Hard News by Russell Brown

Quite normal, really

I think one more thing needs saying about the information released in this week's AOL calamity: it's so ordinary. While we all amuse ourselves finding bizarre search records at Don't Delete, it is worth noting that the top search terms in the data are just people going about their business: it's google, ebay, yahoo, mapquest, myspace and the weather.

You have to go down as far as 41 on the list to find "porn". "Sex" is two places below, and then it's a long way down the list to a handful of other smutty searches. It serves to emphasise how much a part of life the Internet has become.

A couple more points before we leave the topic. Nigel Horrocks of NetGuide came up with a worrying one. User 1627022 reeled off searches for "alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.child.male", "boylove belarus" and the like - and then "university jobs new zealand" and "social work new zealand", which took him to the recruitment pages of four New Zealand universities and, creepily, www.cyf.govt.nz. Someone might want to have a look into that. (A reader has pointed out that the string of access to very, very dodgy images may have been for legitimate research purposes, and that did occur to me, but I'm not sure that even a researcher needs to spend that much time looking at actual child porn. At the least, some questions would need to be asked for purposes of clarification.)

And, on a happier note, PA reader Hamish pointed out that in the course of those 20 million searches, there were four hits on this very website. Wooo. That's some famous data we're in, huh?

Other mysteries. The incredible Annette Presley mash-up - a Telecom astroturf job? Some clever young chap at Saatchis? No? You sure?

And yes, that masked man was Don Brash. Brash has confirmed that he posted a couple of comments to Kiwiblog this week, after several correspondents brusquely informed Jordan Carter that he was a ninny if he thought it was really The Don.

It came up in the course of yet another exchange of fire over the pledge card spending issue. For the record, Labour's guilty: it was warned that the pledge card would be regarded as election spending (the leaders' fund cannot be used for electioneering) and went ahead and did it anyway. I'd like to see it pay the money back, even if it means emptying the coffers.

But I'm a little weary of National and its cheerleaders running around the moral high ground waving their arms and screaming "corruption!". One thing Labour did declare in its return was advertising by trade unions that advocated for Labour. On the other hand, National didn't count the huge spend by the Exclusive Brethren, which we now know was originally proposed to Brash himself as a campaign advocating for National, and even after a few tweaks still looked that way. You'll recall that as part of the same campaign, EB members distributed their own leaflets and National's, and also erected National billboards - they also lied and breached electoral laws by using false addresses. And, of course, it famously took Dr Brash a while to recover his memory of those meetings at Parliament.

Further, the Maxim Institute's deceptive nationwide MMP "education" campaign explicitly urged conservative Christians not to vote for smaller parties to unseat the government, but to vote National. It defies belief that this message was fortuitously developed in isolation from National's own, identical message. But that didn't count either. National wasn't as brazen as Labour last year, but it was arguably more devious.

The sheer breadth of apparent breaches in the uses of the leaders' funds suggests that the rules do need sorting out. And I'm not sure that simply saying that billboards and publications funded more than 60 days out from an election aren't campaigning, and everything else is, is quite the way to do it. The funding is there to communicate policy: whether that means you and me paying for billboards with clever, dubious slogans is another question.

Earlier this week, I was part of an excellent turnout for the launch of Paul Shannon's debut novel Davey Darling at Grey Lynn's nice new bookshop, Dear Reader. I'm always amazed at the way fiction writers can, as Paul did, spend years writing stuff that won't be published before they get the voice right and get to meet the public at last. I'm really thrilled for Paul that now it's finally out there the reception for the book has been so strong - I don't think Geoff Walker was kidding when he said it heralded a major new talent.

I enjoyed the Metro short story that was the seed for the book, but I haven't started the novel yet. That's because I'm still partway through Chad Taylor's newie, Departure Lounge, which has another cool, amoral anti-hero and more of the elegant, economical descriptive prose that is Chad's signature. I always get the impression that he visualises every element of a room and then strips out all but a signal few features. Even if he doesn't mention the carpet, he knows what colour it is.

BTW, my darling says Rachel King's The Sound of Butterflies is a cracker too.

And finally, this morning. I dug up an email relating to a once-planned trip to the US, at the invitation of Amazon.com. The email's date? September 11, 2001. As you might guess, that trip didn't happen.

Now I'm all geared up for a top trip to San Francisco in 10 days' time and the headlines say "world travel in chaos". I'm naturally delighted that the plot has been foiled, resigned about the way it's already being politicised by the usual suspects (somehow, apparently, the discovery of a plot based in Britain and Pakistan means we should invade Iran) - and extremely hopeful that some degree of normality will be restored by the 21st.

PS: I've been greatly enjoying the Melvyn Bragg-presented The Adventure of English since it fell off the back of the Internet onto my computer. I took this screenshot of Bragg explaining the provenance of certain popular swear words widely supposed to be of anglo-saxon origin - they're actually from the Dutch. It amuses me: