Friday, December 23, 2005


Ad agency Whybin TBWA & Tequila sent out this very clever brain-teasing Christmas card. Sitting in a bag of water are a carrot, two stones and a pipe. What is it? (answer at the end of Sideswipe)

By Ana Samways

A special police announcement especially for the silly season: Communications Centre national manager Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald hopes everyone has a happy and safe Christmas and New Year but would like to "remind people that the 111 emergency number is not to be used as just another plaything when they tire of their Christmas gifts". Other reminders include a handy checklist of appropriate times to call 111, such as when "a person or people is/are seriously injured or in danger" or "there is a major public inconvenience (e.g. a State Highway is blocked by fallen trees)". The message also provides examples of non-urgent calls, whereby 111 should not be called, such as:

"Can you put me through to lost property."

"I have had a power cut and I have no candles."

"Do you know a good stain remover."

These examples are NOT emergencies and can either be resolved without police involvement or by telephoning or visiting your nearest police station, the message asserts. (Omitted from the list "I'm stuck at Piha, I think I've been drugged and I don't feel safe".)

* * *

Santa the pusher: What's the hottest item on primetime TV advertising in California a week before Christmas? Drugs, says a travelling Sideswipe reader. Pain relievers, diabetes, upset stomachs, throat infections, chronic dry eyes ... the spiel is relentless. Personal favourite is the drug you must have for Restless Leg Syndrome. "Spookily, at that moment, my own leg grew restless ... to boot in the television screen."

* * *

Last year, in an attempt to reach the "kids", the White House revealed President Bush had downloaded My Sharona by the Knack on to his iPod. On Fox News this month the network's anchor Brit Hume interviewed George Bush about his iPod. Here's the Washington Post's transcript:

Bush: Beach Boys, Beatles, let's see, Alan Jackson, Alejandro, Alison Krauss, the Angels, the Archies, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Dan McLean. Remember him?

Hume: Don McLean.

Bush: I mean, Don McLean.

Hume: Does American Pie, right?

Bush: Great song.

Unidentified male: ... which ones do you play?

Bush: All of these. I put it on shuffle ... I've got the Shuffle, the, what is it called? The little.

Hume: The Shuffle. That is the name of one of the models.

Bush: Yes, the Shuffle.

Hume: Called the Shuffle.

Bush: Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle.

Hume: So you - it plays ...

Bush: Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on.

Hume: So it plays them in a random order.

Bush: Yes.

Hume: So you don't know what you're going to get.

Bush: No.

* * *

Mixed message: According to an NZPA story, police are gearing up for an increase in drunken trouble on Christmas Day and New Year's Day this year because they both fall on the weekend. "Police have told people to go easy on alcohol and drugs and take time out to calm down if things get out of control," says the report. Go easy on the drugs? Righto.

* * *

Kristofer Kringle, an international toy distributor popularly known as Santa Claus, approved elf-penned legislation on Monday that grants greater benefits to often-neglected "special wants" children. "Old policies failed to reward the world's children for dreaming big, but no longer. Children with special or unusual wants shall see them all fulfilled on Christmas morning," Kringle said, in an announcement met with strong support from parents of the developmentally entitled. "My children were all born with special wants," said Glenda Froman, mother of three. "After years of whiny suffering, they'll finally have their wish: Xbox 360s in every room, matching ponies, and a rocket-powered bicycle they're allowed to fly inside the house." (A brilliant take on the season from satire website the Onion,

* * *

Ways Geeks Celebrate Christmas

1. Printing out "One Year of Free Computer Service" certificates to give to the family.

2. Explaining to children how it would be physically impossible for Santa to deliver all the presents.

3. Devise a computer-controlled system to detect and prevent household members from trying to peek into their presents before Christmas.

4. Decorating the tree with SDRAM and CPUs burned out from your last overclocking experiment.

5. Programming the Christmas lights to flash out "I hate this holiday of unbridled consumerism" in binary.

6. Rewriting Christmas carols in Tolkien's elvish.


* * *

Do they know it's Christmas? Blogger Tris McCall describes the song as "the most condescending piece of patrician propaganda in the history of limousine liberal art. Merit there was in the original Live Aid project, to be sure. But now it's 20 years later, Geldof and Midge Ure are M. I. A., Eritrea has officially broken away from Ethiopia, and we're still hearing this compendium of ridiculous generalisations about Africa in heavy rotation every Christmas season. Let's recap: Africa is a 'world of dread and fear', there's no water flowing, bells ringing there are the 'clanging chimes of doom', nothing ever grows in Africa (what?!?), there's no rain or rivers or, um, water flowing, and above all and most importantly, NO SNOW. Biologically laughable and factually preposterous, these misrepresentations still reinforce the nagging popular conception of Africa as a huge continental garbage can, populated by stone-age morons who have yet to grasp the rudiments of agriculture." (Source:

* * *

Christmas craziness: What other time of the year do you sit in front of a dead tree and eat candy out of your socks?

* * *

The name of a cancer-causing gene has been changed from "Pokemon" to Zbtb7 after Pokemon USA threatened legal action to keep scientists from referring to the gene by the game's name, according to an article in science journal Nature. In January's issue, geneticist Pier Paolo Pandolfi of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York describes the cancer-causing POK erythroid myeloid ontogenic gene, calling it Pokemon. The gene in question is part of the POK gene family that encodes proteins that turn off other genes. POK proteins are critical in embryonic development, cellular differentiation and oncogenesis, according to the National Cancer Institute. (Source:

* * *

A reader would like to give a scrooge award to National Bank New Lynn. "While waiting in the lengthy queue I had plenty of time to look around and could not find one Xmas decoration in the place. They had a tree, but it was completely bare. Considering how much money they make from us they surely could come up with a few pretty baubles."

* * *

And our final swipe at our esteemed police force: One Auckland constable spent nearly 30 minutes after pulling over one of two motorcyclists out for a Sunday jaunt along Auckland Quay St on the weekend writing up a ticket for the rider of a Harley-Davidson V-Rod with the personalised plate iROD. The officer alleged the lower case letter i should have been a capital. At the end of which he produced the ticket, citing inappropriate display of a registration plate, for $200.

* * *

Answer to brainteaser: A melted snowman.

Te Radar: Hypocrisy provided delightful treats all year

It wasn't a bang but a whimper that was the highlight of my media year. To be precise, it was Graham Capill's whimper, as he lay, curled fetally, snivelling on the pavement, after having a little summary justice inflicted upon him by a member of our gloriously flawed public.

There will be some who say it is sinful to delight in the misfortune of others, but I suspect it is considerably less sinful than raping children.

Regardless, as best exemplified by Capill himself, this was the year of hypocrisy.

Shortly after the Right Honourable Winston Peters gallantly sacrificed himself for the sake of stable government and graciously accepted the role of Foreign Affairs Minister, I was chastised by one of his parliamentary colleagues for having the temerity to suggest that Winston had less integrity than a child pornographer.

Immediately afterwards the news broke that his party was demanding to sit on the Opposition benches. The concurrence of these two events caused me to laugh so heartily I nearly ran over a child.

It was a certain gritty honesty rather than hypocrisy that caused the downfall of John Tamihere, who achieved immortality by adding words such as "frontbum" to the national lexicon. Things weren't quite so cheery for his cats, who were put down midway through the year as they suffered from cat Aids.

They were treated with the same compassion the new Pope seemed to show towards the people of Africa, when he stated that the problem of Aids on the continent must be tackled through "fidelity and abstinence and not by condoms".

This is easy to say for someone who has spent his life denying himself the pleasures of the flesh and who is thus unaware about why exactly it is described as a "pleasure".

It isn't only physical pleasures that are being denied to people by religious zealots. Western music has recently been banned by Iran's democratically elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Whether he did this on the grounds of its sinfulness or simply his good taste is a moot point, given that the most popular tunes on Iran's State TV include the Eagles, George Michael and Kenny G.

Capill is fortunate he didn't pursue his predilections in Iran, where no doubt he would have been buried in a hole up to his neck while people threw stones at his head until he was dead, (although that punishment is usually reserved for petty criminals whose crimes include adultery or pre-marital sex).

It would be wrong to be entirely negative about the year.

One man's antics deserve praise.

David Turnock, who flew a light plane around the Sky Tower on election night before crashing into the sea, is a bastion of sanity and romantic innovation compared with many lovelorn New Zealand males, who prefer to simply beat or stab women to death in order to express their affection.

Jim Hopkins: Christmas carols to wish you a nouveau Noel noir

Can't you see it shining bright?

All very well some foppish French cove dashing about in brocade pantaloons and telling anybody who'd listen that "the more things change the more they stay the same", but Messier le Clever Clogs obviously hasn't been in our niche aux Susan (neck of the Woods) lately.

Because, round here, when we change things, boy, do they stay changed. Christmas is a classic example. It used to be mangers and mirth, peace on earth and a cursory nod in the general direction of Bethlehem. But not any more.

Not when we've got marauding bands of rogue Santas roaming the streets and cheerfully hanging a sock on somebody's jaw rather than the nearest chimney, or festive taxi drivers getting ruthlessly behatted, and people taking grave exception to the L***'s P*****r at school assemblies.

There's no "same" in that lot, Mr French philosophe, Sir. Au cointreau, it's all very nouvelle and somewhat noir, too.

The signs of this tectonic shift are everywhere. In the supermarket, for instance, at the magazine section, you won't find the traditional Woman's Weekly staples: 15 Toys You Can Make With Spare Christmas Stuffing or How To Knit A Straitjacket. What you will find is this week's Woman's Day Jen's Xmas Bombshell. I'm having my own baby.

And if that reproductive miracle doesn't appeal, try New Idea: Kirstie's Xmas sex diet. Santa bring me a man!

Johnny Craig, perhaps? Or someone with their own liposucker?

Actually it doesn't really matter. The point is, "Santa bring me a man!" is not what we're used to.

Indeed, there are decent Presbyterian folk round here who've started shopping with their eyes closed. And going home with two Toilet Ducks instead of a chicken as a result.

But they'd better get used to it. The change seems irreversible. We won't be recycling ye olde worlde Christmas any time soon.

Unless our extinguished poet laureate, Mr Jam Hipkins, has his way. Mr Hipkins believes he's found a solution that might placate the nostalgic, and that French chapeau.

We haven't heard much from the laureate lately, mainly because he's done a Peter Jackson and gone global, carving out a virtually unnoticed international career as a songwriter.

In fact, he had a huge hit in Iraq during the recent elections with a remake of I Got You, Babe performed by top Bagdhad duo, Sunni and Shia:

They say our hope won't pay the rent

And Western life is truly deca-dent

But, now, at last, you hear our voice

'Cos you and me, we're free to make a choice

Hey, we vote too, babe

We vote too babe

Actually, it was that very song that gave the laureate his inspiration. "If we want to make a change that feels the same," he reasoned, "why not celebrate the new Christmas with the old melodies?"

So that's what he's done. Although not always entirely successfully: I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas ...

So I've booked a trip to Cronulla.

Yes, alright, okay, we all have our off days. At least the man's trying. And sometimes getting it right. Imagine the highway happiness if the LTSA adopted this Rudolph remake:

Rude oaf, the red light's plain here

Can't you see it shining bright?

All of us other drivers

Hope that you will STOP tonight!!!

Don't you know the light's turned green

That means you have to halt

Or else you'll cause an accident

And it will be your fault!

Oh, rude oaf ... etc etc

And those who still hanker for something spiritual in the festive season might enjoy this:

Away in a manger,

No crib for a bed

The little Lord Jesus

Lays down his sweet head

But please do not mention

Such sad Christmas tales

They might offend migrants

And hurt retail sales

Equally, since politicians seem to be our new saviours (certainly in their own estimation), another of the laureate's rejigged favourites could also find favour:

Deck the House with loads of lolly,

Tra la la la la, la la la la

Make the MPs all feel jolly

Tra la la la la, la la la la

Thanks to Santa's Pay Commission

Tra la la, la la la, la la la

Their wallets are in fine condition

Tra la la la la, la la la la.

Another group his approach might reach is the alienated young, who would surely respond to this updated classic:

Silent night, holy night

Parties rage, people fight

Hear the urgin' frenzied and wild

"Thump him, Jason You shouldn't be mild.

He nicked everyone's P ... eee

He.e.e. nicked everyone's P!"

And the laureate hasn't forgotten the journalists either:

Hark, the Herald writers bring

Stories that will make you sing

Tales of Christmas here today

Stories of our new age way



Hark, the Herald writers bring

All the news on everything

So there we have it. A new approach to an old celebration. Controversial perhaps but nevertheless infusing what we've got with a little of what we had.

And, provided you don't mention the L***'s P****r or breach the noise limits like those naughty Salvationists in Wellington, there's still time to recruit a choir, learn the lyrics, find a truck and hit the streets. It is Christmas, after all.

Editorial: Keeping elderly safe on the road

Seeking a coherent strand in the Government's road-safety policy is a frustrating exercise. Its approach juxtaposes a vigilance bordering on the obsessive in the matter of relatively minor speed infringements with a reluctance to grapple with the dangers inherent in drivers' cellphone use. Now, to add to the mixed message, the Transport Safety Minister has confirmed that, from next December, people over 80 will no longer have to take a mandatory practical driving test.

The announcement has, of course, been applauded by the elderly. Many regard the driving licence as a symbol of independence, and felt discriminated against when the test was introduced six years ago. Many others in that age group, however, have recognised their waning skills and, with commendable responsibility, settled for the passenger seat. For some, the necessity to sit a practical test was actually the spur for acknowledging the frailties that come with age.

Nonetheless, the dogged opposition of many elderly drivers prompted an election-year pledge by the Prime Minister to abolish the test. This received far from universal acclamation. At least parties boasting experience in the area and impartiality raised concerns. First, the insurance industry pointed to statistics that revealed the over-80s were the highest risk group for driver accidents after the group aged under 25. The elderly figure particularly in the rate for minor accidents - the sort of low-impact collisions that keep panel-beaters in work. They are not, contrary to the message implicit in the Government's test decision, particularly safe drivers.

Doctors also had their doubts. Once the test goes, it will be they who decide whether an elderly person should hold a driver's licence. Yet, as they pointed out, their examinations can assess only the likes of eyesight. They cannot test a person's practical skills or mental approach to driving.

These criticisms should have caused the Government to pause, and to consider an alternative approach. There was room for some compromise. In the same way that restricted licences recognise the limited skills of young drivers, the elderly could have been given conditional licences. Thus, in return for a relatively simple test, over-80 drivers could, for example, have been limited to roads in their neighbourhood.

But the Government's response has been to throw even more responsibility on one of the critics. Doctors, it says, will be required to administer stricter examinations every two years to determine driver suitability. "The medical tests will be more appropriate, and they will be toughened up to look at the sorts of issues that impact on over-80s driving," said Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven. Given the shortcomings already identified by the medical profession, this amounts to little more than an ineffectual sop. If it is intended to satisfy those concerned about the safety of all road users, it fails miserably.

Ultimately, there was no real need to do away with the practical test. As much as the elderly grumbled about the stress associated with it, the vast majority passed after one or more attempts. Only those with serious deficiencies did not find their way back behind the wheel.

In the interests of road safety, tests for drivers, both beginners and those at the other end of the spectrum, should be rigorous affairs. Quite rightly, we do not give young drivers a licence without assessing their practical ability. Nor should we grant that privilege for those in the next-highest accident-risk group.

Jenny Ruth: Glasnost returns to back burner at CDL

For a while there at CDL Hotels, it seemed that glasnost had broken out.

The company was starting to address its clumsy group structure, disclosure levels had improved and it seemed to be interested in improving the lot of its minority shareholders.

The company, which is 70.2 per cent-owned by the London listed Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, which is in turn controlled by the Singapore-based Qwek family (who also control BIL International), was at least making a show of listening to minority shareholders' concerns.

And in 2003, New Zealand Shareholders Association chairman Bruce Sheppard even suggested former managing director and now chairman Tsang Jat Meng as a candidate for chief executive of the year.

Helping to improve sentiment, after Tsang joined the company in July 2000, net profit rose from just $1.5 million in the calendar 2000 to $10.7 million the next year, $17.1 million in 2002, dipped marginally to $17 million in 2003 and then soared to a record $23.2 million last year.

Given that the company reported a 12 per cent rise in first-half net profit and made positive comments, it seems to be on track to report another improvement this year.

It also didn't hurt that the share price went from between 15c and 20c between January 2000 and January 2002 to peak at 67c last February.

Sheppard is still complimentary about Tsang's reign, calling him "very competent" and saying he has "done an excellent job in extracting operating efficiencies from the group".

But it seems relations have since soured, certainly with Sheppard and the shareholders' association.

And glasnost seems to be out the window too, although I may be reading too much into the fact that Tsang's replacement as managing director, B.K. Chiu, declined to be interviewed for this column.

The company does have some reason to be aggrieved with Sheppard. This year, he singled out CDL to oppose its adoption of the stock exchange's "auto pilot" provision under which the constitutions of listed companies are automatically altered every time the exchange alters the listing rules.

At CDL's annual meeting in May, Sheppard and others challenged the company to buy them out of their shareholdings, claiming that changing the company's constitution triggered such a buy-out right.

As it happened, the shareholders' association disagreed with that action as being "flawed in achieving resolution in a fair or equitable manner", as association corporate liaison director Des Hunt said in a letter to CDL in August.

As well as the fact that the constitutional issue is general and not specific to CDL, its shares have always traded at a discount to fair value.

Hunt estimated the discount as consistently between 40 and 70 per cent.

If Sheppard did have the right to be bought out at fair value, he would receive a significant premium to what other shareholders could get by trading on market, which the association deemed unfair. Sheppard withdrew his buy-out notice.

"We appreciate that the business community may well see the NZSA as an extension of our chairman, but I must tell you that this is not the case," Hunt assured CDL.

CDL company secretary Takeshi Ito wrote back to Hunt in September saying his company "has been needlessly put to considerable expense (in internal management time and external legal costs)".

He also declined Hunt's offer to meet the board to discuss ways to close the gap between CDL's share price and fair value.

The shares are now trading at 59c. Net tangible asset backing (the company's book value) at June 30 was 86c. Analysts estimate that the full market value of the company's assets is between $1 and $1.20.

A major reason for that discount comes down to cultural dissonance between CDL's controlling shareholder and what New Zealand shareholders expect of a listed company.

Kiwi shareholders are big fans of dividends, and CDL is a miserly dividend- payer.

Last year, per-share earnings were 6.63c, but the company paid a single dividend of 2.1c a share. In each of the three previous years, the dividend was 1.4c.

On top of that, CDL is awash with cash. That has been the case for some time and has been exacerbated over the past couple of years because it has been gradually realising the assets of its formerly listed Australian subsidiary, Kingsgate International.

In the latest half-year, $2.7 million - or nearly 20 per cent - of the company's $13.8 million net profit was interest income. With another A$40 million of sales settled since June 30, the impact on the annual result will be even greater.

The company had $488.6 million in total assets, including $80.7 million in cash, at June 30.

Sheppard says: "Asian-controlled shareholders don't like parting with assets to shareholders by way of dividends or otherwise."

He also says that Asians don't like selling assets period, although CDL has been selling the Kingsgate assets.

So what will CDL do with all its cash? Sheppard says hotel assets internationally are over-inflated, trading at multiples of 19 times earnings before interest, tax and depreciation, so he doesn't want to buy more hotels at such prices.

While the company has said it wouldn't buy assets for more than an earnings multiple of 10, Sheppard argues that, given that the shares trade at a multiple of about five, such purchases would destroy shareholder value - and suggests CDL ought to be selling its hotels into such a bubble.

But his suggestion that the best investment the company could make would be to buy back its own shares might just find favour. "My line at the AGM was, 'So you want to buy some cheap hotel assets, look no further than your own shares'."

As well as finding a home for some of that cash, such a buy-back would have the advantage of taking out some minority shareholders and the likely outcome of boosting the share price for remaining minorities.

But Sheppard isn't holding his breath. "The thought of parting with cash to pay out shareholders will probably be too much for our Asian partners to bear."

Who, what, where

* CDL Hotels' headquarters: Queen St, Auckland.
* Profile: CDL Hotels has a portfolio of 31 hotels owned, leased, managed or franchised under the Millennium, Copthorne and Kingsgate brands. It also owns 61.3 per cent of KIN Holdings, which took over Australian-listed Kingsgate International last year, and 62.5 per cent of New Zealand-listed CDL Investments, which subdivides and sells residential sections.
* Market capitalisation: $206.3 million.
* Latest results: CDL's net profit for the six months ended June 30 rose 12 per cent to $13.8 million.
* Management: Managing director B.K. Chiu, company secretary Takeshi Ito.
* Major shareholder: Singapore-based Qwek family, with 70.2 per cent.

Jeffrey S. Nielsen: Time to take back control of our lives

Seventy-three per cent of Americans have no confidence in their leaders and more than 60 per cent believe the United States is experiencing a leadership crisis, according to a survey by US News & World Report and the Centre for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. I believe a similar result could be found in most countries today.

The almost daily news stories about the corruption, incompetence, and poor judgment of some leaders, and the criminal activity that seems so easily to infect leadership practices, has created a growing sense that something is terribly wrong in our democracy and in our business corporations.

In almost every type of organisation we have observed some with leadership rank - the organisational elites - take advantage of their power and position to conceal the truth or to extract unfairly wealth and resources to benefit themselves, enrich their friends, and further their own ambitions. All of this comes at the expense of those beneath them.

But most people are optimistic, so the survey did show that those interviewed were hopeful better leaders would emerge in the future. Perhaps now is the time to ask why we believe future leaders will be any better than our present ones.

Is it possible that the fundamental cause of the troubles is our very model of leadership? Perhaps it is time to examine our nearly universal belief that leaders and leadership are necessary and begin to explore an alternative.

David Bohm, the late physicist and social thinker, first raised this possibility for me. "Though we have all been taught that society cannot function without leaders, maybe we can," he would say.

Under the "myth of leadership", a select few are privileged to monopolise the information, control most decision-making, and command obedience even through coercive and manipulative means.

This ideology creates the powerful belief that it is natural and correct that a few individuals should be anointed leaders and trusted to make the decisions.

So many of us willingly relinquish control of our choices and our own lives to someone in a position of hierarchical authority.

Even in democracy, we allow our elected representatives to govern in secrecy and the leaders of our democratic institutions to manage people and affairs, too often in an autocratic fashion.

There is an implicit judgment that leaders are somehow superior. An entire leadership industry helps to keep this illusion alive, while government and corporate hierarchies are set up to pamper with privilege those in executive positions.

When we use the word "leadership" we immediately create a ranked division that does not serve healthy, long-term organisational relationships.

The appointed leaders are saddled with impossible burdens, and the followers are left with few opportunities, or resources, for growth.

The heart of this problem is the corruption of communication. Genuine communication tends to occur only between peers and, more often than not, secrecy breeds corruption and abuse of power.

We tell people we think are superior only what we think they want to hear, and we tell people we believe are somehow inferior only what we think they need to know.

And that is directly tied to secrecy - keeping secrets from each other - because in the absence of full communication, individuals, out of insecurity, feel the need to defend their position by protecting what they know.

The remedy is not to find some new leader to whom we surrender our future but to create genuine peer-based organisations.

As long ago as Aristotle, it was recognised that the wisdom of the many is frequently better than the expertise of the few in making many types of decisions.

Today, the open software movement has realised the effectiveness of leaderless decision-making. They have a saying that to many eyes all bugs are shallow, meaning that the less centralisation and the more involvement and greater participation you can get in solving problems, the better the result.

The viability of the Linux operating system demonstrates the possibility of functioning well without rank-based leaders.

The answer, then, to our present leadership crisis is to replace the concept of leader and model of leadership with the practice of peer-based managing through peer councils.

Peer councils are similar to the elementary republics Thomas Jefferson endorsed at the founding of the United States. Unlike in his day, technology and the information processing capability make peer councils more realistic.

Jefferson's dream of decentralised self-governments might be possible through the implementation of a council-based democracy and peer-based work organisations.

The mechanics of managing work through this, whether administering government or business, requires learning the competency of peer deliberation, a competency we all can and should learn to take back our democracy and make our organisational lives more meaningful.

We are at a crossroads where we can make the choice to remain satisfied with surrendering information and decision-making authority, and control of our lives, to the next round of rank-based political and business leaders, or we can choose to create peer-based organisations.

Our human inclination to co-operate with others makes this possible - our human propensity to take advantage of others makes it necessary.

* Professor Jeffrey Nielsen is an organisational consultant with international experience who teaches philosophy at Brigham Young University and is the author of The Myth of Leadership: Creating Leaderless Organisations.

Don Donovan: The comfort of doom denial

I am getting pretty tired of people trying to scare me to death. It seems TV, radio, newspapers, domestic media and world media are intent on telling me, almost daily, that I am doomed.

It's a parade of predictions, some of which might happen tomorrow, some in the next 10 years and some never - statistical probabilities which are so ridiculous that you'd have to be cretinously credulous to believe them.

A TV report, fleshed out with lurid America's Cup-type graphics, predicts that we have a 10 per cent chance of a tsunami hitting New Zealand in the next 50 years. Does that mean a 100 per cent chance in 500 years? Or 1 per cent in 5 years?

And when it hits, having groped its sneaky way across the Pacific Ocean like a terrorist insurgent from Chile, it's likely to kill 10,000. A nice, round figure, that.

But it goes on to say that when the wave hits Gisborne it'll likely be 8.1m high, Wellington 4.9m and Auckland 3.5m - figures almost as precise as my bank balance.

Then, we're told that 2100 people will die in Gisborne and 1500 in Christchurch; but when it gets to Wellington the estimated loss of innocent souls is 1678. Not 1677 or 1679 but 1678. Who makes these calculations?

With all these terrifying statistics clattering around my ears like numeric soup I know there's nothing I can do about doom apart from what I've done quite by chance; like living on top of a hill and owning neither a boat nor a beach house.

Mind you, being on a hill isn't going to stop me getting avian flu. I mean, some bloody chickens can sort of fly (especially if you drive too fast through the farmyard) and in any case it'll probably be picked up by sparrows and pukekos with loose morals.

Doom is almost inescapable. They say it's not a question of if but when. So I see shadows of The Grim Reaper in every cobwebby corner until I read some more statistics: in among all the world misery that's likely to pack the churches once the H5N1 anti-virus medications have been used up by Cabinet ministers, I find that in the past three years only 138 cases of H5N1 (caught from chickens, not humans) have been reported to the World Health Organisation and 71 people have died, all in south-east Asia.

Yet we're scared out of our wits by something that pales into insignificance compared to our road death figures. So what do we do? Get under our beds in the foetal position cuddling our teddy bears and sucking Tamiflu like lollies?

But never mind the tsunami or the flu. There's always the inevitable devastating volcano appearing out of the Waitemata Harbour, an earthquake along the Hutt Rd, Crater Lake doing another Tangiwai, or another bash of Sars. Or maybe we'll be told that we really can get Aids off lavatory seats - a breaking-news-scandal-fact that the medical profession has been concealing for years.

Frankly, doom warning is as much subject to overload as your eternal charitable appeal - in the end you don't want to hear any more. You just switch off and go into denial. That's where I'll be most comfortable.

* Don Donovan is an Albany writer and illustrator.