Hard News by Russell Brown

New Year Blog

For a town that has noticeably emptied out for the holidays, Auckland does seem to be offering rather a lot of New Year's Eve action. Me, I'm booked for a grown-up's evening at home, with the option of a dart up to Ponsonby Road later on if things get frisky.

New Year's Eve dance parties don't appeal the way they used to. I have very fond memories of Phase II's 'Reachin'' heralding midnight at the Brixton Academy, 1989-90, but these days navigating around piles of out-of-it 18 year-olds doesn't seem so attractive.

Any sort of frolicking is contingent, however, on dispelling a festive season attack of the gout. Yes, I should have seen it coming and I should have curbed my instinct for December merriment. And I shouldn't have given my dodgy foot such a pounding on Christmas Day, showing the kids how to do a lay-up on the freestanding basketball goal we bought them. And then again on Boxing Day, boogie-boarding at Piha and running around the beach like a demented terrier throwing a Frisbee into the north-westerly and catching it again. Yes, I know that.

Still, any excuse to lie on the couch and watch test cricket. The contrast between the contemporaneous tests in Melbourne and Wellington is interesting. Melbourne - as cricket usually does in Australia - feels like history: a huge crowd, huge innings and all the tradition of the Boxing Day test at the MCG. (I'm not a Paul Kelly fan, but I do love Behind the Bowler's Arm.)

Wellington has been, well, Wellington: the dominant environmental factor throughout New Zealand's game against Pakistan has been a classic northerly wind. The crowds are smaller, the achievements quieter: Richardson grinds his way to 82, while Ponting plunders 257.

But it wasn't all that way. Australia could have done with Ian Butler, who took six Pakistani wickets, five of them in his blistering spell with the second new ball. For all that the Australian commentators love to talk him up, Brett Lee had India two down and miles behind, with Ganguly shuffled up the order and batting like he was on drugs, seven overs till stumps …and he basically bowled like a chump. Quite good, really.

Less happily, the devastation in Bam is quite unfathomable. I find it hard to get my head around a predicted 40,000 people dying in a single incident. I've been reading some Iranian blogs, of which there are many. Many of them are written in Persian - Persian is the third most popular language for weblogs in the world - but quite a few of their authors, mindful of a western audience, are also beginning to translate their posts in English. They vary widely in character, political orientation and literary merit. This is what the Internet is for. I touched on this in my current Listener column, about the World Summit on the Information Society.

This story from July 2002 looks at the start of the Persian blogging phenomenon, and offers some insight into what a contradictory nation Iran is: the mullahs fending off liberal elected representatives; newspapers being shut down but a dynamic Internet culture; women behind the veil but making up 60% of university enrolments.

With this much to lose, and the shambles in Iraq, you would hope that the neocons have given up their fantasies about invading Iran "next". Rumsfeld doesn't appear to have publicly mused on the subject lately.

Speaking of the evil one, the non-profit National Security Archive has plucked some newly declassified documents which cast a lot of light on exactly what Rummy said to Saddam when he went to meet the Iraq dictator on the US government's behalf in 1984. Despite the fact that the Reagan administration knew Saddam was making "almost daily" use of chemical weapons against Iranians and Kurdish rebels, Rumsfeld was sent to convey the message that that he could still be America's friend. The New York Times has a story. The archive has also recently obtained documents showing how Kissinger gave the personal thumbs-up to the Argentinian generals' terror campaign against their political opponents in 1976, and how Bechtel, recipient of billions of taxpayer dollars in the new Iraq, threatened to evade economic sanctions against Iraq after Saddam's use of chemical weapons against the Kurds finally became an issue in 1988.

All this, you must understand, was necessary in the interests of the big picture at the time.

PS: Feel free to read Damian's most recent post and share the indignation. These people (and their imaginary friends) need to have a little bit of a think about their behaviour here. One would think that they're skating on thin ice.