Sunday, January 01, 2006

Deborah Coddington: Resolutions to test MPs' resolve

New Year resolutions were made by current and aspiring politicians back in September during the election campaign.

Well, half-pie resolutions, really - they said things they meant to do for us, but didn't go so far as conceding the need to turn over a new leaf.

Such an admission implies the old leaf is munted, behaviour needs drastic improvement and political lines or themes once considered the mark of an outstanding career are actually wrong. U-turn is not a word politicians like to see in headlines about themselves.

Why is it considered a weakness to change tack? I'm stumped. Only MPs and their sycophants hold themselves up as infallible.

People in general are overwhelmingly forgiving and understanding, especially if the U-turner admits they were mistaken, accepts good advice, learns from the error and heads off down a more productive path.

I got vilified by Act members for changing my mind and voting in favour of the Civil Union Bill but not one bothered to ask me why. Clearly I should have ignored good sense, acted stupidly and continued to oppose the bill.

Hopefully a few of our MPs, between last night's kisses and this morning's headaches, have taken a good, hard look at themselves and made some New Year resolutions of greater national importance than the selfish ones we make - lose weight, let other motorists change lanes, refuse all requests to speak at conferences, be nice to the ex-wife.

But in case party leaders are stuck for clues, here's some resolutions I've helpfully prepared:

Don Brash: Out in the big, wide world, we who are brutally honest say size does matter, it doesn't happen to every guy and yes, it is a big deal. It's the same in the debating chamber of the House of Representatives, where a leader's performance does matter, a second-term MP is not inexperienced and in terms of your troops' morale, it's an enormous deal.

Brash's contribution to the address-in-reply debate was abysmal and the expressions on the faces of his two closest pretenders said it all - Bill English was comatose and John Key looked asleep.

Brash's resolutions should include ignoring advice from the Business Roundtable's Roger Kerr, who wouldn't know a passionate delivery if he tripped over it. Wittering on about productivity and OECD tables is a waste of time. We want to be on the edges of our seats, punching the air with joy - or your nose (metaphorically) in angry opposition.

Secondly, apply one law for all to your own caucus. We're still waiting for an explanation why Katherine Rich was sacked for refusing to support a social welfare policy that denied extra support for solo parents who keep having kids, but when Judith Collins took up the portfolio, this contentious issue - and adoption - was quietly dropped.

Helen Clark: A resolution to ditch the haughtiness would be nice. Just because you cobbled together a third-term Labour Government, there's no reason to skite - most of the country didn't vote for you.

In fact, most voters chose policies promising tax cuts - they want to keep more of their money, not have it taken off them and spent on increased numbers of public servants, unionists and beneficiaries who'll vote Labour next time.

Student loan write-offs might have swung a big chunk of the vote your way but you've cost taxpayers $1 billion, with worse to come.

Re-read The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and learn a lesson about albatrosses, curses and subsequent becalming.

On the other hand, you could do the country's prosperity a service by repealing the Reserve Bank Act's price stability agreement. We can almost hear the relief in Alan Bollard's voice when he talks about the economy slowing. The good governor won't suffer - no doubt he's mortgage free and his wife's in the money-supply business, but this cack-handed obsession with rising prices is torturing producers, exporters and low-income families. Talk to Michael Cullen and Jim Anderton - they know this monetary policy's nuts.

Winston Peters: Probably never makes New Year resolutions, certainly not about giving up smoking. Though his foreign affairs portfolio's attracted media scrutiny, the Minister of Racing (as he is too) needs to deliver on what he's promised his sport-of-kings supporters. Peters' resolutions should include tax reform for the racing industry and equivalent footing with others in the wager industry. But can Peters persuade Cullen and Cabinet to move on this in the 2006 budget?

Jeanette Fitzsimons: A New Year resolution to stop trusting Labour - the Greens deserve better treatment than constant shafting.

Tariana Turia: Beware not of Greeks but the National and Act parties bearing gifts.

Peter Dunne: Must stop being so modest and become more God-like.

Rodney Hide: No resolutions needed - self-regarded as perfect, with no room for improvement.

Peter Griffin: Season of give and tech

Digital music was the gift theme for Christmas in my neck of the woods. Mum and Dad learnt to rip and burn music for their new Hyundai stereo which plays home-made mp3 CDs.

Mum also got an MP3onChannel music player for her car. And big brother received the iTrip, a little device that allows the songs on his iPod to be played wirelessly through his car stereo.

From the drunken singing of the neighbours who were huddled around the TV on Boxing Day, it was pretty obvious they had picked up SingStar, the add-on for PlayStation2 that turns it and your TV into a karaoke machine.

Gadgets of all kinds will have been getting a workout over the last week. But everyone knows the best deals are in January. It's as true for mobile phones and digital cameras as for bed linen and golf clubs.

If you were smart and cynical, you'd have held off. But keep that clever thinking going to avoid headaches setting up your new device.

If possible, set it up during business hours or those hours covered by phone helpdesk support. This is especially important for new broadband internet or mobile phone connections where you may need to talk to someone about technical or account settings.

Kiwi tech retailers aren't known for their fantastic service, so if you can't figure out why the shots on your new five-megapixel camera are blurry, chances are the staff at the store where you bought it won't know either. Try a few other things before you head back to them.

Read the manual that came with the device 70 per cent of problems will be solved by careful reading of the instructions.

Sending query emails through the manufacturer's website may not get a response, especially at this time of year.

Instead, go online and punch the gadget's model number into Google.com along with the word help, problem or troubleshooting. That will produce links to forums where other users of the gadget will be discussing its eccentricities and faults, its pros and cons. If your glitch isn't listed, post a query. There's nothing geeks like more than showing off their knowledge.

Actually take time to register the gadget's warranty. You can usually do this online and it'll speed things up greatly if you make a claim in the future. Also keep your warranty document and receipt somewhere safe as you may need these if you make a claim later on.

Don't just plug your new device into your computer as you'll risk botching the set-up process.

Most gadgets require the software driver which is supplied on an accompanying disk to be installed on the computer before you plug in the hardware.

Once that is installed, go to the manufacturer's website to see if a more recent driver is available.

You will need the software's serial number to re-install it.

Before you install extra RAM or a new disk drive on your computer, back up the hard drive, or at least the most crucial files. And take precautions to prevent electrostatic discharge which can fry your computer components.

Disconnect your computer from the power source and use a grounding wrist-strap, which can be bought cheaply at electronics stores. Avoid carpeted areas and touch only the edges of PC cards.

Don't throw away the packaging and keep it in pristine condition, as some stores won't accept returns packed in tatty styrofoam and ripped boxes.

Kerre Woodham: Pity the poor reporters

Very few people have sympathy for journalists. When it comes to the public respect rankings, journos are right down there with politicians and used-car salesmen - those other ubiquitous bottom feeders.

Maybe it's a case of shooting the messenger, maybe we're just an unlikeable bunch with disgusting personal habits. Whatever it is, I would ask that you spare a thought for all those journalists trying to rustle up news bulletins and newspapers during the summer holidays.

We are a nation where not much happens and for that we should be truly thankful. I'm enormously grateful that I live in a country where the word massacre means, for the most part, the cutting down of trees.

During the summer holidays, politicians take a break, so there's no political cock fighting to report on. Courts are generally in recess, and businesses wait until the New Year to announce any take-over plans or company initiatives. Even lowlifes seem to take a summer holiday.

So unless there's a disaster of epic proportions, it's just the road toll, New Zealanders' inability to drive, and surf rescues. And that's pretty much it.

I'm manning the microphone on NewstalkZB during the summer break and trying to drum up talkback has been a Herculean task.

The topic of euthanasia, topical because Philip Nitschke, aka Dr Death, is holding a series of meetings over the next week in this country, generated a good couple of hours talkback but a thin lipped emailer told me his important and powerful wife would no longer advertise on the radio station because he thought the topic was too depressing.

Silly or unfortunate names - well, we could still be going on that. Everyone had an example of some poor child whose thoughtless parents had condemned them to years of schoolyard bullying. Mrs Rabbit's decision to call her firstborn son Peter, because it was just too cute to resist, apparently, should have made her a sitter for a child abuse charge.

But the showstopper was the lovely Tess who married a bloke called Stickle. I didn't believe it for a minute - I've never heard of anyone with the last name Stickle. But a look through the white pages revealed there are indeed three Stickle families in New Zealand - two in Christchurch, one in Levin. Stickles there are, and it seems Tess had married one.

So we all had a bit of an incredulous shriek, and I could go home, having filled the gaps between the ads. But the next day at work, I received an email from our Christchurch newsroom who told me that an elderly gentleman had called and complained at considerable length that he once taught a lovely young woman called Tess, who had become a very dear friend, and the fact that she had married a man called Stickle should not have been the source of ridicule on the wireless. He was appalled and outraged - and verbose. The newsroom hotline was tied up for hours.

I figure that if your name is Tess and you're marrying a Stickle, you've got a choice. You become Tessa or Theresa, you keep your maiden name or you put up with the jokes.

What topics await national debate this week? I am beside myself with anticipation. In the meantime, I shall spare a thought for my colleagues churning out daily papers, nightly bulletins and hourly news reports. And take comfort in the fact a Spartan bulletin means a peaceful world.

Kerre Woodham: What's the big deal?

I hate New Year's Eve. Even the Millenium was a complete washout. We flew to Ireland and arrived in Dublin to find all the pubs closed because the publicans wouldn't pay the required wages. The best fireworks in the city were a closed shop that only corporate big wigs got to enjoy, and we ended up joining other Dubliners, prowling the streets looking for a good time, before cold rain and locked doors defeated us.

But I don't know why I expected the Millenium to be any different from any other boring old New Year. People prowl from bar to club to home, desperate to find the best party, the most fabulous people, the elusive good time. Desperation never makes for a great night.

The very best parties I've been to have come out of nowhere. A few people sitting around, having a few quiet wines, can turn into the best and most exciting night out.

A friend of mine ran into her good-time girlfriend at the local dairy one wet Wednesday years ago and it turned into one of the wildest nights of her life. No one knows when and where, and upon whom, the Piss Fairy will sprinkle his dust, but when he does, it's magic.

The whole New Year's Eve mania has passed me by. It's like being told by your father: "We're here now, and we are all going to have a good time, or there'll be hell to pay." Steely determination to have a good time or feel like a failure - where's the fun in that? I don't know what the New Year equivalent to a grinch is but I'm one of them.

Roll on 2006 and if you managed to have a good time last night, good on you. But I bet you're not having much fun this morning.