Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sideswipe

Obviously, no one told the lorikeets they were on a diet, unless it included cardboard signs covered in plastic


By Ana Samways

French wide-boy Daniel Anceneaux spent weeks talking with a sensual woman on the internet before arranging a romantic rendezvous at a remote beach. "I walked out on that dark beach thinking I was going to hook up with the girl of my dreams and there she was, wearing white shorts and a pink tank top, just like she'd said she would. But when I got close, she turned around - and we both got the shock of our lives. I mean, I didn't know what to say. All I could think was, 'Oh my God! it's Mama!"'

But the worst was yet to come. A passing policeman cited them for visiting a restricted beach after dark and the pair blurted out the whole story. From the police report, a local TV station got hold of it and it was all over the 6 o'clock news. "Mom called herself Sweet Juliette and I called myself The Prince of Pleasure," said Daniel. "The conversations even got a little racy a couple of times and I really started to fall for her ... The truth is, I got to see a side of my Mom I'd never seen before. I'm grateful for that." (Source: Yahoo.com)

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British shop owners wanting to get rid of obnoxious congregating teenagers are using an innovative new product that emits a high-frequency sound audible to most teens but few older people. "The Mosquito" sends out a pulsating chirp, not painful but definitely irritating. A professor of neurophysiology verified that the ability to hear high frequency declines with age but that some people in their 20s and 30s could probably still hear it. (Source: News of the Weird)

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Leonardo DiCaprio on Oprah in the US presented a segment from a politically charged new documentary, called Global Warming, which he narrates, and explained he felt the year's hurricanes and tsunamis were just a terrifying warning of what is to come. This despite the fact it is generally agreed by climate researchers that man-made greenhouse gases haven't caused an increase in the number of hurricanes. Winfrey then chimed in with ... "You feel like Noah to me - you're like, Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention".

Editorial: The year of nature's reminders

This year will always be remembered as one in which nature placed humanity's abilities, ambitions and absurdities into sharp relief. From the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, through the ravages of Hurricane Katrina to the devastation in earthquake-stricken Kashmir, this was a time of uneven struggle. Nature, not the ongoing terror inspired by al Qaeda, the increasing discomfort of the American forces in Iraq, or the accelerating emergence of China, was the dominant player in 2005.

The response to its power created some unexpected winners and losers. The reaction orchestrated by the United Nations to the damage wrought by the tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka was widely considered a sizeable success. Aid was, in the main, delivered quickly and effectively. This raised the stocks of the UN, only a short time after its effectiveness as an arbiter of international affairs had been undermined by the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq.

The White House, itself, fared far worse when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. The world looked on in disbelief as aid agencies in the most technologically advanced of nations failed to cope, despite early warning of the hurricane's approach and predictions of the likely impact of a deluge. Only belatedly did President George W. Bush impose himself and demand a better response.

Hurricane Katrina was just one of many errant weather events that occurred throughout the year. These led most people to take ever more note of the fears enunciated by the scientific community about global warming. Not President Bush, however. Towards the end of the year, at the Montreal summit on climate change, the United States remained divorced from the UN-led initiative based on the Kyoto Protocol.

If that issue was never likely to dent the President's standing in the eyes of the American people, the same did not apply to his lack of progress in gaining a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. As casualties mounted, Mr Bush proved himself a slow learner by insisting he would do it all again. Only in mid-December did a glimmer of hope emerge when Iraqis went to the polls to elect a government for the next four years. The Administration that is cobbled together in the next few weeks will either reconcile bitterly divided communities or be the catalyst for civil war and the disintegration of Iraq.

The hope lay in the fact that the Sunnis, the core of the insurgency, chose to engage in the democratic process for the first time. This opened a rift with the terrorists supporting the armed resistance, who declared the election "satanic". If the Sunnis are encouraged by their role in the new government, that division will widen. Should that occur, a fertile source of angst would be denied the terrorist networks arranged around al Qaeda. Support, real and potential, would wither further if Ariel Sharon's new party, having won Israel's forthcoming general election, honours its pledge to hasten a lasting peace with the Palestinians.

Yet Muslim fundamentalism extended its reach in 2005. Britain, the Bush Administration's main supporter in Iraq, suffered a day of horror when terrorists struck the London Underground. The shock was all the greater when it was revealed that the bombers and victims alike were British. Bali, a far easier target, was, again, singled out for attack. For Australians, the threat of terrorism crept ever closer.

The new year will begin with the threat of a bird flu pandemic. Humanity's efforts, again, are focused on damage limitation. Control, again, is an empty notion. As was the case in 2005, so, if the worst predictions are realised, may it be in 2006.

Garth George: A time to reflect on faith

As we prepare to say goodbye to an expired year and hello to a new one, I feel an uneasy sense of surprise that this one has disappeared so quickly.

It seems that only a week or so ago I woke up to 2005; and only a month or so ago that I was writing a column welcoming the new millennium.

Perhaps this is a byproduct of advancing age, this concept of time compressed, or of it flying by at an astonishing speed; the feeling that I'm always half a step behind; the stray thought that the sands in the hourglass of my life are running more and more quickly - after all, at midnight on Sunday we will begin the second half of the first decade of the third millennium.

I'm sure it wasn't like that in my childhood. The school year seemed to stretch interminably, yet the summer holidays - the happiest days of my life - seemed to go on and on, too. Christmases and New Years seemed a long, long way apart.

So, I well remember in those days of 10 horsepower cars and interminable miles of gravel roads, did the starting point of that summer holiday (Invercargill) and the destination (near Clyde, in Central Otago).

But all that aside, as one year draws to a close and a new one is about to begin, I suppose we should reflect on the passing one and begin to wonder about the next.

Not that there's any profit in it. What is past is past and while it might be able to be modified, it certainly can't be undone. What is to come remains hidden to us mere mortals and is known only to God, who sees the beginning and the end of all things.

Which is a very good reason to stay under his protection and care and to pray daily as he taught us, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" or, if you prefer (which I don't) the modern version, "Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil". And never forgetting, "Give us this day our daily bread ..."

It's a very good reason, too, to live one day at a time, even, sometimes, one minute at a time. For all we have is now - the rest is either history or mystery. I could be dead before I finish writing this column, or before it's published, or tomorrow or next week, so what's the point in worrying?

In any case, God knows I have enough trouble coping with today without fizzing about past foul-ups or scheming future ones. Sure, like everybody I make plans. But I don't try to live them today.

Having made them I simply do what I can today to see that they come to fruition - or don't, as the case may be. If they do, that's great; if they don't that's okay, too. There'll be something else to do instead.

God is in control and the world is unfolding as it should, not always to my liking and generally beyond my understanding. But that's okay, too. It's a thing called faith, which the writer to the Hebrews defined so beautifully as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". Lovely, that.

Then there's hope - and hope in God is the only hope I've ever found worth having. He has never, ever let me down, although I've accused him of it a few times . Which is pretty foolish and utterly futile: if my hope is in him, then eventually it must be fulfilled.

What a sad old world it would be without hope (which is not the same as desire). No doubt each and every one of us will awaken on Sunday morning consciously or unconsciously hoping for something from the New Year. For a few - like the bosses and employees of the BNZ Bank - it will be as trivial and mundane as hoping to snare a few new customers; for many it will be the selfish hope of more money, fame, sex, achievement, security or whatever; but for some it will be the hope of a better world.

These last are the people who are likely to transform hope into love by trying to make a difference in 2006. I thank God for each and every one of them, be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, crystal-gazer, stargazer, navel-gazer, sun worshipper, agnostic or atheist.

For there are never enough people in the world who can see beyond self, who can see the big picture and who can as a result do what they are able to improve the lot of mankind, too many of whom - in this country and elsewhere - are suffering war, deprivation, hardship, sickness and terror beyond our most frightful nightmares.

Thus, my prayer for the New Year is that all those whose hope leads them selflessly to serve, in small ways and large, their fellow men and women, near and far, will succeed in their endeavours and help to alleviate suffering wherever it might be found.

Michael Smythe: Pacifica and exotica can grow together

A Chainsaw massacre? Ethnic cleansing? Valuing the indigenous while excluding the imported? These would be just causes for a righteous uprising of anti-PC common sense - if they were true. But it seems much of the debate is based on misunderstanding.

A modicum of research discovers an Auckland City Council press release dated December 16 that says: "Native planting, including mature nikau palm and cabbage trees, will be used to reintroduce species that would have grown in the valley and upper street. Some existing trees will be retained while others that are struggling will be removed. Large planter basins will allow a regular change of plants to match seasons and add colour and vitality."

Now that we have the issue in perspective, let's examine it more closely. This robust argument offers an example of how we are choosing to see ourselves in our own home and how we are choosing to present ourselves to the world with which we interact, through tourism and export, as a matter of survival.

The case for honouring our unique (horti) cultural roots can be argued on the fertile grounds of geographic authenticity and economic pragmatism.

Replacing exotic deciduous trees with evergreen native palms and trees is not an exercise in reinventing ourselves. It is a process for reclaiming a tiny bit of what was lost when the second wave of immigrants imposed British models on this landscape.

There is much to appreciate in what pioneers contributed to our heritage. But our desperate "home-groan" need to "me too" our elders and betters is a byproduct we would do well to outgrow.

Recognising ourselves as a country positioned in the Pacific enables our development as a maturing nation comfortable with its unique identity. It is also valued by those who trade with us and visit us.

Our economic growth depends on our ability to offer differentiated products and experiences - why would people want to come to the ends of the earth for more of the same?

How we choose to develop the main streets of major centres is but one opportunity to show how we're growing. We can become just another cloned city in an increasingly homogenised world, or we can express what makes us different.

The opposing case - for retaining what has grown to become the way things are - can be argued on the solid ground of evolution versus intelligent design, by a bunch of well-meaning bureaucrats and politicians who think they know what's best for us.

The evolutionary argument says our man-made environment should tell the truth about how our society has evolved.

Queen St was once a fertile valley. Trees were felled, hills flattened, buildings put up, roads paved. Then well-meaning bureaucrats decided to soften the concrete jungle with leafy trees.

It happened. Not only are these trees enjoyed in their own right, they exemplify quality imports that have added value to our evolving heritage.

But does evolution always offer the best outcomes? The size of the hole in the ozone layer evolved.

I am happy to go out on a liquidambar limb to allow the nikau palm and the cabbage tree to stand tall. I favour intelligently designed evolution demonstrating our continued transformation from a far-flung colonial outpost to a young Pacific nation that values its unique resources and confidently creates its own culture. We can be both creative and conservative.

Conserving some of the healthy exotics, on the grounds of customary use, while re-creating the right of natives trees to stand in their main street and not just in designated reserves, provides an avenue for resolution.

That, it seems, is the plan put forward by the council and supported by Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard and Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney.

Many people, with righteous indignation, seem to favour retaining only exotic trees in Auckland's main street as a rightful celebration of the enrichment of these lands through the second wave of immigration.

They might like to consider that, as with the exotics that will remain, our shared mainstream Western capitalist heritage is so deeply embedded in the structures and activities of Queen St that we don't recognise it as our cultural expression.

A little self-distinguishing re-balancing would be good for our cultural, social and thus economic health. It's the way to grow.

* Michael Smythe is a design strategy partner with CREATIONZ consultants.

Lesley Max: Urban chainsaw massacre

The Auckland Chainsaw Massacre will happen, starting on January 4, unless the citizens of Auckland wake up, smell the cabbage and decide they've had enough of living like mushrooms - being kept in the dark and fed manure.

Auckland City Council's Christmas gift to its citizens: turning the clock back 1500 years before human footfall in Horotiu Swamp, aka Queen St. Auckland's main street will become a kind of outdoor museum, preserving the botanical past in its purest form.

For years I've been trying to work out why public plantings in Auckland were getting uglier. Bright, colourful, soul-enhancing plantings were being replaced by dour, grim browns and greens.

I started a file I called The Uglification of Auckland.

Auckland City Council was unable to lead me to the planners of this drabbing-down policy.

While private gardens continue to flaunt the benevolence of the Auckland climate, and Aucklanders' love of colour, the ubiquitous dull brown tufts of carex (sedge), dry and dead-looking, deaden the spirit.

Check the Ellerslie-Penrose interchange for what might be the world's ugliest public planting, presumably the work of Transit NZ.

I assumed that ease of maintenance was the guiding principle. But it appears not. After all, agapanthus, strelitzia and canna - that all flower bravely for months and require minimal maintenance - are not favoured any more for public planting.

If it were a matter of beauty or comfort or lifting the spirits we'd consider how Wanganui attracts tourists with its glorious hanging street baskets, how Cheltenham in England does the same with its gold and apricot begonias glowing from baskets around the town, and how Bern in Switzerland makes the most of three-tiered concrete planters with their profusion of fuchsia, geranium, petunia and lobelia. They are presumably less concerned to find the species that grew in that particular spot and use nothing else.

We could and should celebrate the South Pacific identity around Auckland, with a gorgeous array of hibiscus and jasmine, with lavishly flowering vines, with all the colour and warmth of the Pacific.

Nikau palms can look beautiful. Their sculptural form and colour are infinitely pleasing in the right natural setting - which is not a concrete canyon, with Victorian and Edwardian buildings. In such a location, it is the softening effect of leafy foliage that is required.

It is impossible to pinpoint the Agents Orange who are so keen to defoliate Queen St in what could be seen as a Pol Potty return to the biological Year Zero.

Councillors tend to duck for cover or express misgivings. The chief executive was, commendably, willing to talk, but doesn't know too much about planting matters.

Council officers - the planners, referred to in some websites as urban practitioners - appear to be the drivers.

Jo Wiggins, a planner, is the CBD project leader. We talked about the trees. It's a matter of philosophy, she said.

I asked her to send me a coherent statement of that philosophy. She sent me various council documents but none that provided a philosophy.

A word-search of the consultation documents available on the council website, showed not a single mention of the word "tree".

Neither did the document she sent me called Auckland's CBD: Together, creating your place, Into the Future: Action Plan 2004 to 2007. It's a very engaging document, but there's no mention of a tree.

People who see this as a despoliation of their city need to get their heads around planning issues such as the Biodiversity Strategy: "The more introduced species that contribute to species richness the lower the net biodiversity. This is because every place occupied by an alien plant or animal is displacing the former localised genetic forms, species and ecosystem food webs, with generally common worldwide types."

So out with the liquidambar and in with the cabbage tree.

Of course we should preserve and protect Auckland's indigenous species, but is a concrete canyon the right place?

Citizens need to ask about just whose vision is alluded to in the Tree Fact Sheet, December 22, 2005, which deputy mayor Bruce Hucker, a senior lecturer in planning, sent me: "The planting strategy for this project is part of a long-term vision to implement a native planting theme in much of Queen St and to replace exotics with natives over 10 to 20 years."

I was told that the exotic trees in Franklin Rd, Greys Avenue and Vincent St will be retained. So which other avenues of exotic trees will not be retained?

I would like to see such plans and visions made explicit to citizens, with genuine consultation.

People who enjoy Cornwall Park, the Domain, Albert Park and the general street and reserve environment of Auckland may like to know what the council's "vision" is for their planting.

And people who are concerned about matters of process in local government may like to check on the many issues concerning the cost of this exercise, and the consultation, resource consent and notification matters that remain unanswered.

As the mayor and councillors enjoy their holidays, thousands of troubled citizens wish they could enjoy theirs, without nightmares about abandoning beautiful trees to Chainsaw Dick, the cereal tree killer, and deputy Hacker.


Beginners' guide to planner-speak

Independent arborist: A man who has an untendered contract, awarded through "a partnership approach", to advise on the health of trees and replace all trees he deems unhealthy.

Upgrade: Defoliate.

South Pacific ambience: Flower-free and colour-free except for brown and green.

Seasonal variation: Changing green and brown non-flowering plants for other green and brown non-flowering plants.

Vibrancy: Pretending there is a stream and a foreshore in a concrete canyon.

Diversity: Two species of indigenous trees.

Biodiversity: Protecting the narrow range of local indigenous species by excluding others.

Democracy services: The people who tell you that the mayor's office accepts no calls from citizens.

Truly international city: A concrete Footrot Flats - you've got the Champs Elysees, St Kilda Rd and Dick's Cabbage-Tree Gully.

Much-loved iconic cabbage trees: The trees only a tiny percentage of Aucklanders choose to plant in their own gardens.

Beautification of Auckland: Uglification of Auckland.

It's a beautiful city on the outside. We have to make it beautiful on the inside as well (Mayor Hubbard): Leave taggers and boy-racers to do their worst while chopping down leafy trees.

Locations and conditions not suited to proper growth: Arguments offered by the tree judge, jury and replacer for the council's contractor to proffer, at the un-notified resource consent hearing, in favour of felling leafy trees and replacing them with a disease-prone species suited to swamps.

Representative democracy: How the deputy mayor reconciles ignoring the 50-to-one rejection of the tree plan.

Resource management: Making citizens jump through hoops to trim a tree in their own gardens while fast-tracking, over the Christmas break, a wholesale massacre of loved trees in the heart of the city.

* Lesley Max is a member of the Safer Auckland Executive.

Heather Staley: Knowledge is power and good practice

One of the most ridiculed predictions is the claim by US Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss in 1954: "It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter." (This is slightly at odds with what I was taught about supply curves in stage one economics.)

Nuclear advocates now say he was referring to forms of electricity generation not yet developed, such as nuclear fusion. After more than 40 years of power generation from nuclear fission, Strauss's prediction seems more naive than ever.

But it makes you think about the relationship between price and value.

Oscar Wilde said that a cynic was a man who knew the price of everything but the value of nothing. (I've also heard that said about economists - or was that accountants?)

If you pay too little for something, you are less likely to value it. If a new BMW cost the same as a Japanese import, would it maintain its desirability?

Many of New Zealand's manufacturing business leaders believe their problems will be solved if they can get the price of electricity as low as possible. They cling to a cargo cult mentality that lobbying for adjustment of the electricity sector's rules to reach the nirvana of true competition is the only way to deal with rising energy bills. Since their aim is to increase company value and profits, it's logical they would want to keep the costs of their inputs down.

But by looking outwards at the cost of considering their own business operations, they are missing out on wonderful opportunities to become truly competitive themselves.

When electricity is too cheap, it is not valued. Steam is left to hiss from joints in pipes, compressed air is pumped into space, motors run inefficiently, lights get left switched on when nobody needs them and maintenance programmes are less rigorous than they might be, because it doesn't seem worthwhile to invest in energy efficiency.

Relying on cheap energy breeds complacency and lack of discipline. In today's deregulated market, it leaves the user exposed to sharp spikes in price when the lakes don't fill up on time or a substation trips out.

Manufacturers might think their plants are already as efficient as they can be. But are they keeping pace with the latest developments? Maybe their plant was efficient five years ago, but better equipment and practices have been developed. Are their performance indicators such as energy per unit of product improving?

Getting on top of energy use by thorough measurement and monitoring is an ideal way to control all sorts of business costs and one of the obvious first steps in good management that gets overlooked.

Knowledge is power. If a company's energy-use patterns are predictable and controllable, the information can be used to leverage favourable electricity contracts.

And let's face it, letting expensive plant lie idle due to breakdowns or inadequate control of processes is not a good use of capital. Good energy data enables the optimal use to be made of equipment, even diversifying into new product lines that will bring in extra revenue.

Getting efficient in energy use brings other benefits such as reducing wastage of other raw materials and improving plant safety.

And perhaps most important, investment in energy efficiency provides a new profit source. Many energy efficiency projects are more profitable than selling more products.

This time next year, when I'm looking back at 2006, I'd like to say that it was the year when New Zealand business seized the profit opportunities that come from energy efficiency.

* Heather Staley is chief executive of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority