Hard News by Russell Brown

From a faraway place

NB: The Herald story is wrong, Stern's report doesn't make the claim about Kiwifruit. I'll blog about it tomrrow. If ever there was a place for good public relations, it's the "food miles" debate. The Stern report's use of New Zealand kiwifruit as an example of unacceptable food miles was wholly mistaken - our kiwifruit is shipped, not flown, to Europe, making a nonsense of Stern's example - but it is not the first bit of environmental conjuring to target our primary exports, and it surely won't be the last.

A couple of months ago the local blog Philosophically Made recounted an indignant interlude listening to an environmental commentator being interview on the BBC. The commentator advances the view that air travel is artificially cheap:

Then he starts talking about New Zealand butter. At this point I start really paying attention. He makes the claim that 'butter shipped from halfway around the world just cannot be cheaper than butter made here in England, its simply impossible economically, without these massive subsidies.'

Huh. Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought NZ was that country that foolishly did away with all its subsidies, and was held up as a model for that reason by free market ideologues around the world as a case of successful disengagement from subsidies!

And who was this environmentalist? Why, none other than Zac Goldsmith, advisor to the British Conservative Party Leader David Cameron on environmental issues.

I suspect the "subsidies" Goldsmith was referring to were the factors that make air transit "artificially cheap" (international jet fuel is both untaxed and not counted in anyone's Kyoto allocation), but, again, he's smoking crack if he thinks we fly all our butter into Europe. I suspect our good name often arises in these debates because we seem so impossibly far away that it surely can't be more sustainable to buy our produce. But given British farming practices, yes, it is.

The fact that former British Cabinet minister Stephen Byers is leading the charge for a "food miles" tax on imports should not be great cause for concern in itself. By the time he resigned from Blair's government he had been exposed as a particularly shabby individual.

Meanwhile, the US mid-term campaign gets weirder by the day. Let's start with some context: a buddy of mine had a friend who worked for ChoicePoint, America's largest data collection company. As well as harvesting the names, addresses, Social Security numbers and credit records of Americans - and occasionally selling same to criminals - ChoicePoint keeps viewer data for the cable TV industry.

Apparently, there is some information that ChoicePoint holds pretty close. Like this: if a cable viewer chooses to watch porn, he is overwhelmingly out-of-the-ballpark more likely to be a Republican rather than a Democrat. Democrats want their HBO, Republicans prefer Anal Party 3.

Which sort of makes some sense of the fact that for the second year running, pornstar Mary Carey has donated money to the GOP, enough to buy her dinner and lunch with George Bush and Karl Rove. As I noted earlier in the week, the Republican National Committee chief Ken Mehlman has been accepting cash from a "gay porn king", even as the RNC funds a smear ad (wrongly) accusing Democrat candidate Harold Ford of taking money from porn producers. The same suspects also set up the bizarre Fancy Ford website, where the candidate stands accused of, well, it's not really clear …

Another smear target is another Democrat, Jim Webb, who, in a story tirelessly promoted by Drudge, has been accused of including all manner of perversions in his novel Lost Soldiers. Naturally, talk turned to Dick Cheney's wife Lynne who, as students of pervy Reublican literature will know, once wrote a lesbian western novel called Sisters. Obliged to discuss her own literary output on CNN, Cheney freaked out.

Meanwhile Webb's opponent in Virginia's Senate race George Allen, gets deeper in doo-doo and falls behind in the polls as his people inflict a Gerry Brownlee-style assault on an annoying student.

Another Democrat candidate, Wisconsin congress Ron Kind has been targeted with an astonishing ad claiming “Rep. Ron Kind Pays for Sex!” with “XXX” stamped across it. (Translation: he opposed a move in Congress to permanently forbid the National Institutes of Health from supporting peer-reviewed studies into human sexuality.)

It's just weird everywhere. While Bush goes hard on protecting America from gay marriage, prompting a Boston crowd to go wild and start cheering and shouting "USA! USA!", closeted gay Republicans are being outed every whichway.

This blog rounds up some of the more desperate campaign ads, and commentary from the likes of Joe Klein who wrote: “The Republicans unleashed a series of ads painting the Democrats as sex-crazed, homosexual-loving, porn-perusing — and in the case of the novelist and Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb, porn-writing — perverts.”

Couple of clips:

Colbert on Rush Limbaugh accusing Michael J. Fox of faking Parkinson's Disease.

And a fascinating short documentary called What's Wrong with Blasphemy? fronted by Stewart Lee, co-author of Jerry Springer the Opera, available in four tidy parts.

PS: Some excellent responses have come in on both sides of the electoral spending debate. I'll run them tomorrow.