Hard News by Russell Brown

Weird War

The news that during the occupation that followed the war to stop weapons technology falling into the wrong hands, equipment and materials that could be used to make nuclear weapons have been steadily vanishing would seem to be taking irony just a bit too far.

While US command has prevented IAEA inspectors from conducting on-the-ground inspections since March 2003, entire buildings appear to have mysteriously gone walkies.

Meanwhile, a "precision" strike on an alleged insurgent safe house in Fallujah actually hits the city's best kebab restaurant and kills two security guards.

Meanwhile better news in Afghanistan. But it was always going to be better news in Afghanistan …

Whichever way you want to see it - nutty conspiracy theory, kind of interesting, or story-of-the-campaign - Bulgegate is turning into lots of fun. It's way better than that stupid secret-pen thing the Republicans tried to pin on Kerry. Some people are spending a lot of time scrutinising video on the Internet in pursuit of evidence that Bush has been wired for sound during the first two presidential debates.

Since the original Salon story, even Cryptome has entered the fray, with, as you would expect, lots of time-coded videograbs and information on wireless audio systems purchased by the government - and the White House itself.

The now-notorious CNN clip of a press conference with Chirac where Bush appears to be following a voice prompt - unexpectedly audible - is here (WMV). For all the talk about this one, I'm sure that the explanation here is correct:

"I think the Bush - Chirac clip is pretty simple to explain. Many networks run a text-service for their live programming, where they use a speech-recognition engine and a re-speaker to dictate to that engine what is said by whoever speaks in the program. The text is then fed to be overlaid the "live" programming in progress. Live here means delayed so that the timing of the text is more or less matched with what is going on on-screen. The re-speaker needs to be a second or two ahead of the "live" feed for the recognition engine to be able to generate the text. What I think you hear here is the voice of the re-speaker that has for some reason been overlaid the "live" voice-feed."

The proof, of course, is that the journalist's question is also pre-voiced, so unless we're talking about a really big conspiracy, sorry, but no.

On the other hand, speculation that Bush and possibly other White House officials have used audio-prompters isn't new. Former AP and ABC radio reporter Michael Hoffman is claiming to have been told by a Reuters correspondent last year that that it was widely known, or assumed, amongst the press corps. And if you fast-forward to the relevant point (from about 13:25) of the video linked to in this Washington Monthly post, he looks like he could be stumbling and listening to an audio prompt for a correction. He has a weird moment at this press conference too. If nothing else, these little moments do indicate that he's quite a space cadet when he doesn't have a script to follow.

See also the bulge photo album from BushWired, and Mystery Bulge for a roundup of mainstream news stories. Does this mean that even if Bush isn't watching his back in the third debate, everyone else will be? Tee hee …

On a serious note, the seizure of European servers for Indymedia, at the behest of the FBI and with the assistance of the UK Home Office is troubling. There is speculation that the swoop has something to do with the publication of these pictures, allegedly of Swiss undercover cops, but that would hardly seem to justify such an action. I have my issues with Indymedia, but this is nasty.

Josh Marshall has many observations and links with respect to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group's extraordinary order to its stations to scrap their scheduled programming a couple of days before the presidential election in favour of a dodgy "documentary" attacking John Kerry's war record.

Least edifying spectacle of the week: Don Brash dully repeating the phrase: "Full and final has to mean full and final" with respect to the impending Rotorua lakes settlement (which was news, like, last year, or even 2001).

At the same time, of course, he has to grapple the embarrassing fact that it was National that started this signing-over-title-to-lakes thing - and, according to the government, made a hash of it. I still wonder if the government didn't get wind of National's plans to scare up a fuss about Te Arawa and thus allowed the Herald to get wind of negotiations to try and remedy the Taupo deal.

The issue around the Rotorua lakes is whether the government took possession of the lakes through a conventional purchase in 1922 or just ran Te Arawa out of time and money in a legal dispute.

This Suzanne Doig paper from 1999 backgrounding the Taupo story is interesting.

I see the Woman's Weekly has a Mike Hosking cover exclusive - now there's a good little earner you don't have to leave the house for. He's gone a bit more grunge - perhaps to finally see off those gay rumours. The Dolce and Gabana shirt is a bit of a shocker, but that World jacket looks nice. Can you ask to keep this stuff?

But I'm a tiny bit puzzled. Is his Touchdown news quiz show happening after all? Reports to the contrary notwithstanding? It apparently has a name - Out of the Question - but there's no screening date given. Has Fraser relented? Will Holmes and Julie Christie fall brawling to the floor the next time they're at the same lig? Or is the story a tactical thrust? I'm fascinated. Sort of.