Hard News by Russell Brown

Same again

There was a palpable air of unreality about the Bush-Blair press conference in London overnight. Even though events were raging as the two men spoke, the talk was such that it might have been scripted any time in the past few months.

Or, rather, although both Bush and Blair led with comments on the ghastly bombings in Turkey, what they said was the same old thing. In the transcript, Bush uses the word "freedom" 13 times, "free" 25 times, "terror" eight times, "war" three times, "liberty" once and "God" once.

When a reporter asked whether the attacks on the British Consulate and the HSBC building in Istanbul were targeted at their alliance - which, to any sensible observer, they were - Bush effectively ignored the question and Blair eventually insisted the attacks where "directed at anybody who stands in the way of this fanaticism. And that is why our response has got to be to say to them as clearly as we possibly can, you are not going to defeat us because our will to defend what we believe in is actually in the end stronger, better, more determined than your will to inflict damage on an innocent people. Now that is what this whole thing is about."

Yadda-yadda-yadda. They've been making these speeches for two years now, and yet, this week, Turkey suffered its first al-Qaeda-backed terrorist attacks. There have been suspicions that some Qaeda people have passed through Turkey in the past, but hitherto Turkey's terrorism problems have been domestic, and the motivations either ethnic or political. In Turkey, a secular state reshaping itself for entry to the European Union, Islamist terror could find little purchase. But now it does.

This is not a good result, and it ought to raise questions about just who is winning the war of ideas. The proportion of the Turkish public with a favourable view of the US has plummeted from 52% in 2000, to 30% last year to just 12% earlier this year. Somebody's going to fill the gap, aren't they?

Also missing from the cant, as usual, was any mention of Iraqi casualties. There were tributes to British victims of terrorism, and the Americans who died on September 11, and to US soldiers, but, as ever, it's like nobody really died in Iraq. Well, according to a report this week, they did: as many as 55,000 of them by one means or another. Hell, maybe it was worth it: maybe the promise of freedom and a democratic is worth the price in blood. But that's not the argument they make, ever. And that is fundamentally dishonest.

The US tradition of saying one thing and doing another was carried on into trade, with Bush, even as his government picks trade wars with both the EU and China, insisting that his government believes in free trade.

The Washington Post described Bush's new set of quotas on Chinese textiles as a matter of opening a new line of attack against Beijing's trade policies and moving to protect American jobs centred in politically important southern US states." The Chinese were furious. And Rod Donald, speaking to the Otago Daily Times, seemed kind of impressed, and suggested our government should take the same lead and increase tariffs on imported clothing.

A few responses to yesterday's RDS issue. From Adam:

WRT RDS - I am astonished with the negative reaction (your blog, National Radio Morning Report) to the introduction of RDS by ZM in Auckland. I have lived in the UK & France for 9 years until April this year and loved RDS. I found both the station info and traffic announcement features to be highly useful. I didn't own a car, but rented regularly over this period (20- 30 different car/stereo models) - it never took more than a minute to work out how to turn the TA feature on/off and never had a manual to refer to.

I would hate to think this useful feature which I have missed) is taken off air because a few people can't be bothered to work out which button to press to turn it off!

Incidentally I think the comparison with spam is misleading - opt-in email or sms notifications would be a better example (possibly opt-out depending on the stereo's default).

From Zooey:

In Germany it is quite usual for your radio to automatically tune into the closest station for each traffic report (and with the huge problem of congestion there this means you can listen to traffic info for about 10 minutes at a time!).

The reports are introduced and ended with a beep, which is recognised by the radio. You can of course somehow turn this off, but as you say, you need the patience to figure out how.

It is supposed to be a positive service, especially when they inform you of real imminent danger (someone driving on the wrong side of the road on the motorway, or traffic stopped behind a bend). But it is really annoying.

I suppose ZM are just "going with the time"! The next thing should then be for radio stations to send little messages which are displayed on the little digital screen - this is quite a traffic hazard because it's distracting and you have to keep looking at it to see the whole message run past you. Often they just send the name of the song that's playing and artist, but it could of course also be used for advertising purposes.

And from Marie:

I read your hard news and I would like to let you know I enjoy my modern RDS radio. I can ignore the radio as long as I like and just listen to my CDs, but I still catch the traffic reports, which I want.

I like it and if I don't want the traffic stuff, I only have to press one button to turn it off. ZM doesn't control my radio, I do. I decide if I want the reports, not them.

I think you're over-reacting.

So, as Microsoft likes to say, it's a user problem? Maybe. It still seems a poorly conceived system. If everyone in Auckland's geographically-concentrated, overcrowded radio market got RDS-enabled and started beeping, what then? Even if you chose RDS still seems kind of clunky to me. And I agree with Dubber: it's not interactive.

So anyway, the All Blacks did win that no-account play-off, which, if nowt else, will improve their draw at the next World Cup. They showed both some dash - scoring six tries to one - and some worrying frailties: with both qualities expressed in the greatest degree by Carlos Spencer. Let's put the rugby away for the summer, then.

Do we really have to watch England and Australia play the final though? Mark Anderson of Hort Research contacted me about a dream he claims to have had:

It's nil-all after a dull and error-ridden 80 minutes.

The only scoring opportunity occurs 10 minutes into extra time when England are awarded a penalty in front 40 metres out. Unfortunately Jonny Wilkinson has been sent to the blood bin suffering from a heat-induced blood nose. The substitute kicker slips on the dewy surface and sends the ball skidding underneath the crossbar. Nil-all after extra-time it goes to drop kicks. After an hour of droppies the game is still locked up at 3 kicks-a-piece, and the match officials are informed that due to local bye-laws the lights will have to be turned off, and the game will have to be decided by the toss of a coin.

Gregan calls heads and Johnstone tosses. The coin turns over and over and finally lands on the lush Telstra Stadium turf. Wedged in a divet 2/3 of the head side facing upwards, Australia is declared the winner. The English appeal the decision on the basis that the coin wasn't flat, and it should have been thrown again. Lawyers get involved, and the decision goes to court. Eventually, 10 years later, after numerous appeals, the Privy Council decides that neither side deserved to win, and awards the World Cup to the team that came 3rd.

Ah well. At least we know that's us...