Hard News by Russell Brown

Love and war

Oh, for goodness sake. It's Bill Ralston already. It looked today - again - as if TVNZ might finally announce the worst-kept secret of the century - that Ralston is its new head of news and current affairs.

But, no, it was another false alarm. With Ralston off air at Radio Pacific and no longer reviewing TV in the Sunday News (in itself, something of a mercy), it's hard to see quite what the hold-up is. A hitch with the disengagement from Pacific? NZPundit has awarded Murray McCully the "scoop", but, frankly, up here in Auckland we're over it.

If we all grappled a bit with the Prostitution Reform Bill this week, we can at least feel smug about being somewhat further up the social evolutionary chain than the State of Texas, which was dragged out of the dark ages yesterday by the US Supreme Court.

The court's majority finding that the Texas law forbidding sodomy (defined as either oral sex or anal intercourse) between two consenting people of the same sex is the death knell for similar laws in several other US states (sodomylaws.org has a handy map of them, along with the texts of the court's decisions). I can never quite understand how some people in America can bray endlessly about "liberty" but still believe that some retard state assembly should be able to order police to go sniffing under sheets to tell people how to have sex.

For your weekend amusement, morons.org has rounded up conservative reactions to the court's landmark decision.

The most extraordinary - and chilling - response, of course, came from Justice Antonin Scalia, whose minority opinion claimed the court had been co-opted by the "so-called homosexual agenda". He's lofty company, however: George W. Bush himself has more than once agreed that homosexual intercourse should be a criminal offence, as "a symbolic gesture of traditional values." To be fair to Bush, he has never suggesting actually enforcing the law.

I wasn't the only one to suggest that we weren't seeing the real, dirty face of war during the conflict in Iraq. Embedded reporters would conduct chirpy interviews with GI from where missiles and bombs were dispatched, but almost never where they landed.

So anyone who was chirpy about the ease of the coalition victory in April should read this extremely disturbing story from the London Evening Standard, based on interviews with US troops still - much to their distress - in Iraq. It suggests what this "soft" war was actually like:

Their attitude to these dangers is summed up by Specialist (Corporal) Michael Richardson, 22. "There was no dilemma when it came to shooting people who were not in uniform, I just pulled the trigger. It was up close and personal the whole time, there wasn't a big distance. If they were there, they were enemy, whether in uniform or not. Some were, some weren't."
. . .
He held out his hand as if firing a gun and clucked his tongue twice. He said: "Once you'd reached the objective, and once you'd shot them and you're moving through, anything there, you shoot again. You didn't want any prisoners of war. You hate them so bad while you're fighting, and you're so terrified, you can't really convey the feeling, but you don't want them to live."
. . .
Sgt Meadows said men under his command had been seeking help for severe depression: "They've already seen psychiatrists and the chain of command has got letters back saying 'these men need to be taken out of this situation'. But nothing's happened." Cpl Richardson added: "Some soldiers don't even f****** sleep at night. They sit up all f****** night long doing s*** to keep themselves busy - to keep their minds off this f****** stuff. It's the only way they can handle it. It's not so far from being crazy but it's their way of coping. There's one guy trying to build a little pool out the back, pointless stuff but it keeps him busy."

Sgt Meadows said: "For me, it's like snap-shot photos. Like pictures of maggots on tongues, babies with their heads on the ground, men with their heads halfway off and their eyes wide open and mouths wide open. I see it every day, every single day. The smells and the torsos burning, the entire route up to Baghdad, from 20 March to 7 April, nothing but burned bodies."

Those soldiers can't go home because the war is, of course, not actually over. The Guardian has assembled a chain of events in the massacre of six British troops this week. Although the New Zealand soldiers in Iraq will be engaged in reconstruction work, and not the house searches that seem to be causing all the trouble, they seem to be going to a very dangerous place.

Meanwhile, the ideologues at the think-tank Project for the New American Century, have assumed the posture - head firmly up ass - common to all intellectual bigots for whom reality fails to match their expectations. The most recent report on their Iraq page is still Bad Reporting in Baghdad, which ran more than six weeks ago in the Weekly Standard.

In it, reporter Jonathan Foreman slams his media colleagues for failing to portray the "extravagant expressions of gratitude that accompany every encounter" between US troops and ordinary Iraqis, and for falsely depicting Baghdadis as angry about the breakdown of law and order. Curiously enough, the PNACers didn't carry Foreman's next story only six days later, in which he quoted US troops who feared that "their successors here will face an intifada in the summer if power, water, medicine, gasoline and food don't start reaching Iraqi civilians."

Hey guess what? Fonterra's new CEO-that-no-one-had-heard-of, Peter Ferrier, isn't just a sugar expert. He knows about
water heaters too.

Craig Ranapia from NZPundit has been in touch to ask if I could correct the "misleading impression" that he supports the invasion of Iran: "Shitty theocratic loons are shitty theocratic loons, but Iran isn't Iraq." He points to his post offering links to multiple options for open letters to leaders and opportunities to express support for the Iranian students.

A pile of surface mail copies of the debut issue of a new American magazine, Radar, has turned up at Magazzino and, for all I know, a few other places. It's under 10 bucks and it's a sort of liberal pop-culture magazine - a bit like the late, lamented Spy mag, but with its tongue not so far in its cheek (it has, for example, a fascinating inside story on human shields in Iraq). The best magazine premiere I've read in ages. Its website is here.