Hard News by Russell Brown

Without wishing to be a spoilsport ...

I confess, the spectator appeal of motorsport pretty much eludes me, so I'm not coming to the issue of Auckland's seven-year contract for V8 supercar racing as a fan. But - deja vu all over again - Mayor Banks seems to be writing verbal cheques he'll have trouble cashing.

If it were merely a matter of closing off a street or three, who'd care? But key elements of this idea simply don't make sense. The route - along Fanshawe Street, around Victoria Park and up Victoria Street to Nelson Street - will occupy several crucial stretches of road, most notably, Hobson Street, which carries traffic coming off the Southern and Northwestern motorways to the Auckland CBD; and the major route on and off the Harbour Bridge.

There will be some disruption to traffic for about 20 days around the race (and you can forget using Victoria Park) and the route will be completely closed to traffic for three days, from Friday to Sunday. Given that the bridge carries 160,000 vehicles a day, this is, clearly, something of a problem - and the city council's proposed solution has so far failed to impress Transit New Zealand.

No wonder: A letter in the morning's Herald by Neil Binnie points out that the council's helpful suggestion that the occupants of half of all those cars could transfers to buses involve some very wishful thinking: "At 50 people a bus, that amounts to 1600 bus loads. If each bus does four peak-time trips a day, we need 400 extra buses. Anyone with a spare 400 buses?"

It won't just be the Friday traffic. To turn a dollar, this thing is going to need to attract more than a hundred thousand spectators ($30 apiece for access to the area), who would normally be coming in on the very access routes that are shut off by the race. The council is suggesting … um, boats, but has not, so far as I know, let anyone in on the secret of where those who do drive might actually find a park.

Now let's look at who's on the route. Well, residents for a start: but they're the most easily ignored of the stakeholders. There's a major New Zealand Post depot which will be completely cut off by the race route. There's a huge church at the top corner of the park, overlooking the course. There's a popular New World supermarket on the other corner, whose business is largely composed of North Shore residents on their way home from the city. There's the vast Les Mills Fitness Centre.

It's probable that all of these, plus all the other Auckland councils, will be objecting at the resource consent hearings - and that mollifying them, if it proves possible, will involve financial compensation. Simply fronting up to the hearings will cost plenty of ratepayers' money. Consider all the other costs to which the council is already committing itself and it seems that John Banks' claim that (apart from the interest-free loan to the promoters) the council's total exposure will amount to $175,000 annually looks like platinum-plated bullshit.

The Herald's editorial today raises further doubts; noting that the feasibility study used by the council to tout the race's benefits was actually conducted by and for another city: Brisbane.

Banks gets space across the page to put his arguments, among which are the idea that "striking a deal with the likes of Stagecoach and Fullers" (um, what kind of deal, exactly?) will sort out the transport issue. He also compares the traffic management issue to those of Apec, which went off fine. This is just fatuous: Apec involved less crucial routes for less time, and it came off because everyone avoided the central city for three days. This thing is predicated on many thousands of people coming into the city.

Auckland thrives on events, and I certainly don't want to spoil anyone's fun, but approving of the race at this point involves a degree of trust in Auckland's civic leadership that it would be hard to warrant. As Brian Rudman pointed out recently, the council's chief executive deliberately withheld from the full council a letter from Transit New Zealand urging against the race when the vote to approve it took place. It made, as Rudman noted, "a mockery of the democratic process".

Meanwhile, Dubber has some musings on CanWest's ties to the biggest tax dodge in New Zealand history.

That story has been most keenly pursued by the NBR, which, happily, has also made my letter the letter of the week. Jolly good! I think I remember how to use a pen …

Morgan Nicol has some further comment on the telecommunications unbundling decision - or lack thereof - and on reflection he's plainly right about the Woosh objection:

My take on the Woosh objection was somewhat different to yours, far from being worried about having to share their own network, I thought it was a sign that they knew that the current system minimise real competition with their products. They've gone around the problem, so they don't now want the problem to disappear.

Or something like that.

Representatives of an ISP I've spoken with about this are delighted about the outcome, unbundling for them would have been a diaster, it costs massive amounts to get gear into the exchanges, and such, and hence they'd rather just do the wholesale deals which Telecom are currently putting together for homelines and such (even with the incredibly tight margins).

And another thing, what with the actual competition in the tolls space, have you noticed that it costs less to phone the UK than Wellington? Have you noticed that is costs less to phone a mobile in Korea than a mobile in Manukau? What the fuck is going on?

The FBI has hit US e-voting activist Bev Harris with a grand jury subpoena, in pursuit of the logs of her website, Black Box voting. The circumstances are not reassuring. Slashdot has a discussion.

The battle for hearts and minds in Iraq is not being won by the coalition, but by a hardline Shiite cleric, according to a poll being previewed by the Financial Times.

Yesterday's coalition raid on the house of Ahmed Chalabi - formerly the fine champion of democracy who fed the Americans all that false information about WMDs, but now apparently a budding insurgent - would be funny, if Iraq wasn't so unfunny. Andrew Cockburn on Salon.com has claims that Chalabi, who has extracted millions of dollars from American taxpayers, was reinventing himself as a Shiite nationalist and planning to overthrow the post-handover Iraqi government.

Still, at least Chalabi still has a friend in dear old Christopher Hitchens. See Lay Off Chalabi: Iraq could do much worse.

Finally, I'm sure Andy Kaufman would approve of the resurrection hoax currently being staged in his name by persons unknown. Kaufman joked before his death of lung cancer that, if he was in fact faking it, he'd return in 20 years time. And now he has: apparently. The Andy Kaufman Returns weblog is here, and the Snopes.com page on the whole thing is here.