Hard News by Russell Brown


I knew I shouldn't have had that kebab. King's Cross, 1987, I think it was. Or possibly Elephant and Castle. I really don't mean to be flippant, but the news that a Waikato man has suspected CJD reminds me why I can't donate blood.

Like many New Zealanders who spend time in Britain, I was largely vegetarian in my five years in London. High-street meat products in Britain always seemed a bit dodgy. But there's no denying the allure of a curry or - more worringly - a kebab at a certain point of an evening out. Your worst assumption about the contents of those thick, fatty blocks of reconstituted kebab is probably correct.

The actual number of those who have contracted variant Creutzfeld Jakob Disease through eating beef products is relatively small - it's the long, quiet incubation period that's scary.

We don't know if the 26 year-old farm worker has vCJD, or the hereditary or spontaneous forms of the disease, or even something else altogether, just that he's very sick. It is wildly unlikely that he contracted whatever he has through animal contact. But that didn't stop a rumour - of foot and mouth, rather than mad cow disease - flashing to the other side of the world yesterday, and knocking a full cent off the New Zealand dollar. Such is the perception of risk.

Speaking of which, Dross, my cousin's husband, was at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta when the bomb went off this week. He had been in the foyer only 10 minutes before the blast. As you might expect of a country general manager, he was composed and articulate in his media duties yesterday, even managing a little self-deprecating humour. As you would expect of a human being, he was shaken up and emotional behind it. Fortunately, he and Hannah are now on a break, and they deserve it.

It was interesting to see, as the attack was reported, how much more American media played up Jemaah Islamiya's links with al-Qaeda than the press of other countries, and in particular that in South Esat Asia. That's not to say that JI doesn't have historical and, probably, current connections with al-Qaeda, but that wasn't generally the lead angle outside America. There appears to be a similar pattern emerging over the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, where motives so far are profoundly unclear. It would be wise to remember, in contemplating the worldwide conspiracy of evil, that there is usually a local angle too.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez acknowledged from Baghdad that the US forces' own conduct might be their biggest problem: "It was a fact that I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of ops was beginning to alienate Iraqis."

This would seem to be strongly borne out by some alarming recent posts from Salam Pax, who is as extraordinary and as human as ever. "You know something has gone really wrong in your country when you start having discussions with friends on what is the event that will make you decide to leave," he says. And this from a man who had the guts to write a clandestine blog from Saddam's Iraq …

Anyway, further news on the ever-so-slighty GM corn that found its way onto pizzas. As it happens, someone who would know was also in touch recently with a perspective on a potential link between the corn in this case and the potentially GM corn at the centre of Corngate, which came from the same company:

"Do the Corngate and Pizzagate crops have anything in common? The Corngate corn variety was Jubilee LotNC9114 grown in Boise Idaho originally. The Pizzagate corn variety was 'Krispy King' and was grown in Chile. MAF is also looking at a nearby crop of 'Sovereign' which is a rust resistant variety of 'Krispy King'. Also grown in Chile. Obviously neither variety is transgenic according to the breeders/exporters/MAF import analysis. So they were both shipped by Syngenta but Syngenta is the major supplier of all imported corn in New Zealand. Apart from that they were both grown in America, but Boise Idaho is some way from Chile."

And one last perspective on TV3, Corngate and the BSA:

"The difference between the Dave Hilliard interview and the Helen Clark interview is that Hilliard was the primary mover in a deliberate campaign which he should not have been involved in, given his position as CEO of Timberlands. Helen Clark had no direct involvement in the process (she attended no meetings, signed no letters that have been made public) and given the 18 month gap, she had no precise grasp of the information. Others have no precise grasp despite being intimately involved. Hilliard must have known exactly what he had done and said that was wrongful. Clark had (as far as history has found) done and said nothing wrongful and was not aware of the nature of the accusation. The similarity between the Hilliard and Clark interviews (Hager/Campbell/Election) is largely superficial."

Speaking of which, The Listener's Gordon Campbell has launched a blog, which is the first online-only content on the Listener website. This is excellent news. Topics in the first post range from Ahmed Zaoui to Harry Potter to, er me.

So anyway, I've been pounding away under a variety of deadlines this week - the inevitable result of having recently started to say "yes" more often to offers of work. I don't mind having a lot on - I like having a headful of ideas - but bringing them all in is a bit like air traffic control. Sometimes you have to instruct one of the planes to circle the airport for a while …

So, no Food Show to go to this week: just Exotica, which isn't quite my bag. Top products turned up in an exhaustive bout of wonder, sampling and buying: the new Exalt fruit drinks, the amazing Food By Chefs range of chutneys, and the 42 Below products, especially their new gin, South, which was good enough to sup neat. Nice bottles too …

It's the excellent Eddie Izzard tonight, and dinner at Chad and Debra's tomorrow, where we will eat curry and finally get to meet Jolisa and Richard. How exciting!

PS: That George Joffe interview isn't far off, thanks to some sterling transcription work from Fiona. In the meantime, you could fill in your Friday afternoon by clicking on the ad on this page and bunging some money to Amnesty International.