Sunday, July 29, 2007

Steamboat rugby!

Australia may have lost the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations to New Zealand, and will be lucky to make it to the semi-finals of this year's Rugby World Cup, but at least Steamboat are the Ski Town rugby champs!

The Steamboat team is having a great season. They are 14-0 after yesterday defeating Vail in the final. Their next game is against Aspen who are traditionally one of the strongest teams in the region. Beating Vail and Aspen back to back would be like beating South Africa and New Zealand in successive games.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Egg on Howard's face

Not surprisingly the incredibly flimsy case against Dr Haneef has completely fallen apart with the Director of Public Prosecutions dropping all charges.

Only ten days ago this man was so dangerous that the Government felt the need to revoke his visa and detain him under the immigration laws after a magistrate refused to play the Government's game and granted him bail. Now he's free in the community, the Immigration Minister having sought to save face by placing him on "residential detention" which seems to be something like house arrest but without the arrest part. All that remains is for his visa to be restored after a face saving consultation with the Solicitor-General.

John Howard would have you believe that all this has nothing to do with him or his Government. Let's look at the evidence.

You've got the Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, a political light weight who was surely acting as the Prime Minister's puppet, cancelling Dr Haneef's visa in order to frustrate the decision of a court to grant bail.

You've got the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, one of Howard's closest allies, complaining that the "presumption against bail" didn't work, meaning that the Government lied when the legislation was being debated in Parliament and they made all sorts of reassurances about checks and balances, because what they really meant was "no bail".

And you've got the PM bleating about needing to toughen the terrorism laws which was clearly intended to inflame the situation.

No, if he sounds like a fear mongering little bastard, and acts like a fear mongering little bastard, you can be pretty sure that he is a fear mongering little bastard.

There is a silver lining in this cloud because there are several players who come out of this smelling quite good especially the magistrate who called the Government right up front on the flimsiness of their case and granted bail to Dr Haneef, and his lawyers and the legal fraternity in general who were fearless in confronting the Government.

As for the DPP Damian Bugg QC, I have mixed feelings. I'm surprised that in such a high profile case he wasn't personally involved earlier, but once he did get involved and saw that there was no evidence he immediately did the right thing. I ought to point out for my US readers that the DPP is a career civil servant, not a political appointee or elected office holder. If this had been a US prosecutor pursuing a partisan political agenda I have no doubt that Dr Haneef would have spent months or years waiting to be exonerated.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ski with me?

I bought my 2007-08 season pass yesterday (the price goes up significantly on August 15, I'll be out of town and I really didn't want to forget) which has got me thinking about the ski season already.

One of the things I'd like to do this year is to spend more time skiing with other people. Unfortunately most of my Steamboat friends have regular 9 to 5, Monday to Friday jobs (yuk!) and whilst most of them have "powder clauses" everyone knows "there are no friends on powder days."

So if you are planning to ski in Steamboat this year, you're a solid intermediate or advanced skier and you'd like a local to show you the secrets of our mountain, send me an email!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Haneef case unravelling

Looks like the Australian Government's case against Dr Haneef is already beginning to unravel and the Immigration Minister's decision to cancel his visa is becoming even less defensible than the case of guilt by association I discussed yesterday. Even if that were a crime (and it still isn't in anything resembling a liberal democracy, at least for now), the alleged associations aren't even standing up to scrutiny.

According to a report in The Australian newspaper, Australia's leading national daily, under the heading Haneef dossier 'flawed', key pieces of evidence used to justify the visa cancellation and presented to the courts are completely inconsistent with the statements given by Dr Haneef to police.

In particular the claim in the affidavit that Dr Haneef told police that he lived in Britain with the two terrorism suspects, his second cousins is completely inconsistent with the record of interview in which Dr Haneef tells police that he lived at 13 Bentley Road, Liverpool, with several doctors, whom he names. None are the two suspects. Dr Haneef tells police he visited Cambridge on two occasions in 2004 and stayed for up to six days with Kafeel Ahmed and that he had moved out of 13 Bentley Road when Dr Sabeel Ahmed subsequently stayed there.

Similarly "While the police affidavit stated Dr Haneef had no explanation about his one-way ticket, the record of interview shows that he gave a detailed explanation to police while answering questions. Dr Haneef told police that as he did not have funds in his Australian bank account his father-in-law had booked and paid for the one-way ticket with an understanding that when I go there we can arrange for the coming back ticket." I'm actually guessing that wasn't the real reason, that he did panic and flee in fear - fear of being found guilty by association when he heard that his cousins had been arrested. Now why would he think that?


I believe one of the most remarkable things to emerge from the Internet in recent years, amongst many amazing things, is the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

What's so amazing about it? Well it overturns centuries of thought about how knowledge is disseminated, that's what. In the past knowledge was the preserve of a small elite. Until a little over a century ago most of the world was illiterate and even with mass literacy in the 20th century 99.999% of people consumed knowledge but didn't generate it. Whereas Wikipedia is not only available to everyone but it's created by everyone.

So consistent with that theme, yesterday I made my first edit. You can see it here. The sentence on amending the Australian Constitution is my work.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guilt by association

Recent developments have supported the conclusions I reached about the case of Dr Haneef, the doctor detained in Brisbane in connection with the UK car bombing attempts.

A number of documents pertinent to the case have since been leaked including the transcript of the police interview with the suspect (warning the file is 22Mb) and the documents used by the Minister for Immigration to cancel his visa and lock him up in an immigration detention centre, presumably until such time as the case comes to trial which could easily be as long as two years.

What these documents show is how incredibly flimsy the case is against Dr Haneef. Here's what the reasons used by the Minister for Immigration (marked as "Highly Protected", presumably to save the Government embarrassment) say:

Note that "Suspect 2" and "Suspect 5" are Dr Haneef's second cousins. Completely missing is any evidence or even allegation that Dr Haneef knew or should have known that his cousins were involved in terrorism. The Government isn't even alleging that the mobile phone and SIM card that he gave to his cousin was used in any way in terrorist activity. And read carefully the mention of a 300 pound loan to sit a medical exam. Dr Haneef is receiving the loan not giving it!

So what does this boil down to? Guilt by association pure and simple. A guy is being locked up because he stayed with his cousins when living in a foreign country and left them some things he didn't need when he left.

The positive side to this story is that the Australian legal community is as outraged by this case as I am. When the judge hearing the application for appeal against the visa cancellation tells the Immigration Minister "I'd fail the character test that you have applied" there is a small glimmer of hope. Not surprisingly the judged granted leave to appeal and it is scheduled to be heard on August 8 at which time one can only hope that the courts give the Immigration Minister an almighty kick in the pants.

I have absolutely no doubt that if this ever goes to trial Haneef will be acquitted. But if John Howard has his way, only after Dr Haneef spends a year or two in detention. And then what, they'll deport him for a crime he hasn't committed? Rule of law? Natural justice? What a joke.

As for Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, he wins the gutless wonder of the year award for supporting the Government's action. From what I know of him I'm sure he is only doing this out of fear that he will be somehow painted as 'soft on terrorism' during the upcoming election campaign. Which somehow makes it even worse.

Take me to your SIM card overlords.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fear mongering

Over the past two weeks I've followed with interest the case of a doctor in Brisbane detained in connection with the attempted terrorist attack on Glasgow airport.

I had hoped for an approach that strikes a better balance between the rule of law and security than we've seen in the United States' "war on terror."

No such luck. Not only was Dr Haneef detained for twelve days without charge, he was finally charged with 'providing aid to terrorists' because he gave his mobile phone SIM card to his cousin when he left England to move to Australia (presumably because it was no longer of any use to him).

Unless there is some other compelling piece of evidence against this guy that isn't being reported (and I'm pretty sure if there was the Australian Government would be shouting it from the rooftops), then we are living in a world, at least in the US and Australia, where the most innocent act can land you in jail for 'aiding terrorism'.

That's one of the basic aspects of a totalitarian state - that no behaviour is beyond the reach or the arbitrary sanction of the state, which keeps the populace in a state of perpetual fear and compliance.

Notwithstanding that, the Prime Minister is making veiled suggestions that Australia's terrorism laws need to be strengthened. Perhaps he wants to take a leaf out of his mate George W's book and set up a gulag on some remote island beyond the reach of troublesome courts. More likely he's just talking tough as part of his re-election strategy. After all it worked for him last time with the Tampa incident.

What a fear mongering little bastard our Prime Minister is.

Update (midnight): I thought for a moment that my worst fears where unfounded when a magistrate granted Haneef bail on a $10,000 surety. But only until the Federal Government promptly cancelled his visa so that they could detain him under the Migration Act.

This is a breathtaking abuse of power designed purely to invalidate the ruling of a court.

Firstly, immigration detention is designed for people who are in breach of their immigration status and are a risk of failing to appear for immigration proceedings.

Secondly, if he's in breach of his immigration status that's only because the government just cancelled his visa!

Thirdly, there are no immigration proceedings since the Government has no intention of deporting him before he stands trial.

Finally, he's now the most watched man in Australia so the chances of him absconding are about zero as the magistrate rightly observed.

All consistent with my original conclusion that this is nothing more than a cynical ploy by the Prime Minister and his henchmen( Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews) to whip up hysteria so they can frighten the public into voting for them again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ban politicians banning stuff

There's a report in today's Pilot on a proposal to ban plastic shopping bags. This is not news in the sense that several major cities have already done this, but it is news in the sense that this will affect me directly.

Whenever you get a proposal like this the proponents will always trot out any number of often valid reasons that the item to be banned is bad, bad, bad. But there's never any real analysis of whether those costs outweigh the benefits or whether there are alternative measures available to address the problems.

In a supposedly free society banning things - having the government tell you as a citizen that you can't buy something that you've decided would be beneficial to you - ought to be the absolute last resort.

In this case there's a simple solution that addresses the stated problems without the 'nanny state' knee jerk response. Estimate the costs that plastic bags impose on society, costs such as removing them from rivers and waterways, and levy a tax on plastic bags that covers those costs (and actually use the money raised to address the problem). If people then decide that the benefits of plastic bags still outweigh the costs, let them actually exercise their rights as adults and citizens and make that decision for themselves.

So the only ban I'm supporting is a ban on politicians banning stuff!

Take me to your plastic shopping bag overlords.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Frontier to serve Steamboat

Today's Steamboat Pilot reports that Frontier Airlines is close to announcing a new year round service to Steamboat's Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

The proposed aircraft - the Bombardier Q400 - is just a newer, bigger Dash 8. Qantas fly them extensively on regional routes, which in their monopolistic minds includes services between Sydney, Australia's largest city, and Canberra, the national capital. One of the five daily services between Canberra and Brisbane is also on the Q400 (the other four are on 737's). I usually avoid that flight like the plague but I was forced to take it once back in June. I'd love to get my hands on the bright spark who decided it would be a good idea to use a turboprop on a 2.5 hour trip.

Nevertheless, the nice thing about this announcement is that it is going to be a year round service meaning there will finally be an off-season alternative to United. As if to remind me why this would be a good thing, United managed to mess up my trip home last week. Due to mechanical trouble out of San Francisco I missed my connection in Denver, only by a few minutes but that meant waiting six hours for the next flight (assuming I could even get a seat). I chose to take the Alpine Taxi service instead since that got me home several hours earlier. Here's an earlier post on United's Express service to Steamboat.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Balloon Rodeo

This weekend is Steamboat's annual balloon rodeo where we get a mass launch of hot air balloons on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. I was too tired yesterday to get up early (you need to be a morning person to a balloonist!) but I did manage to get up in time today.

This year the balloon's have moved to a new site due to the development of the old site. It's a comfortable 30 minute walk from home so we also got our day's exercise in the process.

One of the big differences from the old site is you can get up close while the balloons are being inflated.

It's also next to a small lake, so one of the 'challenges' for the balloonists is to skim the water with the basket.

But the real attraction is to see the sky filled with balloons.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back in Beijing

I'm back in Beijing for the second time this year (and the third time in the past 12 months). If anything the smog is even worse than last time (and the heat makes it seem worse still). I read in the local paper this morning that the government is planning a trial run next month of the "ban all cars" solution to cleaning up the air for the Olympics.

I'm only here for one day and then I'm heading home tomorrow. I've got a direct flight from Beijing to San Francisco on United Airlines flight 888 (given that "8" is a lucky number to the Chinese do you think there's any chance that this flight number is a co-incidence?) then I connect via Denver back to Steamboat (Hayden). I leave Beijing at noon on Friday and arrive home at 4.30 pm. Unfortunately that's a trick of the international date line. It's not a 4.5 hour trip. More like 24 hours of travelling.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Scooter scoots

So President Bush has commuted 'Scooter' Libby's jail sentence.

Of the thousands of people who get a raw deal from the US justice system every year are we supposed to believe that Scooter is the most deserving of mercy? After all, we all know that the system discriminates against rich white men.

It's a great reminder on this 4th of July of why the Founding Fathers fought a war of independence. That was to preserve a system of privilege where there's one law for the rich and powerful and well connected and another law for the rest of us, right?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hong Kong after ten years

I arrived in Hong Kong last night just in time to catch the very large and impressive fireworks display on Victoria Harbour celebrating the tenth anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kong from British rule back to China.

Whilst there have been occasional concerns about China respecting the agreement to preserve Hong Kong's system of government for 50 years, things have generally worked out much better than most people expected. I know quite a few Hong Kongers who moved to Australia and Canada in the mid-90's in case things went bad, but have all subsequently moved back. As an outsider, albeit one who has spent a lot of time here over the past seven years, Hong Kong is still a fundamentally different place to mainland China.

It's a holiday today in Hong Kong but I'm in the office with my colleagues preparing for a presentation to a potential customer tomorrow. Here's the view from the office. If you look carefully you can see the remnants of the old airport in the middle right.

Fortunately I managed to find a flight to Hong Kong which arrived in the evening, which meant I could go straight to bed after arriving. I find that much less tiring than overnight flights which arrive early in the morning, which is unfortunately the case with all the flights between the US and Australia. So I'm feeling quite rested this morning despite having a 4 am start on Saturday and spending about 28 hours getting here.

I managed to download some good content for my Zune to listen to on the trip, including some podcasts and also video (in a compatible format) of The Chaser's War on Everything (which will be familiar to my Australia readers). I also watched a couple of movies including Bridge to Terabithia which turned out to be a very warm, charming and moving film.