Hard News by Russell Brown

New poll: Earth flat

New numbers from the Department of Statistics show that New Zealanders' life expectancy continues to rise - and that, for the first time in decades, the disparity between Maori and non-Maori longevity, has narrowed since 1995.

The narrowing of the gap in life expectancy between Maori and other New Zealanders is small, but, it appears, significant. For obvious reasons, it does take time to turn around a long-term trend. Further commentary is here. (Before you ask, the gap between men and women has eased slightly too.)

Professor Tony Blakely, of the Wellington School of Medicine, talking about the new numbers on Checkpoint yesterday, was emphatic that it was the health policies of the past 10 years that had begun to ease the disparity, and that the improvement would continue if the policies did. That is, the "racial" targeted policies attacked by National this year.

Today, Morning Report touched base with half a dozen other health professionals and didn't seem to be able to find one who disagreed. There are other factors, including economic ones, but they all seemed to agree: scrap these policies at your peril.

And then there was Gerry Brownlee, who declared - richly - that the doctors were "playing politics". At least he didn't shout at anyone this time, instead insisting that the modest improvement showed that the health policies "of the last three decades" had failed.

This is either scurrilous or plain stupid. Maori health policy was transformed from the mid-1990s, and Brownlee ought to know it, if only because it was his party that set it in motion. You get the impression that the National Party of 2004 would declare that the Earth was flat if there was a cheap vote in it.

On a similar theme, this brief story popped up in the Herald a week ago: Fuarosa Tamati, the Christchurch woman who received the notorious Community Employment Group travel grant to study the development of hip-hop "was also given $5000 by Creative New Zealand to send her daughter to perform at an Australian music festival" in 2002.

We might be hearing more of this: National's Katherine Rich, who broke the CEG story, has apparently been nosing around looking for scuttlebutt on the entire family, and will presumably milk anything she thinks is worth a crack.

But let's hold up a minute here: the CEG travel grant was wrong and ineffective - it came from a scheme with poorly defined objectives and, consequently, delivered a poor result.

But the Creative New Zealand grant? Fuarosa Tamati's daughter Karoline is also known as LadySix, then of Sheelaroc, who had a hit with 'If I Gave You Th' Mic' when they were still at school, and subsequently received the grant to perform at the Adelaide Festival - exactly the kind of thing Creative New Zealand is supposed to do.

Since then, LadySix has continued to develop as a performer and I really think she's a potential star. Readers may recall past praise for her in this blog. I understand that this is a significant family, not only in terms of its creative talent (Scribe is LadySix's cousin) but its long-term contribution to the Christchurch community. I just hope it doesn't become a sacrifice to Katherine Rich's political ambition.

You'll notice a guest blog by Patrick Crewdson posted today. He and some others have just started what already looks to be a great blog site, Fighting Talk.

Chris Barton, the country's best IT journalist, is moving on to general feature writing. His farewell column is worth reading, and reflects quite a few of my views about tech journalism.

Wired has an extensive and detailed story about the electronic voting debacle.

David Haywood of Canterbury University took issue yesterday with my optimism about carbon sequestration and, hence, the future of coal as a sustainable energy source:

As an energy engineer, I have to say that your comments about coal are severely misinformed -- but not necessarily as a result of your own faults as a journalist. Coal companies will certainly tell you that large-scale sequestration is "just around the corner", but this is really to wilfully misrepresent the facts.

The problem is that you're up against the second law of thermodynamics on this one. Almost all the energy in coal is obtained from oxidizing the carbon to form carbon dioxide. To get the carbon dioxide into a safe and stable form to be sequestered (for ever!) requires an energy input larger than you will have got out of the coal in the first place. In fact, the best way to store carbon dioxide is to convert it back into coal, and stick it in the ground again! But even the short-term storage of carbon dioxide in geological formations, etc. is tremendously expensive (in extraction, transportation, and pumping/conversion costs) and would certainly be uneconomic at anything like current electricity prices.

I'm talking to David on my 95bFM Wire show today, at about 1pm, along with someone from CRL. Ought to be interesting.

PS: It has just been announced that Michael King and his wife were the victims of the car crash near Maramarua yesterday. I don't often find myself crying at the passing of people I have never met, but I am right now, and I don't really know what to say, other than to offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to his family, especially Rachael and Jonty. A great New Zealander has been snatched away.