Hard News by Russell Brown

Strange Times

A shadow National Party cabinet in which the Finance minister doesn't warrant a front-bench place? We do live in strange times.

National is billing yesterday's reshuffle of responsibilities as a pointer to "the likely shape of a National Government Cabinet next year," but reactions in the local press and offshore have centred on the startling slapdown for defence spokesman and apparent rising star Simon Power.

Power keeps his front-bench seat but has been denied a significant portfolio in favour of a post as, um, chief whip. Major promotions have gone to attack-dog MPs Tony Ryall (to the front bench with Immigration) and Judith Collins (Health) - expect much muck to be raked in those sectors - but the new Finance spokesman John Key, who seems composed and intelligent, is still stuck on the second bench. It would seem to indicate a lack of confidence either him or on National's ability to tell a convincing story on the economy. John Armstrong comments in the Herald.

Matthew Leigh was kind enough to flick me a full copy of the Christchurch School of Medicine report on prostitution that we've been discussing this week. It confirms that the Maxim Institute's claim that "A Christchurch School of Medicine study found that nearly two-thirds of Christchurch street prostitutes were under the age of 18" is false. For the record, nine of the 78 street prostitutes interviewed - 11% - were under 18. Evidently, someone at Maxim is reading Hard News, because the offending article has been corrected in the past 24 hours. We're always happy to ride out in defence of truth here at Public Address …

Meanwhile, Beautiful Monsters has a beautiful post on the Destiny Church's use of children in its so-called "Enough is Enough" practice run in Auckland on Saturday - and Maxim's frankly incredible invitation to children to sign a submission with the following wording:

We feel it is important for the government to say it is best for children when parents are married… We would hate even more the idea of having a second mum in the house, pushing dad out of the way… Some of us are also very confused. We thought it was good to get married. But now the government seems to be saying that marriage doesn’t matter.

The people who like to preach morals at us don't seem too fussed about ethics, do they?

There has been all manner of outrage at the discovery that a beheading video displayed on an Islamist website - and billed as depicting Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killing an American - was a hoax created by its "victim". Young San Francisco man Ben Vanderford cobbled together the 55-second video months ago, put it on Kazaa and just waited. As it turned out, many news organisations, including Associated Press took it at face value and rushed out with their headlines.

I actually thought it was an instructive act of media art - although the Reuters TV interview reveals Vanderburg to be a bit of a plonker in person. Anyone have a link to the original video? I've never been attracted to seeing people killed for real, but fakes are always interesting.

While I was looking for a link to the hoax video, I kept coming across detailed conspiracy theories claiming that the Nick Berg beheading video was a "black ops" fake on behalf toe the CIA or someone. There are, it would appear, various oddities about the Berg tape - notably some odd timecode jumps and a puzzling lack of blood. This site has a relatively level-headed look at the claims.

I was going to mention the Oregon national guardsmen ordered to walk away from an Iraqi government torture facility - on the first day of "sovereign" Iraq" - but No Right Turn beat me to it. He then contacted Phil Goff's office to ask how our soldiers' participation in the new Iraq squares with our stance on torture and notes that a US Senator is demanding what-exactly-are-we-fighting-for-here answers. There's something genuinely chilling about this.

Meanwhile, exactly WTF is going on with the issuing of arrest warrants for former Pentagon darling Ahmed Chalabi and his brother Salem, head of the tribunal overseeing the trial of Saddam and other senior Ba'athists? The Independent also has Iraq on a knife-edge.

With the Auckland mayoralty race lumbering underway, John Banks has much the strongest campaign - for the very good reason that he really never stops campaigning for himself. But the "Endorsements" section of his new website is unintentionally funny. Banks has assembled a clutch of thankyou notes sent to him over the past few years and presented them as endorsing his mayoral campaign. While a couple of the letters might be seen as glowing references, it would take a fairly bizarre mind to see most of them as campaign endorsements.

An "endorsement" from Labour council candidate John Hingecliff appears to have been recently removed but you can still read those from Crown Prince Haji al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince of Brunei ("thankyou for taking the time to receive me during my recent visit to Auckland"); the New York firefighters ("we are very grateful that you honoured us with a reception"); the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan ("During the visit to Auckland you, together with your wife, you generously hosted a Mayoral lunch on their behalf"); Auckland City Mission ("we were absolutely thrilled yesterday to learn the Mission had been the recipient of significant funds from a charity auction held at the launch of Auckland's new fish market"); Helen Clark's father ("Thank you very much for sending me an autographed copy of your book and the congratulations for my 80th birthday … have you read Helen's book yet?"); David Lange ("thank you for your kind words"); Charlotte Laurent ("thank you for coming to our school"); and Holly Dennison ("We hope you return to our school and tell us why a mayor is called a mayor. I haven't been able to find out and neither has anyone else.")

Just one more thing for Mayor Banks: do you think Jenny Gibbs et al will be happy about you publishing their addresses and phone numbers on the Internet?

The dirty old French really have declared war: on SUVs. Four wheel drives may eventually attract a stinging pollution tax. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions across the European Union have fallen, just a tiny little bit …