Just our luck

by Bill Ralston / 22 December, 2014
It’s summertime, and the livin’ is comparatively easy around these parts.
life, cartoon, pamphlets
Cartoon/Steve Bolton

We all face our own little discomforts in life. Waking up almost every morning to discover weather that looks remarkably like that found in the middle of winter. The sheer misery of Christmas shopping among pressing crowds, clutching gifts, waiting for the Eftpos machine to groan out a receipt that only comes after a painful minute of shuffling and jostling. The pedestrian crossings that consistently tell me to cross when I’m 10m away, forcing me into an unsettling, indecorous jog through the throng in front.

At this late stage in the year, I’ve turned off the news programmes. Listening to the Prime Minister tie himself in a tangled slip knot over his relationship with his ­oceanic mammalian mate while an angry, holier than thou Andrew Little intones homilies about Key’s failure to display adequate contrition makes me realise that after the past 12 insane months, I’m politicked out.

The only story that caught my interest in the past few weeks was the United States’ congressional report on the CIA’s use of torture on terror suspects. For the US is a spectacular example of how to descend to at least the same dismally low standard of appalling behaviour as your enemies.

More people died in the 9/11 attacks than at Pearl Harbor 60 years before. The 1941 event provoked America’s long-delayed entry into World War II, and after September 11, the US was more than justified to retaliate against its enemies, but the difference between their actions in 1941 and 2001 was stark. Having responded by invading Afghanistan to drive out Al Qaeda bases, it then took it into its suddenly deranged head to lay waste to Iraq, leaving it a decade later a basket case and fatally destabilising the region.

Worse, it enacted anti-terror laws at home that allowed it to suspend normal democratic rights. It then authorised its state security apparatus to return to medieval times so as to seize, imprison and torture those people it suspected might hold information it required.

Former Vice-President Dick Cheney, who enthusiastically backed the brutal tactics of “enhanced interrogation”, still defends it, saying there’s no comparison between what his goons did and what the terrorists were up to. I think someone should give Cheney a stiff bout of the CIA’s “rectal feeding” tactics to see if he changes his mind.

To put it into words that Cheney may understand, it’s a war crime. There’s no doubt that the Allies sometimes committed war crimes in World War II, but the American and British governments generally took strong action against the perpetrators. In this latest conflict, the American Government endorsed and encouraged the war crimes. It was the author of them.

Yes, I know the insane Islamic fundamentalists are beheading and mass-murdering thousands of innocent victims who don’t necessarily agree with their demented view of the world, but is using waterboarding and drone strikes to kill and maim those who disagree with the US any better? My verdict is that they’re all utter bastards and their behaviour is despicable.

Here, on the other side of the world, we debate the big issues like whether or not our security services should be allowed to listen to a terror suspect’s telephone for 24 hours without a warrant. Oh, yes, and argue over whether the Prime Minister should exchange texts with a nasty blogger or whether we should change the design of the flag to something else.

As we ease into the summer break, it’s quite nice to realise that whatever our minor discomforts, those questions are about as big as it gets here. While far from perfect as a society, we’re especially blessed to live in relative safety, security and, despite the endless debate over the gap between rich and poor, comparative affluence.

Have a good, peaceful and sunny Christmas and New Year.


Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.


The enduring sandwich: What's not to like about bread and fillings?
94342 2018-09-23 00:00:00Z Food

The enduring sandwich: What's not to like about br…

by Margo White

Despite an apparent backlash against bread – against carbohydrates and gluten – the sandwich endures.

Read more
Humanity is on 'the highway to digital dictatorship', says Yuval Noah Harari
96527 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Humanity is on 'the highway to digital dictatorshi…

by Andrew Anthony

The author of worldwide bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus says our free will is at stake. We talk to Yuval Noah Harari about his new book.

Read more
Why there's no 'clash of civilisations' between Islam and the West
96558 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Why there's no 'clash of civilisations' between Is…

by Yuval Noah Harari

There is just one civilisation in the world, writes Yuval Noah Harari, and the West and Islam are joint participants in it.

Read more
The Kiwi cicada expert who's just 11 years old
94985 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Science

The Kiwi cicada expert who's just 11 years old

by Ken Downie

Hamilton entomologist Olly Hills isn’t in high school yet, but he’s already a world expert – and he wrote a book.

Read more
Thackeray's Vanity Fair gets a clever update for the millenial age
96633 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Television

Thackeray's Vanity Fair gets a clever update for t…

by Russell Brown

A new TV version of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 19th-century satirical novel taps into today's celebrity-Instagram culture.

Read more
The debate over the Serena Williams controversy was a dialogue of the deaf
96659 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Sport

The debate over the Serena Williams controversy wa…

by Paul Thomas

Serena Williams’ US Open outburst was unbecoming but the umpire made a mess of his response.

Read more
The classical blokes saluting unsung women composers
96670 2018-09-21 14:16:06Z Music

The classical blokes saluting unsung women compose…

by The Listener

The suffrage celebrations get a soundtrack from all-male ensemble NZTrio.

Read more
Labour MPs stand behind Jacinda Ardern's action on Meka Whaitiri
96630 2018-09-21 07:31:30Z Politics

Labour MPs stand behind Jacinda Ardern's action on…

by Gia Garrick

The public will have to wait to see a report into an assault claim against MP Meka Whaitiri, who was yesterday stripped of her ministerial portfolios.

Read more