Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sideswipe


By Ana Samways
For the serious card shark, these Pokerlenz Poker Glasses (see above) block your opponents' view of your eyes without blocking your view of them.

The lens coating provides a clear view even in low-light conditions and the wrap-around frames give you excellent peripheral vision and still prevent your opponents from seeing your eyes from the side, says online retailer clevergear.com.

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Darran Emmerson of Ellerslie recommends CRC Brakleen to combat the tagging pandemic.

"I tried it on my fence the other morning in an 'I wonder if this will work?' scenario, and it did."

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Alex Tew from Wiltshire in Britain had a simple idea.

He set up a homepage to try to make US$1 million by selling 1 million pixels for $1 each (in 100 pixel blocks).

He called it The Million Dollar Homepage.

The Wall Street Journal reports that it's working out rather well for Mr Tew: "Since its August 26 launch, the site has received a total of about 1.5 million unique visitors.

In mid-September, it landed on the Movers & Shakers feature of Alexa.com, which ranks the world's websites by the number of people who visit them.

Marketing executives often troll Alexa.com, which is owned by Amazon.com, to check out what's hot and what's not, and at one point Mr Tew's site reached Alexa's No 2 spot.

Currently, the site gets 600,000 to 700,000 unique visitors a month.

As of yesterday evening, Mr Tew said he was $623,800 toward his goal." The site will be online for at least five years, that's guaranteed, but the idea is to keep it online forever.

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A depressed reader, who receives emailed newsletters from American website reflectivehappiness.com, was uplifted to see they are recommending Whale Rider to boost serotonin levels in the afflicted.

"This feel-good movie is both inspiring and aesthetically pleasing, exploring how inner-beauty is discovered within family relationships while delivering breathtaking views of New Zealand's mountains and coastline.

Make sure to see this wonderful film! Stay on track with the Reflective Happiness Programme and you'll find Happiness in your life!" enthuses the newsletter.

Editorial: Sharon deserves to succeed

Throughout a volatile history, only two parties, Labour and the right-wing Likud, have governed Israel. Attempts to break their stranglehold, some from positions of apparent strength, have come to nought. That, however, is the task Ariel Sharon, the 77-year-old Prime Minister, has set himself by quitting Likud to lead a new centrist party into an early election. The gambit is full of risk but deserves success, given that it is underpinned by a desire to plough a path towards peace in the Middle East.

In effect, however, Mr Sharon had little choice but to leave the party he helped to found three decades ago. Within Likud, opposition had accompanied each of his cautious peacemaking steps. It flared during this year's withdrawal from Gaza, and had surfaced again with the blocking of Cabinet appointments. Further pursuit of an end to conflict with the Palestinians was bound to see the Prime Minister even more at odds with many of his own party colleagues in the Knesset.

But the final straw was the ousting this month of veteran Labour leader Shimon Peres by a populist trade union official, Amir Peretz. Mr Peretz vowed quickly to pull out of the governing Likud-Labour coalition, and to tackle Likud on a platform that highlighted poverty as much as security, the traditional focus of Israeli politics.

Mr Sharon's strong suit as he seeks to redraw Israel's political map is a personal approval rating that stands at 60 per cent-plus. This reflects his record as a distinguished Army commander and a politician with an instinctive grasp of popular opinion. Early opinion polls have given him added impetus. They predict that in the March 28 election, his tentatively named National Responsibility Party will win between 30 and 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament, enough to virtually assure him a third term as leader of a governing coalition. Labour would win 25 to 26 seats and the splintered Likud, now a party of hardline opponents of a Palestinian state, would gain just 12 to 15 seats, down from a present holding of 40.

The polls suggest Mr Sharon is, again, in tune with many Israelis. After years of sometimes chaotic politics, they have had enough of being hostage to extreme views. They believe also that, as long as the country's borders are secure, the peace process should be pursued vigorously. They, like many Palestinians, are jaded by years of conflict. Perceptively, Mr Sharon has also made dealing with poverty a priority for his new party, thereby seeking to defuse much of Labour's new-found popularity.

In terms of the prospects for a lasting peace, Mr Sharon is by no means the best option. Mr Peretz, working from the framework of the Oslo Accords, is prepared to make far more territorial concessions to the Palestinians. But Israelis were reacquainted with their vulnerability during the first Gulf War and the Palestinian uprising. They may not be ready to embrace the risk implicit in the Labour leader's largesse. There is more comfort in Mr Sharon's security-based approach, which revolves around the United States-backed roadmap to peace and demands that the Palestinian Authority disarms militants before a Palestinian state can be envisaged.

Mr Sharon has said that he would be willing to make "painful concessions" for peace, and has hinted at withdrawals from isolated enclaves on the West Bank. But that policy will go only so far. Nonetheless, he offers renewed hope. In both the Israeli poll and Palestinian parliamentary elections, which will also be held soon, obstacles to the peace process could be sidelined. If so, reinvigorated peacemaking is a realistic prospect.

Garth George: Rampant feminism drives GPs out of birthing business

By the time I'd finished browsing the first section of the Weekend Herald last Saturday I was relieved that I was no longer of an age to be a young husband with a pregnant wife.

I had been informed that there are just 15 GPs left in New Zealand who deliver babies and give antenatal and postnatal care, and by January their number will have dropped to 14.

It took me back to the days when I was a young husband with a pregnant wife. The family GP was indispensable to us, from the first examination and confirmation of the pregnancy to the delivery, to dealing with whatever problems cropped up in the child's first months and years of life.

Back in those days, as far as I knew, midwives were the nurses in the local maternity hospital who held that special qualification. My mother had been one for years and years in my grandmother's private maternity home - until my father rescued her from it.

And I remember to this day taking my daughter from the maternity hospital to my parents' house, handling her as it she were made of the finest glass.

My mother picked her up, bounced her about, turned her this way and that, unwrapped her and inspected her thoroughly - with the same sort of assurance and lack of concern that she would apply to preparing a roast leg of lamb.

When I commented on that, my father observed dryly: "You can take the woman out of the nursing home [which is what we called them then] but you can't take the midwife out of the woman."

Nursing home was a good name, as it happened, because it was there that new mothers learned properly how to nurse their babies and where they - and veteran mothers, too - were given at least two weeks to rest and recuperate away from the demands of husbands and the cares of a household.

They called the birthing a "confinement" and it was surely that. Husbands were seen as merely a nuisance, could visit only at certain hours, and if some matrons had had their way, wouldn't have been allowed within a mile of the maternity unit while our wives were "confined".

It is one of my very few regrets in life that I have never seen a baby born, for the arrival into this world of a new human being must be the most amazing and wonderful and soul-stirring experience known to mankind.

When my kids were born the very thought of a father being anywhere near the "theatre" would have given the doctors and nurses the vapours and marked the supplicating male as some sort of certifiable pervert.

I remember, however, with gratitude the regular visits of the Plunket nurse to our home, marvelling at ounces and inches gained, but particularly the tremendous reassurance that such regular care provided, specially for the mother but for the father, too.

I have to admit I was absolutely astonished to read on Saturday that more than 3000 GPs have given up obstetrics and that nearly all our babies are born with just the ministrations of a midwife.

I knew, vaguely I suppose, that midwives had come into their own and were much more numerous but I had always assumed that they worked only under the direction of a medical practitioner.

How on Earth it has come about that GP obstetricians have been supplanted almost entirely by midwives is quite beyond my comprehension, although Carroll du Chateau, the author of the Weekend Herald article, provided a potent clue to the reasons for the chaos in the birthing business when she wrote: "Problems go back to money and ideology."

I almost laughed. Don't nearly all our problems in most areas of our lives these days go back to money and ideology, be they problems in the health system, the education system, welfare, law and order, justice, the building industry, infrastructure - you name it?

GP obstetrician Dr William Ferguson, one of the subjects of the article, put it bluntly when he said that the system developed under the Labour-led Government drove a wedge - "an ugly thing with spikes on" - between the professions of obstetrics and midwifery.

Although it is not mentioned, the whole business reeks of rampant feminism. As Dr Ferguson points out, GPs practised the medical model: healthy mother and baby first, fulfilling experience second. Midwives aimed for natural childbirth: fulfilling experience first, medical intervention second.

The midwives, of course, have had it made easy for them with a woman as Minister of Health holding the purse strings and a female Prime Minister who, according to the article, at a midwifery conference in the late 1990s deeply celebrated the fact that GPs were back in primary care and out of obstetrics, and received a standing ovation.

I wonder what definition such people put on the term "primary care"?

I would have thought that no care could possibly be more primary than that given by a doctor to a woman before, during and after the birth of a child.

Or am I just old-fashioned?

Linda Herrick: Credit where it's due

So many people have been knocking TV One, but give them some credit. The channel's line-up for next year is truly innovative, quite unlike any other state broadcaster in the world.

In the snappy booklet showcasing what we can look forward to, its news and current affairs coverage has been pruned so there's no more of that in-depth stuff to make your head hurt.
One News is still in the schedule of course, but no photo of a presenter, eliminating - for now - the issues of pay and ego. There is a smiley pic of Ms Wood on the Close Up page in the booklet, and the photo of the Sunday lineup is lovely. They look human, as opposed to the spooky alien-abductee footage Sunday uses over the credits. Gone are lengthy evening grillings, which must be a great relief to politicians, and there is no foreign affairs documentary slot. Who needs to know what's going on in the big bad world, anyway?

Most exciting, Headliners is included in the news and current affairs lineup. Showbiz tittle-tattle, movie reviews, pop star antics - finally receiving the serious recognition they deserve.

The TVNZ programmers have also shown their mettle by deciding to ditch the Festival New Zealand series after next year. They've cunningly managed to stave off the series this year, so we'll hardly notice when it's gone. Festival NZ was so smart, so well-made, so interesting - but just not right for the new TV One. Those Saturday night slots are much better filled with gore like Wire in the Blood, made overseas.

And don't you love the way One is managing to subvert its brief as a charter channel, and look more like TV2 or TV3 by chucking in the odd American crime series when you least expect it? We're getting a warmup right now with Rescue Me and next year is going to be a cracker because One has nabbed Jerry Bruckheimer's Close To Home, and The Evidence, a cop-crime lab drama, as well as a return season of Cold Case. That'll teach us!

And so will the current Friday night lineup, because it certainly encourages one to leave the house. Bet the One programmer was tickled pink by the coup of scoring Rosemary & Thyme, because it must have been cheap to buy. Surely. It's the same plot week after week and those two old biddies in it, they're not acting. They're having a laugh. But that's nothing compared to Desperately Seeking Sheila, which follows. Single men in the Aussie outback looking for love. That's a new level of programming.

Next year's One has Michael Boulgaris helping people find a slice of paradise, Paul Henry trekking to the ends of the earth in a part-personal documentary, and an investigation into cleanliness. Bet the programmers at rival networks are wetting themselves over that kind of standard. How can they possibly compete?

Uh oh. While TV One has been focusing on this radical makeover, they must have blinked and missed some of the stuff Prime's Andrew Shaw has grabbed. Like Ricky Gervais' hot new comedy Extras. Or new series of those old favourites that used to screen on One, like Poirot, Dalziel and Pascoe, Midsomer Murders, a spectacular new production with David Attenborough and anything with Jeremy Clarkson.

Kind of makes some of us who are a bit old fashioned feel nostalgic, for the days when programmers were programmers, not marketeers... Ironically, Headliners recently featured an interview with Gervais about Extras. Given where he's found a home in New Zealand, he would find that hilarious.

Philippa Stevenson: Taupo development marches to own beat

Shania Twain's big mistake was to pick a ridge in the wrong island.

If the Canadian singer had really wanted to build a house high on a piece of iconic New Zealand countryside without the objections she encountered, she should have spent her $21.4 million near Lake Taupo instead of southern Wanaka high country.

Subdivision round the Great Lake is booming to such an alarming degree that some locals describe it as the Wild West of development.

Twain's house would never have been forced off the skyline at Taupo although, as a result of recent regard for the district's heritage landscapes, she probably would have had to put in the odd tree.

There has been a bit of a scramble on several fronts to manage land development around Taupo, which has forged ahead at pace since at least 2001. But efforts by the Taupo District Council and the Environment Waikato regional council are struggling in the wake of developers.

Last year, for instance, the district council produced the proposed Taupo West Rural Structure Plan. Launched under pressure from developers, it was intended to guide land subdivision, creating more than 3300 house sites between Acacia Bay and Kinloch over 20 years. It was also to be a template for all similar development plans.

But in February the council was forced to put the plan on hold after locals stressed that they wanted Taupo-wide growth taken into account rather than just a portion of it.

In response, last month the council put out a draft district growth management strategy to "establish clear and effective policy and processes" for managing growth over the next 20 to 50 years.

Take a drive on the westside, however, and clearly the growth cart is well ahead of a lumbering management horse.

With houses on hilltops silhouetted starkly against the sky and on slopes leading to the lake, there is a forest of "Section for sale" signs. Three or four blocks around this corner, 11 up this road, 76 on that, 130 on this former farm, 226 on that.

What's more, developers don't need a resource consent in hand before they start bulldozing rural land into roads, scouring hillsides, and generally laying out their subdivisions and marketing them.

Official estimates forecast new houses in Taupo (district population 33,700) to be sought at the rate of about 300 a year for 20 years - 6000 new dwellings in total.

But last year alone 688 lots, including apartments, were created. In the same time 285 building permits were issued. So while buildings are going up at the expected rate, land is being carved up at more than twice the pace of demand.

That disparity may well pose its own problem for property investors, but there are other, more important issues at stake - the impact of such widespread urban development on the landscape of one of the country's most precious environments and on the health of the already fragile lake.

"We are in danger of doing to Taupo what has already been done to Queenstown," says Gary Taylor of the Environmental Defence Society.

So far, the region's farmers have borne the brunt of criticism for activities that have contributed to the deterioration of the lake - principally nitrogen run-off - and have been targeted in clean-up efforts.

Over 15 years, taxpayers and ratepayers are stumping up $143 million just to start dealing with a legacy of land management that has caused water clarity to decline, weeds to grow and toxic algal blooms to develop.

Brian Robinson, chairman of the Lake and Waterways Action Group, says high-density urban environments produce as many nutrients as an intensive dairy farm.

Subdivision of farmland might be a good option for farmers because it lessens nitrogen run-off, but Robinson says that even if urban wastewater is handled well, the stormwater from housing developments would still pour nutrients and pollutants into the lake.

"We are worried about the developers' strategy," he says. "They are rules-focused, not environment-focused. It's about what they can get away with, not what can they do for the environment."

If Shania Twain had to sing to New Zealand's tune, why don't others?

Stephen Jacobi: Passion play on the world stage

The success of the Rugby Union in bringing the World Cup to New Zealand shows that if you really put your mind to something, you can achieve it.

Yet in the same week we received that great news, we engaged in some classical talking past each other with the United States. What is it that we really want from the US relationship?

A free-trade agreement, clearly, even though time is against us on that score, at least in the short term, with the President's negotiating authority due to expire in 2007. If it takes more than a year to negotiate a free trade deal with China, it will take as long with the US.

A pre-election survey undertaken by Business NZ ranked a free-trade agreement with the US as the fourth most significant top-of-the-mind issue for business, after skills, Government spending and energy.

But is a free-trade agreement the real thing? In fact there is an even bigger picture and one in which the US, as the world's leading source of ideas, innovation and technology, could play a key part if we really want.

That picture was shown a few weeks ago in the latest report published by the New Zealand Institute. Entitled No Country is an Island, the report looks at what needs to be done to sustain this country's present rates of economic growth.

We've done pretty well over the last 15 years but two-thirds of the growth generated since 1990 has been due to increases in the number of hours worked. The challenge now is to lift labour productivity; instead of simply relying on more of us working, we need to work smarter and increase the value generated from each hour worked.

The institute points to the small size and scale of the domestic economy and suggests that increased productivity can only be brought about by greater integration in the world economy. Expanding the size of the economy through increased international engagement, in terms of New Zealand firms exporting or investing abroad, will be a critical part of raising labour productivity in a substantial and sustained way.

Now the US is not the only focus of our international engagement, nor should it be. Having learned the lesson in the 1970s, of having all our eggs in one UK basket, New Zealand looks today in all directions for export growth and investment. Free-trade agreements with China and the Association of South East Asian Nations under negotiation need not be at the expense of other international linkages.

The point is that within the mix of export markets now and in the future the US looms large. Two-way trade with the US is valued at more than $8 billion. The US is New Zealand's second export market overall, the largest export market for dairy products, beef and seafood, the second largest purchaser of manufactured goods and among the top five markets for sheepmeat, forest products, fruit and vegetables.

The US is the second largest source of imports and the third largest source of tourists who in the year to March 2005 spent $615 million (the highest daily spenders). The US contributes about 12 per cent of all foreign direct investment.

Although we are prone to overlook it, these impressive statistics point to an economic relationship that is in good shape. Add to this the range of other interactions between our citizens, officials, researchers, scientists, students and, yes, even our defence forces, which take place on a daily basis and you have a relationship that already has a broad base.

The question, in the light of the institute report, is whether this is enough.

The level and growth of New Zealand exports and outward investment lags behind other developed countries and our current account deficit at 8 per cent of GDP is among the highest. It's hard to escape the fact that New Zealand will have to do a lot more in the future if we want to develop that high-skill, high-productivity, high-wage economy.

That's the real thing about the relationship with the US and the answer to those in our community who, against the background of differing views on nuclear issues and the war in Iraq, question whether we need the US at all. The uncomfortable fact is that we need the US more than they need us.

While our shared values in democracy and individual freedom and our shared interests in global security cannot be denied, New Zealand needs the US above all because of the role US ideas, investment and technology can play in the further development of our economy. We need to find a winning formula to ensure that the relationship can continue to flourish, even where there are differences.

If the real thing is a relationship with the US that contributes positively to New Zealand's economic future, what can be done to expand the already significant ties we have? Here's a five-point plan to be going on with. We should:

* Focus on the big picture of shared values and interests and not let ourselves get sidetracked on what continues to divide us. There is much to celebrate in the relationship and much also that can be expanded.

* Unite our efforts by ensuring that government agencies, business and other non-government organisations co-operate actively to ensure that all opportunities to do more together are taken up. The New Zealand United States Council, as a non-partisan organisation funded by business and the Government, was established largely for this purpose.

* Invest in the relationship by allocating resources to activities and projects in the US and New Zealand that deepen the sense of mutual value between the two countries. We already have an excellent example in the work of the Fulbright Foundation, which funds student and scholar exchanges in both directions.

* Keep our options open: New Zealand has every interest in the closest possible relationship with the US but other relationships, particularly in the Asian region, are also important not just in themselves but in terms of the value placed in our insights in the region by the US. Taking a leadership role in promoting private-sector development in Apec or being the first developed country to negotiate a free-trade agreement with China positions New Zealand as a player and keeps us in the room when key decisions are being made.

* Be confident. Engaging with the US need not imply the surrender of our national identity. Referring to the nuclear-free legislation, Mike Moore observed recently that the US was more likely to abolish the death penalty and outlaw guns before Kiwis change. US Ambassador Bill McCormick has said it would be useful for both countries to create a new future for the relationship; a future free from the echoes of the past and always looking forward.

We need to be able to move forward in dialogue confident that we are doing so in a way that reflects New Zealand values and interests.

When asked what it was that secured the World Cup hosting, several commentators have stressed the passion that New Zealanders have for the game. Passion is as useful in politics and business as it is in sport. Maybe if we are passionate about New Zealand's interest in a broad-based and dynamic relationship with the US we might just get it.

* Stephen Jacobi is executive director of the New Zealand United States Council.

Charmaine Pountney: Moving towards a better nation

We are privileged to live in Aotearoa. But it isn't just our richly productive land and sea which make this country special. It's the people, and how we are changing.

When I was young schools were relentlessly English. We learnt to sing Land of Hope and Glory and What Can I Do For England That Does So Much For Me? These days I feel at home in Aotearoa in ways I never imagined 50 years ago.

Two recent events reminded me of how much we have changed.

One was a service to commemorate the life of David Wakim, whose passionate commitment to family and social justice brought together distant, sometimes hostile, groups - Christian, Muslim and Jew, patriarch and feminist, Maori, Pakeha, Pasifika, African, Asian - celebrating and grieving in harmony and respect together.

The other was a powhiri welcoming a school on to a campus in Otara. Mana whenua organised community representatives and others to put their differences aside and welcome the teenagers, who responded with respect to the dignity of the elders.

No one at either ceremony agonised over the Treaty of Waitangi, set out to be politically correct, or consciously tried to weld several cultures into one country. But differences were acknowledged, common values were affirmed, and what resulted was unique to Aotearoa today.

I believe that we are indeed a finer nation than when I was young. Yes, there are terrible evils in our society still. There was gang violence, cruelty to animals, abuse of women and children when I was young. But television now shows us the beastliness we must face and overcome. And so we will.

We are certainly a more inclusive and celebratory nation, as can be seen in many ways. In food, music, film-making and festivals, talented New Zealanders fashion their work from the strands of Maori, European, Pasifika, Asian, and other traditions.

Many children and young people are fortunate to be in good multi-ethnic schools where they are learning to become New Zealand citizens who treasure their own strong personal and cultural differences but share a common culture which embodies respect for others, a desire for fair play, kindness and good humour. New Zealand has had a special place in world affairs for seeking to create a more inclusive and fairer society.

We were the first nation to agree that women were as capable as men of voting; although men and women don't share fully in the power structures of our society, we have made progress. After World War II our diplomats and politicians were involved in the establishment of the United Nations, and in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And more recently we have also acknowledged in our legal framework that religion, disability, age, gender and sexuality don't make some people less human than others. So it's timely to look at the next steps we can take towards better nationhood.

First, we need to celebrate what's good, fine and exciting already.

Second, we must affirm the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi. It was, in 1840, an agreement that Maori were entitled to manage their own affairs and hold onto their own resources, and that the English Crown could have delegated authority to govern its own citizens and negotiate land use with Maori. Efforts by governments since the 1980s to restore the economic and power base wrongfully taken from Maori during colonisation is an important part of our national identity - a matter of justice, and investment in a better future for our nation.

Third, if we want to prevent the emergence of groups like those rioting in France at present, we must improve our secondary schools. The article by Robin Staples in Tuesday's Herald celebrates the success of the AimHi programme in some South Auckland secondary schools; all schools should be challenged and resourced to ensure that the talents of all our students are properly developed.

Fourth, we need to stop whining about political correctness. There's no place in the modern world for saying narrowly Christian prayers in multi-cultural settings; for using terms like poof, coconut, frontbum; for being patronising or disrespectful to others. Personal rudeness, institutional racism and sexism, are unsafe, unjust and unacceptable. If we want a better society, we all have to be PC - personally courteous, professionally competent and publicly civil.

To make progress towards a fairer and more civil society, we must respect some differences. But to be a harmonious nation we also need shared values, and clarity about which differences we deplore or prohibit.

Educational institutions, and many not-for-profit groups, have drawn up charters which include values. But values are meaningless without virtues, and rights can't exist without responsibilities. All organisations should be encouraged to join in the writing of a national charter identifying shared values, virtues, rights and responsibilities.

Then perhaps we could have ceremonies where new citizens - immigrants, and young people becoming adults - commit themselves to this charter. As a nation, we could join the global movement to develop a Universal Charter of Human Responsibilities.

I dream of a future where we celebrate a nation of life-long learners, respectful of others, generous in spirit, tender in their care for people and planet, committed to creating a better world. And dreams become realities as we work together to achieve them.

* Charmaine Pountney has been a leading figure in education and land-care organisations.

Richard Spencer: Bush must stand by loyal Asians

Not since the hordes were at the gates of Europe, and the odd wigwam was all that disturbed the Texas grasslands, has anyone paid much attention to what the Mongolian people think.

Now Mongolia is again on the itinerary of world leaders - well, the Texan one, anyway. And when George W. Bush became the first American President to visit Ulan Bator this week, it was not before time.

This is not because the 2.6 million Mongolians are once again about to rise up and challenge the West for dominance. There is no "go out" policy for the steppe's nomadic yak herdsmen, no multi-fold increase in expenditure on missiles, or even arrows. No, Bush was keen to hear the wisdom that comes from a diet of fatty mutton and fermented mare's milk, because that's what's going on a day's ride south on the Transmongolian Express, in Beijing.

China has a population 500 times as big as Mongolia's, and, possibly for the first time in history, it is using it efficiently.

There's nothing wrong with that. To haul a billion people out of poverty is no small task, and it is remarkable that China is managing to do that. But it has consequences. One is that a lot of wealth times quite a few people works out as roughly equal to a bit of wealth times a lot of people.

That's the United States and China in a few years, if you hadn't guessed, and we might all be nervous about what happens then, when the American writ doesn't run so relatively large. As Bush drove out of Ulan Bator, he saw gentle valleys stretching out to the horizon with only a tent dotted here or there.

An average Chinese would look at this vast expanse and weep. If you take away mountains, deserts and Tibet, China's people feel a little squashed in their homeland. Mongolia's 2.6 million have the second-lowest population density in the world. They aren't going to invade, of course, but it's a tempting prospect for all those Chinese with money to invest. Thousands of Chinese already live in Ulan Bator, selling their cheap socks and saucepans, and the Mongolians know they serve a useful purpose.

When the Mongolians think of their lives since 1990, when they abandoned their masters in the Soviet Union without Mikhail Gorbachev even seeming to notice, this is what they ask: what was it for, and is anyone noticing now?

They have adopted free markets and seen their state industries collapse. They have free elections and a free spirit that makes any visit uplifting. But they need to eat. They will not have asked much of Bush. They are too proud, and prefer to let their throat-singers and fermented mare's milk do the talking, even if those who have endured these special treats sometimes remark that Genghis Khan's approach to international relations was more humane. But I hope Bush took in what he saw, and understood that the choice of being cherished by freedom-loving Americans or unfree but cash-rich Chinese can be a life-or-death issue. Bush was grateful for the moral support in Iraq offered by Mongolia in the form of 160 troops. He needs friends where he can get them. But Bush should make clear what he is offering in return.

"Our goal is to help others find their own voice," Bush said in his second-term inaugural speech, and the best way for him to answer his critics over Iraq is to consider how he is doing this, whether by trade or aid, in the small and weak countries.

America spends more in a month in Iraq than it has in 15 years in Mongolia. China is not so frightening. Its reforms are still partial, and troublesome, mainly for itself. It has made diplomatic ground while the United States struggles in its Iraqi mire, but it has few true friends. Its leader is deeply unsympathetic - not because Hu Jintao is bad, but because his extreme self-control means he cannot project his country's values, for good or ill, to the world.

But the loss of faith in America is frightening. And that loss is felt among many people in Asia who have long admired it but are more attracted to Chinese money than to Donald Rumsfeld's lectures. If Bush will stand by them when they need him, not just when he needs them, that faith is there for the taking once again.

* Richard Spencer writes for the Daily Telegraph in London.

Talkback: Maori key facet of NZ identity

Born in the backdraft of World War II of Lebanese, Pakeha and Ngati Tuwharetoa descendants, I have always been fascinated by the ability of cultures to add richness and vitality to the life experience; invigorating cultures that add to a nation's value rather than becoming a divisive force.

At present, New Zealand is in something of a de-colonisation vacuum. We are dangling a little awkwardly at the crossroads of our identity. As a nation, our Englishness is steadily shrinking away but what will we replace it with? How will we define the new emerging culture? What are the reference points for our particular multicultural identity?

Maori art and culture have an enormous contribution to make to this realisation of identity. The question is how. There appear to be two schools of thought. One is to hang on strenuously to what is valuable - the heritage we all acknowledge. The other is to advance the culture of Maori and the rest of New Zealand to an altogether new dimension.

Maori scholars, business people, designers, film and music-makers are now beginning to emerge with a new sense of freedom and confidence. The opportunity to impact on not just Maori life but the broader, modern life of all New Zealand has never been more promising. With their strong sense of family and community, connection to the land, resilience, ingenuity, easy humour, openness and compassion, Maori provide every New Zealander with the ultimate reference point for sustainable living.

The contribution Maori already make to our New Zealand psyche often goes unnoticed. Even without a drop of Maori blood, a New Zealander standing in Trafalgar or Times Square is decidedly more Maori than he or she thinks. That's the effect Maori has had on New Zealand society.

To maximise Maori potential, leadership is required that dispenses with lecturing in favour of exhibiting the culture in a modern context in the medium of design, art, music, literature, language, education and business. In short, showing how the Maori way is unique. How difficult is it to imagine being in a supermarket in UK looking at food which carries Maori sustainable values, is sourced from a Maori-influenced business, carries a Maori story and isn't called Montana or Anchor ?

Maori can add value to New Zealand's identity in such a significant way. It can influence the way we position our internal and external products, services and hospitality systems. It can heighten our point of difference - a critical factor in a world spoiled for choice.

Many countries have capitalised on their cultural intellectual property in order to advance their distinctiveness and their competitive edge.

If you look at modern interpretations of things Maori, whether it's a play or novel by Witi Ihimaera, a wonderful painting by Shane Cotton or Ralph Hotere, you can see these are at the cutting edge of contemporary life and the world is beginning to notice. If you think of Maori dance, art, literature and cinema, there are so many Maori influences starting to register around the world.

Through progressive cultural attitudes and careful stewardship, Maori will have greater ownership in the national identity. But they have to take up the challenge and advance the culture themselves. Or commercial interests outside New Zealand will use it for their own ends. Recent IP "cultural pirates" are Austrian ski-makers Fischer's use of tiki and Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto's adaptations of moko.

As a brand strategist, I believe Maori culture needs to be moved forward with modern interpretations and showcased in a way the world has not seen before. Given real impetus within Maoridom and a more enlightened view from the rest of New Zealand, this unique facet of our country can help move us to a new and exciting threshold.