Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sideswipe

While house prices in the rest of Auckland are flat-lining, Papakura is booming. (Listed with John McDonald Realty Ltd.)

By Ana Samways

Going over the Newmarket flyover bridge heading north, a reader noticed a new Shell sign ... "Shell, designed to take" which says it all, really, but it's not until you get half way across the bridge and look back that you see the rest of the sign which adds "you further".

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A victim of Auckland City Council's towing service, Louise Mark, writes: "I'd dropped my car off at a city garage on Friday to get a WoF. When it was finished they parked it, with permission, in the carpark of the panelbeater's shop next door. When I went to pick it up after work it was gone. I rang the tow company that had the sign up in the carpark, but they hadn't towed it. I rang the police to check if it had been towed, and again on Saturday, to report it as stolen. It's now Monday and I've just had a call from the police to inform me the Auckland City Council had it towed from my authorised parking space by a different company from that which was displayed, and didn't feel it was necessary to tell anyone (including the police) they had done it. While relieved to have my car, I'm fuming at what I've had to go through and I still have to pay the $150 to get it from the tow company!"

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Harry Potter titles fans would rather not read:

1. Harry Potter and the Uneventful Year When No One Tried to Kill Him.
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Kidney Stone.
3. Harry Potter and the shameless Tom Clancy Crossover.
4. Harry Potter and the Uncomfortable Oversexualisation of Minors.
5. Harry Potter and the Hendersons.
6. Harry Potter and the Things You Have to do to Get By in Prison.
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber Pot of Secrets.
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner Detainees of Azerbaijan.
9. Harry Potter and the Wand of Franchise Extension.
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pizza.
(Source: www.capnwacky.com)

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Patrick Whiteman of Papatoetoe would like to relay a message to the person who broke the back window of his car, parked in Papatoetoe, and stole 32 Bibles. Would you please open a Bible and turn to Ephesians, Chapter 4, verse 28. "Perhaps you may then decide to kindly return them," he says optimistically.

Editorial: Sour notes in sound of local music

The Government's support of local musicians has achieved startling results. Almost 21 per cent of all music on commercial radio last year was by New Zealand artists. A decade earlier, locally-made content garnered just 2 per cent of airtime. Government backing, through the likes of New Zealand On Air and the Music Industry Commission, has pressed the right buttons, and local music is in such good heart that the current New Zealand Music Month seems somewhat superfluous.

A key factor in this development has been the good sense of the Government. When necessary, it has been prepared to check its zeal. Labour's 1999 manifesto pledged the introduction of "format-specific quotas for local content on radio". But better counsel prevailed and in 2002 the Government agreed on a voluntary target, under which broadcasters agreed to aim for 20 per cent of local music by the end of this year. The attainment of that target 12 months early attests to the wisdom of that course.

Now, however, the Government's ardour is getting the better of it. The Broadcasting Minister, Steve Maharey, is talking, quite unrealistically, of matching the likes of Ireland by increasing the voluntary target to 50 per cent. Worse still, he has approved an aberrant rescue plan for Kiwi FM, a station playing only New Zealand music that was about to be closed by its owner, CanWest. The scheme sees the Government grant the company access to three new FM frequencies while Kiwi FM works towards becoming a not-for-profit organisation.

The package shares much in common with the quota plan. Both offer a form of protection for those who cannot stand on their own feet. Kiwi FM, in little over a year of existence, was a ratings calamity. In its first couple of months, it attracted just a 0.6 per cent share of the Auckland market. The latest six-monthly survey, from February to March, gave it 0.7 per cent of that audience.

The rating proved one thing: New Zealanders are keen on local music but they do not want to listen to it exclusively, just as, presumably, few would want to listen to a station devoted entirely to American popular music. Quantity is never likely to trump quality.

CanWest had recognised as much, and taken a hard-nosed commercial decision. It did so knowing that it would attract some bad publicity. It must, therefore, have been delighted when the Government decided to see Kiwi FM's failure as some sort of personal affront.

The rescue package defies the norm on several counts. It was not the subject of a competitive process of any description. And, in entrusting CanWest with a vague one-year trial, the Government has ceded frequencies that, themselves, would usually have been the subject of a tendering process which would have realised between $10 million and $20 million. Additionally, New Zealand On Air will fund the specialist programmes that Mr Maharey views as the remedy to Kiwi FM's rating woes.

Quite justifiably, CanWest's competitors are angry. The three frequencies provide their rival with obvious flexibility and potential. The Government must have expected outrage from that quarter. But it cannot have anticipated the response of a figure of the stature of Neil Finn, who has been quick to compare this largesse to a commercial broadcaster with his own thwarted campaign for public youth radio. In the normal course of events, there would surely have been no stronger advocate of local music.

The strength and breadth of the opposition must surely signal the folly of the decision. By over-reaching itself, the Government has managed to alienate a large slab of the music industry. And all for a radio station that almost no one wants to listen to.

Chris de Freitas: Evidence must prevail

Greenpeace spokesperson Cindy Baker claims scepticism about global warming is a bad thing.

Her fixation with a majority view and "consensus science" suggests she believes that advancement of scientific understanding is a matter of voting.

Scientific authority is achieved over time, not granted by official declaration or voting.

In a lecture in 2004, author and scientist Michael Crichton said: "The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus."

She goes on to attack those scientists who promote scepticism as agents funded by the fossil fuel industry. Using this logic, one must conclude that all funding contaminates all results.

No doubt Greenpeace has good intentions, but its message appears to be driven more by dogma and propaganda than science. The facts speak differently. Although no one yet has the full story on climate change, there are a few key issues which ultimately drive public opinion and on which alarmist dogma relies. There is evidence of global warming. The climate has warmed about 0.6C in the past 100 years, but most of that warming occurred prior to 1940, before the post World War II industrialisation that led to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions.

But warming does not confirm that carbon dioxide is causing it. Climate is always warming or cooling. There are natural variability theories of warming.

To support the argument that carbon dioxide is causing it, the evidence would have to distinguish between human-caused and natural warming. This has not been done.

Whatever the cause of the changes in the climate, none of it is unprecedented. During the Medieval Warm Period, from 900 to 1200 AD, the Vikings sailed in Arctic waters that are now permanent sea ice, and farmed in Greenland soil that is now frozen solid. This was followed by the Little Ice Age which ended around 1850.

"Predictions" of future climate come from mathematical climate models.

But these models have not been verified, so their output is merely conjecture and not capable of being the mainstay of policy.

It is an uncontroversial fact that the scientists who construct global climate models accept that they do not adequately handle key aspects of the climate system, such as the role of clouds and aspects of heat transfer in ocean circulation.

Water vapour dominates the greenhouse effect, and global-warming predictions are based heavily on how water vapour is likely to respond to increased carbon dioxide. But climate science is not yet capable of predicting this response.

Predictions from climate models are of little value until they are reliable. A climate model is just a hypothesis until there is empirical evidence that proves it is correct.

In a good deal of the literature on global warming, claims about the future state of climate are based solely on model results. These are often treated as factual and quoted as justification for the Kyoto Protocol.

Model predictions reflect only the belief of the modellers. But when models are presented to the public as predictive tools and a basis for public policy, the issue of social responsibility arises.

Adherence to the Kyoto Protocol will mean far-reaching industrial changes and billion-dollar decisions. Given that the financial stakes are extremely high, surely the validity of these models should be more carefully assessed. Compare this to businesses which must thoroughly audit their financial statements and forecasts.

The issue of carbon dioxide and the perceived risk of dangerous climate change has taken on life of its own because it suits so many agendas: air quality, consumption of finite resources, energy efficiency, reduced dependence on costly foreign oil, opposition to industrial growth, zeal of environmentalism, international economic competition, revenue generation from environmental taxes, ongoing supply of research funds.

The key question is: Which way forward?

Many global warming sceptics contend that liberal environmental agendas are behind alarming global-warming headlines; on the other hand, sceptics often bring policy agendas of their own.

Enlightened government leaders should not identify with either of these groups.

Sane and reasonable advice will come from climate scientists who do not indulge in doom-laden conjecture, but calmly continue their search for evidence that proves or disproves theories or hypotheses about possible human impacts on global climate.

These scientists are ever-willing to modify their views as new facts emerge. They know that, given a choice between alarmism and honesty, science must always choose honesty.

Perhaps this could be used as a platform to arrange a review of New Zealand's strategy on climate science research, the basis of claims government scientists make and current national climate policy.

Perhaps one constructive way forward is joining the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP). Countries already APP members - United States, Australia, Japan, China, India and South Korea - account for most of the world's population and a large part of its industry.

The pact looks at how to develop technologies to reduce emissions rather than having specific reduction targets confined to small group of developed nations as is the case with Kyoto.

* Chris de Freitas is an Associate Professor in the School of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Auckland.

Carolyn Moynihan: Pope's blessing not a magic wand for Aids

Was there a more sensational headline in the Herald last week than the one announcing, "Pope may allow the use of condoms"?

Its sheer novelty eclipsed the combined antics of British politicians, the Iranian president and al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

Pope Benedict has agreed that the morality of condom use in the case of a married couple where one is infected with Aids should be studied in depth, taking into account the scientific and technical facts. The outcome is far from certain, and even if the answer is affirmative, it will not be the magic wand bringing hope to millions that the story from the Independent makes it out to be.

Underlying the paper's spin is the assumption that the Church's opposition to condoms has exposed millions of its members in developing countries to Aids. Now the heartless Church -that is, the Pope -is being "forced" to change its tune.

To drive home this point the article includes a couple of fact files. One, leads off with the number of Catholics in the world - a scary 1.3 billion - and then gives HIV/Aids numbers for the world and its main regions. "Gosh," we are meant to think, "most of these must be Catholics. After all, there's a heck of a lot of them and they are the ones who are not allowed to use condoms."

The other list is more precise. It tells us: "42 per cent of the world's Catholics live in Latin America; 60 per cent of the world's HIV population lives in Africa, which is home to 137 million Catholics; African Catholic numbers are expected to double by 2025; Lesotho is 70 per cent Catholic and 33 per cent HIV positive; Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country, has 1.3 million Aids sufferers."

Pretty damning, isn't it, until you take a second look at this grab-bag of statistics and see how little it really tells us.

Let's start with Africa, the region which suffers most from Aids. The sub-continent may be home to 137 million Catholics, but they are still less than 20 per cent of the population. For their numbers to be significant in this context they would have to have a much higher rate of Aids than other groups. Lesotho is therefore chosen to illustrate.

Lesotho is a tiny country of 1.8 million people surrounded by South Africa and, as such, in the southern Aids belt described by a senior Aids analyst for the World Bank as "the absolute epicentre" of the global epidemic. It is true that Lesotho has one of the worst epidemics with around 29 per cent of the population infected, according to UNAIDS' 2004 medium estimate (the standard I use in this article). It is also true that most people in that country are Catholic.

This is tragic and a particular cause of concern for the wider Church, but one small country does not prove anything. Swaziland, about the same size as Lesotho and also enveloped by South Africa, has a rate of 38 per cent and only 5 per cent of its population is Catholic. In Botswana, another small country, the figures are similar to Swaziland's. South Africa, with an Aids rate of 21.5 has a Catholic population of only 6 per cent. But further north, in Uganda, where 43 per cent of the population is Catholic, the rate of infection is 4 per cent.

Given this broader pattern, if the number of Catholics in Africa "doubles" by 2025 and the number of other Africans does not, the result might be lower rather than higher Aids prevalence.

What about Brazil? According to the Independent, the country has 1.3 million Aids sufferers. The UNAIDS figure, however, is 660,000. It is still an alarming number and a special challenge for the Church given that 80 per cent of Brazil's 184 million people are Catholic. Even so, the Aids infection rate is 0.7 per cent. Remember, it's a big country still struggling with problems of development.

But the litmus test of the proposition "Catholic population = Aids" has to be the Philippines. There, Catholicism is lived to a degree hardly seen elsewhere in the world and people really do listen to the Pope. But it is precisely in this struggling but gutsy country of 86 million people that the equation falls down: 0.1 per cent of the population is infected.

So what difference could the present exercise at the Vatican make? As the liberal press never tires of telling us, large numbers of Catholics around the world do not listen to the Pope on matters of sexual morality.

This raises a pertinent question. If Catholics do not listen to the Pope when he says not to use contraception, will they suddenly obey him if he says they are morally obliged to use a condom if there is a risk of infecting their spouse with Aids?

The Pope's critics want us to believe that those benighted dark-skinned Catholics in Africa are so devout that if they have sex outside of marriage, dally with prostitutes or take a third wife, they will piously refrain from using condoms because the Great White Father told them not to. But if he tells them the opposite they will trudge 20 miles for a packet of condoms before they do any of those things.

Patronising, isn't it? And silly. The people suffering from Aids need better thinkers and advocates than those who are hung up about the Pope and Catholic sexual morality.

* Carolyn Moynihan is an Auckland writer.

Mathew Ingram: NZ should follow US example by spending on ICT

How important is productivity? Economist Paul Krugman said: "Productivity isn't everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country's ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker." Therefore, the key to future growth and prosperity is increasing the productivity of the nation's workforce. But how?

In the corporate world, "increasing productivity" is often seen as a euphemism for layoffs, since one of the fastest ways for a company to boost productivity is by reducing the number of employees while maintaining the same output.

When it comes to countries, one of the easiest ways to increase productivity is by opening the borders to immigrants willing to work harder than the existing workforce.

Both measures can increase productivity, but most economists see them as short-term solutions.

Companies that expect the same output from fewer employees often wind up suffering from a reduction in the quality of their product, or labour disruptions, or both.

And countries that rely on hard-working immigrants to make up for the lack of productivity growth from the existing workforce often see their standard of living gradually decline, or various kinds of social unrest, or both.

That lesson is not lost on Phil O'Reilly, chief executive of Business New Zealand. In a speech this year, he said New Zealand had to find other ways of improving its productivity.

While there is no doubt the country has demonstrated good growth, he said, "three-quarters of our recent growth has resulted from increased labour utilisation," and the drawback to that is "constantly having to find new people to work is not a sustainable way to run a modern economy".

According to O'Reilly, "real incomes in New Zealand are continuing to fall behind Australia and other countries to which New Zealanders can easily move. In 1999, the average after-tax income in Australia was 20 per cent ahead of that in New Zealand. It is now 33 per cent ahead, an income gap equivalent to $200 a week. That is why we lose over 600 New Zealanders across the Tasman every week - often our best and brightest."

Until the late 1990s, the United States had spent the better part of three decades effectively stagnating in terms of productivity growth. During the 1970s and 1980s, growth was in the mid 1 per cent range. In the latter half of the 1990s, however, productivity grew by an average of about 3 per cent per year.

The key difference: increasing use of information and communications technology, which reduced costs and labour associated with a lot of US production, particularly in "knowledge-based" industries.

Some observers said this increase was in part a result of the technology-stock bubble, and that increased investment as a result of the dot-com frenzy and the Year 2000 hysteria boosted productivity rates higher than they might have been.

But the reality is that even after the bubble burst and the US slid into recession, its productivity continued to climb - between 2001 and 2004, the average annual growth in productivity was 4 per cent, more than three times what it was in the 1980s.

According to a research report by the Bank of Japan, investment in information technology "is estimated to have accounted for more than half of the acceleration in US productivity growth during the late 1990s."

The report also says: "in a number of other countries such as Australia, Canada, and Norway, robust economic growth in the late 1990s led by IT was also observed."

Former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan has said information technology "leads to less wastage from extra production, more efficient distribution processes, and lower search and transactions costs" for businesses, all of which increase productivity.

New Zealand has a ways to go before its productivity growth can match that of its nearest neighbour.

The country's projected average annual productivity growth rate over the period from 1998 to 2006 is 1.6 per cent, compared with 1.9 per cent for Australia, 2.1 per cent for Britain, 2.6 per cent for the US, 3.4 per cent for South Korea and 3.6 per cent for Ireland.

Wages in Australia are substantially higher than they are in New Zealand, and one of the major reasons is the higher rates of productivity growth. According to one recent estimate, Australian per capita GDP is 30 per cent higher than New Zealand's.

Can New Zealand make up some of that ground through better investment in information and communication technology? The example set by the US, and to a lesser extent Canada, would seem to indicate that it could.

Paran Balakrishnan: Blackouts add to Indian summer heat

The dog days are upon us. The mercury has already soared to 44.5C in New Delhi and it isn't about to cool down in the near future. To make matters worse, Delhi's power supply is beginning to collapse, leading to power cuts of between two and seven hours daily.

Did someone describe India is an emerging superpower? They might have second thoughts after spending a few days in Delhi at the height of summer. Last week the lights went off in half the city and didn't return for hours because of an overload on a power station that supplies the capital.

Every day half-a-dozen north Indian states are battling one another and overdrawing from the northern grid, the electricity pool that's supposed to help distribute electricity efficiently between the states.

An optimist could point out that power shortages are a by-product of growth. Every year the demand for electricity is shooting upwards. That means more factories are guzzling electricity and more people are installing air-conditioners in their homes - a sure sign of prosperity.

But if you aren't quite the bubbling optimist, then the power sector could plunge you into despair about India.

That's because it highlights the blackest spot in India's weak infrastructure. And this is the one sector that hasn't seen any serious progress in the past decade as Indian growth began to speed up.

The Dabhol power station, on India's west coast, is a symbol of everything that has gone wrong with the country's power sector. The power plant was built during the heyday of the infamous Enron Corporation and it was a flawed deal from the start.

Dabhol shut down a few years ago when its sole customer, the Maharashtra State Electricity Board, refused to buy its expensive power.

Dabhol has been taken over by a consortium of state-run Indian companies. (Enron's former chief Ken Lay, who was in the witness-box a few days ago, once wrote an article in the Financial Times threatening that aid to India would be stopped if it defaulted on the Dabhol project).

Dabhol was intended as the showpiece of the Government's ambitious plan to bring private sector players and foreign companies into the power sector, till then dominated by bankrupt public sector boards that had all run up colossal losses.

The dilemma was that these boards were the only buyers of power in India and it was pretty tough to wrest money from them. So, the central Government stepped in and offered sovereign guarantees to a few select players such as Dabhol - otherwise lenders were reluctant to put up money. But that policy lost its way in a maze of complex issues and foreign companies like Cogentrix gave up on India and the policy was dustbinned.

As the Millennium dawned there was new thinking on India's electricity shortages. The problem, said the electricity czars, was actually distribution. Indian power companies are unique because electricity theft and transmission losses are somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent. By comparison T&D losses, as they are called, are only about 10 per cent in China and much less in other industrialised countries.

So, the new wisdom involved separating the supply of power into three parts - generation, transmission and distribution. A new experiment took place in Delhi and two other states. Delhi's creaking Delhi Vidyut Board (electricity board) was split into three. Generation and transmission stayed with Government companies and distribution was handed over to two private firms, Reliance Energy and Tata Power.

The idea was that the two would upgrade equipment and plug electricity theft. Now almost four years later this experiment hasn't been as successful as hoped. In the two other states, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, too, reforms are bogged down.

Stop for a second and compare India's electricity woes with China, the country it's always matched against. Soon after India got its independence both countries were roughly in the same league.

In 1950 China generated about 1850MW of power and India 1713MW. By 1995, China had begun its great economic leap forward and was turning out 215,000MW annually leaving India in the dust at 81,171MW. By 2005 the figures were an astonishing 508,000MW for China compared to India's 123,668MW.

From the figures it's evident that India hasn't been standing still. But power generation needs to be slightly ahead of economic growth and should be rising by a minimum of 10 per cent a year if the shortages are to be wiped out. That's not happening yet. India adds about 4000MW each year compared to China's 28,000.

But, there is light (pun intended) at the end of the tunnel - even if it's not very clear how long the tunnel is. The 2003 Electricity Act (if implemented fully) could change the industry. It allows power trading so that energy-surplus states - mostly in the east - could sell power to those in north and western India where shortages are endemic and growing. The act has tried to create competition by making way eventually for multiple power suppliers in every state, which the electricity boards are trying to stall.

Politics is still working against the sector. In the past farmers got electricity at subsidised rates. Now, many states such as Punjab have made vote-winning promises and are offering free power to the rural sector.

Anyone who grumbles about power shortages should consider the case of Calcutta. Back in the '70s the city had worse electricity blackouts than any other part of India. By the late '80s all that was in the past.

How did Calcutta solve its problems? Simple. During that era, scores of large corporations fled the city because of its labour troubles and no new industries opened up there. Demand stagnated and the city's blackouts became a thing of the past.

So, it's important to think positively and remember that the endless blackouts are a sign of economic progress.

And as for the hapless residents of Delhi, everyone who can afford to is trying to cope in different ways. One option is to buy an inverter, a contraption that uses a battery to store power for limited periods and comes on during power outages. The other is expensive, noisy, diesel-powered generators that spew pollution. And so the lights aren't all going off - even at the darkest moments.

* Paran Balakrishnan is an associate editor of the Telegraph, Kolkata.