Hard News by Russell Brown

You say it like it's a bad word

On our three-weekly turn on Breakfast today, Deborah Hill Cone raised the matter of the Prime Minister slinging off at "right-wing blogger" Fran O'Sullivan on Newstalk ZB. She said the same thing on bFM this week too. Now, Fran is not unaware of the blogosphere, and has posted the odd comment at times. She's even been outed as a craven puppet of Helengrad on Sir Humphreys, whose commentators are always generous, fair and thoughtful in their opinions. But she is not a blogger, she's a journalist.

But it wasn't just the characterisation, it was the emphasis: "right-wing blogger", as if that last word was the worst insult she could reach for. Granted, there are those in the 'sphere who are probably regarded as verbally incontinent lunatics with anger issues by their own mothers. And clearly, anyone who blogs about their cat should be suffocated in their sleep. But surely not the lovely Jessie, or the assiduous Jonathan?

Anyway, I've marnused myself. Once I'd got over chortling at certain uber-geeks not being able pick up the Exclusive Brethren MySpace page as satire, I wrote a Listener column on satirical MySpace pages created in the names of well-known people. I also noted a couple that seemed legit - including the one bearing the name of Rodney Hide.

But as Wellington schoolboy Master Samuel Flynn Scott pointed out to me by electronic mail, "Rad Rod" is not yer actual Act Party leader, as Rodney himself has said. It just seemed so … plausible. So what about the other two I thought looked non-satirical? Theresa Gattung and Leighton Smith? Any intelligence on those?

Speaking of Rodney Hide, I've had to bail out of recording Off the Wire tonight (I'm sending an undercover operative to the Tuis, too) but he will be appearing on the OTW panel, at 6.30pm at the Classic this evening. You can email tickets@thedownlowconcept.com to book, or, if you forget, just turn up. It's free.

And I'll be back in Nelson again on Sunday, being interviewed over brunch by Matt Lawrey as part of the Nelson Arts Festival. Tickets and details are here.

Auckland City councillor Richard Simpson (no MySpace profile, so far as I am aware) got in touch to say thanks to all the people who read his proposal here for building the Rugby World Cup stadium on the Carlaw Park/Domain site:

One interesting suggestion that has come forward is to incorporate the Albert Park Tunnel into the scheme (with travellator).his connects the bottom of Constitution Hill (effectively opposite Carlaw Park) directly to Victoria St (see map below). The tunnel is apparently two car widths wide and flat enough so it could service a travellator as well as access points from the University and other places along the way.

In addition to servicing major events during the working week, this could be integrated into a scheme for reducing cars in the central city by encouraging people to park in the podium of the Stadium. It also could encourage people to commute by rail - with a Stadium station at Carlaw Park servicing the University, and the travellator taking people to destinations across the campus. It is critical for Auckland to leverage from the RWC to get people out of cars and onto rail - Carlaw Park is the only site that will achieve this, and can be delivered in 4 years.

A couple of readers suggested to me that it was a fine idea, but too late, because redevelopment for the site has already been approved. Richard doesn't think so:

There is a development in the process of seeking resource consent on the site - they have been through the urban design panel on two occasions. I understand it is for a retirement home. Government and Council both have some statutory powers that could be pulled, but in terms of developing an old peoples home - I would think a prudent developer could negotiate favourable terms with a land swap. Eden Park would be a far better location, rather than the current location sunk in beside a railway line an tucked in behind the Caltex Service station.

How the last C&R Now-ruled council ever allowed an old peoples home come to being allowed to be developed on original Domain land in this location so well serviced by rail and high infrastructure must rate as the all time nadir in planning, custodianship and urban design. I hope good sense will prevail and we can repair this potential damage and escalate Carlaw Park as a properly considered alternative to the travesties being now proposed on the waterfront.

At any rate, the idea has legs enough for Richard to have been invited by Mike Lee and Bob Harvey to present his idea to the Mayoral Forum this Friday. Meanwhile, the government decision on stadium plans has been delayed. It's a shame this idea has emerged so late in the piece, but it seems to me to embody fewer problems and more benefits than the other proposals.

Thanks for all the responses to my lashing of the 60 Minutes programme on breast cancer treatment and Herceptin yesterday. Some people welcomed the logic but still believed the drug should be funded, and perhaps they're right. But I'd still like the issue to be examined properly by the media. Paul Brislen, who wrote us a marvellous guest post on living with cancer, said:

I often wonder which PR firm the drug companies are using - they appear to be very good at getting "Wonder Drug Not Available" stories into the mainstream media, typically TV. I was quite impressed with a Metro article on it all a few years ago that pointed out how media savvy and big business the drug companies are - when will Metro put its archives online I wonder...

I have a growing unease about the quality of NZ journalism these days and I'm not sure it's going to improve any time soon. Am I just getting old or are all the Bright Young Things getting into PR instead?

Richard Llewellyn said:

In my view Pharmac have done a poor job of explaining to the general public how funding decisions are made and how health funding in general is a constant balancing act requiring consultation and compromise designed to provide most good to most people for least cost, we simply can't afford to fund everything.

Likewise, Roche, and other Big Pharma companies, have done a poor job in explaining the exorbitant long term costs of R&D and the need to recover those costs through the price of drugs, and have done far too GOOD a job in hyping the potential benefits of new drugs in order to stimulate demand.

And the medical profession, who use the tools of drugs for the livelihood, have always been too easily in thrall to the lerks and perks of Big Pharma, and have always been piss-poor communicators in terms of informing patients of the full pros and cons of each drug.

And the people at the end of the chain, the patients, are understandably viewed through a media prism of helpless victim at the mercy of larger forces.

Phil Stewart said:

So glad you raised this. Watching the report last night raised my blood pressure to an unhealthy level. I also note the Australian woman they chose looked fit, healthy and well groomed, while her kiwi "counterpart", poor thing, looked haggard and strung out by comparison - just to hit home the point.

Vaughan seems to be a soft target for lobby groups all right. The piece he did on animal welfare a few weeks ago was an absolute shocker. His idea of balance for the animal rights advocates was to interview the Feds' Charlie Pederson - another extremist who is a total embarrassment to most farmers. There was no attempt to interview any actual animal welfare science experts, I guess because, like the breast cancer debate there are too many inconvenient details and subtleties to package easily into this low-rent current affairs format. A man of Vaughan's experience should know better.

Maureen Jansen picked the the issue of who might or should miss out if millions of dollars go into Herceptin, and questioned for funding for procedures for the very old:

When my mother in law was 91 and in the mid to late stages of Alzheimers she was given a cataract operation. She died two years later after a steady decline. I'm sure there were people decades younger languishing on waiting lists ...

I had ovarian cancer 10 years ago and received Taxol treatment because I was lucky enough to live in one of the two areas where it was funded. As the gold standard treatment, it nevertheless had only a small chance of 'curing' me whereas the other chemos had less chance. I was very grateful for the opportunity for long term survival because one of my children was a young teenager. The desire to raise your children is up there with the survival instinct in its own right. The wish to look after and protect them is a strong primeval urge which so many women I was in hospital with shared.

I have recovered from a Stage 3C cancer and remained healthy for 10 years. Who knows what cured me exactly? Taxol could certainly be one of the contributing factors!

If Herceptin is seen by many countries as an improvement on standard breast cancer chemo for some women, why can't it be funded? These women need every chance they can get. The arguments used here about Herceptin remind me of the arguments against Taxol when I was sick. The Auckland District Health Board didn't fund it for example. I know Herceptin is very expensive but for goodness sake, if there is a small chance it will work the investment will be well worth it. Funding it for the terminally ill here in NZ when other countries fund it for the newly ill goes against the grain. Even if the improved chance of survival is small, it is still there. Why not give it to people who just might benefit from it in the long term, the way I did from Taxol?

I am not against old people. I am 60 years old, but I hope that hip operations and cataract operations are not wasted on me when I'm virtually non compos mentis. I'd like the money to go to young mothers and people in their prime, just as I got a chance of life when I was younger.

Thoughtful stuff, no? But I can't help but think that such a resourcing decision would create its own crop of angry deadlines and emotional raging. Remember in 1997, when the Northland man Rau Williams didn't get renal dialysis, because, in the final stages of renal failure and suffering from dementia, he didn't qualify for it? There was a huge media circus around that, but the Health and Disability Commissioner, while finding some fault with cultural sensitivity, found that the doctors acted correctly.

Interestingly, Helen Clark, as Opposition leader, joined Bill English in backing Northland Health, while then government MPs John Banks and Tau Henare broke ranks to join the media scrum. (Act MP Heather Roy later claimed that the case of Williams, "who was denied dialysis on medical grounds, was championed by the (then opposition) Labour Party," but she was just making stuff up.) I think National, which has strongly politicised the Herceptin issue - it featured in a highly emotional context in two major Brash speeches recently - should perhaps be asked how it would have done things differently.

And one more thing about the 60 minutes item: it looked at the Australian system of integrated care and implied that nothing of the kind existed here. The Australian strategy is, over years, the key reason that breast cancer survival rates are better across the Tasman. We're at least five years behind, but the idea that this kind of care isn't practised here now is simply wrong. It is, and it's based on the Australian experience. And that was just another thing the programme got wrong in its rush to offer listeners a view dictated, more than anything, by someone else's PR.