Hard News by Russell Brown

Rock Against Blowhards

Much as everyone enjoys beating up on TVNZ, it's only fair to extend the warmest praise for the current Saturday night 'NZ Festival' season on TV One. Sheilas, which revisited a group of local proto-feminists from the late 1960s and early 70s, and found them largely thoughtful and in good heart.

I know Sheilas wasn't produced expressly as a television programme, but it's enormously encouraging to see this sort of thing screening at a reasonable hour, even on a Saturday. It's also good to see the national broadcaster's considerable archive being used for something more than lightweight the-way-we-were tosh. The torturously affected BBC accents that everyone felt bound to adopt when they got anywhere near a camera sound so funny now.

In a year dominated by reactionary blowhards (and their blowhard friends in the press and in Parliament) it was nice to be reminded why we undertook the social changes we did. I had never realised that within my lifetime it was illegal for women in New Zealand to work after 11pm, or that Marcia Russell was the first woman ever permitted to work in the herald's newsroom.

That local feminism at one point was at one point in danger of disappearing up its own front bum is evident, but New Zealand society today would be unthinkable without its succession of small, significant victories. Even the lesbians have lightened up. A lot!

Tomorrow night's offering is the Janet Frame documentary Westling with the Angel, then next week it's Colin McCahon: I AM (produced by Robin Scholes, DOP Leon Narbey). Saturday the 25th is Rocket Man: the Story of William H. Pickering, with music by - get this! - Epsilon Blue. This is a stellar lineup of (ahem) charter television and pats on the back are due to all concerned.

Speaking of the golden weather years, we would do well to reflect on what was allowed to happen around the Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical plant in New Plymouth from the 1960s onwards. Finally - why did it take so long? - the blood of long-term residents has been tested and found to contain unacceptable levels of dioxin as a result of discharges from the plant. In truth, the worst of the damage has already been done, but we should feel glad to live in era when the issue has finally been brought to light. I hope the government is not now needlessly defensive about it. And I hope that a few other reactionary blowhards pause to recall why we have a Resource Management Act.

Emails continue to trickle in on either side of the Beslan issue. Ashley Paris replied to make clear she wasn't accusing me of excusing the killings: "What I object to," she said. "Is the blancmange-like state of self-loathing passivity the western Left maintains whenever the muslim world strikes at the infidel. Their moral inertia will generate just as much violence as anything Bush or Rumsfeld do."

I understand that. But I'm wary of talk about the "Muslim world" - that's a third of the world's people you're calling to account there. The Herald's print edition ran this thoughtful essay by Yasmin Alibahi-Brown, which lamented the unfairness of tarring all Muslims (many of whom are victims far more than we are in our comfortable country) with terrorism, but concluded with the hope for a "long overdue self-examination by some of the great and the good in the Muslim world."

One the other hand, on my Wire show recently I interviewed Dr Zakir Naik, an Indian Muslim who lectures internationally on the faith. He had been banned from using the Lynfield College hall after the school took fright at a flyer advertising his lectures. It seemed like an interesting free-speech angle, but by the time I was done with Dr Naik I felt that school was well rid of him.

Naik insisted he was aware of no evidence to convince him that al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 - or, indeed, for anything. (I though for one terrible moment he was going to blame the Jews. He didn't, although he gave the impression that given the chance he could be right up there with David Irving.) I (and the listeners) wound up somewhat horrified.

And yet we have our own moral thugs. George Fleet got back to re-emphasise his view that genocide in Chechnya was unfortunate but necessary, just like World War 2. Except, George, the jihadists didn't show up until Russia had undertaken its second war in a decade in Chechnya. Actually, I've done some more reading around, and the 50,000 figure I quoted this week seems a very low estimate. The Guardian ran this column by Ahmed Zakaev, the deputy prime minister in Chechnya's 1997 government, who was granted asylum by Britain last year:

Ten years ago Chechnya had a population of 2 million. Today it is 800,000, and Vladimir Putin has an army of what we estimate to be up to 300,000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya inflicting a regime of terror. Many Chechens are refugees and many others have simply disappeared, often in the night. At least 200,000 Chechen civilians have been killed by Russian soldiers, including 35,000 children. Another 40,000 children have been seriously injured, 32,000 have lost at least one parent and 6,500 have been orphaned. These are figures supported by reports of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, and we believe they are conservative. This is how Putin's soldiers treat Chechen civilians.

It's worth reading the entire column. And even allowing for Zakaev's inevitable bias, I can't consider that without thinking, well, where we we then?

Anyway, it has been a week of challenging events, none of which I will go into here. But it's ending, and tonight is the B-Net New Zealand Music Awards, traditionally one of the largest events on the social calendar in my circles. I don't know about you, but I will certainly be having it. Large, that is …

PS: Sean from the Tom Bosley Experience turned up at the front door to give me a copy of their new CD. It's wiggy, electronic and twisted. I like that.