Sunday, December 11, 2005

Deborah Coddington: Broken English shows his class

End of Year Report 2005.
School: National Party.
Student: Bill English.
Subject: Education.

Attitude: Bill returned from the Christmas break this year with a markedly improved attitude. At the end of 2004 he was reserved - some would say bruised and brooding - following his being replaced as team leader. However, he quickly accepted that what goes down can come up, and losing playground capers doesn't always have lasting ramifications.

He put in a lot of time over the Christmas break researching flaws in the education system's examinations and qualifications and also sacrificed much of his holiday time and spoke to families whose children were being mucked around by Government education agencies.

Upon his return in the new year, Bill displayed an aggression and focus which saw him develop into a force to be reckoned with.

Marks out of 10: 9.

Attendance: Bill is nearly always punctual and courteous, refusing to allow his large family to complicate his professional life. While for some members of the team this could prove an unnecessary distraction, thus far we have not seen any adverse impact on Bill.

There have been lapses. For instance, when travelling to meetings in the provinces where members from other teams compete for the greatest number of votes, Bill has handicapped himself, and his colleagues, by arriving late.

He needs to adapt to North Island highway conditions, such as protracted road works, and allow enough time for his journeys so as not to put support at risk. While a lame excuse like, "I was stuck in traffic" might be accepted in Dipton where flocks of sheep are common, around Wellington it is just not a flyer.

Marks out of 10: 7.

Accuracy: Bill's sense of timing and accuracy have improved immeasurably and continue to develop. Until recently his main foe was Trevor Mallard - an industrious, likeable and energetic boy but someone who can be a bully, and in his somewhat perverse enjoyment of robust debate, often goes too far with silly remarks. When Trevor was replaced in the education portfolio by Steve Maharey, there was doubt Bill would score any direct hits.

Arguing with Steve is like drying oneself with a velour towel - it just pushes the water around. However, in his first week, Bill used the Socratic method which he does so well and achieved the seemingly impossible - he got Steve to utter a one-word answer - "yes".

Bill had asked Steve if he was aware that he would have been breaking the law if he'd been acting as Broadcasting Minister, as opposed to Education Minister, when he specifically asked a Radio New Zealand journalist not to run an item about NCEA marking. We look forward to more efforts in this vein.

Marks out of 10: 9.

Appearance: More improvement needed. When Bill was team leader, his turn-out improved and the school noted new suits, shirts and ties had been selected. While he seems to have lifted his head and his spirits in the metaphorical sense, he now needs to match this physically.

Without causing offence at home, may we tactfully suggest a new haircut. Bill has a naturally youthful appearance which does not benefit from coiffure in the boy-in-blue-dungarees mode. While a short-back-and-sides is good value for the taxpayer, it belies the fact that Bill is actually quite bright and has a good sense of humour.

Marks out of 10: 6.

General: Bill's popularity is increasing. He seems genuinely ambitious to succeed, especially in the area of education where he specialises. He has done extremely well on this issue, continuing right up until the end of semester by exposing ongoing problems with the NCEA marking system - again.

His ability to speak in plain language means he is clearly understood by the public. Through his own family, Bill is aware of the confusion caused when exams are recalled and re-marked because not enough students are passing, only to hear officials and the teacher and principal unions say everything is fine and dandy.

Bill has made a remarkable recovery from last year's dumping by his team mates. There is every chance he could again try for leadership, though he now has a very good competitor in the ebullient and capable John Key. In any event, Bill would make a formidable Minister of Education, with his determined approach to stop the application of blinkered ideology from both sides of the political divide. A very good year.

Total marks out of 40: 31.

Place in class: 2nd= out of 48.

Kerre Woodham: Old-fashioned tale of good versus evil is a winner

How cool is it to be a Kiwi right now? With King Kong opening to rave reviews; the film of Christmas, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, packing them in around the world; Niki Caro working on her next film; and In My Father's Den proving a respectable addition to the New Zealand film library, it's not surprising that every hip and now magazine has to include at least one Kiwi in its people-watching columns to be authentic.

I went to the Narnia premiere on Thursday night at the Civic and loved it. This delightfully old-fashioned venue was entirely appropriate for this delightfully old-fashioned film. Oh, the animation and computer generated graphics were state-of-the-art but the story and characters in the film came from yesteryear.

Good was good, bad was very bad, love will win out over evil, redemption is possible and sacrifice for the greater good is rewarded.

There's even a scene where a little girl is locked in a cottage with a half-naked, hairy-arsed man she's never met - and only good comes of it. There are a few Lord of the Rings moments - the trek across snowy wastelands has been done before with hobbits instead of beavers and the battle scene was very LOTR-like - but I can see this being a film I'll be showing my grandchildren.

Marvellous stuff.

Kerre Woodham: Scalping outrage just the ticket

The outrage over ticket profiteering for big-name concerts and big-game matches is timeless and without boundaries.

An Englishman, now resident in New Zealand, told me that back in the 1960s, his much unfancied soccer team made it to a big cup final. Everyone from his home town was trying to buy tickets but they'd sold out in seconds and the fans' best chance of seeing their team in a never-to-be repeated final was to turn up at the gates and take their chances off the scalpers.

Sure enough, there at the gates was a bloke waving fistfuls of precious tickets, but he wanted a preposterous price for them - something like 600 to 700 per cent more than their face value. The Englishman's mate, a great big chap, told the scalper the price was unreasonable and offered to pay double the initial price, but the scalper was not to be reasoned with.

So the great big Scouse headbutted the weedy little scalper, grabbed the tickets off him and handed them out to his mates, left what he thought was a fair price and the lads got to see the game.

I'm not exhorting violence in the face of scalping but one base emotion - in this case, venality - often incites another, like brutality. Or profanity.

The Trade Me auction room makes for the most entertaining reading around at the moment, as sellers of U2 tickets and their supporters justify selling to the highest bidder against those who rail against their low morals and Gordon Gekko "greed is good" mentality.

Scoobydoobydo told Jaraham that the selling of the U2 tickets was immoral and shameful.

Jaraham replied: "This is the 21st century. The number of people who are moral these days is very low".

Most of the sellers put up pathetic excuses for selling - for example, their friends pulled out at the last minute or the tickets were bought as Christmas presents for parents but the parents bought their own.

Others were unabashed that they'd seen a commercial opportunity and gone for it, inciting further furious comments: "Your intentions were to secure tickets, not because U2 move you like no other band, but to scab hard-earned money off desperate fans. Your [sic] a poor excuse for a human being and I hope you choke on the money you make."

So sentiments are running as high as they were when the scalper in Manchester received a Liverpool kiss.

But while I don't agree with scalping, I would point out to desperate fans that if they were that desperate, they would be members of U2's official fan club. Apparently, members were offered the opportunity of buying tickets for the show a week before they went on general sale, so the true U2 fans with a bit of initiative are sorted.

I don't buy the argument that buying and selling tickets is like buying and selling a house for a huge profit - the analogy would only hold true if there were a very small number of houses and a huge number of people needing a place to live. The easiest thing to do would be to make scalping illegal - just about everything else is these days, so what's another little piece of light legislation?

And just a word to the wise rugby sevens fans heading to Wellington: tournament director Steve Dunbar says they've been doing their best to ensure as many sevens fans as possible can get to the games without being fleeced by scalpers and they've identified a number of tickets that have breached the terms and conditions of sale. They will be taking the appropriate action. In some cases, they know who you are so there may well be some very disappointed people come February when they're turned away from the gates.