Hard News by Russell Brown

Second-time blog virgin

Deborah Coddington claims to have discovered the blogosphere last week, and she was shocked. Shocked. "Planet blogger is a sad, pathetic sphere," she lamented in her newspaper column. She's not entirely wrong, especially as regards the character of argument in many blog comments forums.

But Coddington is hardly the blog virgin (still less the delicate little flower) she claims to be in her column. There was, after all, the matter of a certain anonymous blogger character-assassinating Damian Christie on her behalf, all of two years ago (I'm not suggesting she directed the attack, just that the rather odd man involved seemed to feel he was batting for her team, and she read and recommended his blog).

And when I criticised a flimsy report she had put her name to (and which directly involved me) here around the same time, she certainly read that - she got all flouncy and dramatic and started quoting Nietzsche.

I actually think the tone of comments, having become quite poisonous during the election campaign, has improved lately, which is a relief. I think the nastiness really deters ordinary folks from offering an opinion. I still don't blame Jordan Carter for recently deciding that he'll only be opening comments occasionally on his Just left blog. During the campaign he'd open a topic only to have the same handful of nutters flying in to scream at him. I'm all for a bit of ginger in an argument, but that kind of thing gets wearying.

There are already useful related discussions on Sir Humphreys, Kiwiblog and No Right Turn (the last being, typically, the most considered of the three).

I'm somewhat amused to see earnest weighings-in on this topic from a number of people who have repeatedly abused me personally. I'm pretty much used to it - Hard News has been inducing spluttering attacks for nearly 15 years now - but I still don't like the rest of my family seeing it. The trick, I think, is to see people with different views as human beings, not as paranoid caricatures.

Anyway, the Sunday Star Times has a sympathetic story about Queenstown bus driver Garry Adams, who loses his passenger transport licence today, because many years ago, when he was 16, he had a consensual fumble with a girl who was 15. Her parents went to the police and he eventually pleaded guilty to an indecent act. From today, the Passenger Transport Amendment Act sees the withdrawal of his licence. He has no right of review or reply, unlike drivers who have committed quite serious acts of violence, because his sexual offence was potentially subject to a jail term of up to seven years.

But hang on. Is this the same newspaper that ran a hysterical and inaccurate front-page story, claiming that the age of consent was being reduced to 12 - thereby sparking a moral panic that eventually forced Phil Goff to withdraw a proposal for a so-called age-gap defence that wouldn't have made convicted sex criminals of under 16 year-olds who consensually experimented?

It is? Well. One might think there was a deal of hypocrisy going on here …

This law is well-intended but it sorely needs attention - the easiest course seems to be to simply allow for review of cases like Adams'. Inevitably, its impact has triggered the usual bitching about "the left", but actually, the Greens opposed it - predicting exactly the sort of unfairness that has become apparent - and it was Deborah Coddington who sounded off about it not being sufficiently draconian.

Part one of Richard Dawkins' two-parter on religion for Channel 4, The Root of All Evil?, has generated a good deal of debate online. I obtained it through the usual means (ignore the fact that the Mininova page says there are no seeds - it's a glitch), and certainly enjoyed it. I tend to think that Dawkins and his crowd devote too much time and energy to trying to disprove that which can't be proven anyway, but it's quite bracing to hear someone stand up on prime-time TV and declare that faith is the enemy of thought.

There's a short clip of Dawkins interviewing Ted Haggard, the creepy head of the leading McChurch, New Life Ministries, on OneGoodMove. Haggard is vile in the programme, but not as much as Jonathan Cohen, a secular jew who went to Gaza and somehow became a cold-eyed radical Islamist. On the other hand, Cohen is just a common zealot; Haggard claims to have regular phone conversations with President Bush. Amusingly, both of them can agree on one thing: they really hate atheists.

There are reviews by American bloggers here and here.

Andrew Sullivan goes looking for the roots of the freakish negligence of the Iraq adventure in a column for the Sunday Times which is largely informed by his reading of Paul Bremer's book.

Is Blair getting scarier or what? Having expanded surveillance powers over the public, Tony Blair has now okayed spying on elected MPs. As an outraged Labour MP puts it, "This goes to the heart of what is to have a free Parliament, not some privilege enjoyed by MPs."

On a related note, reader Dave Waugh made some fair points about the column on Britain's ASBO orders that I pointed to a little while ago. The boy banned from saying "grass" in public said - and did - a bit more than that. And the 87-year-old made subject to an order was not entirely blameless. But I still think the essence of the ASBO system - the way it allows criminal offences to be designed to order around individual behaviour - is unhealthy.

Elsewhere: new study finds iPod users are far less likely to steal music than owners of competing digital music players.

And Slashdot discusses the Ars Technica review of the new Google Video Store. And, clearly the Google store is a rush job, and well short of the standard you would expect from a company with Google's reserves of cash and intellectual firepower. I can't say how the paid video works (it's Windows-only …) but I do quite like the way the free clips are handled: you can watch your clip in Flash video or download an AVI. Unfortunately, there's no way of telling how big your download is. The source page doesn't tell you and the server is misconfigured, so the file size doesn't even come up when you start the download. Honestly, isn't this stuff basic?

Still, there's some good stuff, including a spectacular demonstration of the Mentos-and-Diet-Coke experiment (there's an explanation of this interesting phenemonenon on Steve Spangler's science site).

And also this clip of the Flaming Lips performing 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on board a cruise ship. Absolute bedlam.

Which reminds me. Big Day Out. Only four sleeps. Can hardly wait …