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HARD NEWS 24/3/00 - The Gossip According to Paul

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... it is surely the issue of the hour for New Zealanders. It has commanded the front pages of both Sunday newspapers and the lead spot on 60 Minutes, taken pride of place Good Morning with Mary Lambie and seized the cover of the Woman's Weekly.

Yes, a nation is compelled. Paul Holmes is coming back to the TV show that bears his name. He is not quietly assuming the chair. Oh no. This is Paul Holmes. So it's been how I battled prostate cancer, how my new love pulled me through, how the kids pulled me through, how I've changed and how I've beaten the bottle - again. And for the newspapers, of course, there's a bit of ooh-er, hows-about-yer-salary-then?

I am sick of Paul's descriptions of how bloody awful it is to have a biopsy rod shoved up your arse. I ought to be able to leaf idly through the Woman's Weekly without accidentally learning that Paul can't get an erection and doesn't know when he'll be able to again.

Look, I bear the man no ill will, but Holmes is not even back on screen and I am already wishing he would just fuck off.

Still, I'm sure he'll settle back in well enough, if a little greyer on it. The irony is that Linda Clark has been a revelation filling the spot. She's smart, responsive and she looks for all the world like she's enjoying herself. I hope her talents are as well used in her new role editing Grace magazine.

Apart from the Second Coming of Paul, the news has been dominated by the government's rejection of the lease-to-buy deal for 28 F-16 jet fighters from the US. This had been so clearly telegraphed and so few people appeared to care that the fuss has come of something of a surprise - even given that Derek Quigley's special report suggested buying 14 fighters, rather than walking away altogether.

It's likely that the media has become uncomfortable with simply reporting that the new government enjoys an almost unprecedented level of support and public confidence after its first 100 days. And that Helen Clark as Prime Minister is more popular than Lange and Muldoon ever were, her support begging comparison with Mickey Savage and Dick Seddon.

The media ought to challenge popular governments, of course. It would just be a relief if it could do so without recourse to the kind of patronising, pompous editorial the Herald delivered in its 100 Days issue last Saturday.

And what was the pretentious, waffly "essay" by so-called managing editor Gavin Ellis on the opposite page about? The fallout of another turf war with new editor Stephen Davis? Keep it out of the paper, chaps.

I ought to say here that I think the paper itself has been functioning pretty well this year; its just its editorial tone that's a bore. It was patronising and pompous all over again when the F-16 decision was announced.

The editorial had relatively little to say about Quigley's finding that the defence force was reduced to a mess under National - underfunded and lacking any clear direction or sense of priority. But its conclusion was that not only do we need to buy new fighter planes, we have to spent money upgrading the army too. Billions of dollars more - although the editorial avoided actually naming a price.

This is remarkable. Because somehow - and in contempt of every public opinion poll in the last two decades - New Zealand's conservative establishment has taken to telling us that defence is something that you must throw money at. In this respect it is apparently different from health, education and housing. Go figure.

As the debate has raged this week, David Dickens, the director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, got plenty of play for his claim that doing away with a fast jet strikeforce - if that is, indeed, what the government intends to do - puts us in the third world bracket.

This comes as no real surprise. Dickens went so far as to publish an extended rant against the select committee defence review shepherded by Quigley during the last government, which also looked sideways at jet fighters.

He believes we must absolutely have fighter planes, even though he admits that helicopters would be more useful in event of the most likely threat to our security - piracy in Asian shipping lanes. Fair enough. But the government isn't obliged to pay him heed - just as the National government steadfastly ignored the rather different views of his predecessor, Terence O'Brien.

Speaking of which, if you go to the Centre for Strategic Studies Website, don't expect to find anything by O'Brien there. Foreign search engines still point to various O'Brien papers, but they have been magicked away. Disappeared. Spooky. It's all a bit Year Zero.

The government is especially not obliged to listen to the Air Force pilots who went to the press this week to declare that they were "gutted" they wouldn't get the chance to fly modern jet fighters. Gee, sorry, flyboys, but we don't have a billion dollars to indulge your fantasies.

We also this week got the results of toxicology tests on Jamie Langridge, the surfer who died at a dance party this month. He had a lot of Ecstasy in his bloodstream - although the police refused to comment on the level of other drugs, including speed and alcohol. He was, bluntly, very out of it.

Now, taking multiple doses of E, or any at all, is risky behaviour. But so is fishing from the rocks at Piha, or getting pissed down at the Viaduct Basin, both of which have racked up several times the death toll of Ecstasy this summer.

For that matter, the two young Kiwi snowboarders who went out in marginal conditions on a Japanese mountain - and got buried by an avalanche - were engaging in particularly risky behaviour. Like Jamie Langridge, they were after a good time. The difference between the two means of getting it is almost solely a value judgement.

Now, it's my impression that long-term, regular use of Ecstasy is not a good idea at all. But that doesn't make hysteria, crackdowns and the reclassification of E the right response.

Speaking of hysteria, can I declare my abject and contemptuous lack of sympathy for the Auckland man trying to get $85,000 compensation because someone had died of an AIDS-related illness in the house he owns two years before he bought it? That's 17,500 times longer than the HIV virus lasts outside the body. If he really did spend $25,000 "sanitising" the place, then he's not just ignorant, he's a fuckin' idiot.

Goodness - the F-word twice on air in one bulletin! It must have been a good week. Anyway, good luck to the Black Caps, the Blues and John Tamihere. Top weekends all round - G'bye!

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