Bracing for the big one

The map is uncannily similar to today’s: a spray of black dots showing the recorded sightings of a foul grey haze spreading across Europe, from Helsinki to Naples, from Heligoland to Majorca, and reaching eventually to Aleppo and Damascus – all of it caused by clouds of ash from an immense volcano erupting far across the sea in Iceland.But this was a map made from data collected in 1783. The volcano was called Laki, it erupted for eight dismal months without cease, ruined crops, lowered temperatures and drastically altered the weather. It killed 9000 people, drenched European forests in acid rain, caused skin lesions in children and the deaths of millions of cattle. And, by one account, it was a contributing factor (because of the hunger-inducing famines) to the outbreak six years later of the French revolution.Great volcanoes have a habit of prompting profound changes to the world – much greater in extent than the most savage of earthquakes and tsunamis, even though the immediate lethality of the latter is invariably much more cruel. Though ground-shaking events are generally fairly local in extent, their potential for killing can be terrific: 250,000 died after the Tangshan earthquake in China in 1975 and a similar number died in the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004. Volcanoes seem by contrast relatively benign: the accumulated total number of deaths in all of the great volcanoes of the past 300 years has probably not exceeded a quarter of a million: the total number of casualties from a hundred of the biggest recent eruptions has been no more than those from a single giant earthquake.But there is a significant difference. Earthquakes, once done, are done. Volcanoes, however, often trigger long-term and long-distance ill-effects, which generally far outweigh their immediate rain of death and destruction. Emanations of particles from the tiniest pinprick in the Earth’s crust, once lifted high into the skies by an explosive eruption, can wind themselves sinuously and menacingly around the planet, and leave all kinds of devastation in their train. They can disrupt and pollute and poison; they can darken skies and cause devastating changes in the weather; they can bring about the abrupt end to the existence of entire populations of animals and people.Earthquakes and tsunamis have never been known to cause extinctions but volcanoes and asteroid collisions have done so repeatedly – and since the Earth is still peppered with scores of thousands of volcanoes ever yearning to erupt, they and the dramatic long-term effects of their eruptions are in fact far more frequent, far more decisive, and far greater than those that are triggered by any other natural phenomenon on the planet.It is worth remembering that ours is a world essentially made from and by volcanoes. They are creatures that will continue to do their business over the aeons, quite careless of the fate of the myriad varieties of life that teems beneath them and on their flanks. Including, of course, ours.There is perhaps no better recent example of the havoc that a big eruption can cause than that which followed the explosive destruction of Mount Toba, in northern Sumatra, 72,000-74,000 years ago (which, in geological time, is very recent indeed). The relics of this mountain today are no more than a very large and beautiful lake, 100 kilometres long and 800 metres deep – the caldera left behind by what is by most reckonings the largest volcanic explosion known to have occurred on the planet in the past 25 million years.On the widely used volcanic explosivity index (VEI), Toba is thought to have been an eight – meaning that in the unusually flamboyant official language of vulcanology it was a super-plinian type eruption with mega-colossal characteristics (Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull is by contrast listed as a strombolian type, with its characteristic regarded as merely gentle, and having a probable VEI rating of just two).About 2800 cubic kilometres of rock were instantly vaporised by the super-eruptive blast of Toba, all of which was hurled scores of thousands of metres into the air. This is what did the lasting damage, just as Iceland’s high-altitude rock-dust did in Europe. But while we merely suffered a large number of inconvenienced people and a weakening of the balance sheets of some airlines, the effect on the post-Toban world was catastrophic: as a result of the thick ash clouds the world’s ambient temperature plummeted, perhaps by as much as 5 degrees – and the cooling and the howling wave of deforestation and deaths of billions of animals and plants caused a sudden culling of the human population of the time, reducing it to maybe as few as 5000 people, perhaps 1000 breeding pairs. Many anthropologists believe that the event caused a sudden evolutionary bottleneck, with genetic implications that linger to this day. Put more crudely, humanity was nearly wiped out by Toba, and only by the merest hair’s breadth did our ancestors of 72,000 years ago manage to cling on and bequeath to us our existence.Mercifully, from humanity’s point of view, there have been very few Tobas known in history. They are probably so large that they reach the upper limit of the kind of eruptions that can physically occur on Earth – one VEI-8 event occurs only every 100,000 years or so. Yet of those known to have occurred, two have taken place in Britain (mainly because Britain has such a vast variety of geology, with almost every age of rock known in the world found somewhere between Cape Wrath and Dover). They are comfortingly ancient: both – the volcano that created Scafell in the Lake District, and the other that gave us Glen Coe in the Western Highlands – took place more than 400 million years ago.But others of the 47 known VEI-8 volcanoes are more alarmingly recent. Taupo in New Zealand erupted with mega-colossal force some 22,500 years ago. The newer of the great eruptions that helped form the mountains of today’s Yellowstone National Park in the United States took place just 640,000 years ago, and all the current signs – from such phenomena as the rhythmic slow rising and falling of the bed of the Yellowstone River, as if some giant creature is breathing far below – suggest another eruption is coming soon. When it does, it will be an American Armageddon: all of the north and west of the continent, from Vancouver to Oklahoma City, will be rendered uninhabitable, buried under scores of metres of ash. (I mentioned this once in a talk to a group of lunching ladies in Kansas City, soothing their apparent disquiet by adding that by ”soon” I was speaking in geologic time, and that meant about 250,000 years, by which time all humankind would be extinct. A woman in the front row exploded with a choleric and incredulous rage: ”What?” she said. ”Even Americans will be extinct?”)Ratcheting down the scale a couple of notches, to the only slightly less gigantic eruptions that are classified as VEI-7 and VEI-6, and a host of more familiar eruptions come into view. These include Santorini, the Aegean volcano whose destruction around 4000 years ago may have triggered the collapse of the Minoan civilisation; Laki, the 1783 Icelandic volcano mentioned above, and which most obviously parallels today’s events at Eyjafjallajokull; the Javan volcano of Krakatoa, which erupted so infamously in August 1883; and the rather more profoundly world-affecting eruption of 1815, also in the Dutch East Indies, of the huge stratovolcano on Sumbawa Island, known as Tambora. Each of these had massive effects, and all were global in their extent.Tambora is the most notorious, not least because it was so immense: almost 170 cubic kilometres of pulverised Sumbawan rock were hurled into the sky, which darkened, cooled and polluted a world that, unlike in Toba’s day, was already well populated and widely civilised. The consequences ranged from the dire – a lowering of temperature that caused frosts in Italy in June and snows in the US in July, and the failure of crops in immense swathes across Europe and the Americas – to the ludicrous: Irish migrants, promised better weather in New England, found it on landing to be every bit as grim as the Connemara and Cork they had left, and so either went home, or pressed on in hope to California.Krakatoa’s immediate aftermath was dominated initially by dramatic physical effects – a series of tsunamis that were measured as far away as Portland Bill and Biarritz, a detonation that was clearly heard (like naval gunfire, said the local police officer) 5000 kilometres away on Rodriguez Island, and a year’s worth of awe-inspiring evening beauty as the sky lit up with dazzling colours.There was an important legacy to Krakatoa’s eruption not shared by the other giant volcanoes of the time. Close mapping of the spread of the 1883 sunsets showed them girdling the Earth in a curious set of spirals, the stratospheric aerosols evidently being borne around the world on high-altitude winds that no one at the time knew existed. An atmospheric scientist in Hawaii mapped them and decided to call the air current the equatorial smoke stream. It later became, more elegantly and economically, the jet stream. There has to be some irony that the jet stream that drove this month’s Icelandic dust so dangerously over Britain and mainland Europe is a phenomenon that was first discovered as a direct consequence of the study of Krakatoa.And yet, of all the consequences of the truly great volcanoes of the past, the phenomenon of mass extinctions of life must surely be the most profound and world-changing of all. Between two and five major extinction events occur in the world every million years or so. Humans have not been privileged to observe one of them – hardly surprisingly, since they would probably occur so slowly as to be barely noticeable. However, with painstaking care, palaeontological evidence is being amassed to link sudden and catastrophic changes in world climate, changes that promote such extinction crises, with the known major eruptions of the past, and with what are known as flood basalt events (such as those that have been triggered specifically in the past by eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull and her neighbouring volcano in Iceland, Katla, which is itself well overdue for an eruption). It is a study that opens up a fascinating speculative possibility.For what if the kind of event that we have seen this month, and which caused such commercial inconvenience, is in fact not just a minor volcanic hiccup, but the beginning of an event that causes in time a mass extinction of some form of earthbound life? And, since we know from the history books that the massive eruption of Santorini once had the power to destroy one proud part of human society, what if the extinction we might be beginning to see turns out to be what will one day surely occur, and that is the extinction of us?Guardian News & MediaSimon Winchester is a journalist and author of Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded.
Nanjing Night Net

America’s gaping hole: thousands queue up for free medical care

LOS ANGELES: They began arriving before dawn on a cold, misty morning, people of all ages lining up by the hundreds, some in wheelchairs, others hobbling on crutches, many of them missing teeth, all of them seeking the same thing: free medical care.It was a scene that could have been playing out in a Third World country or perhaps some place like post-hurricane New Orleans. But it was unfolding in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and the hundreds who showed up were mainly working people without health insurance.Kenny Gillett, 47, a welder, had not seen a doctor for two years, since losing his job and insurance when his employer went broke.Adriana Valenzuela, a self-employed and uninsured beautician, brought an eight-year-old son with a mouthful of cavities. Frank Carodine, 57, in a wheelchair, said he had lost parts of both legs to diabetes, which was now ravaging his right eye. He needed glasses. ”I’ve got coverage for my diabetes, I go to a clinic, but it doesn’t cover eye exams,” he said.Outside in the cold, several hundred people, some balancing toddlers on their hips, waited for their turn to enter the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Inside were hundreds of volunteer doctors, dentists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and other professionals, all brought together by a Tennessee non-profit group, Remote Area Medical.On this first day of the seven-day clinic, Maria Shriver, the wife of the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, visited and said she was humbled by the scope of the volunteer effort.”What you’re seeing is a lot of Middle America here,” said RAM’s flamboyant founder, Stan Brock. ”Healthcare in this country is a privilege of the well-to-do and the well-insured.” At last year’s clinic 6000 were treated. More were expected this time.Jesse Serna, 51, a disabled warehouse worker, was waiting to get an aching tooth fixed.Referring to national healthcare reform, he said: ”We need it badly. We send people overseas when there’s a disaster. This is a disaster right here.”Associated Press, Los Angeles Times
Nanjing Night Net

India accuses one of its diplomats of spying for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The Indian government has accused one of its own diplomats of handing secrets to Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency.The Indian Foreign Office said on Tuesday that Madhuri Gupta, 53, a second secretary at its high commission in Islamabad, had been charged with espionage.Ms Gupta, who had worked in the press and information section for three years, was arrested on Friday after being called back to New Delhi on the pretext of discussing a regional summit in Bhutan this week. She was charged in court on Monday.”We have reasons to believe an official in the Indian high commission in Pakistan has been passing information to Pakistani intelligence officials,” said Vishnu Prakash, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. ”The official is co-operating with our investigations and inquiries.”The Press Trust of India reported that the head of India’s intelligence agency research and analysis wing in Islamabad was also under investigation.Indian officials did not elaborate on the nature of the secrets allegedly stolen by the junior diplomat. But the revelation is a big embarrassment for India’s diplomatic service on the eve of the Bhutan summit, where peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals are high on the agenda.The arrest was not expected to derail a meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, due to take place today. But it may dampen expectations of a resumption of peace talks, which collapsed after the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which more than 170 people were killed.India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group with historical ties to the ISI, for the atrocity, accusing ”state elements” of orchestrating the carnage.The two countries, which have fought three wars, have a history of skulduggery and periodically engage in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, usually at times of political or military tension.But it is rare for a diplomat to be accused of spying and analysts were divided on the political significance. Some felt it was unlikely to damage relations because the accused is an Indian national; others saw it as an ominous sign for an early resumption of peace talks.Guardian News & Media
Nanjing Night Net

Father knows best… some men just aren’t good enough

FATHER Pat Connor, missionary, marital expert and the first priest ever to be quoted by Glamour magazine, says he would make a terrible husband.”After 40 or 50 years of living as a selfish bachelor, I would be a hopeless risk,” he says.He should know. The Australian-born Catholic priest, now based in New Jersey, has condensed his wisdom from 40-odd years of counselling engaged couples into one pithy manual of advice: Whom Not to Marry.The 80-year old’s plain sense warnings to women have turned him into something of a cult figure in the United States, which has been his home for three decades.The influential New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd gave him a glowing write-up, he appeared on the Today show, and, of course, made his unexpected debut in Glamour (”A whole new culture for me,” he says on reading the magazine).Since completing a Masters in counselling at Fordham University about 30 years ago, he has conducted premarital counselling and presided over more than 200 weddings. He also lectures high school girls on the pitfalls of marrying the wrong guy.He likes to catch women young, because once they have fallen in love they will be less likely to absorb his sensible and often unromantic advice. He believes there are no soulmates, only lovers to whom we commit.Father Connor’s central thesis is that you can be deeply in love with someone to whom you can’t be successfully married. He advises a year-long engagement to examine fully the values and character of your future spouse.Father Connor freely admits that a celibate priest writing about marriage is like putting a vegetarian in charge of a barbecue – slightly absurd and highly impractical.”That’s why I have always liked the quotation from Goethe, ‘Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action’,” he says.He has distilled his wisdom from diverse sources. The marriage of Dorothea and Casaubon in George Eliot’s Middlemarch is a cautionary tale, but Dr Samuel Johnson and the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond are also full of insight.But most of his models are real-life ones. Father Connor’s mother makes frequent appearances in his book, usually to puncture his ego. When the then-young priest was pontificating on the importance of frankness in marriage, she told him she had ”never heard such a load of rubbish”.”She said, ‘If I had practised perfect frankness with that man at the end of the table’, my father who was on his third beer, ‘we wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.’ ”When questioned on why she married his father, she said she had ”liked the shape of his neck”.WHOM NOT TO MARRY Mummy’s boysMen who are bad with moneyMen with no friendsMen who put you down in publicMen who are rude to waitering staffMen unable to laugh at themselvesMen unwilling to share authorityMen who never make demands countering yours
Nanjing Night Net

A blow-up to rival Eyjafjallajokull

It was Anzac weekend last year that Australians learned that the World Health Organisation was on high alert after a new influenza virus killed scores in Mexico raising concerns of a global epidemic.Weeks of near hysteria set in.Sales of face masks and flu shots soared; P&O’s Pacific Dawn became a modern-day fever ship, denied access to Queensland ports; 5000 passengers and crew on another of the company’s cruisers, Dawn Princess, were quarantined after arriving at Darling Harbour from Hawaii.Their subsequent release caused a Typhoid Mary-like tremor to course through Sydney. A paroxysm of blame ensued, state governments accused each other of inaction, medical experts offered different scenarios and confusion reigned until flu season passed.But when an Icelandic volcano grounded flights in and out of Europe 15 days ago, a feeling of powerless gripped more than those whose holidays and business trips had been interrupted, delayed or cancelled.Depending on your deity, volcano eruption is an act of God or Mother Nature, and neither divinity is in the business of accepting blame for things that go wrong.Julie Fitness, associate professor of psychology at Macquarie University, says in the era of the individual, people are driven to new heights of anger when there’s nobody to blame.”All around the world, particularly in richer nations, we’ve come to live cosseted lives with high levels of perceived control that ensure a sense of predictability and calmness not available to previous generations,” she says.”We are unused to being held up or prevented from doing what we have become expert at doing, indulging ourselves, so when a volcano interrupts us, our world view is suddenly shaken violently.”Nature has almost been banished from many people’s life experiences,” she says. ”Earlier Australians pragmatically accepted drought and flood with equanimity but they’ve become nearly irrelevant, particularly to city dwellers, so when a volcano stops them in their tracks it is a personal affront to the sense of individuality that modern society has enshrined.”Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland put much of the world’s international airline industry into gridlock as its ash cloud drifted east and shut down European airspace.Departure boards in international airports started posting ”Cancelled” for flights in and out of Europe, stranding 5 million passengers across the world.There were stories of travellers bored to near death at airports, airlines gorging ticket prices, riots on Spanish ferries, brawls on Eurorail and hugely expensive taxi rides across six borders.And while HMS Ark Royal was dispatched across the English Channel to rescue marooned holidaying Brits, wealth and power received the usual preferential treatment, with Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elizabeth reportedly among the earliest to return to Britain, flying first class with British Airways from Los Angeles.There were mordant jokes about eruptions, interruptions and oral sex.Qantas and other carriers into Sydney bravely tried to assuage Australian horror of long-term detention in Europe on one hand. On the other hand, they also sought to calm European backpackers’ fears of being stuck in Bondi, issuing a stream of optimistic updates.Meanwhile, Eyjafjallajokull kept pumping ash into the atmosphere and a sense of powerlessness into society, and a desultory hunt started to find scapegoats.First, British meteorologists copped it for causing an overreaction to the ash cloud.An Icelandic vulcanologist told Reuters ice melts associated with global warming could effect magmatic systems. Somebody else noted the British television motoring show Top Gear had visited Eyjafjallajokull a week before it blew and the publicity-conscious program was happy to accept blame.After word leaked that American authorities routinely allowed jetliners to take off and land at Hilo International Airport in the middle of the volcano-rich island of Hawaii, Europeans sent up test flights to see if aircraft would tumble back to earth, engines choked with ash.None did.The first Qantas flight out of London arrived in Sydney eight days ago and most flights are returning to normal.But Eyjafjallajokull continues to spew forth ash and cast a pall of uncertainty over Australians wondering about travel to Europe for the northern hemisphere summer.
Nanjing Night Net

Accusations lost in translation

The voice from Turkey is scratchy but the message is clear: the Iranian sheikh facing deportation from Australia, Mansour Leghaei, is an extremist and a ”mastermind terrorist”.The accuser, an Iranian dissident who has fled the regime, has established contact with the Herald on an internet phone line to condemn Leghaei, the Sydney sheikh who ASIO has branded a threat to national security. This is the same moderate Shia preacher who Christian leaders have hailed for building bridges in the Australian community; who has won the unanimous support of Canterbury and Marrickville councils; and who the federal Attorney General, Robert McClelland – the man in charge of ASIO – once described as an asset to the nation.There is one big problem with the accuser hiding in Turkey. He can offer no proof. For the media, this has always been the frustration when reporting on Leghaei, whose eviction from Australia – after a 13-year battle – could be days away.ASIO does not have to tell Leghaei or the Australian people why it has deemed him a risk, so it is tempting to listen to people who might offer us some hints. The man on the phone recites a letter that he and the Iranian Refugees Collective, Turkey, have sent in recent days to Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, urging him to go ahead and deport Leghaei.”He used to give Islamic lectures in the Goohardasht Karj and Evin prison centres, the most notorious jails in the country, and interviewed the individuals imprisoned in its jails,” they claim in the letter.”Some of us we know him very well in Iran, as he used to patrol with bodyguards, passing by with security. We used to laugh and say to each other, ‘Here he comes! The Minister of Halal Meat (Haj-Agha gooshtey), the killer of Iranian people!’ We have his images and we recognise he is in Australia for 15 or 16 years.”There is nothing in the letter, however, Evans could consider as evidence. No images are attached. Most of its 680 words rail against the Iranian regime and its persecution and murder of dissidents. None of it establishes a link between 47-year-old Leghaei and the regime.If the minister – the sheikh’s last chance – is going to deport Leghaei, he is unlikely to give any weight to this letter. He will be relying on a case built by ASIO: the suspected ”acts of foreign interference” which it has never disclosed to the public, the stuff we are not allowed to know.When the Herald presents Leghaei with the allegations in the letter at the Imam Husain Islamic Centre at Earlwood, which he founded in 1997, he is at first calm but resolute: ”If I don’t doubt their integrity, they have mistaken me for someone else. Otherwise they are just lying.”He adds: ”They don’t know me. Simple. I have never visited any prison in Iran – never, ever any prison in Iran in my life. In fact, I have visited one prison and that was in Australia.”The Herald raises another unsubstantiated claim – this time from a source in Iran, via a Sydney-based Iranian – that Leghaei’s brother works for the secret police and his sister carries a walkie-talkie and informs on women who dress immodestly. Leghaei sighs, almost laughs: ”I don’t have any sister. Please report this one.” His four brothers, he says, have small businesses in a market in his home city, Isfahan.By now he is suspecting a network of ”malicious lies” – fabrications by people who have never met him, who must be desperately exploiting his plight to bolster their wider campaign against Iran’s rulers.”I am very happy you have access to such information because my sixth sense is that ASIO has made a big mistake by relying on such baseless allegations that are only politically motivated.”Leghaei’s bridging visa to stay in Australia expires on Monday. The latest of many since his battle began, it was extended for two weeks on April 19 to allow Evans more time to consider the sheikh’s request that he override ASIO’s adverse security assessments. If the minister refuses, Leghaei’s wife, Marzieh, and one of their four children, 20-year-old Ali – an accountancy student who describes himself as a ”complete Aussie” and who speaks almost no Farsi – also face deportation to Iran. If the minister wants more time, the bridging visa may be extended, yet again.So what does ASIO know, or believe? We can only grasp at snippets from Leghaei’s failed legal battle which went all the way to the High Court. The sheikh fills in some of the gaps.He arrived in Australia in February 1994 with his wife and three sons, then four-year-old Ali, and 10-year-old twins, Reza and Sadiq (now 26, they have secured citizenship). Fatima, now 14, was born in Sydney two years later. Leghaei came on a three-month business visa to act as an inspector of halal meat exported from Australia to Iran. He was sponsored by both an Australian export company and an Iranian import firm, but his position also required the endorsement of the Iranian government, which vouched for his authority as a sheikh and inspector.Leghaei had completed his PhD in theosophy – a combination of theology and philosophy – in Iran. Other than six months as a university lecturer before he left for Australia, he says he had only been a student. He never worked, he says, as a halal meat inspector or ”minister” in Iran, as asserted in the letter from Turkey.Leghaei says his business visa was extended for another three months. During that time, however, a drought in Australia made its meat too expensive for Iran, which turned instead to New Zealand.”I was about to pack up and leave. But some of the local members of the Al-Zahra mosque in Arncliffe … they came and saw me and said, ‘Since you are in Australia, why don’t you stay here for one year with a temporary visa as a religious worker?’ ” He was regarded as especially valuable because he was the only cleric in Australia who could speak English, Farsi and Arabic. ”I accepted the offer and applied for my visa as a religious worker for one year.”In July 1995 Leghaei returned to Iran for a brief holiday. On his return to Sydney Airport, officials searched his bag. His luggage included $10,000 in Australian currency. Leghaei says he did not realise that, at this time, amounts over $5000 had to be declared. He was taken to a room and body-searched. While there, he now realises, officers took an exercise book from his bag and copied about half of its 150 pages. The book contained his student notes, in which he quoted scholars on the subject of jihad. This book would become very significant. But it was not until 2002, when he launched legal action against ASIO, that Leghaei would learn it had obtained these notes – and an alarming translation that suggested he supported violent jihad.Leghaei was allowed to leave the airport with the $10,000. He says the officers appeared to accept his explanation. It was not his, he says. He was merely delivering a donation from the Islamic Propagation Organisation, a publisher of Islamic texts in Tehran, to the Great Prophet Islamic Centre in Melbourne.The next month, in September 1995, ASIO approached Leghaei for the first time. Its agent, identified only as Brian, had asked Leghaei if he was aware that Salman Rushdie was about to visit Australia. The novelist’s life was under the threat of a fatwa. Leghaei had said he was not aware of the visit.Brian also asked about the $10,000. ”Perhaps it was a point of suspicion,” Leghaei says, but the agent had appeared to accept his explanation.Brian did not ask about the exercise book, Leghaei says. He got the impression Brian was trying to cultivate him as an informant. Brian asked him to gather information on the Islamic Propagation Organisation – its objectives, hierarchy and constitution. Leghaei says he agreed to try but later found he was unable to help.This had been the first of eight meetings with ASIO, the last occurring in July 1999. He was questioned about an Iraqi group based in Auburn. He was asked about his role as a meat certifier. ”But they never asked me about the booklet,” Leghaei says.In November 1996, the sheikh applied for permanent residency and later submitted letters in support of his application. These included two from federal Labor MPs, Anthony Albanese and Robert McClelland.But Leghaei learnt in August 1997 that his application had been rejected on the basis of an adverse security assessment by ASIO. He was given no explanation. As a non-citizen, he was entitled to none.While he launched an appeals process, McClelland wrote a second letter of support in December 1997, saying he was ”most surprised” by the decision and that Leghaei was ”an asset to the Muslim community in particular and the Australian community at large”. Now that he is Attorney-General, McClelland’s office has pointed out that his reference was based on his knowledge as a local member, and that he ”was not privy to the content of security assessments made about Dr Leghaei at the time”.In May 1999, the then immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, officially opened Leghaei’s Islamic centre at Earlwood, remarking: ”I do note very much the inclusive nature of the centre that you have developed.”Around this time, Iran’s ambassador to Australia presented a $32,000 cheque to the centre. It was in appreciation for the same amount which the centre had raised for earthquake victims in Iran. For some Iranian refugees in Sydney, however, this alone is confirmation that Leghaei must be in the pay of the regime.ASIO conducted its last interview with Leghaei in July 1999. Two officers questioned him. ”It lasted three hours. They asked me about some overseas organisations, such as Ahlul Bayt in France.” He replied that he knew of no such group, but he explained that he had opened an education centre in Nigeria in 1992 called Ahlul Bayt – a commonly used term meaning ”house of the prophet”.Leghaei made a freedom of information request in 2001 and discovered that an anonymous letter, addressed to the immigration minister, had alleged he was funded by the Iranian government and was a threat to the security of Australia and its Iranian community.The next year, ASIO made a second adverse assessment. Only now, when he initiated Federal Court proceedings against ASIO, did the Australian government solicitors advise his lawyers about documents ASIO had held since 1995. They included the translation of Leghaei’s notebook.”It did not resemble my work,” Leghaei says. The translation, he says, added inflammatory material about the killing of infidels. It listed the ”enemies of Islam” and said: ”It is a Muslim’s basic duty to wipe out the above classes.” Leghaei cites this as an example of many offending lines that did not appear in his original notes. ”The word infidel doesn’t exist in my book.”In the end, ASIO accepted that its translation was flawed and was ordered to pay a third of Leghaei’s legal costs – about $30,000.But ASIO prevailed. An affidavit from its then director-general, Dennis Richardson, argued the information on Leghaei must remain confidential to protect ASIO’s sources and conceal its targets.The Inspector General for Intelligence and Security backed ASIO, saying it had ”sufficient ground” to make its finding.In November 2007 the High Court upheld findings that concerns about national security outweighed any rights Leghaei might have to procedural fairness.Cyrus Sarang is a Sydney Iranian who believes Leghaei deserves to be deported. An activist, Sarang is the head of the Iranian Action Collective and the Refugees Action Collective. He, too, has no proof against the sheikh. Rather, he claims Leghaei’s failure to join protests against the regime confirm his complicity. His mere wearing of the turban, Sarang claims, is confirmation.But Sarang is no fan of ASIO. His home was raided in 2003 and his computer and documents were seized. He denied raising funds for the Iranian regime’s rivals, the Mujahedin-e Khlaq, which Australia regards as a terrorist organisation. Even Sarang believes Leghaei is entitled to be told why he must leave Australia. ”They should have to explain.”But they don’t. Leghaei and his family expect the minister’s decision any day now. ”I am so confident that there is absolutely nothing sinister in my life,” he says.If there is, we will probably never know.
Nanjing Night Net

How Murdoch won a newspaper

Rupert Murdoch was growing frustrated that he had heard nothing from the Bancroft family since their initial refusal of his $US5 billion takeover offer for Dow Jones, the owner of The Wall Street Journal. He couldn’t wait.Through their bumbling indecisiveness, the Bancrofts were turning out to be wily negotiators. Murdoch, impatient, began negotiating with himself.Murdoch sent the family unsolicited sweeteners: a News Corporation board seat for one of them, and the promise of a protective structure for the Journal ”exactly along the lines” of what was established when he took over The Times of London a quarter of a century ago.At that paper, Murdoch had agreed to a board of ”directors” with the right to review the hiring and firing of senior editors.Still, he received no answer from the Bancrofts.IT WAS June 4, 2007, when the family members and Murdoch’s group sat down for lunch. The two sides faced each other.Murdoch opened the meeting with a welcome to the Bancrofts and praise for The Wall Street Journal. Because of the size of the room and the width of the table, at least three metres across, his voice seemed faint to the Bancrofts on the other side. They leaned in closer to try to decipher what he was saying. He looked old, at least to the attorney and Dow Jones board member Mike Elefante, who was struck by how unassuming this giant of a businessman appeared in person.Murdoch knew the reputation he had with the family: a meddler in news coverage; someone who used his papers to further his business interests; an apologist for China’s repressive regime. He knew that to get to Dow Jones, he needed to woo the family. To woo them, he needed to rehabilitate his image.He gave a meandering introduction, praising the Bancroft family and everything they had protected over the years. His advisers had coached him on the importance of flattery. In an uncharacteristic moment of self-analysis, he ventured an acknowledgment of his past. ”I’ve made some mistakes,” he said quickly. After a brief pause, he recovered: ”But it’s worked out pretty well in the end.”With a boyish face and closely shorn dark hair, Murdoch’s son and heir apparent, James, arrived almost two hours late. He had delivered a speech that morning in London at a breakfast to benefit the charity Jewish Care.The Bancroft family member and Dow Jones director Leslie Hill felt an obligation to grill the mogul and, typically, broached the topic directly.”How do you deal with coverage of China, given your substantial business interests there?” she asked. She spoke glowingly of the Journal’s coverage of China. In praising Journal reporters’ dedication to their craft, she invoked the death of Daniel Pearl.Murdoch gave a rambling response and pointed out that The Times had done several stories critical of the Chinese government.James looked at his father and grew defensive of the old man.He was at a loss at what he was hearing. Here, the Bancrofts were acting like an august group on the other side of the table. ”He has more work experience in his pinky finger,” James thought of his father.James quickly jumped in, speaking in his staccato tone. ”Look, we were the only broadcaster in China to broadcast the September 11 attacks live,” he said. ”We were the only broadcaster to cover the Taiwanese election,” he added. ”We did it carefully, but we did it.”News Corp had journalists risking their lives all over the world, he thought to himself. He felt that American journalism smacked of self-importance.Instead, he went on to outline News Corp’s business strategy and his personal view about opportunities. ”If it doesn’t make money, we don’t do it,” he said.Then, perhaps to soothe fraying nerves across the table, the elder Murdoch reiterated his willingness to set up an editorial board, as he had done with The Times. He took a copy of the editorial agreement he had given The Times and pushed it across the table. In it, he proposed a board whose members were partly chosen by himself, a structure that had allowed him to force out The Times’s editor, Harold Evans, a year after Murdoch took over the paper.Elefante then handed over a copy of the family’s proposal. Murdoch perused the document as Elefante ran through its main points.The Bancroft proposal suggested that the initial members of Dow Jones’s editorial board be chosen by the Bancroft family, who would choose their own successors in perpetuity. It was their way of cementing control.Murdoch furrowed his brow. Clearly, he didn’t like the agreement in front of him. Under the current configuration of The Times’s board, he explained, he could appoint the paper’s editor but the editor would need to be approved by the independent board. Similarly, he could not remove the editor without the concurrence of the board.When Murdoch left the building that day, photographers and television cameras greeted him. He told them blandly that after more than four hours in the conference room together, ”we had a very long, constructive meeting, and we’ve both gone away to consider both sides”. He and his cohorts went to a cigar bar around the corner afterward to celebrate.The meeting would turn Leslie Hill completely against Murdoch.She felt he had dodged her questions about China. She didn’t trust him. She would spend the rest of the summer scouring the East Coast trying to find alternatives to Murdoch.She didn’t trust Murdoch, she told the Journal’s managing editor, Marcus Brauchli. He hadn’t done much to win her over, and what charm he attempted she found false.Brauchli told her Murdoch was like an escape artist. ”We’re all trying to put Murdoch in a straitjacket, wrap him in chains, put him inside a lead box, padlock it shut, and drop it into the East River,” Brauchli said. ”And five minutes later he will be standing on the bank, smiling.”Three weeks after they met Murdoch that rainy June afternoon, the family just gave up. Exhausted from the to-ing and fro-ing over the structure of the editorial independence agreement, the Bancroft directors handed their negotiating power over to Dow Jones’s board.After 105 years of ownership, the Bancroft stewardship of Dow Jones was over. All that remained was the signing of the papers.It took just three days for the Dow Jones board, eager to see these proceedings come to a close, to send the agreement to News Corp.Over the next several weeks, the Bancrofts suffered a final ignominy.After the deal was signed, they attempted to choose their representative to the News Corp board, the family member who was to preserve their legacy. Fractious as always, the Bancrofts missed their deadline. Murdoch made the choice for them, vetoing the family’s first selection and instead picking a 27-year-old opera singer, Natalie Bancroft, whose greatest qualification for Murdoch was that, unlike some of her Hill and Goth cousins, she held the right surname and wouldn’t raise a fuss in the boardroom.ON AUGUST 3, Brauchli arrived in one of the small executive dining rooms on News Corp’s third floor for his appointed breakfast with Murdoch. He saw the scalps of former conquests hanging on the walls around him: dustjackets of HarperCollins books and corporate paraphernalia were the decor.The two chatted about the economy, and Murdoch grilled Brauchli on his opinions. It was clear to Brauchli that Murdoch was testing him, seeing how much or how little he enjoyed his new editor’s company.Then he laid out for Brauchli his vision for the paper, one he had shared broadly during the deal negotiations: ”The New York Times sets the national agenda, and we should,” Murdoch said, already slipping easily into the role of owner. Brauchli smiled imperceptibly at Murdoch’s mention of ”we”. He wasn’t used to the concept of himself and Murdoch being on the same side.Brauchli wasn’t surprised that Murdoch wanted to attack The New York Times; he had received ample warning of that desire. But the Journal’s sensibility was more subdued, and strategic. Journal editors picked their shots; Murdoch wanted all-out war.Traditionally, the paper had been a newsroom of midwesterners in the centre of New York, a group happy to exist outside the glamour of the city. The Journal was well read in flyover country and in the investment banking corridors of Wall Street, but among the literati and the culture set of Manhattan, it was viewed with a certain disdain, almost as if it were a trade paper. The reporters and editors often thought that was part of the beauty of the place.The Journal told its readers stories they never knew they wanted to hear. The paper revered surprise, running a quirky, often hilarious story every day down the middle of the front page, internally called the ”A-Hed”. The Journal’s investigative reporters often remarked how welcomed they were by corporate executives, who thought that the paper was a friendly outlet. One of the paper’s great specialties was the ”tick-tock,” often riveting reconstructions of significant events that had occurred months earlier. Almost to a fault, the Journal avoided using the influence of its news pages to full effect.Murdoch wanted to wipe all that away. He wanted the Journal to lead the media pack.”If there’s something everyone is talking about, that should be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal,” Murdoch told his aides.He continued his list of priorities for Brauchli. ”We should break more news,” he said. Already Murdoch had planned to add four pages to the paper to accommodate the expanded political and general news he wanted to see in it.As he stepped out of the nondescript News Corp tower onto Sixth Avenue and into the August morning sun, Brauchli felt encouraged. He thought that there was plenty of overlap between his vision and the baron’s.IN A MARCH 2008 meeting, Murdoch dropped by to listen to the paper’s plans to promote yet another redesign, due to launch April 21 with some of Brauchli’s proposed changes. When told he should listen to the paper’s public relations plan, Murdoch said it wasn’t necessary.”We don’t need to talk about this,” he said. Public relations was something Murdoch had never fully trusted. He thought it was a waste of time and, worse, a way to tip your hand to a competitor.”You really should hear what Bob has to say,” urged Kelly Leach, who worked on strategy for Dow Jones, referring to the ever affable vice-president of communications, Robert Christie. Earlier in the week, The New York Times had run a lukewarm story on the paper’s overhaul of its ”Marketplace” section.”Usually my philosophy is we get ahead of the story,” Christie ventured, ”so we’re not in a reactionary mode.””F— The New York Times,” Murdoch growled, suddenly surly. ”I don’t care what the media says.””But Rupert,” Leach ventured, ”we know our advertisers aren’t committed on incremental advertising spend …””We’re going to do this our way and not give them a road map,” Murdoch replied, beginning what became a longer-than-expected rant. ”We’re going to build a fantastic newspaper. I don’t give a f— what the media says.”Finally, Leach edged back into the conversation. ”We’ve been doing market research of our readers and their opinion of the Journal has diminished since News Corp announced it was going to acquire Dow Jones.”Then Murdoch, who had been simmering under the surface, exploded. ”We’re going to build a f—ing great paper and I do not give a f— what New York or the media has to say about it! We’ll build the world’s best paper!” This must be what truly energised him.He didn’t want these nervous midlevel people around him, questioning every move. He wanted them to be aggressive and have fun and be a little more like one of the team.Several weeks later, Brauchli sat in the dingy ninth-floor conference room of Dow Jones’s headquarters in Battery Park City. He had arranged for the chiefs of domestic and foreign bureaus to call in that morning to hear a discussion of the paper’s proposed direction.Toward the end of the meeting, Brauchli checked his BlackBerry and saw that he had a message from the Dow Jones publisher, Robert Thomson. He told the group he had to excuse himself and go to another meeting. Brauchli returned the call.”We have to go and talk to Les,” Thomson said, referring to the chief executive, Leslie Hinton. The two men walked to Hinton’s office; he had just returned from a trip to China. ”Ni hao,” Brauchli said, Mandarin for ”hello.” Hinton didn’t smile.”There’s no easy way to put this but we want you to step down as managing editor. We don’t think things are working out. We’d like to make a change.” Neither Hinton nor Thomson went into detail or explained why. Brauchli knew they were merely handing down a verdict arrived at by their boss.This is an edited extract from War at The Wall Street Journal. How Rupert Murdoch bought an American icon (Text Publishing, $34.95) by Sarah Ellison. Published on Monday.
Nanjing Night Net

God help us: Bali Nine pray

AS ANDREW CHAN belts out another song of praise, head swaying as he fairly hollers in devotion beneath a mural of Jesus Christ, his death-row colleague Scott Rush slips quietly into the back of the prison’s small chapel.It is the monthly English-language Christian service at Kerobokan jail and five of the Bali Nine heroin-smuggling ring have turned up. Three of them – Chan, Rush and Myuran Sukumaran – have the death penalty hanging over them. Their final appeals are due to be heard this year.The sermon is delivered by Reverend Thompson Manafe, a priest from West Timor. ”Trust in God will bring you peace,” he implores. ”Those who believe in God will no longer be guilty because Jesus lives in your heart and he died on the cross. You cannot be killed in any way.”Rush missed the sermon, a message tailored especially for the death-row inmates and one meant to bring them strength and hope.But he was in time for the service’s final act, in which the Bali Nine members locked arms in a circle, prayed for one another and received a blessing. Each of them – in their own way – has found religion since coming to Kerobokan.Chan says he had a profound encounter with God days after his arrest. Sukumaran renewed his faith some time later. Both are busy around the jail, counselling inmates and running training programs.For Rush though, only 19 and on his first overseas trip when he was caught with heroin strapped to his body at Denpasar airport, his spiritual journey has been more complex.Christianity and its central concept of redemption for sinners does not always sit easily with him.Rush has confessed, before God and the courts. He has acknowledged the dreadful consequences of bringing kilograms of heroin to the streets of Australia. But he finds it hard to absolve himself.”It’s been a problem for me,” he says after the service has finished. ”I’m still looking for forgiveness. I just feel so bad about everything, especially for what I’ve done to my parents and family.”Rush says he prays almost every night, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and saying his Hail Marys. Many pray for him, too. His priest in Brisbane, Father Tim Harris, and his parishioners do so every Sunday. Father Frank Brennan, the Jesuit priest, and Bishop Silvester of Denpasar have been visitors.But he is afflicted by a stubborn melancholy. Rush cannot stop blaming himself and hates being locked up. Even after five years, he can’t get used to the place.”It feels abnormal here. I feel disconnected. It’s a big struggle,” he says. ”But I’ve f—ed up and I’m inside.”Rush describes Kerobokan as ”pretty laid back” compared with others Asian prisons. He appreciates the emphasis on rehabilitation under the new governor, Siswanto, who introduced the English-language church services a few months ago.”It’s just hard to find people, other prisoners, to trust … and that’s what makes it worse.”While Rush frets, Chan is boisterous about his spirituality. He beams when relating his favourite analogy of faith, relayed in a broad ocker accent..”You know how you can go into those shopping malls and you see them sliding doors. The ones that just open automatically,” he says.”Now, let’s say there’s a door over there. If I stood here, would it open? Nah. I can scream at it, I can yell at it, I can do whatever I want.”[But] if I walk towards it, it will open … We have to walk in our faith and that means praying and spending time with the Lord.”By doing that, you know, doors start to open.”Chan is studying theology with an Australian Bible college. He was baptised in Kerobokan and, inspired by his faith, spends much of his time writing letters to inmates around the world and ”friends of friends” who are in difficulty.He has corresponded with David Berkowitz, better known as the Son of Sam, the US serial killer who became a born-again Christian and refused to attend parole hearings because he believed he ”deserved to be in prison”.”It’s just prayer support and that. I ask if he can pray for certain things in here or whatever, and I do the same for him,” Chan says, adding it has been 12 months since they had contact.While Rush continues to battle his demons, Chan appears more content. ”I trust that this isn’t God’s divine plan for me, and he has a better hope and plan for my life,” he says.”I look towards that and I strive for what’s ahead and what’s better, rather than what may linger over my head.”Rush keeps his hopes in check about his coming appeal. On the face of it, he has a good case. He was the most junior member of the syndicate and others with more senior roles have got life imprisonment or less.”I don’t want to sound not positive, but I don’t expect anything,” he says. ”I’m not in a position to expect anything.”
Nanjing Night Net

Do parents make children religious? Heaven wonders

FINALLY, some good news for Catholic spin doctors: hopeful children with warm but firm parents are more likely to develop religious values, according to a study by Wollongong University psychologists.The study examines the nexus between parenting styles, child development and religiosity and shows that the better the parenting, the more positive religious values the child holds.Researchers questioned 784 year 7 students in Catholic schools about their perceptions of parents’ behaviour, then divided the ”parenting styles” into three groups – authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.Three years later, they revisited the teenagers in year 10 and gave them questionnaires assessing their religious beliefs. The teens were asked to rate the extent to which they adhered to the guiding principles: ”Being saved from your sins and at peace with God”; ”Being at one with God or the universe”; and ”Following your religious faith conscientiously”.Teenagers whose parents fell into the ”authoritative” category – where parents set firm boundaries but enforce them lovingly – were most likely to adhere strongly to the religious values.Psychologists have long quibbled over the effect religion has on child development. Freud saw God as the ultimate father-figure and believed religious people were immature because they had failed to emotionally detach from Him. Religion was a fantasy to be destroyed before a person could mature psychologically.Jung thought religious experience was an offshoot of the collective unconscious (a concept about as mystical as religion itself). Turn-of-the-century Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler believed our ideas about God spoke volumes about how we saw the world. According to his theories, God helped us compensate for our own imperfections and insecurities.Professor Patrick Heaven, co-author of the The Wollongong Youth Study with Joseph Ciarrochi and Dr Peter Leeson, does not go so far as to say that God is good for children.But the research also showed a correlation between a characteristic psychologists call ”trait hope” – which combines hopefulness and optimism with resilience following setbacks – and religiosity.”These three things appear to be related – authoritative parents, hope in children and their adherence to religious values,” Professor Heaven says.Sociologist of religion Alec Pemberton says that ”in a way authoritative parenting is modelling what we like to think of as God”.Churches may be quick to exploit the research but it is unclear whether religion makes a harder-working, better-adjusted child, or whether such children are attracted to religion.”It doesn’t get to the nub of causality,” Professor Heaven says. ”We’re now looking at what comes first.”
Nanjing Night Net

Driver reaches out to victims’ family

IT WAS the sunset over the mountains from Kabul that Ronald Frederick Jaray remembered when he sat down to write a letter to the relatives of five members of an Afghan family killed in the car crash he caused.Mr Jaray’s handwritten letter, seen by the Herald, was delivered by police to the Reza-e family on Thursday, the day before the 68-year-old faced Picton Local Court to ask for mercy.The retired school teacher, who has pleaded guilty to one count of negligent driving causing death, apologised but did not ask for forgiveness.”Please understand I am an ordinary, honest, caring person who is and always will be deeply distressed by what has happened,” he wrote.”I cannot undo what has been done. Rarely do small errors have such huge consequences and why this happened to you, who have had more than your share of suffering, is beyond comprehension.”The Picton resident sat quietly in court yesterday morning while his barrister, Shane McAnulty, argued it was his client’s ”momentary inattention” that caused a ”slight touching” of the Reza-e’s Toyota Camry as he attempted to change lanes early on December 6 on Picton Road near Wilton.”The complicating factor was that at the speed of 100km/h everything is magnified tenfold,” Mr McAnulty told the court.He said his client should be placed under a good behaviour bond, rather than be sent to jail.The Reza-e’s car fishtailed and spun onto the other side of the road, where it was struck by a water tanker.Abdul Wali Mohamad Qasim, 41, his wife Sharifa Reza-e, 24, their 14-week-old son Erfan and two female cousins, Kobra Reza-e, 50, and Habibah Reza-e, 40, were killed instantly.”I have no way of feeling or understanding the grief you must feel,” Mr Jaray wrote to their relatives. ”I wake each morning feeling confused, sad and concerned, which is not even a fraction of your feelings.”He said he had visited their homeland of Afghanistan – which the Reza-e family fled after losing relatives in the conflict there – in the early 1970s when it was ”unusually peaceful and beautiful”.”Watching the sunset over the mountains from Kabul, while listening to the call to prayer, is a very fond memory,” Mr Jaray wrote.Fawzia Reza-e, whose three cousins were killed in the crash in December, said she cried when she received the letter this week.”It made me more sad,” she said.The brother of the female victims, Najib Reza-e, was granted a temporary visa after he came to Australia for their funeral. But his wife and five children were still in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur waiting to join him, Fawzia Reza-e said.”I want the immigration (department) to help Najib, do something about him and his family,” she said.Mr Jaray is expected to be sentenced by magistrate Robert Walker at Picton Court on May 24.
Nanjing Night Net

‘Disgusted’ accomplice describes kidnap, mutilation

IF HE did not go along with a plan to kidnap and lock a man in a toolbox before cutting his body into pieces, Sean Laurence Waygood feared he would be killed. However, seven years later he felt no danger in inviting the alleged architect of the plan to his wedding, a court has heard.Waygood has pleaded guilty to offences including the kidnapping of Terry Falconer and being an accessory after the fact to his murder. He also pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder Felix Lyle, an alleged member of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang and the subsequent shooting of another man, in what he describes as a case of mistaken identity.Waygood told a District Court sentencing hearing yesterday that in each offence he had acted on the instructions of a man he knew as ”Steve”, who was involved in criminal activity and had lent him and a friend $100,000.Steve’s real name cannot be disclosed for legal reasons.Falconer’s family wept as Waygood detailed how for $15,000, he posed as a police officer and helped to kidnap Falconer when he was on work release from Silverwater jail in November 2001.Falconer had been ”in a pretty bad way” after being rendered unconscious and then locked in the toolbox during the drive between Ingleburn and Turramurra, Waygood said. ”He was sweating profusely, he was red … I said, ‘Don’t you think we should let him out?”’ Waygood said.He told the court Steve became agitated by this. ”He put his hand on his piece and said, Are you f—in’ with us or what? He screamed it out with rage and put his hand on his gun as though he was about to draw it.”Asked by prosecutor Roger Kimball why he did not use skills he learnt as a green beret in the army to overpower Steve, he replied: ”Say if I did get away, how long was it going to be before my girlfriend was … murdered or worse, abducted or tortured?”Falconer was dead by the time they arrived at a property in Girvan on the mid-north coast. Steve removed Falconer’s teeth and smashed them on the floor with a hammer. Waygood, Steve and another man then dismembered the body, the court heard.Waygood conceded Steve was not the only ”criminal” at his wedding in 2008. Having testified against Steve and others arrested by Strike Force Tuno, he will have his sentence reduced.He apologised to his victims and their families, telling them he was ”disgusted” with himself but ”can’t take back what I have done”.
Nanjing Night Net

More means misery – abundant choices give abundant chances to brood

REMEMBER the bad old days when children went to the local school, Telstra provided your telephone, and the state provided the electricity?Now that we are bombarded with choice in every area of our lives, are we any happier?Visiting professor of psychology, Barry Schwartz, believes too much choice makes for misery. And the most miserable are the most diligent shoppers, those determined to get the very best deal.”The more comparison shopping you do, the more carefully you evaluate the options, the more likely it is that whatever you choose will leave you feeling dissatisfied,” said Professor Schwartz, of Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania.Professor Schwartz will be in Sydney for the two-day Happiness and Its Causes conference, beginning Wednesday, that brings together international speakers including Edward de Bono, Naomi Wolf and Robert Thurman.His now-famous study involving thousands of people shines a light on why abundant choice has produced no gains in well-being in affluent societies. It suggests the more options people have, the more likely some will experience disappointment with their choice, and this response extends beyond frocks and fridges to choice of job or life partner.”You have a wonderful partner but you think ‘is this the best person on earth for me?’ You keep looking over your shoulder. This is not a recipe for a satisfied life,” he said.Professor Schwartz and colleagues composed a set of statements to identify people he calls ”maximisers”, those who always aim to make the best possible choice, and those he calls ”satisficers”, who aim for ”good enough.”People fell along a continuum but the study found the greatest maximisers were the least happy with the fruits of their search.Despite exerting enormous time and effort reading labels and checking consumer magazines, the maximisers got less satisfaction from their purchases than people who considered fewer options and were content with ”good enough”.The maximisers were more prone to experiencing regret after a purchase.Professor Schwartz said maximisers felt sorrow about the opportunities they had forgone, and quickly got used to their purchases, so that the experience of having made a superior choice soon began to feel flat.Maximisers turned out to be less happy with life in general, less optimistic and more depressed compared to people who subscribed to the ”good enough” philosophy.Professor Schwartz said a further study of university graduates showed maximisers secured better jobs and higher pay than the ”good enough” brigade but on every measure felt worse about the job search and the job, and their life in general. ”It’s the price people pay when they are out to get the best,” he said.Having witnessed the angst his daughter endured in selecting a school for her child, Professor Schwartz considers the new emphasis on school choice a ”disaster”.”She tortured herself; whichever school she chose she had to give up something attractive in another,” he said. ”And after the decision, she continued hand-wringing.”He said some choice was essential because people needed to feel in control of their lives but the mistake had been to assume ”the more the better”.As a way out of the paradox of choice, Professor Schwartz recommends people outsource to their friends. ”I have a vision of a community of friends where someone is the expert on consumer electronics, another is the expert on restaurants, another on computers,” he said.ROAD TO RECOVERY Visit no more than two stores when clothes shoppingLearn to accept ”good enough”Don’t worry about what you’re missingDon’t expect too much
Nanjing Night Net

It’s shaping up to be a great year for Grange

DRINKERS of fine wine will be spared the pain inflicted on cigarette smokers in tomorrow’s Henry review. In fact they’re likely to find Australia’s most expensive drop more than $100 a bottle cheaper. But drinkers of cask wine are in for a shock.A move towards a single flat volumetric tax on alcohol is set to cut the price of a $620 bottle of Grange by $133 while adding $20 to the price of a four-litre cask.The dramatic change is one of many driven by the Henry review’s pursuit of simplicity and fairness at the cost of shaking things up. Its recommendations would also increase the salary bills of charities who would no longer be able to offer their employees untaxed fringe benefits, subject many more businesses to payroll tax, cut tax on savings accounts, boost superannuation tax for high-income earners and cut family payments for older children in order to boost them for preschoolers.The review finds that while beer is sensibly taxed per unit of alcohol, wine is taxed by price with rebates for small producers. This means expensive bottles are very heavily taxed, some bottles attract no alcohol tax and cask wine is taxed at just 5 cents per standard drink.The proposed flat tax set at the packaged full-strength beer rate of 39 cents per standard drink would push up the price of a four-litre cask from $15 to $35, according to calculations by the Australian Hotels Association, while taking $6 off the price of a $54 cabernet sauvignon.A middy of draft beer would climb 28 cents while $9 would be sliced off the price of a $43 bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky. Alcopops, recently subject to a tax increase, would come down in price.In recognition of the disruption the change would cause, it is likely to be phased in over a number of years.Bank accounts will benefit more quickly from another attempt at simplicity. The review has found that the real effective tax rate on interest earned in bank accounts approaches 50 per cent for a middle earner on the 31.5 per cent rate. By contrast the real effective tax on earnings from shares is around 10 per cent, and minus 30 per cent if they are bought with borrowed money. The effective real tax rate on superannuation approaches minus 40 per cent.In order to even things up and also encourage saving, the review will cut the rate of tax on bank interest while sharply increasing tax on superannuation for high income earners. At present one third of super tax concessions go to Australians earning more than $180,000. Australians earning less than $35,000 get next to nothing.The review flatly rejects pleas from the superannuation industry to lift compulsory contributions but endorses a separate small compulsory levy to fund a national disability insurance scheme. It recommends measures to encourage so-called ”longevity insurance” under which super payouts are turned into guaranteed lifetime fortnightly payments.Insurance itself should become free of all taxes other than the GST the review proposes. It believes high stamp duties discourage the poorest people most in need of insurance from using it.Stamp duty will remain on real estate transactions. In return the family home will remain exempt from capital gains tax. But capital gains arrangements for rental properties face a shake up.The showcase for the simplicity the review has in mind will be the one-click or optional tax return. People will no longer need to complete paperwork or provide the Tax Office with information. The number of different welfare benefits would shrink and family benefits would be reconfigured to pay the most in the preschool years when high childcare costs mean expenses are their highest. The new arrangements would be directed to getting people off disability benefits and in to work.Businesses will face an extension of payroll tax rather than its abolition as many had hoped. The review finds the tax is a good one and that most of its problems come from exemptions and different rates in different states.
Nanjing Night Net