Hard News by Russell Brown

Morning dreads

Are you waking up with the morning dreads? Every day, I get up, wake up the G4 and click Google News, gloomily, for rumours of war. It depresses me but I can't help it.

Helping a close friend through a ghastly personal situation hasn't improved my disposition either. And then this morning there was the 6.55am flyover, the dank, pooky smell of Foray 48B and the sharp, brief, inevitable headache on stepping out the door.

It is no more than an inconvenience for me. But a new survey on the painted apple moth spray campaign has turned up an array of self-reported symptoms amongst people in the spray zone.

Some - especially reported gastro-intestinal complaints - are surprising and not easily explained. Some of the responses seemed conflicting - few people felt their overall health had been affected and visits to the doctor hadn't risen.

But why did National Radio, in this morning's bulletins and reports, insist on saying the researchers found the spray had "triggered" the symptoms when, in their own audio, the study leader said he could not confidently attribute the reported ill effects to the spray? Science needs to be reported carefully.

Still, it could be worse. I played some tennis with my lawyer yesterday (actually, he's the kind of lawyer I hope never to have to use, but I would trust him if I did). We were enjoying a Heineken afterwards and got talking, as we all do, of war. He mused about the message the US stance on North Korea was sending out to rogue states.

"And then you had John Howard saying we had to show our will on Iraq or how else would we reign in North Korea? Right. You're gonna line up your troops on their borders? And the North Koreans go, sure …"

He mimed the pushing of a button.

He was right. The message the US is now officially sending out - that North Korea, with its nuclear weapons and long-distance missiles and officially ordained place in the "Axis of Evil", is now a "regional issue" - says to every other aspiring power in the world that the way to get the US off your back is to develop a nuclear capability as quickly as possible.

Such is the dirty, dangerous world in which we find ourselves this year.

A fascinating insight into the dirt and the danger came with the debut of TVNZ's new Kim Hill vehicle, Face to Face - the long-awaited longform interview show. Her guest was Richard V. Allen, who, as a member of the US Defence Policy Board and advisor to Rumsfeld, is thoroughly in the loop.

The two of them hit the war issue running, and there unfolded a pacy, intelligent interview that - unlike the ghastly Hosking encounter with John Howard on Sunday - was both entertaining and informative.

The most fascinating element of the discussion was the fact that Allen barely mentioned the banned weapons and the dark threat to the world that Howard devoted an entire speech to yesterday.

Allen's pitch: war would secure "stability" of oil supplies. No, the case wasn't "so clear" as that for the first Gulf War. It might all go horribly wrong afterwards, but the people of Iraq were "entitled" to a shot at democracy (so are the people of Pakistan, Uzbekistan, etc, presumably). Yes, New Zealand support for the US war plans would "accelerate" progress on a free trade agreement. It was pragmatic bordering on cynical, but the honesty - after the tosh that has been serially served up by Allen's bosses - was refreshing.

The other new TVNZ offering, Foreign Assignment, followed up nicely with a rare on-the-ground look from Australia's publicly-owned ABC at who actually lives in Baghdad. Even allowing for the fact that the subjects had obviously been vetted, it was a useful demonstration of the fact that nice, educated, middle-class people are leading lives where the bombs will fall. The tendency to view entire nations through the personality of their leaders is as common, and dangerous, as ever.

So, two good new programmes. And as if that weren't enough, Spin Doctors returned for a third series this week and was, at times, very funny indeed. It's still not without its clunkers, but a programme written, shot and screened over a few days will never be perfectly even. It is a miracle enough that a local comedy is funny at all, let actually improving in its third season.

Anyway, if this is Charter television, bring it on. And you can quote me on that.