Hard News by Russell Brown

Poison Pill Theory

My buddy reckons he knows why Fairfax paid so much for Trade Me: when Australian media ownership laws are relaxed, Fairfax, with its strong cashflow and regional monopolies, becomes a prime takeover target. What better way of scaring off the takeover merchants than popping a $700 million poison pill? Just a thought.

Meanwhile, a little bird has told me that Turners Auctions had the opportunity to buy Trade Me four years ago for, um, $1 million. Apparently the belief was that this online stuff would really never catch on ...

TVNZ's streaming simulcast of its Commonwealth Games coverage seems to be working quite well. The engineers and the CityLink crew apparently spent a bit of time yesterday helping ISPs belatedly sort out their routing issues. Special arrangements have been made for delivery to customers on Telecom's network - presumably because Telecom didn't fancy explaining to JetStream customers that they couldn't get the video because of its decision to cease open peering at the CityLink exchanges. Indeed.

On the other hand, I've been forwarded an email casting doubt on whether the non-peering telcos have in fact done enough to help their customers. It says the video is "streaming via the exchanges and most TelstraClear/ Telecom customers will not be able to view it due to bandwidth restrictions imposed by Telecom." Reports, please ...

If you're using a Mac, be aware that the .asx stream doesn't work with the Flip4Mac components (despite them now being Microsoft's recommended solution); if you have those installed you'll need to manually paste a URL into Windows Media Player. The video help has been updated with the details.

We are already knee-deep in reckonings as the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, but I wonder if anything will be as damning as the interview given to the Sunday Telegraph by British SAS trooper Ben Griffin. Griffin told his commanding officers last year that he was not going back to Iraq, on moral grounds. He expected to be court-martialled, but was instead let go with a glowing testimonial from his commanding officer. Here's an excerpt from the story:

"The Americans had this catch-all approach to lifting suspects. The tactics were draconian and completely ineffective. The Americans were doing things like chucking farmers into Abu Ghraib or handing them over to the Iraqi authorities, knowing full well they were going to be tortured.

"The Americans had a well-deserved reputation for being trigger happy. In the three months that I was in Iraq, the soldiers I served with never shot anybody. When you asked the Americans why they killed people, they would say 'we were up against the tough foreign fighters'. I didn't see any foreign fighters in the time I was over there.

"I can remember coming in off one operation which took place outside Baghdad, where we had detained some civilians who were clearly not insurgents, they were innocent people. I couldn't understand why we had done this, so I said to my troop commander 'would we have behaved in the same way in the Balkans or Northern Ireland?' He shrugged his shoulders and said 'this is Iraq', and I thought 'and that makes it all right?'

"As far as I was concerned that meant that because these people were a different colour or a different religion, they didn't count as much. You can not invade a country pretending to promote democracy and behave like that."

Former Telegraph editor Max Hastings had comment in the same vein in a piece on a new book by another British SAS soldier who served in Iraq.

What's remarkable is the near-total absence of the Griffin story from the American mainstream media - and, for that matter, coverage of the court-martial of New Zealander and RAF doctor Malcolm Kendall-Smith, who has also refused to return to Iraq.

22 Iraqi cities have been bombed in the last five months. And that was before the air assault was stepped up.

Intriguing Daily Show interview with the author of the new book Misquoting Jesus.

Stephen Colbert interviews Keith Olberman about Bill O'Reilly and stuff.

A storming interview with secular Syrian-American psychiatrist Dr. Wafa Sultan on Al-Jazeera, tearing into Islamic leaders, has, unsurprisingly earned her death threats from the usual suspects. I just wish our team's moral high ground was, well, a little higher. Salon has compiled information and images from official investigations into The Abu Ghraib Files. It's a long and depressing read. Hug your children afterwards.

Theocracy watch: a new bill tries to have Christianity decreed the official religion of the state of Missouri.

On a related theme, Auckland's Academy Cinemas is putting on a screening of Chasing God, a 55-minute documentary by New Zealand Dylan Burton, at 8.30pm on Tuesday. The film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring the director, representatives of the Christian, Buddhist and Hindu faiths and rationalist Paul Litterick. You can book on (09) 373 2761. And guess what? The Academy has kindly given me two single passes for Public Address readers. Just hit reply below and tell me your name, first-in-first-served, and if I don't get back to you, you haven't won. Come along anyway.

Also, I'm in Wellington on Sunday, chairing Comics, Seriously, a session with comic journalist Joe Sacco. Sacco's work is wonderful, and I hope the session will be too. No freebies to that, sorry.

And, finally, a simple, but spookily brilliant, idea. What happens if you take Garfield's thought bubbles out of the Garfield strip cartoons? Answer: some gently funny strips abruptly become, as one of the commenters puts it, "bleak and existential". Have a look at these examples. And there's some more here.