Hard News by Russell Brown

Good sport and so on

Oh good, more sport for the weekend. So call me a victim of the capitalist culture industry's deadening of civil dissent through mindless spectacle. You wouldn't be the first. Don't care. I'm allowed to be anaesthetised sometimes, aren't I?

Wimbledon was good, even if it all happened in the middle of the night and the TV listings for replay times proved to be as accurate as a CIA weapons analysis. If you've ever picked up a racquet, you can't not love Roger Federer. The man has shots. And Sharapova? Yeah, baby. The Black Caps are back into a rhythm, the Silver Ferns are clearly better than the only team they're at risk of being beaten by, and you have to be happy for the Greeks.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the All Blacks' match against the Pacific Islanders - and hoping that we see a return to the unity of purpose that marked their first test against England at Carisbrook - from the couch, in front of a roaring fire, rather than at that odd stadium in Albany. (Memo to the PR firm that was going to send me a bottle of some new whisky: any time today would be real good ...)

At the intersection of sport and politics, Dave McGregor points out an interesting post on This Modern World about the rebuffing by the ICC of an offer by the US to stage some of the matches in the next cricket World Cup.

The same site digs up a story that has gone astray in most of the Western media - children at Abu Ghraib, and, chillingly, their abuse there.

It seems the government has finally managed a robust response to National's law-and-order pitch - in the form of Phil Goff's interview with Linda Clark this morning. Why, when they had a heads-up on the Brash speech several weeks ago, it has taken them five days to offer a decent rebuttal - not a challenge, you would think, given the unravelling of the tough-on-crime philosophy in the US, the actual story in our own crime statistics, and the government's own initiatives in the past two years - I don't know. Spooked? Whatever.

The editorial responses to the Brash speech have been quicker off the mark. NBR, as you'd expect, was all luvvies over the speech (it "mirrors the war against terrorism, where effective strikes at the key offenders are the only realistic response" apparently) and pointed approvingly to a foam-flecked editorial from Hawke's Bay Today, and claimed the New Zealand Herald's editorial analysis contained only "mild criticism".

Eh? A sample of what's actually in the Herald editorial: "Dr Brash erred by going too far … international surveys suggest, in fact, that tough policies sponsor the worst reconviction rates …an approach based on punishment and deterrence does not fix the problem of reoffending …it is unarguable that release on parole lowers the likelihood of reoffending …Dr Brash was letting fervour override reason …the antediluvian nature of much of National's proposal …" C'mon, Nevil, I know you're under riding orders, but you oughtn't make things up. And where's my pen?

The Press's editorial writer, on the other hand, seemed to feel fully entitled to make things up: " … crime continues inexorably to rise after a decade or more of economic growth, widening prosperity and falling unemployment, all of which are supposed to be factors affecting the crime rate." No, it doesn't. Overall crime has "inexorably" fallen. Even violent crime, which last year was slightly higher on a per-capita basis than it was in 1996, has been lower in the interim. Theonly category of crime which can be said to have "inexorably" risen in the past decade in New Zealand is white-collar crime. Pardon me if I find this sort of thing a tad unprofessional.

No Right Turn has, on the other hand, sought useful recourse to some actual facts, with a look at an obscure but interesting study of crime trends in New Zealand, and public perceptions of crime as they relate to the treatment of crime in the media.

Garth George has a column on the punishment debate that's not quite what you might have expected. As I have noted before, even when he's on some other planet where the sky is a different colour, Darth can lash together an argument more ably than most newspaper opinion writers.

Dave Kopel has come up with the inevitable omnibus of "deceits" in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and, just as inevitably, it's been top o' the Blogdex lately. Although some of Kopel's "56 deceits" are frankly tenuous (the attempts to link Moore with terrorism, the free-pass for Bush on his dumping of Harken shares, the charitable view of Bush's conduct on the fateful morning of September 11) others are sound. It's worth reading.

The caveat, of course, is that Moore is far from alone in massaging the facts in pursuit of his argument. Somebody loaned me Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them this week, I've been reading it, and I think it can be safely asserted that the simply amazing falsehoods uttered by Moore's counterparts on the right make him look mild in comparison. As Kevin Drum put it recently in Washington Monthly:

So is Fahrenheit 9/11 unfair, full of innuendo and cheap shots, and guilty of specious arguments? Sure. But that just makes it the perfect complement to the arguments of many in the pro-war crowd itself. Perhaps the reason they're so mad is that they see more than a little of themselves in it.

Spinsanity had a look at the film too. Moore, meanwhile, has some rebuttal and a new blog of his own. He has also said it's okay if people want to download his movie from file-sharing networks.

Meanwhile, America's pointless and creepy crackdown on visa rules for foreign journalists has taken another step. A large company contacted me last week about a press trip to the US - I had to point out that the proposed date would not allow time to obtain the special journalist's visa now required, raising the possibility of my colleagues and I being detained and deported. Don't laugh. It keeps happening.

Interesting story in Wired on the market leader in "music identification", Gracenote.

Microsoft has been getting all viral about its new Philippe Starck-designed mouse. I think I prefer the toothbrushes.

The Financial Times looks at the problems the indictment of former Enron CEO Ken Lay might cause for his former (but not any more) good buddy George W. Bush. The Smoking Gun still has its archive of the extensive correspondence between the two men. And Robert Bryce on Salon.com looks at the chances of Lay deciding to just plain spill about it all.

A brilliant post in Slashdot as part of a discussion of news that the extended edition of Return of the King looks set to get a theatrical run in advance of its release on DVD. It points out the strategic shortcomings of Gandalf's plan:

Basically it ignores the fundamental strengths of the forces of light. Anyone who's played C&C or Warcraft knows that if you have an advantage in air units, you have to use it. Remember that elves can ride eagles, and that elven archers are incredibly potent - early on, Gimli dismounts a Nazgul with a single shot! With about a thousand eagles (given elven archers on each one), the forces of good would have matched up pretty well in the air against Mordor's air units: all nine of them. While the leader of the Nazgul cannot be killed by any living man, this does not prevent a team of twenty eagles from tearing him to little shreds, especially if Gandalf rode along for help. So basically an air battle would have been brief unmitigated slaughter of the Nazgul as about a thousand eagle-mounted elves blew them out of the sky in a hail of arrows.

Righto. Have a nice weekend. If you're in Auckland at a loose end, SJD is only $10 at the King's Arms tonight. And if you are spiritually as opposed to geographically lost, allow me to enthusiastically direct you to Density Church, whose founder, Pastor Brian Tamariki, I interviewed in my Wire show on Wednesday. Truly, he is a beacon in dark times …