Hard News by Russell Brown

Unleash Hell

Yes, the All Blacks are better right across the park than the Wallabies, but I am more nervous now than I would expect to be facing next week's World Cup final.

Recent history contains too many stories of All Black teams choking and the Australians prevailing in circumstances that play havoc with the national mood. As ordinary as the Aussies have looked all tournament, I will feel vastly better at such time as the final whistle sounds and they are not in the lead.

Then the final? Best team on the day, que sera sera, etc. The good of the game would be best served by an All Blacks-France final, and I suspect that is what will happen.

It would help everyone's nerves, however, if the All Blacks were to physically overpower the Wallabies as early as possible in the match, displaying the dominance that beat the Boks, and then some. In the words of a certain transplanted New Zealander: "At my signal - unleash hell."

You will again be able to tune into the 95bFM alternative commentary, at either 95 on the FM dial in Auckland, or via the 95bFM Internet streams. The crowd noise will be working from the start this week, and you are warmly welcomed to join Jeremy, Damian and myself for a little something different.

Speaking of the Internet and rugby, the small but perfectly formed statistician Tracey Nelson has proved most appealing to the media this week: so far The Listener, Blackie on Solid Gold and 95bFM have interviewed her, and I think One News has something airing this evening. Attention well deserved.

The leaked CIA report on Iraq seems genuinely disturbing. It warns that there are now some 50,000 insurgents in Iraq, and that the tipping point - where ordinary Iraqis lose faith in the Americans and throw in their lot with whoever comes next - could be in sight.

But more alarming in some ways is the fact that the officials who leaked details of the report to journalists have made clear they did so to ensure that the Pentagon and vice-president Dick Cheney could not keep its contents from Bush. Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer - suddenly summoned back to Washington for crisis talks this week - has been widely reported as endorsing the findings of the report.

It would be nice to think that, however belatedly, reality might trump ideology in this matter - ironically, the plan being floated now looks quite like the one proposed by the Europeans and dismissed by the White House - but the Bush administration's capacity to deceive itself seems almost limitless.

The battle to win heart and minds on the ground in Iraq has, of course, been hampered by little incidents like the shooting dead of the US-appointed mayor of Baghdad's Shiite slum Sadr City - by American soldiers. Whoops.

It all makes for an interesting time next week when Bush lands in Britain on the first full state visit made by any American president. In a fascinating column, Jonathan Freedland speculates that the visit - a "nightmare" for Tony Blair - has been largely driven by the Bush team's desire to secure TV pictures of the president with The Queen for use in his re-election campaign next year.

Quite a nice Iraq commentary on Buzzflash, looking at some of the weird things the administration has been saying lately.

Meanwhile, news that US government spending has ballooned by 27 per cent in only two years. Even if you take out Iraq and Afghanistan, it's still double the four per cent limit promised by Bush. Might be time to look at those deficit projections again, huh? Our problem - and half the world's - is that the US dollar's consequent steady decline is playing havoc with export markets. I don't think anyone ever thought we could again be nudging the crazy days of the Kiwi at US70 cents, but it's not out of the question now. Would an economically competent government in America be too much to ask?

Pictures of Gollum being relocated to Wellington airport in advance of the Return of the King premiere. Quite spooky, really.

And while we're on it, does anyone have anything to add to the rumours that Apple CEO, Pixar chief and all-round saviour of humanity Steve Jobs will be fronting up for the premiere - and to have discussions with Weta Digital? Smart Wellington is convulsed with it. I actually asked the local Apple folks about it yesterday and they shrugged heroically and said only that they, too, had heard the rumour. Apple has being going to some lengths lately to emphasise its links with both LOTR and Weta. Post a watch on vegetarian restaurants …

And finally: I would normally regard crying at anything on the Holmes show as an act of capitulation, but I sat on the couch and blubbed last night at the segment on Cameron Duncan, who succumbed yesterday to a form of bone cancer, at the age of 17. The show's producers wisely chose to pretty much stay out of the item, which was composed almost entirely of Cameron's words and his last film.

Cameron Duncan's website is here and the clip of the Holmes item is here. Or if you want it without all NZoom's obstructive and annoying frippery, paste this URL into RealPlayer:

That last work demonstrated amply what the likes of Peter Jackson saw in Cameron four years ago - a surpassing gift for making movies. It's impossible to disagree with Jackson's verdict that, had he not been claimed so early, Cameron Duncan would have undoubtedly gone on to become one of New Zealand's greatest film-makers. That he was able to take in and accept his early exit, and make the best possible use of every second he had left, is an inspiration. Sometimes you should cry. And then you get on and make the best out of every lucky hour that you do have.