Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sideswipe

Spotted on Waiheke - and you thought property prices had gone crazy
By Ana Samways

With Sydney's angry young men nutting-off across the Tasman, a suburban Pakuranga homeowner shares a unstereotypical experience with a group of local youths: "I heard some commotion outside my property last weekend and found a group of seven teenagers, of all cultures, sitting leaned against my fence. One was very much the "worse for wear". They'd obviously been partying and wouldn't leave their comatose friend. To cut a long story short, I advised them to get off the roadside and bring their buddy into my garden. Having checked that their mate was okay, I gave them a sleeping bag and some garden chairs to sit in. With a message to keep it down and make sure they checked on their friend, I left them. They were gone in the morning, chairs neatly stacked and sleeping bag rolled up and placed by the front door. On Monday night I answered a knock at the door to one of the teens, who presented me with a card and a gift-wrapped box of some size. He thanked me for what I'd done and was very polite. Point is this, we run down our teens and tar them all as drunken hoons, but it seems to me that a little kindness and understanding works better."

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An unmarked police car has parked illegally, twice in two weeks for two hours each time, in a bus-stop outside a building in Quay St. According to a concerned reader, the officer inside appeared to be using a videocamera to capture motorists running red lights by the Ferry building - turning the camera off and on in sync with the lights. The irony is that this revenue-gathering sting is outside the same building that was burgled in August and despite being supplied with full statements, the description of the burglar, the screwdriver he used to gain entry, the make and registration number of his car and a windscreen wiper off the car that was captured by the landlord when the burglar drove off in haste, the police have done nothing about the burglary.

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The New Oxford American Dictionary has selected "podcast" as the Word of the Year for 2005. Podcast, defined as "a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar programme, made available on the internet for downloading to a personal audio player," will be added to the next online update of the dictionary. Runners-up for the 2005 Word of the Year include: IED (improvised explosive device, such as a car-bomb), squick (cause immediate and thorough revulsion: "Was anyone else squicked by our waiter's piercings?") and trans fat (fat containing trans-fatty acids, considered unhealthier than other dietary fats.) (Source: Yahoo.com)

Editorial: Openness needed in re-marking

Is the new school examination system fatally flawed or suffering teething pains? The admission that some of this year's NCEA papers are being re-marked to accord with expected results is not encouraging. This is exactly what was not supposed to happen in a brave new world of "standards-based assessment". NCEA was to be awarded to all who reached objective standards, not to a predetermined percentage of pupils for the sake of consistent results.

The re-marking looks like an attempt to avoid a replay of the embarrassment last year when unexpected scholarship results unnerved a Government led by academics who see little wrong with revising students' marks to produce a consistent spread of results in all subjects, every year. And they may be right that there is no other way to iron out the problems of a paper that is unusually difficult or easy, or a marker too hard or soft. But if, in the end, there is no other way to "moderate" the standards of papers and marking, the Qualifications Authority should be open about it.

National's education spokesman, Bill English, says he has been told the NZQA is quietly ordering the re-marking of many more exams than it has let on publicly. The authority says that after 50 per cent of papers had been marked it decided to remark 14 of the 335 standards, which does not sound too serious. Education Minister Steve Maharey explains that a Japanese exam, for example, was re-marked because pupils had not answered questions in the way expected in the guide given to markers.

"So they got nothing for it," he said. "But when you look at it they actually clearly understand what they're doing - it just wasn't anticipated in the marking guide that young people may do that."

That statement offers an insight to the rigidity of marking required by an attempt to assess students against consistent objective standards. But the fact that the authority needs to check results against an expected "profile" of marks shows it is not altogether confident of the standards-based method. Mr Maharey denies that "profiling" is little different from the infamous "scaling" that was done under the previous system. But the main difference appears to be that NCEA has a more laborious way of going about it. Scaling simply adjusted the spread after all results were in; the NCEA involves checking and re-marking as they go along.

The problems appearing for a second year reinforce the contention of critics who say some kinds of knowledge simply cannot be measured by consistent objective standards.

The exam reformers set out to produce a seamless system of assessment that would erase old-fashioned distinctions between academic and technical subjects and allow learners in all fields to amass credits of their own choice at their own pace, towards a single national qualification.

But the sort of objective standard that can be applied to motor mechanics, say, or mathematics cannot be applied to written essays. The danger is that, in trying to force arts and humanities into a form suitable for consistent objective assessment, pupils will be taught to think and write to a formula that would restrict intelligent development. There never was a need to remove distinctions between subjects. Trade training too has suffered from the attempt to put all learning into the same institutional pattern.

Standards-based assessment is as well suited to some subjects as it is ill suited to others. It would be as unfortunate to abolish the new system entirely as it would be to keep it across the board. Once the authority accepts that one size does not fit all, the NCEA will be on the road to repair.

Garth George: Problems when your home is far from the homeland

Sydney's so-called race riots - which, I think, would better be called culture clashes - are simply the latest episode in a cancer that has been spreading through the Western world for years.

Wherever countries have welcomed large numbers of immigrants of different cultures there have, after a time, been outbreaks of violence, generally between the new and the indigenous races.

Not long ago it was France, with parts of Paris set ablaze by gangs, but much of western Europe - leaving out the Balkans, where ethnic hatred is in the realm of insanity - has seen such troubles, including Britain, Germany and Holland.

Invariably it has been triggered in latter years by young immigrants from Middle Eastern countries, some of whom - like some of those in Australia - were born in the country in which they now live.

So far we in New Zealand have been lucky, although it must be said that conditions exist, especially in Auckland, for some outbreak of cultural trouble as various races make their homes in particular parts of this city.

Our immigrant population is relatively small - Australia's since World War II equals one and a half times our entire population - and I suspect we have a much smaller proportion of the sort of drongos whose subconscious fears lead them to treat immigrants with anger and contempt. We also have a police force which is relatively free of rednecks.

While what has happened in Sydney is only to be expected, the reactions to it leave me in despair of finding effective answers to the integration of large immigrant populations.

Hark at the Melbourne Herald Sun: "Australia is a proudly multicultural nation. People of all nationalities and faiths working together make our country great ... a country that prides itself on understanding and acceptance. We should embrace our differences, learn from one another and celebrate our way of life ..."

Fine sentiments indeed, but in fact hogwash, a rose-tinted view that ignores the reality, the sort of superficial nonsense spouted by politicians and bureaucrats who embrace policies of large immigration.

There seems to be a reluctance to understand that immigration, particularly on a large scale, carries with it myriad human problems for both the immigrants and the people who see their country as their own property.

I wonder how many of us even vaguely understand the frightening sense of dislocation many immigrants must feel when they arrive in a foreign land and are separated from all that which is inherent, known and familiar.

And how many even try to understand how threatening it must be for the insecure in the host nations to be confronted with what they see as hordes of foreigners invading their land.

You would think, for instance, that the Lebanese young people, brought up in a land which has been soaked in the blood of invasions and civil wars for most of the past 1000 years, would revel in the peace Australia provides.

Not so. Rebellion is in their genes, a survival instinct honed over the generations of a millennium, and inherited behaviour such as that is not unlearned in a few decades.

So it is with most people who emigrate from far-off lands, where such basics as language, custom, religion, food and climate are so different as to be seriously discomfiting and probably threatening.

Is it any wonder so many choose to settle with their countrymen and women in what might be called modern-day ghettos?

Yet there seems to be a widely held view among those who promote immigration and deal with immigrants that they will simply integrate into their new society and get on with life. This attitude among the host population that the newcomers should just forget their past and settle down is presumptuous, to say the least.

It is, of course, one of the great fallacies of so-called globalisation - the idea that we are all just one great big happy family and that our historical and lifetime ethnic, spiritual, cultural and nationalistic indoctrination is of little importance and can be set aside at will.

Let me reduce it to the local and the personal.

I was born and raised in Invercargill. I moved to Christchurch where I felt at home, for it was just Invercargill on a bigger scale.

I have lived in Auckland for most of the past 35 years and I have to admit that I have never really felt at home here; rather I have felt like a visitor.

That has come home to me more and more strongly since I retired from the Herald, and I have begun to yearn to return to the South Island where most of the remnants of my family still live.

Silly? Some will no doubt say so, but for all that the thoughts and feelings are real - a sense of dislocation from my roots which I haven't felt so strongly since the last of the four years I spent in Australia.

Just imagine, therefore, how much greater the sense of dislocation suffered by immigrants, no matter how intelligent or committed they are to making a new life.

The vast shift of populations which is taking place throughout the world today must bring with it vast human problems, and the Sydney troubles are simply a small part of them.

Eventually, of course, they will solve themselves as new generations are born in the countries of choice. But I won't live to see it.

Philippa Stevenson: What do we do if all our GPs retire?

The news has a nasty habit of becoming personal.

The alarm bell sounded on Monday by the College of General Practitioners rang especially loud in my house.

Stressed and declining in number, GPs are ageing faster than their workforce is being replenished, the college warned.

In just five years, more than a third of today's GPs plan to be out of general practice. Most days such stats might have captured the attention for only a brief moment. This day they hung about, replete with meaning. They added up to real loss.

My GP isn't retiring in five years' time: he's hanging up his stethoscope in a week.

Only seven days before I and every other patient who has trundled along to see this man with our pains and worries for 35 years are cast into a great, medical void.

And I thought changing hairdressers or mechanics was traumatic. No wonder one patient's words at the news were: "What the hell do we do now?"

It's deeply comforting to be able to discuss this or that odd physical development with someone who's written every illegible prescription for you since you wore short pants or witches britches.

Now you're grey and prone to sensible shoes there's something oddly reassuring about the fat folder that thumps on to your GP's desk when you stop by. Should more than your hair fade those copious notes could be important - capable of telling much of your life's story when you cannot.

Rightly or wrongly, you feel they - and you - are more likely to be understood by the person who wrote them. Now that person has gone. One minute you're a long history of symptoms turned diagnosed ailments, prescribed remedies and recovery (or not); the next you're a blank page trying to figure out whether it's important to mention to a busy and harassed-looking stranger what, over the years, you've had taken out or added in.

That's what it's like on my side of the waiting room but, according to the GP's college, unless something is done quickly about training and retaining GPs, in 10 years' time we may not have even a busy and harassed stranger to turn to.

My GP's working life reflects much of what the college found in a survey of 2057 members.

Thirty-four per cent of our doctors have trained overseas - the highest percentage of OECD countries.

Mine trained in Britain before putting up his shingle in Hamilton in partnership with another British-trained GP in 1970. Then as now, there was a chronic shortage of doctors and their waiting room was soon full. The next two GPs to join them were also British.

College president Jonathan Fox, who is also from Britain, says the degree to which we depend on overseas-trained doctors makes us vulnerable. "It's a global market and other places can be much more attractive."

Overseas-trained doctors are also at higher risk of having complaints brought against them, often because of cultural misunderstandings.

Certainly, New Zealand's ethnic diversity is far greater than the make-up of GPs. Waiting rooms once stocked almost exclusively by Maori and Pakeha are now a veritable United Nations.

Maori and Pacific Islander numbers are also rising rapidly but they are already under-represented among GPs and scholarships encouraging them into general practice have been halted for next year.

Meanwhile, the job's been made harder.

More bookwork has steadily lengthened GPs' already long working day. Mine estimates he now sees half the number of patients a day he once did.

And general practice lost its cornerstone - maternity care. Although it probably contributed most to broken sleep, it was also one of the nicest sides of practice. Among the daily parade of aches and pains expectant mums are almost guaranteed to be cheerful. Delivering a new baby usually meant delivering a new customer.

Now emergency medical centres tend to cream off the quick and easy work, GPs are making the chronic illness sufferer their forte. It's a more expensive field but Dr Fox believes it's high time we compared the cost of maintaining our car, hair or even fingernails with that for maintaining our health.

It's an unarguable point. So is his case for health worker numbers to be boosted across the board.

"It's not a matter of having more nurses to do things GPs once did. We need more of everybody."

Particularly, we need more homegrown talent. The interest is there. Last year, there were 114 applications for the 55 funded places on the General Practice Education programme. The figures are similar for next year. Oddly, the training places were halved in the mid-90s, exacerbating a well-advanced trend.

I'd like to think that when I next visit my local medical centre I'll be beginning a new, long-term relationship with a GP that will be as satisfactory as the last.

But with the number of golfers set to be boosted by a swag of retiring GPs, I may be better off down the clubrooms.

Gwynne Dyer: Bleak future as election poised to rupture Iraq

After so many fake "turning points" in Iraq, at last a genuine one: the election really will settle something.

Unfortunately, what it will do is confirm that the unitary Iraqi state that has existed since 1918 is nearing its end, to be replaced by God knows what.

The Kurdish-speaking north of Iraq is already a separate state for all practical purposes, with its own Army and budget.

The Kurdish authorities co-operate with the Shia Arab majority of the south to keep the Americans happy and the Sunni Arab minority down, but they are already signing contracts with foreign oil companies whose revenues, if they find oil, will go only to the Kurdish Government.

Kurdistan may not declare formal independence in this decade, because Turkey might overreact, but in reality it is already gone.

The Shia Arabs, who outnumber the Sunni Arabs about three-to-one, but were always dominated by them politically until the US invasion, are determined to consolidate their new supremacy, and if that alienates the Sunnis, well, so be it.

The office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, immensely influential among Shias, issued a statement last week that effectively ordered the faithful to vote for the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of 17 Shia religious parties that seeks a Shia-run Islamic state.

Most Shias will obey the order.

Most of the Sunni Arabs will also vote in this election, unlike the one they boycotted last January, because they do not want to be locked out of the debate over Iraq's future.

But if most people continue to vote on a communal basis - and they will - then sheer numbers guarantee that the Kurdish-Shia coalition will win again. That will probably be fatal for Iraq.

The Sunni Arabs, now only 20 per cent of the population, have monopolised and abused power in Iraq - not just under Saddam Hussein or the Baath Party or the British Empire, but continuously since the centuries-long rule of the Ottoman regime, which raised Sunnis above Shias because of its own sectarian loyalties.

It is possible to imagine a different kind of democratic transition in Iraq that did not turn Sunni Arabs into a besieged and embittered minority, but the American invasion made disharmony inevitable.

The Kurds were always unhappy within Iraq (as they are within Turkey and Iran and Syria) since they were cheated out of their promised national state by the British and French Empires in the aftermath of World War I.

The Sunni-Shia rupture within Arab Iraq, however, was far from inevitable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, despite the long rule of the Sunni-dominated Baath Party, the 80 per cent of Iraqis who speak Arabic did not define themselves in sectarian terms.

The sort of non-violent democratic revolution that transformed Czechoslovakia in 1989, South Africa in 1994 and Ukraine in 2004, all of them potentially fragile multi-ethnic states, could also have transformed Iraq in the fullness of time, if time had been available.

The Kurds might have left anyway, as the Slovaks left Czechoslovakia after democratisation, but the Arab core of the country need not have splintered.

Such a non-violent revolution could have come in Iraq sooner or later: Arabs are not fundamentally different from other human beings.

But the violent overthrow of Baath Party rule by a foreign invasion was bound to produce a violent resistance movement among the Sunni Arab minority who had been driven from power, and that resistance movement has led to the current sectarian polarisation in Arab Iraq.

The US occupiers in Iraq are now desperately trying to engineer the return to power of Iyad Allawi, the man they appointed as Prime Minister in the first "transitional" government in 2003.

For Washington, he is ideal: Shia but secular (to attract the majority of Shia Arabs who don't want to live in a theocracy), an ex-Baathist (to reassure Sunni Arabs of his Arab nationalist credentials), and a CIA employee of long standing (to reassure Washington).

But it's hopeless: one election poster shows a face that is half Allawi's, half Saddam Hussein's, asking, "What is the difference between the two?"

Out of 115 battalions in the new "Iraqi" Army, only one mixes Shia and Sunni Arabs and Kurds. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shia religious party, controls the interior ministry and its 110,000 police, and has decreed that no non-Iraqi Arabs may enter Iraq until the election is over - although Iranians, Turks and other foreigners may continue to come and go freely. And the voting will be largely along ethnic and sectarian lines.

Allawi will be lucky to get 25 seats in the new National Assembly.

The Shia religious parties will probably take 110-115 of the 275 seats and form another coalition with the Kurds, who will get around 50 seats. The Sunni Arab list will get 50-55 seats and be frozen out of power once more.

So Iraq will probably break up over the next year or two, with Kurds and Shia Arabs in the oil-rich north and south abandoning the recalcitrant Sunni Arabs of the centre for the Americans to deal with.

And when the United States pulls out, as it will sooner or later, where does the "Sunni Triangle" that extends from Baghdad west to the Syria border go? That is the million-dinar question, and the wrong answer could bring the whole house of cards tumbling down..

Africa's colonial borders, however senseless they might be in ethnic or economic terms, were made sacrosanct by the old Organisation of African Unity, because to allow the possibility of changing frontiers would open the road to 100 years of border wars. The borders in the Arab world are equally arbitrary and equally vulnerable.

If the frontiers that define the countries of the eastern Arab world - all drawn between 1918 and 1932 by European empires and Saudi conquests - are called into question, the world's premier oil-producing region faces a generation of border wars.

Iraq never made much sense as a country, but its destruction could have very large consequences.

* Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Brian Fallow: Giving kiwi a shove in the right direction

When many exporters are hurting from a dollar close to 20-year highs it might be thought callous, even cruel, for the Reserve Bank to hint that it is thinking about intervening in the currency market unless it plans to do so.

But its declared criteria for intervening are only partly satisfied and, therefore, any non-verbal moves aimed at triggering a fall in the exchange rate are unlikely - for the time being.

When the bank decides it is time to ease monetary policy, however, it may be a different story. Maybe.

Governor Alan Bollard has been ramping up his rhetoric on the exchange rate.

In a speech on October 14, he noted "a growing sense among analysts and commentators that the exchange rate is materially overvalued and that a substantial fall is desirable and inevitable at some stage in the next couple of years".

Two weeks later, when he raised the official cash rate to 7 per cent, he was prepared to join the ranks of the analysts and commentators: "We also expect a significantly lower exchange rate."

In a speech the next week, he went further, using two of the key words in the bank's criteria for intervention.

He said the exchange rate was exceptionally high and that was unjustifiable, although the latter term was qualified with an "in some respects".

By last Thursday's monetary policy statement and further rate rise - and by this stage the kiwi dollar had just hit post-float highs on a trade-weighted basis - Bollard was unequivocal: "We think the dollar is exceptionally and unjustifiably high."

But he added that he would expect the market to look at all of the bank's criteria for intervention.

And there's the rub.

For there are two other criteria the bank has laid down before it would consider intervening.

One is that intervention would have to be consistent with the bank's policy targets agreement, that is, with monetary policy.

A paper by bank staffers Kelly Eckhold and Chris Hunt in last March's Reserve Bank Bulletin explains: "Intervention should be timed to roughly coincide with the broad thrust of interest rate settings. It makes little sense to intervene to try to push the exchange rate lower when the bank believes that higher interest rates may be required in the near future to control inflation pressures. In this situation, a successful intervention would inappropriately loosen monetary conditions."

Yet that is exactly the situation now. The bank has just raised its policy rate and warned that more of the same may be needed.

It does not make sense for it to hit the brakes and the accelerator at the same time. This is likely to reduce vital bits of the vehicle to metallic paste.

That is not to say that the bank would not prefer its desired tightness of monetary conditions to be delivered through the combination of (even) higher interest rates and a weaker currency.

But it is a given that the bank can only determine the overall tightness or looseness of monetary conditions, not how that is split between interest and exchange rates.

Frustration with the present mix and concern about what is happening to exporters and firms competing with imports may explain why Bollard would try to talk the dollar down.

Talk is cheap. By their deeds shall ye know them.

The bank has just delivered a couple of rate rises and a hawkish monetary policy statement; all else being equal it has made kiwi dollar-denominated debt more attractive to overseas investors.

In that context, says Bancorp's Earl White, for Bollard to try to talk people into selling the dollar is a bit like telling your children they can't drink while handing them a bottle of whisky.

Most market economists think that Bollard has finished raising rates for this cycle and that by the second half of next year will be cutting them.

That prospect imparts added interest to this passage from the Bulletin paper on currency intervention: "Normally, the bank would look to adjust its main policy lever - the official cash rate - when overall conditions seem too tight or easy. However, there might be occasions when the bank is reluctant to move the OCR," Eckhold and Hunt say. "They might conclude that further interest rate tightening to offset domestic inflation pressure is inappropriate but that it is too soon to begin actually cutting interest rates. The bank could intervene in response to an overvalued exchange rate that is extreme and unjustified, thereby effectively loosening monetary conditions without prematurely beginning an interest rate easing cycle."

Other central banks have been known to kick off an easing cycle in that way.

The final hurdle that has to be cleared before the bank would consider intervening is more daunting, however.

Conditions in the foreign exchange market have to be right for intervention to make a difference.

Assistant Governor Grant Spencer told MPs last week: "If there are big flows in the market buying the kiwi dollar then what we would do would be a drop in the ocean, so there is limited scope for us to actually have an impact.

"So if we were going to intervene, the timing would have to be carefully chosen."

An opportune time is likely to be one when the balance of capital flows is shifting towards pushing the exchange rate back towards, rather than further away from, fair value and when market participants are becoming less confident that the trends which have taken exchange rate further away from fair value will persist.

It would also be more opportune if market participants' positions made them vulnerable to a sudden move in the exchange rate so that they would need to reduce their exposures by trading in the direction the bank sought.

Westpac currency strategist Johnathan Bayley says market conditions right now are not favourable for intervention.

Big overseas institutional investors are already bearish about the kiwi dollar, because the economic fundamentals - faltering growth and a gaping current account deficit - tell them it is seriously overvalued.

Bayley said: "They have been spending the whole year positioned for a significant decline in the kiwi dollar and, by and large, are still positioned that way. They would welcome a move [by the Reserve Bank] and would probably go with it.

"But that is also a reason not to intervene, because you would not be squeezing them out of a long position."

What has propped the kiwi dollar up this year, even as the weight of fundamental economic reasons to sell it has grown, is overseas retail investors buying eurobonds, especially the Japanese version, uridashis.

Eurobonds are debt securities offered offshore, denominated in New Zealand dollars and paying New Zealand interest rates, which are exceptionally high by international standards.

The investors bear the risk that by the time they get repaid the exchange rate will have moved against them.

Lately that has not been their experience however. The kiwi dollar has appreciated more than 15 per cent against the yen and almost as much against the euro since the start of the year.

Add the interest rate differential on offer and you have hefty returns for the investor.

And that tsunami of capital - more than $25 billion this year - has been greeted with open arms by home buyers signing up for the fixed-rate mortgages it funds.

This has frustrated Bollard's efforts to dampen down the housing market and its spillover effects on general inflation.

It also creates a discouraging environment for currency market intervention by the central bank.

"By and large people who are buying the currency are not going to be squeezed out of their position by intervention because their position is a eurobond rather than cash," says Bayley.

And unlike the big institutional investors, their sentiment towards the kiwi remains quite positive.

It will take a large adverse movement in the cross rate between the kiwi dollar and the yen - 5 or 6 off the first number of the exchange rate - to stem that flow, he believes. "For my money, the most likely source of such a move would be a sharp move down in the US dollar/yen leg of the exchange rate. And when that happens no one will be happier than Bollard."

In the meantime, however, he is likely to remain frustrated and exporters burdened by an overvalued exchange rate.

They are caught between two amorous elephants: local households' eagerness to borrow and Japanese housewives' willingness to lend.

Linda Herrick: Style criminals abroad

Just as the Brits colonised chunks of the world in past centuries, they continue to spread a new form of international imperialism: the British tourist. You can spot a Pom abroad a mile off - pink, podgy and, as so often seen during the Lions tour, pissed.

What Not to Wear on Holiday, which screens on TV One tonight, refines the horror of the British tourist by honing in on the female of the species and the style crimes committed by two of them.

Mavens Trinny and Susannah specialise in the cruel-to-be-kind game, so they gather a group of 75 devotees of big crusty shorts, and whittle them to a pair of crushed old birds - one who looks like a man, the other whose holiday snaps from last year's classy hols in a caravan in Newquay have drained her confidence. Rightly so.

With holidays looming in Tenerife and Venice respectively, both are terrified of appearing on the beach alongside all those skinny, tanned bitches.

And both are paranoid about their partners looking at all those skinny, tanned bitches. The partners, of course, are fine examples of the great British male - unkempt, hirsute, sporting nice big beer guts.

One even has the temerity to tell Susannah that there's no need for him to make an effort as "it's hard to improve on perfection".

The girls work their magic, as usual, and by the end of what seems like forever, the two made-overs totter proudly around on heels, wearing silly bits of tasselled cloth and cheap sparkly knock-offs.

Getting Brits to look less British on holiday is, I suppose, an admirable aim but it's hardly going to go global. And Trinny and Susannah dressing up a pair of big Brit girls - what's that doing on our primetime viewing?

At this time of year, the programmers are scraping the bottom of the barrel but What Not To Wear has worn out its welcome, like the British Empire.

New Zealanders are great travellers, we keep hearing, but Chris Knox is not.

On Monday night's episode of Intrepid Journeys, the Tall Dwarf of Grey Lynn looked spooked to be in India, away from the wife and kids.

Moaning about the crowds, the noise, the heat, unable to sleep, Knoxy wasn't the most adaptable traveller. As a token gesture he swapped his routine uniform of shorts and shirt for a wrap-around skirt that doubled as a large nappy.

He had a new shirt made, then bummed out because he'd just noticed child labourers at the treadle sewing machines. At the movie house, he confessed that his favourite colour combination was black and cack-yellow.

Where are Trinny and Susannah when you really need them?

Someone whose style we are going to see plenty of soon, with the accompanying women's mags' prattle about wardrobes, hair, makeup and relationships, will be Wendy Petrie, one half of the new One News presenting team, with Simon Dallow.

It's absurd that a news presenter should be subjected to such close personal scrutiny but that's what happens when you're on the telly five nights a week.

One can only imagine that Judy Bailey will be sighing with immense relief as she signs off for good at the end of this week.

She'll be presented with a big bunch of flowers, she'll blink and hold off the tears, and remain poised to the very end. Wouldn't it be great if she looked hard down the camera and hissed, "I'd just like to say to my bosses at TVNZ - get #@#@%#!"

But she has far too much style for that, $800,000 worth of style.

Denis Edwards: Kong flop could prove positive

We hear that New York went mad over King Kong. I doubt it. Having lived in that city, albeit briefly, and through its weekly sensations, it is obvious it takes more than a movie to really wake the city that never sleeps.

More likely the ones going truly mad over King Kong are its New York-based publicists.

If Peter Jackson's giant does not deliver giant returns, and quickly, we may find we are at an interesting moment -as in the ancient curse, "May you live in interesting times", with interesting reading as horrible.

King Kong is no certainty to avoid falling from the Empire State Building into the river of red ink.

It is higher risk than The Lord of the Rings. While Rings had been attempted before it had nothing like the ape's profile as either icon or earner.

It comes topped up with dinosaurs, bringing comparison with Jurassic Park, but the gorilla doesn't show up accompanied by the legions of cult-like Tolkien devotees.

That three-hour running time could matter. If it could have been done in two, with the rest as indulgent bloat - and this happens, witness The Constant Gardener - then the interesting times may roll.

This country, and probably Peter Jackson, will be off Hollywood's speed dials within the hour, especially as no one need put up with trying to move large files on our skimpy broadband any more.

Jackson himself would re-surface. He has talent and he has the experience, having donned the sackcloth and shuffled into the dungeons for a suitable period of repentance after his Michael J. Fox vehicle, The Frighteners, hit the iceberg.

While no one, except the truly jealous, would wish failure on Jackson, something less than a raging success might be, dare we say it, "interesting" - only in a more positive way.

The infrastructure built by Rings and Kong will still be here, and with the Californians moving to bring home runaway productions through tax penalties, we may have to look to ourselves.

Instead of living off Hollywood's waifs and strays, the No 8 wire mentality will need to surface and more home-grown product emerge from the House of Rings/Kong.

This may be a few steps to creating an industry rather than a series of two-year marquee events based around one person, and inch us along to that which the Australians are developing - a wide and broad industry of their own.

Jurassic Park's Steven Spielberg continues to make his movies, and his upcoming Munich is threatening to wipe both Harry Potter and King Kong from the money charts.

Spielberg also executive-produces other films, helping to create that broader-based industry we need a lot more than his Hollywood does.

* Denis Edwards is a novelist and playwright and past president of the New Zealand Writers Guild.

Talkback: Do-it-yourself news a deluded dream

By Richard Carter

The ordinary people are about to take over the newsroom.

That's right. Mainstream news media as we know it are about to curl up at the toes. The internet has given everyone a voice. Cancel your newspaper subscriptions. News reporting no longer needs trained arbiters, balance, insight or skilled storytellers.

No, these days all that's needed is an internet connection. A few mouse clicks and you'll quickly find the necessary news, without going anywhere near Reuters. Or, if you're that way inclined, bash your computer keyboard some more and publish your doings. All the words are right there in the dictionary or, if you're still a bit shaky on the entire alphabet, try Google.

How hard can reporting be?

Recently the Herald ran a story from Britain's Independent about internet entrepreneur Craig Newmark, who has set his sights on news publishing. Flush with the success of his US-based classified advertising website, which apparently has snatched millions of dollars of classified advertising revenue away from newspaper publishers, Newmark reckons the "popular distrust of reporters" means the season is right for harvesting the "wisdom of the masses".

Daily journalism brought to you by anyone with a view and the inclination to report it.

According to Newmark, the big problem, and the reason the masses will soon be taking news reporting into their own hands, is that news publishers don't speak "truth to power". They've been neutered by certain "directives" and are too spooked to ask the hard questions. They're also greedy. And these factors combined are eroding the ability of mainstream news organisations to seek out and report the real stories, for fear of upsetting those in power and their advertisers.

Somehow I doubt it. What Newmark is proposing is a fanciful notion popular with propeller heads who spend too much time hallucinating about technology triumphing over human nature. Never mind the years of graft that go into mastering the craft of journalism, or the common law and professional standards that ensure news gathering and reporting are up to scratch.

If the masses distrust mainstream news organisations, how are they ever going to trust the "wisdom of the masses"? There are no arbiters among the masses. No editors, or the standards and law that underpin mainstream news reporting. And let's not forget the idea that most people don't enjoy reading dross, which prospers when news gathering and reporting processes employed by mainstream news organisations are missing.

Newmark's proposition is a bit like questioning the relevance of restaurants. Everyone knows how to cook, so why pay a premium for someone else to do it for you?

The threat to newspaper classified advertising from websites like Newmark's is real. But advertising is not news. While the internet has worked wonders for the masses by bringing together buyers and sellers, as a mechanism in its own right to entice readers away from their mainstream news media sources, I doubt it.

* Richard Carter is creative director of marketing communications company Talkies Group.