Hard News by Russell Brown

Welcome home, love

The irony of the Herald's lavish front-page treatment yesterday of Bic Runga's "controversial" comments to the Belfast Telegraph about New Zealand race relations is that it left out the good stuff.

The author of the Telegraph story describes her album Beautiful Collision as "a marvellous record that recalls the Cocteau Twins, Bjork and Kate Bush" and notes that she is being hailed (at the suggestion of her record company) as the new Norah Jones.

It would seem that after all that work trying to crack America, Europe has been good for Bic: the 'Get Some Sleep' single has been added to the Radio 2 playlist, and Public Address reader Greg Clark tells me that Beautiful Collision is on promotion at Tesco and being advertised on prime-time TV.

She has been accorded a feature interview in the Sunday Times, in which 'Get Some Sleep' is praised as "sublime pop", and The Times also reviewed her Dublin showcase, declaring that "it’s hard to believe that anything other than mega-stardom awaits this prodigiously talented and strikingly beautiful 27-year-old singer." She was featured in Showbiz Ireland ("we are going to hear a lot more from this bright star") and appeared at Ireland's Meteor Music Awards.

And then, as luck would have it, she got off the plane yesterday to NZ a racist place, Bic Runga tells Irish paper. Welcome home, love.

A press-release was forthcoming, occasioning this morning's Bic Runga finds 'racism' headlines heartbreaking:

"No country is without racism, I grew up with it, that was my experience. It has not made me bitter or ashamed.

"New Zealand is a beautiful and unique place. I love my country and I am proud to represent it internationally."

The press release, issued by a public relations company, also said Runga found it heartbreaking to arrive back in New Zealand and read headlines about what she had said.

"Sensational headlines do not truthfully convey what I think, nor who I am."

However, she did not dispute that she made the controversial comments.

Runga declined the Herald's request for an interview.

Surprise me. So did she, as a Maori-Chinese kid growing up in Hornby, a working-class suburb of Christchurch, encounter racism? It would be surprising if she hadn't. And can relationships between Maori and other New Zealanders be a bit fraught? Demonstrably, one would have thought. But the Herald's treatment of the story, such as it was, was way over the top. I am put in mind of Blam Blam Blam ...

The Herald was pretty excitable with this morning's lead too: Higher power prices and blackouts loom after plug pulled on Project Aqua. Certainly, we have a problem to address, but Project Aqua was always at the outer limits of acceptability on a number of fronts, including Meridian's right to the water. And diverting a major river into a 62km concrete canal isn't exactly trivial in environmental terms.

So, with the last major hydro resource off the agenda, where do we go for power? In the short term, we ought to respond to potential shortfalls by concentrating really hard on energy efficiency, working on alternative sources and, frankly, getting used to the idea that electricity isn't going to be as cheap as it used to be.

In the long term, I think it has to be coal. We've got a lot of it, and as I understand it, you can now take out pretty much everything but the CO2, and that's coming. Sure, we're signed up to Kyoto, but so is Canada, and they're presently doing a lot of work on carbon sequestration and the US Department of Energy has a useful web resource on the issue.

At the same time, some American companies are working on deriving hydrogen to run zero-emission vehicles from coal flue gases, which could favourably change the environmental equation. Human ingenuity usually wins out.

Perhaps we could get creative and harness that increasingly reliable source of hot air emissions, Gerry Brownlee, who, after lodging a poorly-written notice of no-confidence in Deputy Speaker Ann Hartley, alleging "incompetence", then declared himself to have been defamed when the Speaker demurred. For all I know, Brownlee is right, but his habits of shouting at people and random protestations on his own behalf are becoming tiresome.