Guns Kill

March 17th, 2019

In the midst of a weekend of death in New Zealand some good may result; not enough to compensate for the hurt that has been inflicted on our country and especially its Muslim population – but perhaps enough to reduce the chances of it happening again.

I was impressed with the leadership shown by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. In particular I was encouraged by her early assurance that New Zealand’s gun laws would be reformed. You see guns are a subject I happen to know quite a bit about. From my early teenage years I hunted goats, pigs and deer. A thousand animals have met their end from a rifle aimed by me. And one thing I know for certain is if you are interested in recreational hunting there is no need for telescopic sights, magazines full of bullets and semi-automatic, semi-military firearms.

Just look at the picture on this post. That’s not a hunting or target rifle. That’s a weapon designed to do what it did in Christchurch. Guns like that should be banned today and the laws relating to ownership of all legal guns made far more severe. Oh and anyone who bought a gun in the days since the Christchurch killings should be required to return them. Their motives are just too suspect for words.

In order to highlight the need for instant tougher gun control in New Zealand I have copied below a story previously posted on Swimwatch. Here is that story.

“I have written several stories about hunting pigs, deer and goats on the East Coast of the North Island. It was a source of income that I used to pay for my annual trip to Australia to train with Don Talbot. I guess it qualified me as a small time professional hunter. There were however fairly strict rules imposed by my parents that controlled what I was allowed and was not allowed to do on my weekend trips into the bush. I was not allowed telescopic sights. I was not allowed a magazine of bullets. Every shot had to be individually loaded. I was not allowed to load a gun unless a prey had been identified.

But probably the strictest rule of all was the clear instruction that if I was hunting with a mate we stayed together. Under no circumstances were we allowed to split-up. “You go down the hill and I’ll climb above and we will catch the deer in the middle” – that was absolutely forbidden. The reason of course was the risk of shooting each other.

With that history you can imagine how disgusted I was last night watching TVNZ Duke program “Wild Kai” (8.30pm on Saturday). Disgusted, because there on film were two lunatics with guns. Not only guns, they had telescopic sights, silencers, tripod stands and powerful binoculars. Their gear must have cost a fortune. This wasn’t hunting deer on the East Coast. This was the war in Iraq in a nicer setting. Even their truck was an upmarket version of the ones you see fighting desert wars. The shallow pretention of the whole program was highlighted when one lunatic complained to his mate that some deer blood had dripped onto his dog box in the back of his precious truck.

But then, as I sat with my mouth open in amazement, TVNZ showed these two guys make a plan to split up and approach a deer from opposite directions. They said it would double the chances of a kill. The multiple increase in the probability of shooting themselves was a footnote to their hunting success. Oh, they mouthed a few cautionary words about being careful not to shoot each other, but for them the advantages clearly outweighed the dangers.

What made all that totally irresponsible was the sun going down and night arriving as they went their separate ways. Dangerous? It was suicidal. Alison asked me if the program was anything like hunting as a teenager in Te Reinga. I said, “Not at all. If we had been caught doing what those guys are promoting on TV we would never have been allowed to go near the bush with a gun again.” And as for TVNZ they have a responsibility not to promote dangerous behavior. TVNZ do not have a license to encourage street car racing or boating in heavy seas without a lifejacket or hunting separately in the dark. Without question TVNZ should face some sort of sanction for irresponsible journalism. Banning the company from showing any hunting programs for five years would be a start.

The reality of TVNZ’s decision to show the behavior of these two lunatics was brought into sharp focus by a court case in Invercargill. Here is a summary of what the Stuff website reported this morning.

Shirley Whyte can’t fathom how her 16-year-old son died. “I still don’t know what happened that day,” she says. “It was a beautiful, clear sunny day and Mark was shot in an open paddock. This much is known: Tuatapere man Brendon Diack, another hunter, fired at least one of the shots that passed through Mark Whyte’s green-brown Swanndri on September 21, 1996. Diack admitted a charge of careless use of a firearm causing death, and served 29 days in jail. Remorseful, he later told media he wasn’t allowed to go hunting again, and didn’t want to.

Because Diack was not true to his word. As the years passed after the killing, he decided he did wish to go hunting again – and five or six times, he applied to police for a new gun license. Every time, they refused. And so, frustrated, he took the NZ Police to court.

Late on Friday afternoon, Judge Mark Callaghan refused Diack’s bid to get his license back, pointing to the 1996 tragedy and two angry outbursts in 2013 and 2014 to show Diack was not a fit and proper person to hold a firearms licence.

This was not a case of a hunting group splitting into two. This was two separate hunters in the same area, at the same time. This was not at night, in the dark. But even so a boy got shot by someone who should never be allowed a gun again. Thank God, the New Zealand Police and the Courts appear to have a more responsible attitude to gun ownership than the national, state owned, TV channel. There is no statute of limitations on what Mr. Diack did. The same rules should apply to TVNZ for aiding and abetting irresponsible gun behavior.”

In that post I suggest that the current laws on gun ownership are good and proper. That is not true. New Zealand still allows idiots to own weapons designed to kill people. That should stop today.

This Is Not Who We Are

March 17th, 2019

I doubt there is a New Zealander anywhere, of any political persuasion, who would argue with the words from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – “this is not who we are”.  New Zealand was chosen by a madman because, by killing here, he could make the point that nowhere was safe. Our goodness was our vulnerability. Our goodness is the reason for our hurt. But I reject the idea we should retreat into darkness. I see no reason for New Zealand to become less welcoming to refugees. I do not believe we should arm the police or change our open, generous society because one lunatic took advantage of our compassion.

I guess I feel particularly hurt today because I have a couple of mates who are Muslims. Eyad came to live in New Zealand as a refugee from Syria. I met him when I was coaching in Saudi Arabia. I managed to get him special permission to train with me. Until then he had been denied access to my public Saudi swimming pool because of his Syrian nationality. I convinced him that he would never face that injustice in New Zealand. After yesterday I know I lied. Now he cannot pray without wondering whether he will leave the mosque alive. I am so sorry Eyad. All I can ask is that we agree with the Prime Minister, “this is not who we are.” Our life must not change. You must swim as you always have. You must study engineering as you do. You must pray as you always have. One madman must not change the goodness we enjoy.

Another Muslim mate is Eyad’s older brother Yamen. He also trained with me in Saudi Arabia. He is a dentist and still lives in Jeddah. This morning I had a WhatsApp message from Yamen. It said simply “We stand with New Zealand”. Makes you think doesn’t it? New Zealand had just been the scene where 49 Muslims had been murdered for being Muslim and he still stood by us. I know he will be concerned about his little brother in New Zealand. I imagine his emotions will have changed from admiration for the opportunities available to Eyad to deep concern. But still he found room to feel for our country. Thank you Yamen. Rest easy. Your brother is safe. This is not who we are.

And to Eyad and Yamen’s mother and father I apologize for the concern you must have for the safety of your son. I must tell you about Yamen and Eyad’s mother and father. They escaped from Syria because of the war. Their father got a job as a doctor in a local Jeddah hospital. When I was in Jeddah I trod on a nail walking to the pool. My foot became infected and the concern and attention given to me by Dr Masoud probably saved my foot. But his concern did not stop there. He instructed his sons that I was not to be allowed to walk to the pool ever again. I asked him why. The walk was good for me.

“David,” he said, look at yourself in the mirror. Have you seen your white Scottish complexion? We have lived in the desert sun all our lives and no sane Arab walks for an hour in the midday sun in Jeddah”.

He was right and was probably the reason I survived so comfortably through a year in the oppressive heat of Jeddah. His wife and Yamen and Eyad’s mother is a genuine, sincere and gentle women. I have often joked and asked the two boys how such a lovely mother could end up with two sons like hers.

But in addition to the Masoud family there was Loai, Mohamad, Talal, Dena and a dozen others I count as friends. In fact Talal was one of the world’s best pool managers. When I was due to arrive in Jeddah he was convinced my name, David, meant I was certain to be Jewish. One look at me when I walked into his office corrected that impression. He laughingly told me about his forecast and for the next year insisted on introducing me as the Biblical King David.

Loai was a good swimmer – probably the best Saudi Arabia has had. Before being coached by me he lived in the United States and had trained with Dara Torres coach Dennis Lober in Florida and Mark Schubert in California.

Dena is Saudi aristocracy. Her husband is the son of the man who nationalised Saudi oil and formed the huge oil company, Aramco. Dena is a dentist and a competent triathlete. I got to know her as a result of helping her with her swimming training. Her hospitality toward me was welcoming and sincere. I had dinner at their home on a couple of occasions. It was a fascinating look inside the life of the very, very rich in Saudi Arabia.

The point I am trying to make is that in my experience Muslims do not deserve the pariah label handed out by Trump. They are mates of mine, good and honest people. Jacinda Ardern is right – they are us.

Of course there are many things about Saudi Arabia I do not like. Their human rights record is a disgrace. However my sense of national superiority took a huge blow yesterday. Unbowed but humble we need to accept that our country has been the scene of hurt for many delightful and very blameless Muslims. For that I am genuinely sorry. This is not who we are.

New Zealand Olympic Committee

March 15th, 2019

The leadership of New Zealand sport has been brought into question recently. Every second sport has been forced into one of Peter Miskimmin’s infamous reviews. Gradually the player power that is changing swimming around the world is being felt in New Zealand – not only in swimming but in all sports. For example players are asking to be more involved in planning a world rugby competition. And so they should – any plan that excludes the Pacific Island nations should never have seen the light of day. Hamish Bond was treated badly by Cycling New Zealand so he, rightly, left and went back to rowing. Over and over again the insufferable arrogance of sport’s administrators is being challenged. And it is long overdue.

It is interesting to note that Sir Owen Glenn might not agree with player power but is clearly annoyed with the insufferable arrogance of New Zealand sport’s administrators. In a hugely courageous and well deserved move Glenn suspended his two million dollar support of Hockey NZ and the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC). He said his decision was in response to poor communication, poor leadership and his belief that the previous NZ women’s hockey coach was discriminated against. The refusal of Hockey New Zealand to publish their investigation into the coach’s position was Glenn’s central concern.

I have the same problem with the Syrian refugee swimmer I coach just now. The NZOC and Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) have discriminated against Eyad and no one will explain why. It is a wall of silence that New Zealand sport has long used to avoid explaining its decisions. I agree with Sir Owen Glenn – sport’s organizations need to act as good corporate citizens; sport’s organizations are being badly managed.

In Eyad’s case he is eminently qualified to be a member of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) refugee program. His fastest time is faster than the fastest current member of the IOC refugee team swam in the Rio Olympic Games. But for some reason the NZOC and SNZ refuse to send his application to join the refugee program onto Switzerland for their consideration. We don’t know why. Is it because they don’t like his coach? Is it because they have something against Arabs and Muslims? Is it because he is a refugee and they are right-wing bigots? We just do not know. But what we do know is when people do bad things to refugees without explanation, bad people take that as a green light for actions like those in Christchurch today. Thank you NZOC. Thank you SNZ.

It can’t be a money problem. Forwarding Eyad’s application to the IOC is not going to cost the NZOC or SNZ any money. Their job is simply to say the information on the application is correct and send it to the IOC for IOC approval. The funding comes entirely from the IOC. And so lack of money is not a factor in their decision. It can’t be a speed problem. He is faster than all other members currently on the IOC refugee team. As I say we just don’t know.

Without question the decision of the NZOC and SNZ to turn their back on Eyad has caused harm. Since arriving in New Zealand Eyad’s treatment by Immigration New Zealand, by the Waterhole Swimming Club he joined, by the AUT University he has just begun, by the Millennium learn-to-swim school he works for and by New Zealanders in general has been hospitable, generous, welcoming and warm. As his coach and as a New Zealander it has made me humble and proud. To say it is more than Eyad ever expected would not be an exaggeration.

I was therefore surprised and hurt to come across NZOC and SNZ discrimination similar to what I knew Eyad had experienced in Saudi Arabia. For example, in Saudi Arabia, he was not allowed to swim in public pools because he was Syrian. I thought he had left all that behind when he arrived in New Zealand. It was therefore an emotional shock to confront a similar Saudi-type refusal to allow Eyad something to which he was entitled, without quantified reason or explanation. That did hurt especially because in Saudi Arabia both Eyad and I have seen the destructive results arbitrary discrimination can have. However the opportunity to have bad behaviour addressed is certainly not possible in Syria or Saudi Arabia. But it is in New Zealand – we will see what happens.

The second hurt caused by the NZOC and SNZ is financial. The purpose of the IOC refugee team is to provide refugees with the opportunity to benefit in ways that are not available to them in their home countries. When your home is being bombed by the government or the Russians or the Americans or possibly all three; when your relatives are being killed; when Syrian swimming pools are piles of concrete rubble; when Saudi pools are not available because of your race; when you cannot compete in foreign countries because Syrians are denied visa entry almost everywhere, pursuing a normal swimming career is extremely difficult. But do the NZOC or SNZ care? It seems not.

A large part of the IOC’s assistance is financial The IOC recognise that refugees arrive in their new country with very little. Eyad had a suitcase and $500 when I picked him up a year ago at Auckland Airport. Thanks to the generosity of his Millennium Swim School employer and Immigration New Zealand he has survived. The IOC refugee program offered him the chance to do better than that. His application was for a training grant of $1,200 a month. The decision of the NZOC and SNZ not to forward his application to the IOC is making paying for accommodation, university, food and transport extremely difficult.

But above the injustice of Eyad’s case lies a fundamental disease in the administration of New Zealand sport. Sir Owen Glenn has seen it and has acted. We do not have the resources of a Sir Owen Glenn but we too will act.

Lord Coe Running Amuck

March 13th, 2019

 Ovett  – a winner on the track and in the after-match

Would someone do the world a favour by sacking Lord Coe?  He is the current President of the IAAF. Problem is, he is running the organization into the ground (excuse the pun). He seems to manage the affairs of the IAAF according to his own arrogant idea of what’s right and wrong. Not that that should surprise anyone. When he was running I thought he was a self-important upstart.

Back in those days I used to travel around Europe with Alison and some other New Zealand runners. The competition between Coe and Ovett on the track might have been intense but back in the hotel Ovett was the personality winner every time. No wonder Ovett and Coe were rumored not to get on. Ovett was a bloody good bloke. In my opinion Coe was too self-important.

But what does my opinion matter? Coe has worked his way into the UK House of Lords and been elected President of the IAAF.  The same smarmy sucking-up to those in power that served him well in his PR battle with Ovett has been equally successful in his life after athletics. But is there clear logic and fairness in his decisions. No is the answer. In my opinion his decisions are bigoted and do a disservice to international sport. They reflect a mind that is convinced of its own superiority. What Coe thinks is good, in his mind, is good for everyone.

First, the case of South African 800m runner Caster Semenya. She won the 800m at the London and Rio Olympic Games. She also won the same event at the Berlin, Daegu and London World Championships. Obviously she is a very good runner. But Lord Coe is on her case. You see Caster Semenya was born with an abnormally high natural testosterone level, a condition called hyperandrogen. I fail to understand how Caster’s inherited testosterone talent is any different from the talents inherited by Coe, Ovett or Bolt. But Lord Coe doesn’t see it that way. Caster is female and doesn’t fit Lord Coe’s prejudiced view of what a woman should be like. I’ve no doubt Coe prefers the white, blonde feminine wall-flower sorts. So he set out to screw Caster’s athletic career. In April 2018, Coe announced rules that required hyperandrogenous female athletes to take medication to lower their testosterone levels, effective beginning in November 2018. Any respect I had for Coe’s career as an athlete disappeared.

Coe had no right to beat-up on an athlete for a talent she was born with. The whole point of track and field is to find out who in the world can run, or jump, or throw better than anyone else using only the trained talents they had at birth. Caster has only ever done that. Coe’s order to take drugs to lower her testosterone is just as objectionable as those who take another drug to boost their testosterone. Both are guilty of using drugs to alter their performance. In my book that order makes Lord Coe just as much a drug cheat as Ben Johnson.

Coe’s odd attitude towards women is highlighted in his strange personal life. If the rumours are right he was married and had four children with wife number one, had a fling with girlfriend number two and finally married a divorced mother of two. One of his sons from marriage number one was the best man at wedding number two. I have no idea what that was supposed to prove – possibly only that everybody loves Daddy Coe no matter how far or fast he has wandered.

But his most recent decisions affecting the IAAF Diamond League are really bad. Here is how they were reported by the BBC.

The number of events at Diamond League meetings will reduce from 32 to 24 next year, officials from the IAAF announced on Monday.

In a year-long review, the international athletics governing body also decided each meeting will scale down from two hours to 90 minutes.

There will be just 12 Diamond League meetings as opposed to 14, and only one season final from 2020.

And the longest distance track race will be 3,000 metres.

“We can make the Diamond League even stronger and more relevant to the world our athletes and our fans live in today,” said IAAF president Lord Coe.

The new season, which starts on 3 May in Doha, will be the 10th edition of the competition.

‘Alienating your audience’ – athletes and coaches express their frustration.

American athletics coach Steve Magness wrote on Twitter: “Way to shoot distance running in the foot. It’s a missed opportunity to figure out how to connect to the masses.

“Your most viable potential audience are the people who do road races, park runs, etc – 5k is a universally understood distance. Figure out how to connect versus alienating your audience.”

British distance runner Eilish McColgan, who reached the final of the women’s 5,000m at the 2016 Olympics, expressed her anger at the proposal.

Great Britain’s Dai Greene, a gold medallist in the men’s 400m hurdles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2011 World Championships, was unhappy at the reduction in the number of Diamond League events.

He wrote: “It’s hard enough to get into top-scoring Diamond League events and in 2020 the IAAF are planning two less on the circuit.

“Getting into races is so often who you know, agents helping out their mates etc – and now this influences who attends a championship.”

I agree with the critics. Just because Coe has never liked anyone who runs around a track more than four times is no reason for the 5000 and 10,000 to be dropped from the Diamond League. The two races can be riveting drama. Dick Taylor’s 10,000 in Christchurch in 1974, Dave Bedford’s World Record 10,000 at Crystal Palace, London in the 1970s, Vladimir Kuts 10,000 at White City in London, Mo Farah’s 5000 in London, Billy Mills and Bob Schul in the 10,000 and 5000 at the Tokyo Olympics and a dozen others are as good or better than any 10 second flash in the pan.

I have no idea why athletic snobs treat distance events so badly. Swimming does the same thing. Open water 800m and 1500m are treated as second class citizens. I understand it coming from Cotterill, Johns and Francis. They don’t know any better – but Lord Coe certainly should.

Proud To Be A Socialist

March 12th, 2019

Swimwatch was a blog idea first suggested by a mate of mine, Edward. His thought was that the sport of swimming could do with an independent opinion. I agreed. Since then the blog has focused on swimming but has also ventured into the world of track and field, rugby, tennis and general sport’s administration. Occasionally my political views have been revealed in my sporting opinions. But what I have never done is publish an exclusively political essay. Today that will change. It will change because I have become increasingly annoyed at right-wing Americans who slag-off my country, New Zealand, by calling the socialist political philosophy we follow with every abusive name they can find.

So what does being a socialist country mean? Wel,l in addition to the normal collective functions of government such as providing roads, paying for the justice system and providing a military presence, socialism means society has a collective responsibility for its weakest members. And that’s where we differ from a society like the United States. Socialists accept the principle that we have a collective national duty to pay for those of us who are weak and vulnerable. In particular that means society will pay to look after the young, the sick and the elderly.

First the young – what does looking after the young mean? It means providing free education for all. It means providing the means by which young people can mature and learn to be strong and independent. And yes it means giving young people the skills they can use to provide for future generations of young people. It also means that the provision of free education should not stop when a young person gets to university or technical college. Society has a responsibility to provide free education until an individual’s education is completed.

Second the sick – what does looking after the sick mean? I know maternity care is not an illness but caring for the sick means providing state medical care from birth to death for everyone. I was appalled to discover that giving birth in the United States costs a family $10,000 rising to $30,000 by the time pre-birth and after-birth care was included. When I first went to live in the United States it took me years to get my head around the changed function of a hospital. Growing up in NZ I was used to looking on hospitals as a service society provided. Then in the US hospitals were no longer a service. They were factories where doctors went to make a profit. Socialism means rejecting the profit motive and preserving the social service of medical care. And not only hospitals but doctors visits and prescriptions as well.

And finally the elderly. Even socialist NZ has more that it could do in this area. Society should look after those who are no longer able to work. Housing and food for the elderly should be society’s payment for the years the elderly have contributed to the welfare of others.

Of course there will be those who abuse these socialist principles. Every freedom is open to abuse by someone. Freedom of expression allows some to publish porn. Generous unemployment benefits mean some will give up looking for work. But the abuse of the few has never been a reason to punish the deserving.

I guess the next question is does socialism work? A swimming parent I knew in Florida is forever publishing pictures on Facebook of litter strewn streets in Venezuela with captions about the failure of socialism. But is that accurate or fair? Let’s look at some comparative figures between the USA and NZ.

Item NZ USA UN Rank NZ UN Rank US
Life Expectancy 81.61 78.69 17 31
Happiness - - 8 18
Democracy 9.26 7.98 4 21
Murders 0.99 per 100K 5.35 per 100K 213 94
Rape 25.8 per 100K 27.3 per 100K - -
Corruption 87 71 2 22
Infant Mortality 4.31 per 1K 5.97 per 1K 27 38

So the decision is yours. Where would you choose to live? In a capitalist country where you were more likely to die at birth, were surrounded by less happy people, were more likely to be raped or murdered, had to deal with a more corrupt bureaucracy, vote in a less democratic political system and die three years earlier. Or would you prefer to live in socialist NZ where your chances of living at birth were better, where you would enjoy life more, where the probability of being raped or murdered was way, way less, where elections were more democratic and officials less corrupt and you would live three more years to enjoy it all. And so USA, stick your capitalist bigotry where the sun don’t shine. Don’t feed me your capitalist BS when the results are so provably bad. The only freedom you seem to be offering is the freedom to be miserable. Keep on spending your money on guns and death and, please promise to stay well away from our back yard.

My views on a benevolent socialist society do not mean I support government interference in all aspects of NZ life. I said society had a duty to support weaker members of the group. That does not include sport. For example private enterprise clubs are far better equipped to manage the affairs of swimming than the bureaucrats that sit in Antares Place. For years Cotterill, Johns and Francis have attempted to take control of training, learn-to-swim, registration and competition – you name it and Antares Place wanted to own it. The three of them could well have authored the “Das Capital” of swimming. I bet Cotterill’s friends would love to know his hidden communist leanings. You don’t believe me? Then explain why he supported “centralised” training for the past ten years. Because, you see centralised means communist. And in competitive sport I agree with the Americans – it does not work.

And that’s the end of politics for another ten years. In our next post we will return to the world of sport; this time to track and field athletics.