Hard News by Russell Brown

Signal to Noise

Well, damn: I missed the scoop. At the Music Awards on Wednesday night, I bumped into the original Westie Girl, Jan Hellriegel, who had shortly before accosted the mayor and asked him to guarantee the survival of the speedway at Western Springs. Don't you worry, he said, that's all sorted out. And it is: sort of. The speedway promoters will stage fewer meets every year, but will be able to exceed the 85 decibel limit agreed in the district plans 10 years ago, and will be allowed to reach 90 decibels at 60% of those events.

Hopefully, the promoters will actually attempt to meet the new limits. For all the scorn poured on the whining neighbours, I found it difficult to accept that the promoters should not only get a free pass after ignoring their own agreement, but be able to stage louder and more frequent meets as the years passed. The thing is, as Brian Rudman points out today (in a column I would have linked to but can't because it is "premium content"), the cost of an inquiry into the "best practicable options" for solving the noise problem in the long term will fall squarely on ratepayers. The residents will also get $5000 for their own noise consultant, and may yet wind up with ratepayer-funded double-glazing (anyone inclined to snort at this would do well to ponder how they'd feel if they had all their windows shut on a summer Saturday evening and still couldn't hear the television).

The Herald editorial (yes, "premium content" again) also pronounces, not unkindly, on Dick Hubbard's first year in mayoral office, and concludes that he needs to demonstrate "action" to match his "vision". In so doing, it tends to perpetuate the idea that John Banks, the ultimate small dog, actually did a lot as distinct from making a lot of noise. I suspect Aucklanders are quite enjoying picking up the paper and not reading another story about another preposterous mayoral utterance. I don't think that's the same thing as Auckland "looking and feeling a little dull."

Meanwhile, Aaron Bhatnagar has a letter in the paper expressing his disappointment that Hubbard has failed to share "council responsibilities in a fair, generous fashion", by re-allocating the responsibilities of the indisposed Bruce Hucker to members of the minority Citizens and Ratepayers group, rather than Hucker's own camp. Oh, honestly, Aaron. Given the winner-take-all attitude towards the division of responsibilities pursued by the CitRat council under Banks, that's staggeringly rich.

As you may have noticed, I wrestle a little with the religious beliefs of others. It is my instinct and my intent to be tolerant. I'm much more comfortable with religion in the context of, as Nandor put it when we spoke last week, "the search for the divine", than I am when it is marshalled behind social strictures and the frankly irrational (the airtime given to proponents of "creative design" lately is making me nervous). After all, a burgeoning sense of the spirit has led David Dobbyn to make the best album of his career this year. But can I reconcile the grandeur and complexity of the universe with the desire to personify its inspiration in an oily man like Brian Tamaki? No, dear readers, I can not. If you want a metaphor, it's the difference between Dave's album (or, say, the works of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Johnny Cash or Bob Marley) and banal and annoying "Christian rock".

Which is by way of introduction to the observation that perhaps too much has been made of the reported statement by George W. Bush that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. But I think that those of us who believe a mandate should extend up from the people rather than down from Heaven have a right to be hostile on this one. Because if it's considered alright for George to act on the advice of his special friend, then it's rather more difficult to condemn Osama Bin Laden for claiming justification for what he does in the name of his God. Isn't it?

The Daily Telegraph has an excellent interview with Sheila Ravenscroft, the widow of John Peel. I was lucky enough to meet them both several years ago, and I greatly enjoyed this story. She and their children have completed the autobiography he was writing when he died, which contains the story of his being raped at an exclusive English boarding school, which was characterised by an appalling atmosphere of sexual abuse.

As is the case almost everywhere now, there were bloggers in the zone of the South Asian earthquake. Imran Malik, an American study medicine in Pakistan, has been covering the quake and its aftermath. He also has an indie rock thing going on with The Fatsumas. Meanwhile, the keeper of a Koran blog saw a warning from upstairs.

Some video: Bill Maher's most recent 'New Rules' is a cracker. I laughed out loud. Maher also interviewed Ann Coulter about the right-wing outrage at Bush's bizarre appointment of Harriet Miers to the US Supreme Court ("But where were you when he nominated Mike Brown and every other loser that he put in a high position?" Maher asks. "Why is this suddenly an issue?"). And Jon Stewart went on Letterman. That last one is a 12MB QuickTime 7-only file, but you can watch it on plain old television at 10.55pm tonight on Prime.