Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sideswipe

Not any old heathen can have access to God at the Southeastern Bible College in Birmingham, Alabama.

By Ana Samways

Puns for all the whanau (second instalment)

1. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, "Dam!"

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire. Unsurprisingly the craft sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament wins. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. Why? they asked as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

5. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One goes to a family in Egypt and is named Ahmal and the other to a family in Spain and is called Juan. Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

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A reader writes: "My son (6) received a letter from this company demanding he pay his outstanding debt of $22 with a local medical centre immediately. I paid the debt via internet banking and sent them an email advising that I was his mother, that the letter had been sent to a 6-year-old and that the debt had been paid in full. The following Thursday he got another letter informing that the debt had been paid and to cancel any arrangements, if he had made any, with the bank to pay the debt.

Then on Friday he received another letter saying: LEGAL ACTION WARNING - YOU HAVE LEFT US WITH NO CHOICE BUT TO CONTINUE RECOVERY ACTION AND WE HAVE SUGGESTED TO OUR CLIENT THAT THEY COMMENCE LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST YOU. Maybe I should encourage them to go ahead."

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Did you know ... The first couple to be shown in bed together on prime-time TV were Fred and Wilma Flintstone.

Editorial: Sport fans savour year of victory

Perhaps the most compelling commentary on New Zealand's outstanding sporting year was delivered by the Australian Institute of Sport. Late in the piece, it announced that international coaches would be denied access to its knowledge pool. As New Zealand had been the main beneficiary of the institute's expertise, the message was clear. This country's sporting triumphs, often at the expense of Australia, had begun to irritate big brother. The time had come to see whether it could stand on its own feet.

That may not be as difficult as Australians imagine. New Zealand's excellence in high-performance sport has reflected the steady development of an effective infrastructure. Additionally, 2005 was not so much a year when the country revelled in success in new, or unexpected, sporting spheres as one in which traditional strengths were reaffirmed and promise became fruition.

Never did potential blossom more dramatically than with Michael Campbell. Armed with a new mental clarity, he saw off the challenge of Tiger Woods to become the United States Open champion. Not since Bob Charles won the British Open in 1963 had a New Zealander claimed a golf major. The victory was made the sweeter by Campbell's strong sense of national pride, and his determination to help young New Zealanders replicate his feat.

Pride was also rekindled during a superb rugby season. The All Blacks, playing with power and panache and marshalled well by coach Graham Henry, lost only one match while achieving a clean sweep over the Lions, victory in the Tri-Nations, the retention of the Bledisloe Cup, and a Grand Slam tour of the British Isles. To cap it all, in what was the upset of the year, New Zealand won the hosting rights to the 2011 World Cup. With new provincial and Super 14 competitions about to begin, rugby's stocks are high.

So, too, more surprisingly, are those of rugby league. There was little to enthuse about as the Warriors served up another forgettable season. But the international game was transformed when Brian McClennan took the reins of the Kiwis. Astoundingly, he engineered victory in the Tri-Nations, even without the likes of Benji Marshall, whose stunning play for Wests Tigers lit up the NRL final. The transformation will be complete if some of the new-found glitter rubs off on the Warriors.

No less astonishing were the four gold medals won within 45 minutes at the world rowing championships in Japan. Rowing has always been one of our main Olympic hopes, and has rarely disappointed. But success of this magnitude was beyond the wildest of dreams. For the world champion crews, and outstanding head coach Richard Tonks, the task is to sustain that level of excellence through to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

More immediately, the focus will be on the Commonwealth Games. There will be no stronger favourites in Melbourne than the New Zealand netball team. Under the tutelage of Ruth Aitken, another of the country's coaching masterclass, the Silver Ferns defeated Australia with ease. An improving swimming squad and cycling's continued high level of performance should be other features of the Games.

Before then, however, there must be hope of significant improvement from the Black Caps. Victory in a one-day competition in Zimbabwe and a world-record run chase during the Chappell-Hadlee series against Australia were virtually the only bright spots. This was a team which, after a period of improvement, contained too many players failing to fulfil their potential.

Cricket's malaise, however, was one of the few scars on an outstanding landscape. It barely detracted from the tone of triumph. Rarely have our sportsmen and women engendered a greater degree of national pride.

Eye on China: Light-fingered habits raise trade benefits

By Dan Slater

Last week we saw how measures such as trade- related investment measures (Trims) and trade-related intellectual property issues (Trips) put into question the efficacy of free trade as a way for poor countries to prosper.

As one delegate at the recent World Trade Organisation round of talks in Hong Kong said, developing countries are not interested in increasing trade statistics for their own sake. Trade is only attractive if it helps reduce poverty in their countries.

One unusual aspect of the bitter controversy surrounding the WTO is how low-key China has been on the subject. Yet you would think China would provide an instructive example about the benefits (or not) of joining the WTO, given it has followed a successful development path and recently became a WTO member.

China joined the WTO in 2001 and, since then, appears to have grown strongly on the basis of a series of measures promoting free trade. It's true trade has played an increasingly strong role in maintaining dynamic growth, especially when domestic consumption showed signs of flagging.

The WTO has also facilitated foreign direct investment that has, in turn, fed back into improving trade. Today 50 per cent of China's exports and 30 per cent of domestic industrial production is provided by foreign-invested enterprises. Foreign companies have brought in staggering amounts of foreign direct investment (FDI), and this has helped spread developed world-class technology and management practices.

Why staggering amounts of FDI? Most FDI goes to the most developed countries. These countries, with cheap capital, a highly educated workforce and good legal environment naturally attract the lion's share of investment.

China has confounded expectations by attracting the second largest amount of FDI in the world after the US.

Classical economists would say this accretion of benefits is perfectly predictable based on the beneficial effects of free trade. But controversially, it's possible that China's enormous theft of intellectual property has been just as important.

From the point of view of developing countries, using foreign intellectual property plays an important role in hastening the country's economic progress.

(As mentioned last week, that's why WTO rules restricting access to intellectual property such as Trips have been especially unpopular with developing countries). Conforming to IP rights is hugely expensive for developing countries and, quite frankly, impractical.

I have witnessed an explosion of entrepreneurial activity during my time in China and it is inconceivable this would have happened if every single small company had to pay thousands of dollars to be able to use basic IT software.

China's trading partners are outraged by China's light-fingered ways with other people's IP, but the truly interesting thing is how little they have been able to do about it.

China has the heft to stare these critics in the eye and not blink first. Some superficial moves to stamping out the problem are made, but piracy thrives regardless.

And uniquely among developing countries, the multinationals have to grin and bear it. That's quite a remarkable achievement and bodes well for China's growth.

Yet although China breaks WTO rules in this respect, in another respect, agriculture, it is among the world's most aggressive enforcers of WTO rules.

Unlike the powerful agriculture and cotton lobbies in Europe and the US, China's peasant masses get short shrift from the Government.

Compared with the mollycoddling French farmers get under the pretext that they are preserving French food culture and landscape, Chinese farmers get little protection. The Government's most important requirement from the farmers is that they preserve food security by ensuring 90 per cent of the country's grain is homegrown.

This is certainly not a way of helping farmers' incomes because grain prices are controlled to ensure the country's urban citizens have cheap food. (Keeping the cities happy and well fed was the most important lesson the Government learned from the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989).

For their part, farmers would prefer to produce labour-intensive, high-margin fruit and vegetables. These cash crops enable farmers to focus on China's comparative advantage of labour, rather than land, but so far access to these areas has been restricted.

So China has managed to make a success of the WTO through a combination of ignoring critics and compliance. Smaller, weaker countries can only try to curry favour through compliance, so far with uncertain results.

Foreign help

* The WTO has facilitated foreign direct investment that has, in turn, fed back into improving trade.
* Today 50 per cent of China's exports and 30 per cent of domestic industrial production is provided by foreign-invested enterprises.
* Foreign companies have brought in staggering amounts of foreign direct investment (FDI), helping to spread developed world-class technology and management practices.
* China is attracting the second largest amount of FDI in the world after the US.

* Dan Slater is a journalist based in Beijing.

Michael Webster: Sex workers in greater danger

In January 1898 Emile Zola, the most famous French novelist of the day, published a celebrated article, "J'accuse!" American law professor Donald Wilkes says Zola's piece was "imbued with a tone of outrage" as he exposed the prejudice against Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French Army wrongfully convicted and sentenced for espionage.

Zola's polemic engendered an extraordinary public opinion turn-around which saw the judicial decision reversed. Moral outrage still has a place in public debate. The homicides of two sex workers in Christchurch obliges us to examine our social conscience by asking how we could create circumstances which resulted in such awful events.

Jarrod Booker's report in the Herald recounted witness accounts of "two men who brutally attacked a young woman laugh[ing] as they crushed her against a wall with their car".

Individual acts of evil will always be with us but societal attitudes are arguably created, or at least influenced, by legislation. The obverse is also true - legislation is informed by social opinion. Either way, we define community frameworks of conduct by states. In that context, we owe it to ourselves to ask: "Did the 2003 Prostitution Act facilitate the Christchurch tragedies?' I think it did.

The sponsor of the bill spoke of his hope for the proposed legislation. On the third reading Tim Barnett MP said: "What we have here tonight is the best answer we can manage to the question: What law best ensures the well-being of sex workers?"

In his own words, he was motivated by "remov[ing] the last significant vestige of Victorian moral law from the New Zealand statute book". But a certain homely aphorism comes to mind as we consider the outcomes of the Act's passage: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

What was the message conveyed to New Zealanders by the decriminalisation of the world's "oldest profession"? Far from providing the safety for prostitutes working out of brothels, envisaged by the Act, local bodies have found that street soliciting has increased - anecdotally, including teenagers of less than 16.

Legitimising prostitution has demonstrably increased the danger to sex workers - and yet, incredibly, all the occupational safety and health mechanisms are now in place and OSH has issued instructions to its staff regarding inspection standards.

To what avail? If an industry is covered by OSH requirements an unanticipated consequence must be that it is endorsed as a legitimate industry by legislators - and ipso facto by society. But prostitution can only be destructive, never safe.

What are the options to address these issues? Our parliamentarians rejected the Swedish approach which instead of decriminalising soliciting, criminalised the customer - leading to a tenfold decrease in the numbers of street workers in cities.

In contrast, when prostitution was officially regulated in Melbourne, the number of "street walkers" increased. The two Christchurch victims might be alive today had we used the Swedish model. Why didn't we?

This opinion piece revisits Emile Zola's moral outrage a century ago. What appalling messages have we given to our young people?

Multiplying the risk of sexually transmitted disease is one. The effective widening of the trade to include 14-year-olds is another.

An endorsement of the notion that the most intimate human act is deemed to be nothing more than a commercial transaction, sanctioned by Parliament, is a third.

And the terrified pleading for her life by a sex worker only two weeks before Christmas is the most unconscionable of all. The risk of increasing street walker numbers was known. Criminalising the customers was dismissed. By permitting prostitution, the trade will only swell.

* Michael Webster is a lecturer in applied social sciences at the University of Auckland.

Kit Howden: How to combat park poverty

This year has been one to celebrate for Auckland's parks, it being the 40th anniversary of the Regional Park network and with the addition of new regional parks on the fringe of the region.

Local councils in the region and community groups have also campaigned to provide for parks and such action has wide community support.

Parks are essential for our use, to protect the environment as well as being a gift to future generations.

These include neighbourhood reserves, sports grounds, event venues and large heritage parks like our volcanic cones and provide for a multitude of conservation, recreation, tourist and community services.

The new park land will assist in meeting many of these environmental and community needs, but considering the growth of Auckland, are we providing enough parks and how are we managing them in relation to the population pressure?

Are agencies, including the Government, the Regional Council and local councils, providing their fair share of parks for now and the future, or will some sections of the community be neglected?

One answer lies with council planners who are forming a Regional Open Space Strategy [ROSS]. This strategy, with local open space strategies, will be incorporated into the regional policy statement and district plan changes which all councils have to follow.

This process appears to be remote from public involvement and may not give the direction required to provide for and manage our future public parks.

Important issues not fully dealt with include:

* The strategy states there will be "increased pressure on parks and open space and reduced opportunity for recreation".

This will occur in areas under intense development and yet in relative terms this is where little park planning and acquisition is occurring.

In the Isthmus of Auckland City there was 5.03ha of parkland for every 1000 people in 1991 and this is expected to be reduced to 3.7ha by 2011.

This standard could go to below 0.5ha by the middle of the century as population and infill housing increases.

* Auckland City has not made much progress to engage the public on an overall park strategy, even though the intention has been covered in annual plans.

It may be too late in parts of Auckland to acquire some areas of parkland because of the high cost of land.

Urgency is needed, especially when regional policy intends to crowd the Isthmus of Auckland with more development and people. Even existing parkland is not safe and as I write, a small area of public parkland in the crowded industrial area of Penrose is being proposed for private sale.

* The strategic importance of parks is given little prominence in park planning and management. Parks and open spaces act as refuges when the forces of nature and human emergencies arise.

In the 1940s parks were filled with camps and hospitals. In decades to come disasters will hit greater Auckland.

The closer we build and encroach on hazard areas such as cliffs and beach frontages the more open space we need as buffers and refuges.

* Large public events are gaining in popularity but they demand large spaces and it appears parks such as Western Springs, the Domain and others may be too small for large events such as Pasifika and others.

As events demand grows so does legislation, and bylaws to exclude informal and freedom of access to public parks. These conflicts need wider public debate.

* The volcanic cones of Auckland have been neglected for many years and there are growing conflicts over use and management.

I see cones such as Maungawhau, Mt Eden as Stonehenge - a sacred site. Would you drive your vehicle into a church?

On the other hand the council needs more public parkland in a crowded city and is hesitant to limit activity. Limiting activity is the only way to protect conservation and heritage values, as seen in good park management throughout the world. There are answers, compromises and a way forward but these lie in the whole community facing the hard issues and looking at the overall provision and management of parks across the region.

* Park planning needs to be visionary - looking decades if not a century ahead. The recent purchase and gift of regional parks is visionary, but the vision is not limited by the wish of the community but by the available funding.

The Long Bay Great Park Society has come up against this even though it has illustrated a powerful vision and need for a large park on the North Shore. Perhaps the constraints of local government under the Local Government Act and RMA prevent visionary park planning. Roads and motorways can be designated and planned many years ahead of purchase and development, but not parks. Are parks a lesser part of our infrastructure and importance in urban living?

* It is disturbing to read that some Aucklanders rarely travel outside their isolated suburbs and some children have not crossed the Harbour Bridge to access the beautiful beach parks to the north of the region. Do only the wealthy suburbs have expensive parks? Are future parks linked to transport including walking access?

There are two directions for action and the first rests with Parliament. Legislation is needed to set minimum standards for public parks in heavily developed urban areas. This requires changes to the Local Government Act and updating the Reserves Act to protect inter-generational park values.

The second action is up to every citizen who believes in public green space within urban areas, to make his or her voice known.

Unless citizens make a stand and claim their common ownership the tragedy will continue and future generations may be left with park poverty.

* Kit Howden is active in the community advocating greater attention towards urban parks. He co-ordinates volunteer action on Mt Eden, Maungawhau and Mutukaroa Hamlins Hill.