Hard News by Russell Brown

"We have plunged into darkness"

It seems that most mornings now, you can count on getting up and turning on the radio and hearing about another atrocity in Iraq. So the bombing of the United Nations compound in Baghdad was both business as usual and something much worse.

The UN operated in Iraq for years with the broad goodwill of the locals, and in relative safety, despite the unpleasantness of the regime. Now, it appears that there are more terrorists, more death and more danger.

My first thought was to check Salam Pax, to see if he was alright, if he had a report, how he was feeling: he is, he does, and very bad. "I am plunging into a fucking depression, do we have a future? Is this country going to be hijacked by shit extremists who want to prove a point?" he says, before concluding, "We have plunged into darkness."

And yet, in this week in which we now have seen the worst attack ever on a UN facility, and, in a single day, serious attacks on oil and water infrastructure, at least six Iraqis killed and dozens wounded, one soldier killed and seven more wounded, and a veteran cameraman shot dead by panicky US troops, the White House is displaying Operation Iraqi Freedom - A White House Special Report. This incredible presentation is composed of glossy little passages like this:

Liberation Update
News accounts today paint a vivid picture of joy and relief inside Iraq. American and coalition troops are being welcomed by smiling Iraqis. Their voices have been silenced for too long, but now they are heard inside Iraq and around the world.

Nowhere does the "report" note that more than 50 US troops and many more Iraqis have died since victory was declared. The New York Times has had a crack in an editorial headed White House Fantasies on Iraq.

But according to Cursor.org, one change has been quietly slipped in to the report. The headline 'President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended' has been amended to read 'President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended'.

Back home, I'm pleased to see that the likes of NZPundit haven't gone into knee-jerk mode over yesterday's foreshore plan. Gordy even links to a NoRightTurn post which, so far as I can see, gets it quite right in saying:

Objections from National and United Future have focused on the government placing the beaches in the public domain rather than asserting ownership. I think this is a brilliant move, precisely because it makes it vastly more difficult for the crown to alienate our beaches in the future. We'll be enshrining the principle of open access in law in a way that is very difficult to go back on, no future government will be able to privatise and sell the beaches (or charge usage fees, or hand over exclusive title to Maori, for that matter), and the next time a wealthy foreigner comes demanding riparian rights, the government can say "we cannot give you what we do not have". It's a great way of ensuring that open access remains open and free; the fact that it's sticking it to propertarians by reinstating the commons is icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, too many of the people getting air on this at the moment are idiots; notably the Marlborough mayor Tom Harrison. Harrison, whose rhetoric has been consistently inflammatory since the issue arose. Today on Morning Report, Harrison, an English immigrant, had to gall to blame the establishment of the Treaty process in 1985 for his problems. In 1993, I wrote a long story about the tenth anniversary of Te Hikoi for Planet magazine. In the course of interviews and other research for that story, I was surprised at quite how close to the brink of severe and violent racial unrest we came in the last year or two of the Muldoon era. Some people, it seems, want to take us back to that brink.

Meanwhile, further evidence of what I said yesterday: base populism on the part of Bill English is serving only to deliver votes to Winston Peters, whose party is the natural home of the embittered and the ignorant. National can do better than this, surely. Jane Clifton's column in The Listener this week also looks at the limits of grievance politics.

Anyway, on a lesser plane, Sunday's Mediawatch interview with former TVNZ public relations head Aline Sandilands about the genesis of the local celebrity culture - which has brought us to the current pursuit of Mike Hosking et al - has been transcribed quicksmart and is on the Mediawatch website. Well worth reading, as is the interview with Malcolm Evans, the cartoonist dumped by the Herald because he wouldn't agree to a condition that he refrain from drawing anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The rest of Tracey Nelson's All Black game stats are up now on Haka, and they demonstrate an amazing all-round effort by the AB forward pack, as well as strongly bearing out the impression that McCaw, Thorne and Mealamu had huge games. This is a bloody good All Black side.

And, finally, the NetGuide Web Awards are on again for 2003. The new category structure looks quite good, although the categories where I figure the Public Address crew has a shot - Best New Website/Relaunch, Best Personal Blog and Best Web Designer - are all to be decided by a judging panel, rather than public vote. You are, of course, most welcome to get us on the judges' radar by clicking through to vote and nominating us in those categories.