Hard News by Russell Brown

First things first

Thank goodness for the resumption of international rugby this weekend: the absence of actual play was creating a vacuum for doubt, recrimination and the messianic Cult of Mehrtens.

So John Mitchell has named his first Tri-Nations side, giving the nation's amateur rugby analysts an actual team to bitch about and handing the goalkicking duties back to Carlos Spencer. This is something of a surprise - and certainly will be to wee Ben Blair, who presumably expected to at least be on the bench after being flown all the way to South Africa - but it's actually a good idea.

While there are some who believe Merhts will return from injury, indifference and club-rugby kickabouts to save All Black rugby, lead us to glory, throw The One Ring into Mt Doom from whence it was forged, etc, etc, the sane view is that the season-long form and obvious desire of Spencer is a safer bet. He can kick goals - and did, when both Carter and Mehrts choked in the Super 12 final - and t'would be better if he continue to do so, rather than obliging the coach to base his selections at fullback or 2nd-five on goalkicking ability.

There will continue to be searching examinations of the play and captaincy of Reuben Thorne, and of Mitchell's coaching ability. Frankly, I just wish someone would stop slipping them heavy sedatives before their post-match press conferences. If you have The Rugby Channel you can amaze and amuse yourself after-match by watching these strange events, where only Robbie Deans appears fully conscious.

Meanwhile, unlike Rod Vaughan on TV One's alleged current affairs flagship Sunday, the Herald is doing a decent job of trying to provide a rounded explanation of the seabed and foreshore issue. Tapu Misa has pointed out that "One standard of citizenship implies that Maori have the same recourse to the laws of this land as other New Zealanders. That a Government should be so ready to extinguish those rights, in contravention of the courts and international law, should give us all pause."

Law professor Jock Brookfield pointed out that "both the Herald [in its original editorial on the subject] and Sir Douglas [Graham] seem to see the court's decision as a judicial novelty. It is not. The trend and logic of court decisions and of much legal writing has long been against the Crown's contention that it holds all ungranted areas of foreshore and seabed free of any Maori claim to customary title."

The paper had a second go in an editorial headed As long as we can all go to the beach. There's no point in panicking over this, and no justice in suddenly passing legislation to get around decisions that are quite correct in law but not to our liking.

The re-emerged Ken Mair - bumptious and presumptuous as ever - might want to shut up too, of course: he and his Maori fundamentalist buddies don't have conventional title to a single grain of sand until such time as the Maori Land Court upholds a claim, and it's yet not certain that it will, even if it gets the chance to.

In the end, there will probably have to be some legal redefinition towards a concept of guardianship - our unique and unusual access to our coastline is that important. In a third editorial on the subject published this morning, the Herald concludes: "With common sense on both sides, and an eye on the consequences of failure, a fair solution can be found." Amen.

By the way, here's Public Access New Zealand's page on the Queen's Chain.

Also this morning, welcome notice that the government will be extending relationship rights to same-sex couples. Fine, don't call it marriage, just recognise the rights and needs of people in "civil unions". There suddenly seems to be a momentum in the modern world behind what ought to be a straightforward human rights issue. It may of course, take a little longer in those countries presently struggling with modernity, like the United States of America.

A couple of views on why planning for post-war Iraq is such a debacle: other US government official: a Knight-Ridder report finds recently departed US government officials blaming the blind, stupid faith of Defense Department officials that everything Rummy said would happen, "Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile leader as the country's leader." And an editorial in the Middle East Report advances the view that "there were never any serious plans to 'win the peace' in Iraq."

Salam Pax finds some reason for optimism over the new interim government council.

Documentary film-maker Grant Wakefield provides a brief, riveting history of the West's relations with Iraq. Worth reading.

My Listener column this week looks at the way the British government posted the second, "dodgy", dossier to the Downing Street website as, wait for it, a Microsoft Word document - complete with a hidden edit history containing the names of everyone who touched it. Brilliant.

Rumsfeld, pressed on his preposterous claim before the US Senate that he learned the Niger uranium information was bogus "only days ago", first says he ought to have said "recent weeks" and then admits that he had advice way back in March. That's quite a lot of "days", isn't it?

Interesting letter to The Guardian on Dossiergate: "So what if Iraq sought the supply of uranium from Africa? Iraq already has hundreds of tons of uranium at its disposal. Without enrichment facilities this material is useless for nuclear weapons."

Jack Straw caught spinning too.

And Fight the Patent is the centre of the local resistance to the fight against DE Technologies' attempt to extract tens of thousands of dollars from New Zealand companies who sell things over the Internet on the basis of its patent on, um, selling things over the Internet …