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Some Week | May 15, 2009 11:14

I don't think I've appreciated any voice this week more than that of Joshua Arbury, keeper of the Auckland Transport Blog. He has provided an informed and useful perspective on the Waterview motorway issue, both on his own account and in discussion here and elsewhere. He identified the political spin in the government's costing of the previous tunnel option before most people, journalists included. His most recent post gives an excellent overview of what's at stake.

A word also for Liberty Scott, who, while taking a notably different view of National's new proposal (and the cost comparisons), has been informed, and frank enough to dispel the myth that the route of the proposed new road through Mt Albert had ever in fact been designated for a motorway. And to wonder what other projects will be axed as a result of National draining the National Land Transport Programme fund to pay for this one.

Meanwhile, Rhema Vaithianathan, our guest blogger on the issue this week, has followed up with a good characterisation of the fiddling with financing costs to exaggerate the difference between the tunnel and the new compromise option:

The question of whether there should be extra financing costs simply because it is outside the Fund is questionable. I have never seen such a cost added. The ring fence is an artifice to Government accounting. and financing costs should reflect the opportunity cost of funding. So either all options should have financing costs (i.e. opportunity cost) or none.

It's sort of like taking a cash advance on your credit card, and then pretending that the option which uses your cash is free, and the one which uses your credit card costs 25%.

It flies in the face of the theory of economic costing - which is that if accounting rules can influence our relative costs, then the costs are not "economic" but "accounting".

It's anyone's guess as to what will happen in the next four or five years, but it won't be at all smooth. Even leaving aside protest action or disquiet over the fast-tracking of the proposal, the cut-and-cover construction through the Waterview stretch of Great North Road -- a major arterial route -- from (supposedly) 2011 is going to be an absolute freaking nightmare. Anyone who has had to navigate Khyber Pass Road while the relatively minor job of replacing the rail bridge has been conducted might wish to mentally multiply that by heaps and thank their lucky stars they don't live in West Auckland.

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I suspect National can look forward to this story getting nasty next week:

An Immigration Service investigator suspects National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi or one of his supporters may have "paid off" the Indian woman at the centre of allegations that he made bogus job offers.

Documents obtained by the Herald show the woman alleged Mr Bakshi made her a false job offer to help her migrate to New Zealand.

But when she and her husband were interviewed in India by an Immigration Service official, they refused to co-operate.

Rather strikingly, Bakshi acknowledged to the Herald's Patrick Gower that an anonymous "wellwisher" might have paid off the couple, just without his knowledge. That sounds messy.

I'm further thinking that opposition parties should proceed carefully if they choose to run the issue.
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Clear Channel Communications, which owns half of The Radio Network, is close to bankruptcy (hat-tip: @bernardchickey). The other half is owned by APN, whose major shareholder has its own fairly alarming problems.

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After that, we probably all need a laugh. So be my guest and have a look at this week's Media7 programme on comedy, which I think struck a good balance between discussion of the issues -- most notably the gulf between a thriving performance scene and broadcast media -- and cheap giggles.

The podcast is here if you'd prefer that. And it'll turn up presently on YouTube.

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Damian pulled together an excellent Public Address Radio lineup this week: we spoke to Russel Norman on the Mt Albert by-election; New Yorker senior editor Hendrik Hertzberg (I confess, I gushed a little); and Scots comic Janey Godley. That'll be on Radio Live from 5pm tomorrow, and on the Public Address Radio podcast early next week.

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Telecom's XT Network launch was, in the end, just the usual room full of people drinking free booze, but the road there was fun. CEO Paul Reynolds has presentational skills his predecessors lacked (it's simply not possible to imagine Rod Deane getting up and enthusing the way Reynolds did), and the showpiece light installation created by Michael Mizrahi and his team is an extraordinary feat. Both inside and outside the Auckland Town Hall, the projections were perfectly mapped onto the building's physical features. How did they do that?

Update: Here's the video:

If you're in town for the next two evenings, do go down and have a look at the Town Hall's transformation.

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It's giveaway time! As promised, I have two double passes for the Auckland opening night of Te Radar's new show, Eating the Dog to give away. Just click Reply and email me with "Eating the Dog" in the subject line. First in, first served. Gone! Buy a ticket ...

And I also have a CD copy of the new Pitch Black remix album, Rhythm, Sound and Movement, to give away -- email me with the album title in the subject line. [Gone too!] Otherwise, you can buy it here on Amplifier, in either CD or download form.

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And for a Friday, Cat Power's gorgeous Peel Sessions version of Oasis's 'Wonderwall' has washed up again on Hype Machine -- in a post noting that British authorities are concerned that an Oasis concert on July 4 might disrupt voting in elections for the European Parliament.

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That Buzzing Sound | May 13, 2009 09:05

My dander is up, but it would clearly be prudent to wait to see the promised new plan for the Waterview Connection before pronouncing on that.

So just a quick note for Sean Plunket: sometimes governments massage financial numbers to make their ideas look better, and in this case, it seems the numbers haven't been so much massaged as given a full-service rogering. And a corresponding note for Sean's interview subject, David Shearer: sometimes it's easier to just say "creative accounting" or "raiding the piggy bank" than to explain the details.

Which leaves us with the controversial appointment of Christine Rankin to the Families Commission, which was apparently the subject of furious arguments around the Cabinet table, and was made over the head of the commission's patron saint, Peter Dunne.

Rankin, you may recall, was levered out of Work and Income after, it seemed, operating it as a personality cult. In 2005, she was hired by conservative businessman John Sax to head up a campaign to "stop families breaking up". The campaign itself offered no policies, just lots of Christian conservative cant. At the time, Sax posed the question: ""We claim we have the right as adults to pursue any relationships we like - but at the cost of our children, do we?"

The project became the For the Sake of Our Children Trust, a celebrity-oriented vehicle for Sax's fundamentalist beliefs about families. And the woman he hired is now, as you may know, onto her fourth husband. The buzzing sound of moral dissonance has characterised Rankin's work with the trust, which, among other things, helped sponsor the visit of English blowhard Theodore Dalrymple, who believes divorce should be outlawed in most circumstances.

The issue of the relationship between his eventful private life and the Families Commission role is tricky: so much so that a story by Colin Espiner was amended after publication. The deleted section is still there on Kiwiblog. It refers to the suicide of the former wife of her new husband, six months ago. A comment under the original post claims that the suicide "was in part brought about by the discovery of the affair" between Rankin and the husband. It does sound messy.

But, however we might not enjoy being lectured by Rankin in this context, it would be perilous to say that it should preclude her from the post. There are much better arguments than that -- most notably that Rankin and her trust set themselves against all the genuine child welfare agencies in the country by advocating strongly for the "right" to hit your children. It is genuinely difficult to see how she could work effectively with organisations like Barnado's given her comments about them in the past.

Speaking personally, I gave my time and my face to a campaign, organised by the Families Commission, that delivered the message that it's not okay to hit anyone in your family. I'm gratified that the Families Commission CEO Jan Pryor has restated its support for the "anti-smacking" law, but Rankin's sounding-off so far about bringing change, and her long record of attention-seeking, would seem to indicate trouble ahead.

Religious affiliation per se isn't really the issue here either. The outgoing commissioners, Sharron Cole and Lyn Campbell, both have enduring commitments to their respective church communities. Cole has just taken a job as director of the Catholic Education Centre and Campbell is a member of the NZ Baptist Assembly Council. (Rankin, by contrast, was last seen chanting for a new car with the ridiculous "prosperity Buddhism" cult Soka Gakkai. It's that buzzing sound again.)

(And yes, yes, I know the wingnuts told you the Families Commission was staffed by godless lesbian communists. But that goes to show why you shouldn't listen to wingnuts.)

The point is that both Cole and Campbell had exemplary qualifications as families commissioners. The same might possibly be said about Bruce Pilbrow, the CEO of Parents Inc, the organisation founded by Ian Grant and his wife and warmly praised in the past by John Key. I personally don't dislike Grant. I think he does (unlike Rankin) actually help people, and that he does have something to bring to the table. But, as Craig Young explained a while ago, the Grants really do not like the gays. In the mid-90s they both campaigned against the Hero Parade, and Ian Grant was a signatory to John Sax's disgraceful junk-science letter to MPs, trying to have the civil unions legislation derailed.

This isn't about the best person for the job: it's a political statement. The people behind Rankin have connections. And Sax will be celebrating this week: he's really scored. This is a significant shift away from professional knowledge and towards moral conservative certainties for the Families Commission. In a way, it's almost better for the fundies than the Commission being scrapped altogether.

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Modern Lolz | May 12, 2009 09:53

Just a short post today, to let you know that this week's Media7 is a comedy special. We'll be talking to producers and practitioners and looking to find out where the laughs are at.

Our first panel is: Paul Yates, whose TV work includes Facelift and stretches back to Pulp Comedy and Skitz in the 1990s; Dave Armstrong, the co-creator of Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby; and New Zealand International Comedy Festival director Kylie Aitchison.

And then: Jeremey Corbett, Mike King and Jan Maree.

There'll also be a Newsmash looking at the current British TV comedy revival -- which consists of reviving old shows (Red Dwarf, Reginald Perrin) along with their old jokes. And Simon Pound will file a report.

It's an early recording tomorrow -- because of the Comedy Festival, natch -- so if you'd like to be there for the recording, we'll need you at The Classic in Queen Street by 3pm. If you'd like to come, hit Reply and let me know.

Otherwise, you may feel free to review here your own Comedy Festival experiences, or simply ruminate on modern lolz.

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When that awful thing happens | May 11, 2009 07:46

Radio was the "star" of media coverage of the siege in Napier, wrote Paul Holmes yesterday: "The frantic calls coming in to the talkback station in those first hours of the siege and through subsequent days and nights - local residents, neighbourhood people round the Molenaar house, people trapped in their homes, people cut off from their loved ones - kept the story vibrant and real.

"Suddenly, everyone was a news reporter, everyone contributed. The desperation of the callers, the fear many of them expressed, was often moving. Their involvement drew us all in, made us all involved. We were right there with them. It was talkback radio at its finest. And it worked both ways, in that people calling in from inside the cordoned area were able to be heard and to feel that, despite their isolation, they were still part of a community."

I can imagine that would have been remarkable and immediate radio. But that wasn't the experience of one Newstalk ZB listener, my mother. She had to turn off the radio to escape the febrile atmosphere of two days' talkback in which people who knew nothing were prepared -- and allowed! -- to go to air with mere rumours, most notably that there was another person caught in Jan Molenaar's house.

Then there were those who seemed to expect an awful situation to resolve itself in a commercial hour, as if it were merely a cop drama; and those who were brave on the behalf of others, and demanded to know why the house had not simply been stormed, or the body of poor Len Snee not been promptly retrieved.

It now appears there were very good reasons for the police to act as they did. And, indeed, there almost always are. There are clear practices, formed in grim experience, for this kind of situation, and they are pursued by police with the overriding aim of making sure no one else dies.

There are not many jobs that carry the possibility of violent death, and although the construction worker killed in an accident is no less dead than the cop shot in cold blood, it does feel different.

Although, in general, our national attention to a crisis such as this does not help the police in their job, and may sometimes hamper them, it would be absurd to treat it as anything other than a major news story. And so, the respective newsreaders were flown in to conduct live crosses at the barriers.

Molenaar's friends and family were also remarkably forthcoming with their feelings and their analyses of his character. There were great human interest stories. For that matter, there were great animal interest stories. For those so inclined, there were webcams on Hospital Hill, and Google Street View. And there were guns, bombs and a standoff with police. There was, in short, no way the thing wasn't going to turn into a telethon.

There will now be plenty of reckoning:

There would be a coronial inquiry, a homicide inquiry into Snee's death, as well as an investigation into the wounding of Miller, Diver and Holmwood.

A investigation would also take place into the police operation, including reviewing decisions officers had taken during the incident and tactical operations used.

And a look would be taken into the cannabis search warrant which put the officers into the path of a crazed Molenaar.

But I think there are places we can draw the line. Under the headline Criminologist: Police death trend depressing, Greg Newbold told TVNZ's reporter that "Being a cop in New Zealand is not as safe as it used to be … The numbers might still be relatively small but there seems to be more and more of them, which is quite depressing."

Rebecca Milne's story in the Herald, Napier shooting: Three police killed in a year brings NZ on par with US, opened thus:

The slaying of Senior Constable Len Snee brings to three the number of police officers killed in the past year, putting the country's cop killing statistics on a par with America.

"That's high for a year. There is no pill we can take that will fix everything overnight," NZ Police Association president Greg O'Connor said.

I don't need to tell you about the statistical folly of trying to declare an average or a trend on the basis of a single cluster. Yes, three New Zealand policemen have been killed on duty in the past 12 months: Derek Wootton was struck by a fleeing car in July, as he laid road spikes in Titahi Bay; in September, Don Wilkinson was trying to secretly fit a tracking device to the car of a suspect in a drug investigation, and was discovered, chased and shot with a .22 rifle; and Leonard Snee was shot by Jan Molenaar.

But we went fully six years without a police killing before then. And this is not some purely modern disease. The relevant Wikipedia article records 29 New Zealand police officers killed in the line of duty since 1890 -- 16 of them by gunshot, including the four officers who died at the hands of Stanley Graham in Hokitika, on October 8, 1941.

In 1963, Wallace Chalmers and Neville Power were killed by Victor George Wasmuth while attending a shooting. And less than a month later, officers James Richardson and Brian Schultz were cold-bloodedly shot in their car, as they attended a domestic dispute. Their murderer, Douglas McPhee, was sentenced to life and served 11 years before being paroled in 1974.

And the American comparison? So far this year, 46 American law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty, 15 by gunfire and 16 in road accidents. So far this year one New Zealand officer has died. This certainly gives us a higher rate per capita for that short period. But bear in mind that from July 2002 to July 2008, no New Zealand policeman was killed in the line of duty.

The long view is more striking: about 15,000 American cops killed since the year 1900. The worst years were those of Prohibition -- more than 200 officers killed in 1929, and 244 in 1930.

On the other side of the equation in this case is a man who seems to have been living for the day when it would all come crashing down. Jan Molenaar was fit and deadly. It makes me dwell on the arrogant power over the rest of us assumed by those who arm themselves this way. (I still think I have a right to be suspicious and resentful of the clowns who got themselves tooled up in 2007.)

But it's hard in a hunting country to prevent people owning powerful rifles, and for a man with such enabling friends as Molenaar did to be intercepted before it all turns awful. People will shout the odds about solutions, but there is an extent to which we must simply trust the police to respond when that awful thing happens.

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Hey, I have two double passes to tomorrow's opening night of Te Radar's new show,
Eating the Dog at Bats in Wellington. And I'm going to give them away. Sorry! gone!

No mucking about (apart from the fact that I meant to do this on Friday) -- hit Reply below and first in with 'Eating the Dog' in the subject line gets the prize.

Stay tuned for a similar giveaway for next week's Auckland shows and some sort of review after our family goes along to one of them.

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Grown men might weep at the rucking | May 08, 2009 11:08

We're used to the feeling of being taken virtually inside the sporting experience by modern media technology -- but even in the age of the high-definition-super-slow-mo-close-up, there's still something to see in Arthur Everard's award-winning 1980 short film Score.

Everard's document of the French rugby team's 1979 New Zealand tour depicts the pre-professional game: the players are not yet hulks and there is far less of an emphasis on collision. But the many contests for the ball -- all in slow-motion, all set to Tchaikovsky -- are absorbing to watch. And the rucking! Grown men might weep.

You can see Score in full, thanks to Archives New Zealand, here at NZ On Screen.

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On a less elevated plain, I think last night's Media7 came out pretty well. The first panel looks at the way the banking industry is covered in the media, and the second, with Warwick Brown and the Hamishes Keith and Coney looks to get a fix on art in the recession.

It's here on TVNZ ondemand.

The podcast is here.

It should be up on the YouTube channel within the day.

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And that might just do. I'll post a new "auto-tune the news" clip in the discussion thread (there's a frankly disturbing part with Glenn Beck and a cow), and you can feel free to regard this as Clips Friday.

Note that you only need to paste in the URL of your video clip to embed it here, and not the full embed code; and also that our player now handles DailyMotion and some other sites, as well as good old YouTube.

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