Hard News by Russell Brown

Lounge weekend

I spent my long weekend watching rugby, reading, making comfort food - roast organic chicken, smoked fish pie and spaghetti bolognaise on successive evenings - and trying not to drink too much wine. I really had planned to at least get out to the Banana conference, but I eventually accepted the counsel of my darling: stay put, rest up, do nothing.

Anyway, Keith and Tze Ming were at the conference, Keith has already had a little blog about it.

I'm excited about the rugby avalanche. Friday night's All Black trial was, I think, a lot better than anyone expected. Both sides played surprisingly structured rugby. Sivivatu and Nonu stood out on attack, but Nonu continues to get himself out of position on defence. Up front, Tony Woodcock showed why he's the incumbent All Black loosehead. But I didn't see anything from Ali Williams to make me more comfortable with him as Chris Jack's locking partner in the Lions tests: good athleticism in the lineouts, dumb mistakes in open play.
Derren Witcombe's elevation to test status after the trial seems well-deserved. Fitzy thought so too, although he named Conrad Smith his player of the trial.

An incomplete New Zealand Maori team was less impressive in squeaking a win over Fiji, and will have to step up markedly to beat the Lions. On the other hand, even given their three-try opening blitz, the Lions were no more than competent in their tour opener against a doughty Bay of Plenty side - and in some areas of the game rather less than competent. If referees decline as enthusiastically as Paul Honiss did to let them slow the ball down at the tackle, their lack of openside flanker talent will undo them. And they'll want to do a lot of work on defensive formations. The loss of Lawrence Dallaglio to a horrible injury in the most innocuous circumstances is a huge blow to them, but it seems admirable to me that even as he was being shipped off to hospital with a smashed and dislocated leg, Dallaglio remembered to leave his Lions jersey for his BOP opposite.

The worst big game of the weekend was the Martin Johnson-Jonah Lomu invitational. Too many errors, too many also-rans in action. The most interesting part was seeing Ian Jones back in action - he looked quite good. Also pretty average: Keith Quinn's commentary - we all love him dearly I'm sure, but his work was confused. Although there was certainly some amusement when he barked "Eric Rush, going down on it like a teenager!"

After some lame efforts, funnier culture-jams on the National billboard campaign by Lyndon Hood here and Gonzo here.

While we play the waiting game to see what National chop to allow its tax cuts - Working for Families will be gutted, according to Labour, while John Key is talking about more government borrowing - any fool can see that there's one area where National will be merrily wielding the axe: arts and culture. Gerry Brownlee (Gerry Brownlee?) has apparently spoken of a 30% cut in arts funding, but National's only firm arts policy so far seems to be scrapping the PACE (Pathways to Arts and Culture Employment) scheme; a no-brainer for them, but nonetheless petty and wrong-headed.

National happily operated much looser employment schemes in 1990s; schemes which were open to budding artists but offered no sector-specific support, didn't impose a work test and did not embody an entrepreneurial philosophy as PACE does. Unlike those schemes, the PACE payment actually abates against outside income at the same rate as other benefits: the difference being that artists and performers can count expenses against their declared income. But it's a soft target.

Georgina Te Heuheu's hapless performance on Frontseat on Sunday suggested that scrapping PACE is the total so far of National's arts policies. She muttered something about a national portrait gallery, mouthed some platitudes about hip-hop and made a claim that National presently had no intention to cuts arts funding that clearly even she didn't believe.

This is interesting: the American conservative weekly Human Events Online asked 15 "conservative scholars and public policy leaders" to compile their lists of the 10 Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries, and has compiled and published the results: they include The Kinsey Report (fourth), John Dewey's Democracy and Education and Berry Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and J.M. Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (which, amusingly, the authors blame for the current US fiscal deficit). Also-rans included John Stuart Mill's On Liberty and Darwin's Origin of the Species.

Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly decided to have a crack with his own list of "Books we beg to differ with", making it more interesting by deliberately leaving out books by fascists and communists. His version is more interesting, but the presence of The Road to Serfdom has been controversial with his readers.

Biggest tech news of the year - so big that Slashdot slashdotted itself in all the excitement - is Apple's announcement that it will switch from the PowerPC architecture to Intel chips from next year. I can see the logic in this: PowerPC's a great architecture, but IBM is much more focused on producing versions for use in consumer devices (Playstation 3 and the new Xbox) than for personal computers. Also: Apple has presumably decided that it will lose Hollywood unless it buys into the hardware-based DRM being developed by Intel. Wired's Leander Kahney speculated on this when the rumours broke on Friday. Apple won't allow MacOS X to run on any old Intel box, but won't do anything to prevent Windows running on Intel-based Macs.

And so we wait for a Michael Jackson verdict … I think there's still quite a good chance of acquittal all round, given the damage done to the credibility of the accuser and his family - but innocent? Quite another matter. Would you let your child sleep in the same bed as a man whose sanctuary for children was shown to be piled high with pornography - not just a few dirty mags under the bed, but porn everywhere? Didn't think so. It's a little like the OJ trial - the acquittal there was not inappropriate on a beyong-reasonable-doubt test, but you'd be deluded to think he actually didn't commit the murders.