Hard News by Russell Brown


Only in a relative sense

Peace rules as polls close in Iraq trilled CNN. It took a bit more reading to discover that Saturday's provincial elections in Iraq were peaceful only in a relative sense.

A secular party candidate in Mosul did have his house blown up, as did an Iraqi National Congress candidate in Hilla. Voters were fired on by an army officer in the Sadr district. Three polling stations in Tikrit suffered mortar attacks. Iraq Today lists various other incidents.

As Juan Cole notes, the relatively low toll was a consequence of a comprehensive security lockdown, which included a nationwide ban on the driving of private cars, which took car bombs out of the picture.

The turnout was decent at 51%, but that's still less than the 55.7% for the equivalent poll four years ago.

Somewhat encouraging, yes, but nothing that could be considered normal or peaceful in anything but a relative sense. A major part of the problem is the huge number of Iraqis who have fled their homes in recent years and have yet to return. Of the 2.8 million internal refugees in Iraq, only 63,000 registered to vote, and the number seems unlikely to have been better amongst the 2.4 million refugees outside Iraq. About one in 10 of these displaced people may return to their homes this year, according to the UN.

Among those who have gone back: Salam Pax, who wrote recently for the Guardian about being back in Baghdad after two years sheltering from the violence. His tone of fragile optimism carries through into his regular blog, which has some nice photos. He applauds the Iraqi government's ban on Blackwater contractors.

Meanwhile, the giant shoe work of art, installed by an Iraqi artist to honour Muntazer al-Zaidi, the shoe-throwing journalist, has been removed by police. But Zaidi, who is facing15 years in prison, did get to vote.


This week's Media7 looks at a situation that's nearly as complicated but thankfully nowhere near as violent: Fiji.

The panel will include AUT's David Robie and TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver, and we'll discuss press freedom issues, among other things. David's Cafe Pacific blog is the absolute go-to site for Fijian news and media analysis.

And also … we'll be looking at the copyright amendment act and Section 92A with a panel including Ant Healey of APRA and Bronwyn Bronwyn Holloway-Smith of the Creative Freedom Foundation.

If you'd like to join us for a 6pm recording at The Classic on Wednesday, click Reply and let me know.


And finally, indulge me. The other evening I felt the need for a cool glass of wine. I was passing the Pt Chev Liquor Centre -- our local tag-strewn hole in the wall -- so I stopped and bought a bottle.

Yes, it was a bin-end special ($14.99), and it was a 2006 sav blanc -- you're certainly risking the zip having faded there. But it was worse than that. The wine was gone: an overpowering boiled-asparagus reek overpowered anything on the palate. It was undrinkable.

So I put the cap back on the bottle, retrieved the receipt and the original bag, and took it back the next day.

I think I was being reasonable: I wasn't demanding cash back, although I didn't want to risk another bottle of the same wine. I'd top up the credit and get something I knew would be fit for purpose.

They wouldn't consider it: on the basis that (wait for it) the bottle had been opened. They were not able to explain to me how I could tell the product had gone off without opening it to check. I pointed out to them that this was bullshit, but they were unmoved.

So I left, pointing out to them that they'd lost a customer. I feel bound also to warn you, dear reader, off the Pt Chev Liquor Centre. They are knowingly selling spoiled wine and refusing to make good on it. That's a bit like stealing from your customers.

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