH Reports for the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics to the al-Qaida Strategic Planning Cell (SPC), very usefully add to my general reading and cogitation upon world affairs. I thoroughly recommend his book Losing Control Global Security in the Twenty First Century (3rd Edition, 2010).

If ‘verification by reference to subsequent events’ is a good general test to apply to somebody’s theoretical and analytical commentaries, then Prof Rogers’ work amply passes that test.

No; Prof Rogers by no means is a real consultant to al-Qaida but he deploys his deep knowledge of international affairs, albeit from a British and Northern Hemisphere perspective, his significant experience as a consultant to several governments and NGOs, and a particularly dry, tongue in cheek, cynicism to his SWISH Reports. He’s also one of the scariest academics under whom I studied at Bradford so many years ago, thanks to his awesome, excoriating, rigor and unflinching peace researcher’s realism. I can still ‘hear’ his dry British accent today as I read his Open Democracy Posts.

He’s also briefly commentated on the continuing armed intervention in Libya, again most recently on March 24, 2011.

Back to the Libya – LSE issue, on my steadily more attentive following of it, the dynamics appear to have much in common with so-called ‘constructive engagement’ with most kinds or forms of authoritarian regimes, such as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, which seem to have undergone some sort of international or regional rehabilitation, or at least exhibit tolerable, or convenient, potential or possibilities for rehabilitation into the global or regional community of nations.

The ABC’s Foreign Correspondent story traverses this extremely well.

The Australian’s Greg Sheridan, on February 24, 2011 – to whom I usually reliably turn for something to get angry about if my day starts off looking moderately pleasant – didn’t disappoint by castigating the general to extreme left of Australian politics for their periodic engagement with Libya and Gaddafi, deploying his typically broad brush of ordure. I’m also always very suspicious when I see otherwise intelligent and/or well meaning people apparently endorsing or engaging with a regime or cause which, on closer scrutiny, looks actually or potentially ‘smelly’, but have always attributed my suspicions to my innate cynicism and aversion to demonstrative enthusiasms.

Mr Sheridan does deploy the phrase ‘useful idiots’, to which I will also return after attempting to summarize the Libya – LSE controversy ventilated through Open Democracy.

One of the supportive commentators of the LSE and professor David Held is the London Evening Standard’s Jenni Russell who, on March 7, 2011, labeled ‘These attacks on the LSE [as] a witchhunt’ and wrote:

What the LSE is actually being punished for is its failure to predict the future. It took an influential student who appeared to be interested in creating a more liberal future for his country, accepted his foundation’s money, and followed British government advice to help open up Libya to new influences by advising its technocrats and educating some of its people….

The LSE is being blamed for having dealt with a dictatorship at all. The money it received for providing education is described as blood money, tainted by coming from a repressive regime. But if that’s the basis on which funds should be rejected, then it is entirely illogical to single out the LSE; many other universities in England [irrelevant link edited] should be being criticised now.

One of the main ‘Libya engagement’ actors at LSE, significantly through Gaddafi’s son, Saif, was professor David Held, the then co-director of LSE’s Global Governance Center, who sought to defend his position on March 16, 2011, on Open Democracy along the lines of ‘Naivety, Complicity or Cautious Engagement’, though he writes:

There is no risk-free path in engaging with authoritarian regimes, but refraining altogether would also be a mistake. I think it was right to engage and to make a contribution to the dialogue about the democratisation of Libya. But with the terrible knowledge we have now, I would never have countenanced this funding option, nor would the Governing Council of the LSE. It was a mistake that is deeply regrettable.

And he concludes:

History has shown there are different paths to overthrowing regimes, which build up from pressures within as well as from the outside. It is usually the interaction of national and international conditions and processes which create revolutionary situations. This is the context which the Middle East is now in. Autocrats have been swept from power in Tunisia and Egypt and are teetering on the brink in Yemen and Bahrain. In Libya, the fighting has been intensive. Tribe, faction, and fragmentation intersect with the old Gaddafi regime in complex webs of stakeholders, competition and opposition. One can only hope that the Gaddafi regime comes to a swift end, but one fears it may not.

The comments to Prof Held’s Open Democracy post are well worth reading and give notable insight into the heat this matter has generated in the UK.

I was then drawn to emeritus professor Zygmunt Bauman’s comments on Social Europe Journal On Internet, Slander, and Irresponsibility, where he, on my reading, joins with other commentators, to attack critics of Prof Held hiding behind the Net’s cloak of anonymity.

Prof Zygmunt Bauman

I largely mention Prof Bauman because his work on ‘liquid modernity’ provides an exceptionally valuable corrective to the vapid nonsense generally celebrated as ‘postmodernism’ and its many, slippery, foul and noisome gets. A feature of ‘liquid modernity’ includes a flexible, ‘liquid’ position on what ought to be non-negotiable ethical and moral principles found at the core of modernity in its best and strongest moments.

Prof Bauman links to Social Europe’s editor, Henning Meyer, who also attacks critics of Prof Held who, again on my reading of Dr Mayer’s defence of Prof Held, suggest he, and relevant LSE authorities were, at best naive, or too trusting, of Saif Gaddafi’s motives when LSE accepted some funding and otherwise sought to ‘constructively engage’ with the Libyan regime to enhance civil society and the status of women:

As to the accusation itself [that LSE and Prof Held were either hopelessly naive or, much worse, Gaddafi regime stooges], I described above what the research grant was for. The research topics covered by it do not provide any evidence whatsoever for this serious allegation. They rather support the now obscured motive to set up the research project in the first place: trying to develop civil society and inspire positive reform in Libya. The trust in Saif Gaddafi to deliver such reform was certainly misplaced but this does not change the intention of the research programme itself.

Further cogitation on this kind of position might reveal a ‘liquid morality’ in play here too, though I digress.

Turning to Prof Keane’s Open Democracy riposte to Prof Held, Libya, intellectuals and democracy: An open letter to David Held, on March 18, 2011, for starters, it’s very elegantly written and erudite, so my precis of it cannot do it justice. Go read it, savor it even, though I would not place it on the same pedestal as Emile Zola’s J’Accuse intervention into the Dreyfus Affair. But rather than being a precision guided intellectual dismemberment of Prof Held, I detect an almost profound regretful sadness on Prof Keane’s part that Prof Held’s distinguished career and reputation have been terminally damaged by his engagement with Libya. The two have to have known each other for years, and may have even been friends.

Essentially, a major plank of Prof Keane’s argument is that the Gaddafi regime was, particularly after its significant rehabilitation from pariah status in the closing years of the Blair Government, extremely clever and subtle, as well as convincing, about how it went about recruiting scholars and intellectuals to further its legitimacy.

Our colleague Zygmunt Bauman has shown that fellow travelling, the bad habit of cuddling up to power, has long been a curse of our profession. But in your case the Libyan oligarchs went further, by offering your research centre big money for programmes on ‘global governance’, ‘civil society’ and ‘democratisation’. I read in the minutes of an LSE governing council meeting that you argued vigorously against those (was [the late] Fred Halliday [link added] a lone voice?) who were opposed to co-operation with Saif al-Islam. You insisted that a ‘public signing ceremony had been undertaken and a U-turn at this juncture might affect the School’s relations with Libya and cause personal embarrassment to the chairman of the foundation.’ And so the Faustian deal was struck.

Prof Keane puts a series of questions to Prof Held, including:

Can you rest content, safe in the arms of the conviction that your theories are fine but the practise of them, well, was ignored by the promising but wayward son of a fanatic? I don’t think you can. For have you thought that your ‘deeply regrettable’ attraction to the heir apparent of the Libyan regime was more than just a case of the pride and vanity of intellectuals, the generous perks and the acceptance of an oil tanker load of research money in a cash-strapped, near-bankrupt university system? In other words, might the most precious categories within the operative frames of reference of LSE Global Governance have had corrupting effects? …

The scandal reminds us of something that should be obvious, but is often forgotten: in scholarship on democracy, language really matters, sometimes to the point where the intellectual horizons it frames are pimped. The scholarly language we use to speak about democracy is never neutral. It always has consequences. It shapes the way we think. It determines what we can think about. So aren’t there times when it can be abused by others, for instance to fuel their dissimulation and to seduce us, along the way soiling our intentions? To put things crudely: was your consociation with the heir to the throne of the Libyan despotism oiled with the language that you and your colleagues loved to speak?

And Prof Keane concludes:

The purpose of this open letter is to raise fresh concerns about your ‘cautious engagement’ with a violent dictatorship, to convince you that there are still some unanswered questions about the foul nature of the Libyan regime, the political dangers of dissimulation and the corrupting effects on intellectuals of money, hubris and the scholarly language we use. I trust you will not be personally offended by the points I have raised. My hope is that you will see that in this letter, at every point, my aim has not been to vilify, but instead to clarify, to push you to give account of yourself, to explain more fully than you have done so far several matters that are vitally relevant for anybody who shares your concern with the past, present and future of democracy.

But the Comments to Prof Keane’s Post significantly castigate him as ‘pompous, self congratulatory, uninteresting’ and the first commentator writes: “… this is absolutely one of the lowest points: we arrived at the point where a theoretical rival of Held (and one who, perhaps undeservedly has had less academic recognition) claims that his very terminology is so conceptually vacuous as to make him vulnerable to be an instrument of totalitarian regimes”.

(Dr Hayes has another, ‘Huh???‘ moment.)

To my knowledge – and I always beg to be corrected, with supporting evidence – Prof Held has not directly replied to Prof Keane in public, though he was interviewed by the LSE Student’s Union organ, The Beaver, on March 22, 2011:

In a statement published last month, however, on the website of LSE Global Governance, Held retracted his support for Saif.

“My support for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was always conditional on him resolving the dilemma that he faced in a progressive and democratic direction”, Held wrote, adding Saif’s “commitment to transforming his country has been overwhelmed by the crisis he finds himself in”.

“He tragically, but fatefully, made the wrong judgement”, Held wrote. “As a result, the LSE has stopped new work on the North Africa Programme”.

Even so, Held has continued to come under sharp public criticism for his mentoring and informal advising of Gaddafi during the years at LSE.

Held responded by stressing that his decision was “neither naive nor complicit”. Calling the termed the consociation “a risk worth taking”, given the potential benefits of what is now clearly a failing link.

Held told the Beaver the association was a “cautious form of engagement”, portrayed in an “utterly preposterous way”.

Held said he wants people to understand “the LSE doesn’t deal in arms, oil, construction, contracts in making money out of Libya”.

“We are engaged in the business of ideas”, Held told the Beaver.

“The aim was a democratic reform of the country”, he said, adding, “if only it was successful”.

Held has been quoted as saying the funding was used to “pursue research on changing governance patterns in North Africa, economic diversification, oil and sustainability, developing civil society, and the status of women”.

Commenting on implications of the media coverage on his personal academic reputation, Held said recent media criticisms have damaged his academic reputation.

“It has been very, very damaging”, Held said. “A bit like going through a car crash that allows two circumstances–to learn and move on, or give up and end it all”.

Are Prof Held and his supporters, as Jenni Russell observes, essentially being punished for their failure to predict the future?

LSE, and Prof Held and co, are internationally respected heavyweights, and, acting on very good advice no doubt – I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if discrete advice wasn’t sought or offered from MI6, HM’s Foreign Office, and major corporate intelligence and risk assessment outfits too -, went ahead with their financially assisted ‘constructive engagement’ with what was apparently a rehabilitating formerly pariah regime including through a son of the Libyan dictator doing his PhD at LSE.

Earlier in 2011, it all went horribly wrong.

Are their defenses or explanations of their actions really convincing, or are they just erudite weasel words deployed post facto, a form of intellectual public relations, damage control, and reputation protection?

To draw on Greg Sheridan’s deployment of the term ‘useful idiots‘, it describes people, often but not exclusively intellectuals, journalists, or celebrities, who are suborned or engaged, complicitly or naively, by authoritarian regimes to promote a more ‘informed’ or ‘balanced’ perspective of what’s ‘really going on’ in the country in question. At the very least, ‘useful idiots’ can be ‘enrolled’ to spread doubt about the generally otherwise negative international perception conveyed by the media or human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International.

In August, 2010, the BBC World Service ran a two part series on useful idiots which is well worth a listen.

The term is often, incorrectly, attributed to Lenin, though a feature of Soviet foreign and cultural policy did include the cultivation of Western intellectuals, journalists, or celebrities given sponsored tours of the Soviet Union but who never saw the Gulags and only met ‘approved’ locals, often at carefully staged events.

If one has ‘flexible’ or ‘liquid’ principles, or varying degrees of almost desperation to see the slivers of good or redemptive potential in an otherwise dire or appalling context, one is more likely, or at least amenable, to be cultivated or suborned to, in effect, become an apologist for an otherwise awful regime.

Make no mistake, loathsome regimes are not usually run by fools, whatever else they may be or appear to be.

Key supporters or agents have probably traveled widely, been educated overseas, perhaps on scholarships – colonial and post-colonial cultivation of promising local elites continues – have routine access to global media even if some in their countries still have limited access to electricity or mobile phones, so they usually really know their global, globalized governance, stuff.

They’re very clever, crafty, and ‘flexible’ when it comes to maintaining their domination locally, and seeking and obtaining support or positive recognition internationally. They’re always on the hunt for ‘useful idiots’.

I started this Post initially thinking the Libya – LSE scandal would prove to be pretty straightforward.

As I indicated near the beginning, on my reading of the issue, LSE, and its main actors in this scandal, cannot be lightly or easily dismissed or attacked for simply being naive, or worse, high grade ethically ‘flexible’ money or status grubbing academic opportunists.

This continuing scandal goes to the heart of issues raised anytime anybody considers “constructive engagement” with a regime of questionable legitimacy, especially though not exclusively if the “engagement” is financially greased, or oiled with status or access.

I nevertheless have to side much more with Professor Keane than with Professor Held and his supporters, and await with great anticipation any more fulsome response David Held might make to John Keane as the points raised really do deserve very close and highly informed and reflective attention.

A later Post will consider all this in the context of ‘constructive engagement’ with Fiji.

In conclusion, the Libya – LSE scandal more than amply confirms the import, indeed wisdom, of the very old caution -

“Therfore bihoueth hire a ful long spoon That shal ete with a feend.”

“If you’re going to sup with the Devil, you’d better bring a long spoon.”


Déjà vu all over again: Operation Oddity Awe

March 20, 2011

Well the inevitable overnight pounding of Baghdad Tripoli will teach that old foolish despot Saddam Hussein Muammar Gaddafi a stonking lesson in defending civil liberties the power of a wounded imperialist beast  that he will never forget.

But what next for the bold and staunch Security Council Unites States puppeteers? On the eighth anniversary of the shock and awe campaign against Baghdad – and we all know that’s ending well #FAIL! we see another attempt at “regime change by proxy”. Robert Fisk’s piece “First it was Saddam” is laden with  humour, irony and anger; but it reminds us “trust no-0ne”.

The logic of the US (UN proxy) argument against Gaddafi – that he is using the machinery of state to attack his own people who simply want him to move aside – means that US warships should also be firing missiles at several other royal compounds in the region.

A quick review of what’s happening in the Middle East and a brief look at the “who’s who” of dictators and general fucktards-in-charge would suggest that several kings have put themselves in the firing line by their recent actions.

Here’s a quick survey of the current news from Yemen and Bahrain, where pro-democracy protestors – just like the plucky Libyans – have been gunned down in recent days.

Oh hey, and don’t forget the House of Saudi, which is financing and supporting those pulling the trigger in Yemen.

The difference is plain though; Gadaffi is currently a “baddie” in the simplistic PR spin from the State Department, while the Saudi, Yemeni and Bahraini ruling elites are “friendlies”.

I am very disappointed with the news media over this issue. As soon as the “bang bang” starts the embedded knuckleheads in the compliant news media suddenly have deep amnesia.

They have forgotten all the lies that surrounded shock and awe and more importantly and more worryingly, the news media has conveniently forgotten its own disgusting, abject, grovelling and deceitful role in that sorry little saga of war crime, murder and mayhem.

This front page is a good example of what I mean. Instead of focusing on why the attacks and challenging them, the New Zealand Herald chooses instead to run this stupid line from one of Gaddafi’s rants as an excuse to paint the attacks as justified.

This is not good enough.

I’m out for a Sunday drive, more later.


Another Media Assault in Vanuatu ~ Absolutely Necessary? ~ UpDated

March 5, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

Updates as at April 7, 2011 ~

RNZI reports on Marc Neil-Jones’ reaction to the reported prosecution of Hon Harry Iauko and his associates -

It’s not easy for them because they still can’t sack or suspend Iauko without the government falling. So the easiest way for them to handle it is to let it go through due process through the courts and hopefully if there is a conviction then they are going to have to make another decision on whether he is suspended once a conviction is handed down.

Transparency International Vanuatu wants Hon the Minister suspended pending the outcome of any court cases for the alleged assault of Mr Neil-Jones. That’s what often happens when, say, a public servant is charged with some offence.

The International Federation of Journalists Asia-Pacific office also issued a statement welcoming the prosecution of Hon the Minister:

The IFJ welcomes indications that Vanuatu’s authorities are taking steps to observe the rule of law and deal with the case,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

“Enacting proper legal procedures is essential in order to send a clear message that intimidation and assaults on journalists and media workers will not be tolerated. This case is a test of Vanuatu’s commitment to uphold the right of media personnel to safety and protection.

My position was, and remains, that Hon the Minister should be suspended from all Ministerial and Parliamentary duties pending the outcome of any court cases, and if that results in the Kilman government falling, tough. He, and his associates, should have thought through the probable consequences before they paid their visit to the Daily Post’s newsroom.

Updates as at April 6, 2011 -

Both Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat and RNZI have reported that Hon Harry Iauko and his associates have been charged over the March 4 alleged assault on Vanuatu Daily Post publisher, Marc Neil-Jones.

PacBeat’s April 5 story, Vanuatu minister to face court over alleged assault, is the most comprehensive, with comment from Mr Neil-Jones and Richard Kaltongga, an advisor to Vanuatu PM, Sato Kilman.

Radio Australia News earlier also ran the story but said that the alleged assault occurred in January (ouch!).

A later RA News story has the same transcript as PacBeat’s longer story.

RNZI’s stories are here and here.

PacBeat also interviewed Lisa Williams-Lahari, International Federation of Journalists Pacific Media Human Rights and Democracy Project coordinator, who said she welcomed the charging of those allegedly involved in Mr Neil-Jones assault.

Lisa Williams-Lahari ~ RNZI pic

The Pacific Freedom Forum also issued a later statement:

“The Vanuatu Police investigation into this matter has taken a month, and the Pacific Freedom Forum welcomes today’s hearing as a significant sign of progress. We now await the matter’s prompt passing through the Vanuatu legal system,” says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.

“Observers internationally were concerned that the alleged assault of Mr Neil-Jones would join other reported attacks on Pacific media and journalists and disappear into a ‘culture of impunity’, with nobody being charged and the matter disappearing, until the next time,” says Laumaea.

“We now call on all observers to let the Vanuatu legal system deal with this matter, and we also call on the media to report this matter’s passage through the courts with appropriate professionalism,” Mr Laumaea said.

“Given the international attention and condemnation the alleged assault attracted, no doubt this will be a test for the Vanuatu authorities to demonstrate that nobody is above the law, and also is a demonstration of how similar attacks on the media in other Pacific countries should be handled,” says PFF co-chair Monica Miller, of American Samoa.

“We commend the perseverance, courage and professionalism of Neil Jones and Daily Post Editor Royson Willie, as well as those officials who upheld due process into the complaint.” she says.

(Starting Tuesday, March 8, 2011, 7.45am AEST)

Savea Sano Malifa

The Pasifika Media Association (PasiMA) has set up an On Line petition headed Stop Government Violence Against Journalists in the Pacific Islands.

PasiMA’s Chairman, respected Samoa Observer Publisher, Savea Sano Malifa, has written a very strongly worded letter to the Vanuatu Prime Minister, Hon Sato Kilman, (PasiMA-Vanuatu-letter).

The Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) also issued a statement on Tuesday, March 8 PINA President statement 2011 (edited). Here’s a RNZI report on the PINA statement.

And Dr David Robie, extensively quoting Mr Neil-Jones, responded to PINA’s statement, with its insinuation of bias by the Daily Post.

Reporters without Borders also issued this strong condemnation of Hon the Minister’s ‘visit’ to the Vanuatu Daily Post.

(Some More UpDates at the bottom of the main Post.)

The Vanuatu Daily Post in Port Vila ran the story, below, on its front page on Saturday, March 5, 2011.

Vanuatu Daily Post March 5 2011

The story is reproduced in full below, and following it is a commentary by the former Vanuatu Daily Post Editor, Kiery Manassah, now a postgraduate student in Australia.

On Friday afternoon, March 4, the Daily Post’s Publisher and staff received a ‘visit’ from the Vanuatu Minister for Public Utilities, Harry Iauko, and several of the Hon the Minister’s associates. Hon the Minister or an associate reportedly proceeded to attempt to strangle the Publisher.

Vanuatu Minister Hon Harry Iauko

This isn’t the first time the Publisher, Mr Marc Neil-Jones, has been attacked over stories his newspaper has run.

In January, 2009, he was seriously assaulted by some prison officers angry over stories the paper had run about how prisoners seemed to be able to come and go at will from the Port Vila jail (Tanku mas tru to A/Prof Robie’s Cafe Pacific for this wrap).

As I started compiling this Post (2.45 pm 5/3/11 AEST), messages of outrage at this latest attack, and expressions of extreme solidarity for Marc and his long-suffering staff, were moving around several Pacific e-mail Lists.

The Pacific Media Centre and Pacific Media Watch have picked up the story, adding Marc Neil-Jones’ statement to the Vanuatu police. Pacific Scoop also has this very strong wrap and reaction story.

The Pacific Freedom Forum has also issued a very strong statement condemning the latest attack on Marc and the Vanuatu Daily Post which the Post ran, in full, on March 9, 2011.

Responding to this latest outrage is going to be a major test for both the local media association, the Media Association of Vanuatu (MAV) and the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). The current President of PINA, and a former President of MAV is Moses Stevens. Here’s a RNZI report on PINA’s position on this incident (8/3/11, 3.30pm AEST).

Declaring my interest, I’ve known Marc for several years, and hold him and his newspaper and staff in such high regard that I’ve sent three Australian journalism students there for short professional placements since mid-2009. All had extremely productive and enriching experiences.

 

Marc Neil-Jones, Publisher, Vanuatu Daily Post

Is this how Government – media relations are routinely conducted in Vanuatu? Given a main player was a Cabinet Minister no less, is this how the new Vanuatu Government, led by Sato Kilman, demonstratively proposes to deal with the media?

When this kind of outrage occurs, and knowing something about Vanuatu politics, and, more broadly, Pacific politics and media affairs, I’m always thrown back on to an issue or a problem I’ve been periodically gnawing upon for several years. Many others have, to be sure, also gnawed on this issue or problem and have come to quite different conclusions or positions.

Is it absolutely necessary for these kinds of things to occur taking the very fullest and highly informed account of the contexts in which they occur?

I really do mean absolutely necessary too.

I’m no post-modernist (detest post-modernism; it’s almost a mental disease in my view) and thence I draw on very strongly informed teleological and ontological critical theory, in its narrow sense, to propose and defend my requirement for a grounded absolutely necessary explanation for significant social action.

I’m also coupling with lofty theoretical ruminations a very practical, grounded, praxeology (study or theory of actual social action; stealing the term from von Mises), a spiral of action and reflection (echoes of Paulo Freire), firmly located in (surprise surprise if you’ve read my earlier Posts here and the many Links off them) nonviolent direct action.

Included in my recent reading have been two books which have added grist to my mill.

Media Ethics Beyond Borders ~ A Global Perspective (2010) contains ten chapters which, in various ways, propose or challenge the proposition that there are, or ought to be, universally applicable standards of media ethics.

Normative Theories of the Media ~ Journalism in Democratic Societies (2009) is by several really serious heavyweights in the fields of media ethics, media studies, and journalism scholarship who also address the proposition that there are, or ought to be, universally applicable standards of media practice and ethics.

The material traversed by these two books, the references upon which they draw, and the contexts from which they emerge and to which they speak, are of vital importance to informatively considering even an outrage such as recently occurred in Vanuatu in ways which take the debate forward rather than just reproducing the tired old arguments routinely trotted out to defend or excuse these kinds of activities (variations emerge from Fiji when the regime, very rarely, bothers to defend its severe media restrictions; ‘oh, we do things differently here, this is kastom or the Pacific Way’), or are deployed by media freedom defenders, such as the Pacific Freedom Forum (on whose side I firmly locate myself; I serve on the PFF drafting group and helped draft the PFF Vanuatu statement).

Hopefully, the Vanuatu Government, the Media Association of Vanuatu, and the Pacific Islands News Association will all respond to this outrage, and/or will join with or respond to the Pacific Freedom Forum’s statement, which by no means will be the only international condemnation of the reported assault on Marc and his newspaper. These responses, or not, will generate fresh, local data for another serious consideration about applied Pacific media ethics and practices.

I’ll work up another Post to Ethical Martini traversing the current results of my reading and thinking soon.

The starting Question I would propose, though, is this (and no fudging or trivializing the issue allowed) :

Given that Hon Harry Iauko is a Cabinet Minister in a democratically elected government, and given that the Vanuatu Constitution, supporting legislation, and legitimate agencies and institutions, explicitly defends media freedom and the rule of law, why did Hon Harry Iauko feel it was absolutely necessary to pay his visit to the Daily Post’s office, in company with several associates, and conduct themselves in the reported ways they did.

————————————

Some UpDates – Starting 5.30pm AEST March 7, 2011

Transparency International Vanuatu has this comment, via the Pacific Media Centre at the Auckland University of Technology. The Pacific Scoop publication of this media release is headed ‘Sickening Display by “gang of brutes” says Transparency International’.

The International Federation of Journalists has also added its global voice of condemnation of the behavior of Hon Harry Iauko, a Cabinet Minister in the Vanuatu Government.

Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) reported that the Vanuatu Prime Minister, Hon Sato Kilman, was “… considering his options in relation to the incident”.

As the Pacific Freedom Forum, among others, has stated, PM Kilman doesn’t have too many options in this case.

Another RNZI update at 5.30pm AEST 7 March 2011… “… A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office, Richard Caltona says Mr Iauko told him Marc Neil Jones should have sought his side of the story before publishing…”

Like many Pacific news web sites, as well as entirely understandable given they’re probably still very rattled, perhaps even traumatized, by the Friday afternoon, March 4, 2011, ‘visit’ to their newsroom by Hon Iauko, the Daily Post’s site hasn’t been updated, or is patchily updated. But a quick look pulled up this story, from December 22, 2010, quoting Deputy Prime Minister, Ham Lini: Vanuatu an example of peace in the world: Lini

Then at 7.45am AEST Tuesday March 8, 2011

RNZI reports that Vanuatu newspaper publisher will seek justice if police fail to prosecute MP

Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat ran this story, Bashed Vanuatu publisher may sue cabinet minister on Monday, March 7, 2011 (not on their web site until Tuesday morning). A Radio Australia News story from Monday, March 7 (transcript of the PacBeat story, actually).

And 3.30pm AEST Tuesday, March 8, 2011

PINA issued a Statement on the attack on Marc Neil-Jones and the Vanuatu Daily Post with RNZI reporting PINA’s position. PINA President statement 2011 (edited)

Just a quick observation about the PINA release. Just like the Vanuatu government’s reported response on RNZI -

“A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office, Richard Caltona says Mr Iauko told him Marc Neil Jones should have sought his side of the story before publishing

“The Minister’s comment was that Mr Jones went and published something without first getting the Minister’s opinion. However, that does not excuse his actions. We have advised Mr Jones that if he so wishes to press charges to please go ahead.”

The PINA release seems to me to insinuate that, to a certain extent at least, the Daily Post was somehow responsible for so provoking Hon the Minister that he was motivated to pay his ‘visit’ to the newsroom.

Marc Neil-Jones responded to this insinuation on RNZI on Wednesday, March 9, 2011. I also happen to know that Mr Neil-Jones also thanked PINA President, Moses Stevens, for his support in this matter.

Dr David Robie, quite rightly and very strongly, criticizes Moses Stevens’ and PINA’s statement, and reproduces Mr Neil-Jones’ reply to Mr Stevens which comprehensively refutes the insinuation of bias and provocation of Hon the Minister.

And a Radio Australia Pacific Beat follow-up story on Tuesday, March 8.

On March 8, A/Prof David Robie, on his Cafe Pacific Blog, also drew on the Transparency International Vanuatu condemnation of Hon the Minister’s actions for some strong comment of his own:

“Will Prime Minister Sato Kilman sit up and take notice, let alone purge his thuggish minister? Hardly. His majority is too slender. Self interest is the name of the game. The Vanuatu politicians will close ranks and shield their rotten apple.

This climate of impunity in the Pacific for attacks against journalists and media is outrageous,” Dr Robie writes.

I’ve said to friends and contacts, including Mr Neil-Jones, that the Vanuatu PM doesn’t have many options here.

If he suspends his mal-functioning minister pending the prompt police investigation and then criminal prosecution, or just sacks him, which is what should occur, and this precipitates another government crisis in Vanuatu as Hon the ex-Minister mobilizes his supporters and they withdraw from the government, causing the Sato government to fall, tough.

Hon the PM and Hon the Minister should have thought through the probable consequences before Hon the Minister ‘visited’ the Daily Post newsroom.

———————————————

Vanuatu Daily Post, Saturday, March 5, 2011

Iauko brings disgrace to Kilman government

Publisher vows to press charges against minister

By Royson Willie

A minister of the State, Harry Iauko, led a group of men yesterday around 3pm into the Daily Post newspaper’s office and assaulted the Publisher of Daily Post, Marc Neil-Jones, as well as threaten staff of the newspaper over articles carried in the newspaper about the minister’s handling of land issues, the Airports Vanuatu Limited board suspension, Transparency International’s column and letters to editor.

All these were carried throughout the week in different issues of the newspaper.

The group led by the minister entered the Daily Post office quietly and all, including the Minister for Public Utilities went into the Publisher’s office and assaulted him at his desk.

The minister was clearly heard by Daily Post staff shouting at the top of his voice as Mr Neil-Jones was assaulted.

An angry Neil-Jones said he will be pressing charges against the minister on several counts including aiding and abetting an assault.

He said he will be pressing charges against the minister because he was the one who could have stopped the men from going into the Daily Post office to assault, but instead Iauko stood right next to him and watched the assault taking place.

A doctor’s examination on Neil-Jones found marks on his neck indicating someone had strangled him. Neil-Jones said he was grabbed in the neck and kicked.

“I was particularly angry to seek Jay Ngwele with the group because he owes me over Vt300,000 for construction work that he was paid to do but never did,” he said.

Minister Iauko even threatened the Editor of the Daily Post, Royson Willie, saying “yu wantem mi brekem face blo yu?” (do you want me to break your face?) with one of the men by the name of Nanua from North Tanna threatening the Editor.

The Editor has condemned the attack on the free and independent media in Vanuatu saying such action is a disgrace and unacceptable, especially when a state minister was involved in such completely not statesmanship action.

The men with the minister were mostly from North Tanna, Middle Bush on Tanna and Whitesands on Tanna living in Port Vila.

The thugs used a government vehicle with registration number G762 to carry out the act.

This government vehicle was driven by Iauko’s political crony, Jay Ngwele.

Police arrived at the scene as the group was leaving the office.

The details of the assault have already been given to the police who are handling the case.

——————————

Commentary by the former Editor of the Vanuatu Daily Post, Kiery Manassah, now a postgraduate student in Australia.

Published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on Monday, March 7, 2011 and On Line on March 8, 2011.

Dark scenarios confront independent media in Vanuatu

Battering a newspaper publisher because you are not happy about a certain news article will not help your cause, writes Kiery Manassah.

“…whoever’s advising these politicians, would do a lot of public good by guiding them in the proper and civilized methods and protocols… especially in how to respond to media when portrayed in the negative light.”

Once again the media bears the brunt for shinning the spotlight on so-called national leaders’ alleged misdemeanors in the discharge of their national duties. Friday’s attack on who else, but Daily Post publisher Marc Neil-Jones, is the second in less than two-and-a-half years since the last incident by Joshua Bong’s henchmen in the Force.

I wonder if any of these are being fuelled by mere jealousy because nobody, other than the Daily Post owners, could run a successful independent media business in a country that has only known and been used to hearing government propaganda; released through wishy-washy press releases, many of which regurgitated and published as news. Have a look at the other papers and see what they are covering? The reason for me saying this is because, apart from Esther Tinning and Samuel Taffo’s assault cases in the recent past, it has always been Neil-Jones, not any other ni-Vanuatu staff of the Daily Post, even though it is the ni-Vanuatu who are behind the editorial side of the newspaper. Or does this border on racism? I am having difficulty understanding this, seriously. Or was it true that those behind the attack held back on assaulting the editor Royson Willie because they feared “all hell would have broken loose,” as Neil-Jones puts it.

It is yet again, however, a cowardly attack that has no place in a modern democratic society and for anyone who cherishes peace and values respect for other people and their property—the bedrock of Vanuatu society, including Tanna where Harry Iauko and some of his bandits hail.

I refuse purposely to address anyone here by their titles because I do not think anyone of those who were part of Friday afternoon’s attack deserve any of that, let alone be where they are. They should be ashamed of themselves for stooping that low and taking out their frustrations in that manner.

Since the January 17 2009 assault when Neil-Jones was badly beaten in the same way by VMF officers responsible for the prison services, nothing has come of those police ‘investigations’. Is that a surprise to anyone? The last this newspaper knew of was even the public prosecutor was having difficulty deciding whether or not to proceed with the case in court. The official reason we were given was somehow a cut-and-paste from what the police provided when we enquired about the status of the case. And it went something like; ‘oh we need Mr Neil-Jones to clearly identify who was involved in his attack so that we can be certain that the case could succeed in court.’ I have seen and reported on cases argued in court that had barely a single shred of evidence and yet they have been able to be pushed through to trial.

This time, Iauko and his bunch of political cronies have been more bold in their approach by entering Neil-Jones’ office in full view of the Daily Post staff, albeit in a bid to scare and intimidate them; to yet again assault a man, whom to me is becoming a favourite punching bag for certain people, mostly politicians. Look, let me state it from the outset that battering Marc Neil-Jones because you are not happy about a certain news article will not solve any of your issues. Such tactics—intimidation, threats, verbal abuse and even violence will never ever silence a journalist. On the contrary such actions only serve to expose you further to closer public scrutiny. In addition such public behaviour, while demonstrating a leader’s weakness, as opposed to any strength of their character, also indicates that there might be elements of truth in the reports or letters and opinions that have been published. So whoever’s advising these politicians, would do a lot of public good by guiding them in the proper and civilized methods and protocols of how to lead a public life, especially in how to respond to media when portrayed in the negative light. In my opinion they should all be fired for allowing their minister’s emotions to take the better of them, and putting the high office of the Vanuatu Ministry of Public Utilities into such great disrepute.

I would like to offer Iauko and his friends a genuine way out to shut Neil-Jones and his newspaper up. Take him to court! Straight forward, and as simple as that. That’s how you show your strength of character by letting a competent court clearing your good name and vindicating your actions, not by taking the law into your own hands, let alone as a state minister. Does anyone still remember Nasara newspaper and how it folded? Just one lawsuit for defamation against the paper by Mr Bob Heston at Toa Farm and that has been the end of the newspaper. A precedent has already been set, which means it won’t be that difficult for anyone else to follow in that same direction. Of course there are expenses involved in terms of legal fees but that’s how you shut up a newspaper (or the media) if you genuinely believe you have been subjected to unjustified and biased reporting and you have good grounds, or feel like getting even with the media. Vanuatu is not a cowboy country ruled by thuggery and wanton behaviour.

The public and the media will be watching very closely how police handle this assault once again. Lest anyone has forgotten, wasn’t it the same person who was behind the assault of an MP towards the end of last year? And wasn’t it the same maverick who was involved in assaulting a Chinese business owner only a year ago at the former Navara store. What happened to those cases? Are the police doing anything about them or are the laws only meant to be for some people? These are serious issues, which the police have got to get their act together by not only providing an answer to, but being also able to have the backbone to stand up and demonstrate their unwavering allegiance to the public good to restore some public trust in their work.

Speaking of laws what were the actual reasons for passing a leadership code in parliament anyway that is now gathering dust? We leave it at that but I will continue in this vein in my weekend diary.


On Kicking Owls and Zombie Fungus

March 3, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes (who has no sense of humor).

Had one of those WTF !! ?? moments recently?

[Insert your own reaction here; e.g., Huh ?? !! if WTF offends.]

I’m not talking about a really serious ‘Bloody Hell !!’ moment, like when you heard, if you weren’t there, about the Christchurch earthquake,  you dived for the remote and sat, riveted, to the television screen watching with mixed horror and profound sadness  the raw feeds from TV 3 and TV NZ on Australian television, as I did.

There you are, beavering away on life’s many and varied tasks, with your favorite Online news site quietly refreshing on one of your browser tabs, and you click there occasionally to see what’s moving around. Just in case. Must keep on top of the news.

On Tuesday, March 1, my weary eye was snagged by an item on the ABC News Online Just-in page: Outrage after player kicks owl.

R-i-g-h-t,” thought I. “Kicking owls. Hmmm…”

Many and varied, admittedly somewhat Python-esque, scenarios flashed past my awakened mind’s eye.

Possibilities for reenactments, another mal-functioning football star caught taking their rage out on a denizen of the night, are there pictures of this reported incident, ‘Fire up the Owl Cam!’ I heard the producer howling, to which the camera crew were heard to respond, ‘Woohoot! Woohoot!’, and reporters were seen to be diving under the desks lest they be assigned this yarn. Competitive frenzy modes, with cheque books at five paces, from those paragons of ‘journalism’, the weeknight commercial TV ‘current affairs’ shows; this is a Big Get (the owl, its keeper, the referee, other players, spectators, animal welfare activists, somebody!) while the ABC mounts a studio debate between the Animal Liberation and the sporting lobby or Soccer Australia asking, ‘Could this happen here?’. Or something.

The gist of the yarn was that a soccer player from a Panamanian soccer team saw the owl on the pitch during a match in Colombia and kicked it three meters off the pitch to remove it.

Idiot! Seems said owl was the opposing team’s mascot.

Our investigative skills were unleashed to track the story, looking for pictures or even video. These we quickly found.

By Thursday morning, the story had gone completely viral, with over 70 video hits and almost 700 Google news hits.

Later stories probed deeper to answer one of the obvious questions, ‘How the hell did the owl get on to the pitch in the first place?’

Seems said owl had been just earlier slightly hit by a ball, was disoriented, escaped from its keeper, and flopped on to the pitch there to encounter the defender from the opposing team’s boot.

But nobody’s answered the burning Question of the Day: ‘What’s the owl’s name?’

And several other Questions too: ‘What kind of owl was it? Its age and gender? Are these kinds of owls common in Colombia, and are they endangered? How come a junior soccer team chooses an owl as its mascot anyway?’ No interviews with its handler that I could find.

Serious lapses in journalistic practice if you ask me.

Had to tunnel into a bird lover’s blog to find out that said owl was a barn owl.

Ah Ha! Now we’re on a roll!

Tyto alba, probably a common barn owl. Anybody know the technical name for an owl keeper or handler?

The UK Daily Telegraph’s blogging Vet, Peter Wedderburn helpfully asked, ‘… Could a child be next? (He also links to a video of the incident, with a suitable ‘health warning’.) Visions of sports rage start erupting.

Needless to say, Colombians were outraged at this act of Panamanian perfidy, and the miscreant player was reportedly receiving death threats.

As a sad footnote, despite the best efforts of relevant authorities and vets, the owl died several hours after the incident.

One of the better compilations surrounding this tragic tale comes from Jack Bell, the soccer blogger at the New York Times. Mr Bell throws everything at this yarn – Hot Links to earlier stories, several videos of other celebrated encounters between ball, boot, and bird, and even starts off with a Harry Potter reference, all under the delicious headline: ‘Owl assassin suspended and fined in Colombia’.

Mental visions of shadowy gunmen atop grassy knolls on a Dallas, Texas, Friday lunchtime in November, of some convoluted plot afoot to rattle if not completely discombobulate the opposing team as their mascot gets a right kicking. Assassins being suspended even!

Which, of course, begs another important Question, ‘Suspended by what?’

Even the New Zealand Fairfax portal, Stuff, bought into the yarn, reporting the owl killer was fined $NZ 750, and helpfully added a video link, minus any health warning for sensitive viewers, or those of weak mind who might be influenced to emulate said owl kicker. Perish the thought that any New Zealand lunatic would even momentarily think about… using a kiwi… or an Australian maniac… with a koala or wombat… They’d be lucky if they weren’t literally suspended testicularly…

Ponder, if you will, the possibilities had this soccer player been moved to sink his boot into some other creature deployed as an opposing team’s mascot. Everybody knows sporting teams use animals as mascots. Consider the opportunities for entertainment had the boot landed on a lion, tiger, grizzly bear, bulldog, lynx, cheetah, jaguar, or bison.

Brawl Erupts between Cougar and Slugs Full-Back

An Outer Galarghambone Slugs player was yesterday arrested after an all-in brawl erupted following Slugs’ full-back, Johnny ‘Knuckles’ Smith’s alleged attack on Swamp Cougar’s mascot, Manny ‘Pussy Cat’ Jones at Saturday’s game. Mr Jones, in his Cougar costume, was cheer-leading the Cougars’ fans when ‘Knuckles’ allegedly king hit him.

As if a sporting team using a Bengal tiger as a mascot would have one tethered close enough to the field of play so that it got loose and scooted on the field with the intent of making a meal of an opposing player or two. Make for great box, though.

But what still puzzles me is why I’ve been fixated on this yarn for the best part of a week when I, like most others, particularly those poor souls in Christchurch, have so much more to contend with than worrying about bloody Colombian barn owls having fatal close encounters with a Panamanian’s boot.

Even if, I fully grant you, those South Americans take their soccer really seriously indeed, and laying into a team’s beloved mascot, be it an owl or not, is second only on the insult and rage inducing scale to muttering something disrespectful about an opposing player’s mother.

Ethical Martini knows full well that my interest in sport is zero, even when the Kiwis are playing Australia at anything. While he also knows I like cats, as does he, and I don’t have anything against owls either, I usually don’t even click on a sporting story, let alone assiduously delve into one deploying my not inconsiderable web searching skills.

Of course I know my news values. The owl yarn has significant novelty, off-beat, weirdness, a ‘man bites dog’ quality to it, and it developed a nice conflict angle when the death threats started flowing. In the midst of all the major, nasty, significant, and impactful news moving around On the Day, a yarn about an owl getting the boot, with video of the deed available, grabs the attention, provides some (twisted?) light relief.

It fits into what British journalist and ‘hackademic’ (journalist turned journalism academic, like our beloved Ethical Martini), Tony Harcup, would describe as ‘entertainment mode’ journalism, like a heart breaking picture of a disoriented and now homeless cat lapping water from a Christchurch gutter I saw on the Dominion Post’s news site, or the story and video of Sam the Koala which emerged from the horror of Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires.

Disoriented Christchurch Cat

‘Entertainment Mode’, according to Tony Harcup, is not necessarily lighter, diverting, humorous, celebrity, or ‘arty’ journalism, but can be serious journalism which gives audiences a different or new perspective on a story other than ‘hard news’ or deeper, investigative (why and how) modes. Both Sam the Koala and that poignant cat picture give audiences a different insight into the two complicated, awful, and harrowing contexts from which they emerged. Very pleased to see animal welfare people are very busy in the Christchurch area (Link to RNZSPCA).

That there were about 700 Google news hits on this kicked owl yarn (as at Noon, March 3, AEST) and many, on a closer glance, seemed to derive from many of the same sources, suggests some verification of British journalist Nick Davies’ critique of churnalism, or the shoveling of press releases (not in this case), or wire service stories, into news outlets without much, or even any, local journalistic input, not even, in many cases, changing a comma, or a headline, even though this one offered all sorts of creative opportunities for clever headline writers.

Were I to deploy some sort of phenomenological deconstruction on to the news stories about this owl I’d probably be able to work out why it got my attention, and kept it, as, if the Google hits for this tale suggest, it grabbed a lot of other news outlets world wide, including some editors who seem to have had lots of fun with their headlines. But I frankly can’t be bothered.

Write it off to one of those WTF  ??  !! moments.

And bugger me!

Just as I was finalizing this Post, ABC News Online provided another delicious story, redolent with all sorts of possibilities: Fungus turns Amazonian ants into zombies.

Oh, be still my beating heart!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,236 other followers