Hard News by Russell Brown

Brother Sword of Compassion

How lucky is Winston Peters? Courtesy of what is obviously a cracking source in Immigration, he cultivates headlines with the claim that a former Iraqi cabinet minister is here on a visitor's permit. Paul Swain orders a search which turns up the former Iraqi ambassador to South Africa. Wrong guy. Peters is then able to announce the name of his man - and gets two for the price of one.

The result is better than Peters could have hoped - not only is our troublesome Bangkok bureau outed as a soft touch, but even a search ordered by the minister doesn't do what it was meant to. Peters' uncorroborated claims that his man is a security risk and also planned to seek refugee status don't even have to be tested - the story is now that the system tried and failed to find him.

So how bad are the bad guys? The Herald's story this morning has quite a bit of information. The diplomat turned up in the immigration search, Zohair Mohammad al-Omar, is not a wanted man anywhere. But he appears to have been in the tent right up until the end, and spoke up in favour of insurgent suicide bombings in 2003 (oddly, that part is in the print version of the paper, but not online). So, bad guy.

Peters' man, Amer Mahdi al-Khashali, was a Baath Party stalwart in the 1960s and a minister in the 1970s. Although he seems to be unknown to the Wellington Iraqi community, the president of the Auckland Refugee says he was a leader of the militias that slaughtered political opponents when the party came into power in 1963. This, of course, covers a period when Saddam was basically on "our" side, and a not-dissimilar record didn't stop Iyad Allawi becoming Iraq's US-approved interim Prime Minister. But still, it must be said: bad guy.

The question, I guess, has to be: what exactly is our policy on former Baathists? Do we ban them as a matter of course? What then do we make of the speech by Iraq's new prime minister which has been widely read as a call for a rethink of de-Baathification in an attempt to bring former Saddam supporters into the new government? How long do the bad guys officially stay bad guys?

Peters was in Morning Report this morning dangling the prospect of several more unacceptable entrants - doubtless to be fed out slowly between now and the election. This would be one thing if he was a hard-bitten hack - which is actually how he's operating - but he's not. He's an elected member, and it is surely time now for Peters to put the national interest first and tell the ministry exactly what he knows.

Meanwhile, Frontseat producer and well-known Mattherhorn expert Gemma Gracewood was in touch with information on that cocktail I mentioned yesterday:

The drink that 42 Below were so kindly serving you Aucklanders whilst you were enjoying our Wellington band was the "Falling Water" (42 Below feijoa vodka, Ch'i, cucumber, ice), invented by the lovely Christian McCabe, one of the business partners at your-favourite-and-mine, The Matterhorn.

According to the latest Cuisine magazine, "the Falling Water became so popular that at one stage, Matterhorn was accounting for half of all the Ch'i sold in Wellington". Cuisine also notes that the heavenly drink is named after Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous house, Falling Water, which has a waterfall flowing from its cantilevered stonework.

Nice. But "our" Wellington band? I have evidence which will show that the professional Wellingtonian Ms Gracewood in fact entered the capital under a diplomatic passport issued by the known insurgent organisation Radio New Zealand and is in fact from Auckland. Unless Ms Gracewood undertakes to make good by way of a round of drinks I will be forced to reveal more.

Several readers have pointed out that the British political map I pointed to yesterday owes some inspiration to Political Compass.

Longtime Hard News reader Adam Bogacki yesterday did me a great service by alerting me to the existence of an organisation called Unitarian Jihad - a sort of jihad of reasonableness, if you will. The organisation - well, more a meme than an organisation - emerged in this rather excellent column by Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle. An excerpt:

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.
Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.
We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.
We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get

a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Amen. IJ now has its own Wikipedia entry and there is a Unitarian Jihad Name Generator. It gave me the name Brother Sword of Compassion, which I reckon is bloody mint.

Older readers may draw a comparison with the Church of the SubGenius, but without the irritating baby-boomer absurdist tendency.

A Herald editorial dumps on everyone involved in Doonegate, including, naturally, its rival newspaper.

Scary little irony department: according to the Washington Post, Iraqi insurgents are getting their tips from a US Army manual, published in 1965 and subsequently translated into Arabic for Saddam.

On my 95bFM Wire show today, I'm talking to Mark Burton about the government's new defence commitments about 12.30 and Gilbert Wong about Metro's scary cover story on Auckland's future at 1pm, if you care to listen.