Hard News by Russell Brown

Wellington Rising

How apt that the day I quote the Mercer quality of life survey, the 2005 rankings should be published. Auckland and Sydney have maintained last year's scores, but been nudged down from fifth equal place to eighth equal by Munich and Dusseldorf, which have apparently raised their game on infrastructure.

Wellington, on the other hand, has edged up from 15th to 14th. Baghdad remains the worst major city in the world, a distinction it achieved for the first time in last year's survey. There's a link to the Top 50 at the bottom of the Mercer press release. Anyone whose firm has paid the $US400 for the detailed Auckland and Wellington reports is most welcome to send them on to me, or just excerpt the choicest parts. However grown-up we get, we still like to know what people think of New Zealand …

As I anticipated, there was a strong response to yesterday's invitation to comment on expat issues. I have 60-odd emails from expats, the recently returned and "reverse expats" who have chosen to come and live here from somewhere else. Some of the messages are quite lengthy and all of them are thoughtful and useful. Give me a day or two and I'll compile them as posts here. Thanks very much. You're a smart bunch.

I should point out that I wasn't trying to make anyone feel guilty (which some folks seemed to) or criticise anyone making a life elsewhere. I lived in London for five years and it might have been longer had a baby not arrived and altered our priorities. I was also lucky enough to have a job that offered international travel from 1996 to 2001, which was helpful. I'm here for the duration now, I think: you reach a point in the media industry where your employment appeal simply isn't portable. (Remember when Paul Holmes threatened to up and go to Australia after the PM criticised his salary? Oh how we laughed …)

Anyway, I'm talking to Simon Collins, the author of the original Herald story on my Wire show at 12.30pm today. You can listen to the live stream here.

A loss of status and funding at the top of our tertiary education system was one common theme of the responses. And on that theme National's Bill English gave a bravura performance on Checkpoint yesterday, in highlighting the fact that four-year courses in animal homeopathy and "art-based health" have been bankrolled by the Tertiary Education Commission's "strategic priorities fund". He knows as well as anyone that National funded sillier courses than that - under the philosophy that the market and not the government should make choices - but, as he kept repeating, these seem like odd choices as "strategic priorities" when there's not enough money for apprenticeship schemes.

So there is no evidence to support the laying of charges against John Tamihere, according to the Serious Fraud Office report - but a close associate is headed for court. A minister in the National/NZ First government is facing 10 charges brought by the SFO.

And, on a somewhat larger scale, Vanity Fair has some eye-popping stuff relating to Halliburton's multi-billion dollar business in Iraq. Halliburton explains why it billed the US taxpayer $27.5 million to deliver $82,000 worth of fuel to Iraq. A man who blew the whistle on kickbacks in a $US283 million scheme to arm the new Iraqi army was dead eight days later. Expect it all to be roundly ignored by everyone who raged about the oil-food-food scam …

I had some issues with The Listener's cover story this week: Is your child getting too much sex? Alarming research on who's accessing the worst pornography. I find the sexualisation of children depressing and unwelcome, and I'm quite glad we have boys. I think Noel O'Hare is an excellent journalist and I don't disagree with the bulk of his story.

But it's not actually surprising that 15-19 year-olds were the biggest group among the 185 offenders listed in the DIA's most recent update on Internet traders of child pornography and other censorship offenders. The same group (roughly) also commits more of all offences overall than any other. Ditto for young men killing themselves in cars, etc - it's an extremely risky time of life. Add in access to technology, misplaced bravado and emotional immaturity and, like I said, the figure is no surprise. It also sounds a bit different if you say "more than three quarters of those convicted are aged 20 or over."

I also thought Noel's observation that "many children will never encounter child porn in the Net" was poorly phrased. On the numbers, the overwhelming majority of them won't. We take the usual precautions in our house, including have the computers in a family room, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the net impact of modern communications technologies is overwhelmingly positive, or that 15 year-old girls are still at greater risk out there in the real world than in a chat room.

I raised it with Listener editor Pamela Stirling, who said:

As for Noel's story, he wanted to contrast the public belief that the only people accessing porn are the kind of middle-aged males in the news so prominently after the recent police busts here and overseas. With the Michael Jackson trial also high-profile at the moment, it seemed a good time to point out that children have unprecedented access to pornography and that young people aged 15 to 19 are the largest single group of offenders when it comes to trading child pornography.

Denise Ritchie has pointed out that most people have no idea of the statistics in the area. Certainly, the response we have received from parents in the last few days indicates they were totally unaware that was the case - and also unaware of the material their own primary school children or teenagers had accessed. Many, after reading John McCarthy's comments, have asked their kids what they have seen on the internet and have been appalled, they tell us, about the porn and the beheadings their kids have witnessed. The kids are glad to finally be able to talk about it now their parents are a bit more up to speed on the issue and the parents want to thank us for including the Netsafe contacts.

On a happier note, I got to interview Anthony Bourdain yesterday. I'm a total fanboy and got him to sign two of his books for me. I tried to get something that other writers wouldn't, but I'm not sure I succeeded. He was, I must say, exactly as I thought he'd be. Figuring that everyone else would be giving him food, I gave him some rock 'n' roll: the new D4 album. He perked up noticeably when I told him they were big in Japan.