Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sideswipe

Buyer Beware: It pays to check out retail prices when buying on Trade Me, says a reader from Howick... See article below.

By Ana Samways

"Friend of mine, who lives out of Auckland, bought a tent from Trade Me for $500 before Christmas, only to find the same tent (Stockman Weekender) at Kmart for $299. Now it's on sale for $194.65. Not everyone is honest when it comes to making a quick buck."

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Entrepreneurial spirit: Maria Tyrrell writes: "A North Shore road has a transit lane allowing only buses and cars with three or more people to travel down it. The rest of us queue for hours in the other backed up lane ... Yesterday morning two enterprising high school students stationed themselves at the top of the road with a sign offering to get commuters down the fast lane for $5. Brilliant. And yes someone did stop and take up their offer, no doubt making it to work hours ahead of me. I hadn't gone far when the fit entrepreneurs were seen jogging to the back of the traffic line ready to help another stranded motorist down the fast lane."

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Has the world gone mad?" a reader from Mt Albert asks. "First we learn plants are producing methane and contributing to greenhouse gases rather than helpfully sucking it up and now fruit is a sugary sin on a par with the evil MallowPuff ... Next we'll find out sunscreen attracts the sun's rays and smoking is actually good for us."

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Tent troubles of a different kind. While camping at Fletchers Bay at the top of the Coromandel Peninsula, Allen and Annie woke at 7am on New Year's Day with a bang. They thought it was fireworks, but no, the gas fridge in the awning of the tent had developed a leak and caught fire. The bang however was a can of baked beans exploding from the heat. Luckily it blew out the fire and dislodged the gas hose, which was promptly turned off. Unfortunately it also wrecked the tent as it rocketed away. Annie, who hates baked beans, is now praising their fire-fighting virtues.

Editorial: Getting out of the ghetto

Chris Carter has brought a happy, ideological fervour to his new role of Minister of Housing. Not for him the pragmatism that led his predecessor to exclude private owners from the Talbot Park state housing renewal project in Glen Innes. Steve Maharey decided, quite sensibly, that the serious shortage of state housing meant the development should be restricted to state tenants. In any event, although he declined to mention it, there were likely to be few private owners keen to live in an area dominated by state housing for high-need tenants.

This approach does not satisfy Mr Carter. He says that he is "very sympathetic" to allowing some privately owned homes in Talbot Park. It ties in with his idea of eliminating the image of state housing in large concentrations, largely by pepper-potting Housing New Zealand property throughout the community. This would remove what, in Mr Carter's thinking, is the potential for ghetto-like developments that mock the notion of an egalitarian society.

The new minister's crusade has now led him to tilt at another feature of the same issue: property-owners putting covenants on their land titles to keep out state tenants. These contracts prohibit land being sold or leased to Housing NZ. According to Mr Carter, this is occurring at Flat Bush, a development in Manukau City, which should be "a modern, integrated community that welcomes all New Zealanders". He says that he has not ruled out a legal challenge to such prohibitive covenants, but sees providing incentives for councils and developers as a more fruitful avenue.

An even more productive path might be for Mr Carter to ponder why such covenants are becoming increasingly popular. It is not, as he suggests, all to do with developers attempting to achieve high property values. Much of the reason, in fact, relates to the responsiveness of Housing NZ, as the country's biggest landlord. Probably because of its large number of tenants, it does not answer complaints from neighbours with the alacrity associated with the vast majority of private landlords. Only a small minority of state tenants may be at fault, but their unpunished flouting of norms relating to tidiness, noise and the like has saddled the sector with a severe problem.

Private property rights, exercised through the use of covenants, are a ready solution. Their viability rests on the fact that any restriction can be put on a property provided it does not contravene the Bill of Rights Act. While Mr Carter appears optimistic about the outcome of a legal challenge, it is not easy to see how the non-discrimination and minority rights provisions of that law are being breached. And if a court decided they are, what is the implication, say, for councils that put covenants on the title of pensioner units, protecting the land for that use in perpetuity?

The broader question is to what extent private property rights can be limited by the public good, as enunciated by a government. Property rights should be paramount unless there is no other solution for a manifestly unfair and unreasonable situation. That is not the case here. The answer lies largely with Housing NZ.

If it became a more vigilant landlord, and responded quickly and assertively to neighbourhood concerns and breaches of tenancy agreements, it would find the stigma attached to state housing dissipated. Private owners would have no qualms about living next door to state tenants, and the shortage of state housing would begin to be resolved.

That should be the thrust of Mr Carter's endeavours. Success would mean that exclusionary covenants soon became redundant.

Brian Rudman: Political common sense notably lacking in upgrade fiascos

Where's a politician when you really need one? For nearly a year now, Auckland City's elected representatives have sat on the sidelines, nodding as the experts finalised their plans for the $30 million upgrade of the city's premier street.

They fizzed about the new bluestone paving and salivated over the new street furniture. But not one questioned the fate of the existing trees lining Queen St. Or if they did, as one or two are now claiming, they didn't bleat loudly enough to make anyone sit up and take notice.

As I sat at last night's special council meeting and listened to the latest chapter in the fiasco unfold, I couldn't help thinking that of all the system breakdowns that have occurred in this, the latest disaster in the on-going $100 million CBD upgrade, it's been the failure of the politicians to act politically that has been most to blame.

Where were their green instincts? Where was their fear of losing their seat on council? Did not one have the political nous to appreciate that a public, long-badgered about the evils of chain-sawing their errant backyard peach tree, was not going to take kindly to their masters blasting through the Queen St forest like a mini-tornado?

They didn't even display a sense of the ridiculous. Last March, when the final concept plan was unveiled, the document announced "it is proposed that the reclaimed portion of Queen St between Fort St and the Waitemata Harbour be unplanted to reinforce the artificial nature of this land and create a greater coherency to the previously upgraded portion of Queen St outside the Britomart Transport Centre."

Unplanted, not just in the sense of having no plants, but also in the sense of rooting up several thriving liquidambars. At the press conference, tongue in cheek, I asked if mangroves would be acceptable. It seemed not. But nonsensically, the grove of imprisoned kauri further out in the imaginary sea opposite Britomart were to remain.

A savvy politician would have appreciated the silliness of these design excesses - and the political perils of being associated with them - and had them filed in the waste bin. But all the mayor and councillors did was "ooh and ah" and parrot the jargon about a world-class street in a world-class city.

It wasn't until the council's announcement, just before Christmas, that trees were to begin falling on January 4, that the voters finally lurched into revolt, flooding this paper with messages of protest. Finally, Mayor Dick Hubbard read the public mood correctly, and ordered a moratorium - and a rethink.

Partly this was driven by Lesley Max's latest creation, Save Auckland Trees, which is challenging the council's consultation processes in the courts. Threatening court action certainly helped concentrate the council's mind. But even Mrs Max seems to admit she's on shaky ground when she said in Saturday's Herald that "it's very hard to reconstruct precisely how it [the consultation] was lacking".

It's hardly good enough to say that because she was "not in the slightest aware" of it, it wasn't good enough. I suspect the court, if it gets that far, will find Auckland City consulted until the cows came home. Where the city does fall down is in its style of consultation.

New chief executive David Rankin admitted as much after his inquest into the Vulcan Lane and Khartoum Place fiascos when he said "we were all reminded of the importance of listening carefully to what people say during consultation and not missing important messages."

He was talking of his bureaucracy and its hired experts of course. But what he says of the officials is equally true of the politicians. In many ways, more so. We elect our politicians to represent us. To read the small print on our behalf and blow the whistle if common sense tells them the experts are disappearing off on flights of fancy.

What's been most lacking in the Queen St upgrade plans has been this political common sense. The mix of common touch, and self-preservation that keeps the successful politician alive for a second term.

Fran O'Sullivan: Bearish sentiment a sign to ease up

On Wall St the topic du jour is the possible return of the Goldilocks economy.

The "not too hot ... not too cold ... just right" conditions that under-pinned America's great share-market boom of the 1990s.

But in Shortland St (Auckland ) - and along what passes for Wellington's Golden Mile, the talk is about how New Zealand is again out of sync with the global economy.

This time round the economy is not favourably out of sync as our politicians used to boast when furnishing their excuses for not using the golden weather of the early noughties to re-engineer our economy.

Economic indicators such as inflation and the balance of payments went pear-shaped well before Christmas.

Now business confidence is plummeting.

Talk Stateside is about what factors might (if there is a run of bad luck) get in the way of a soft landing. Here the sentiment is simply negative.

Wellington take note.

The image that resonates with me over New Zealand's economy is not Goldilocks but the reaction of the three bears coming home to find their plates are empty. Think about it.

It's surely not too much to hope that Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard will be getting back to work with a renewed determination to take what steps he can to stop the New Zealand economy hitting rock bottom.

Or do the Calvinists down in Wellington believe this is the recession New Zealand "needs to have"?

Are they hell bent on raising interest rates to whip all us so-called spendthrifts into line at the expense of New Zealand's future economic health?

Two reports released over the last two days should have persuaded Bollard that the economy doesn't need further braking through the imposition of yet another round of interest hikes next week.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research which he used to head - was first up with a survey showing confidence had dropped to a 20-year low the worst level since March 1986.

Even the subsequent sharemarket crash and the 1997 Asian crash did not affect confidence so badly.

But now a net 61 per cent of local firms expect business conditions to deteriorate. Tellingly, that loss of confidence is across the board.

It affects all sectors and regions. Even the tight labour market looks a little shaky.

The NZIER suggests the economy could be in a potentially acute slowdown.

It even suggests it is time its old boss took his foot off the economic brake and begins pumping a bit more juice into the economic engine through a series of interest rate cuts.

Yesterday, the loss of confidence was magnified by the release of a Grant Thornton survey which pointed to the deepening perception that shrinking margins are killing profits - one of the prime reasons for the slump in business confidence.

The Grant Thornton survey is particularly useful because it shows New Zealand business confidence is below the international benchmark.

Grant Thornton NZ chairman Peter Sherwin says the difference in just one year is huge and is not a good sign for us as a country.

So what will Bollard do about it?

If he's got any sense he will drop the official cash rate from 7.25 per cent next week down by a least 50 basis points and begin a jawboning exercise aimed directly at the Beehive to get the Government to put its own finances in order.

If ever Finance Minister Michael Cullen needed any ammunition to get his colleagues into line on Government spending then surely these surveys provide him with a ready arsenal.

The underlying message from the two surveys is that an about-face is necessary to increase business confidence and avert disaster.

I find it difficult to believe that Cullen has bought the line that a hard landing is necessary. He's under pressure from Revenue Minister Peter Dunne to introduce business-friendly tax changes that will persuade the country's wealth-producing sector to invest more rather than tighten up

But there's still no sign that either politician has got the message that the changes must be introduced this year not next.

The business lobbies don't have long to push their own barrow on this. But they do need to persuade Cullen and Dunne to bring forward their planned tax changes to this year's Budget to provide incentives for investment.

Say what we like about the US (and mostly in New Zealand we do - as top politician Trevor Mallard proved at the recent election) but its economy is still the world's major international growth motor.

If the US economy does manage to chortle along and grow at 3.5 per cent for the second year in a row it will underpin the international outlook.

Let's not forget that it is one bright spot underpinning New Zealand's future.

Philip McDermott: Provincial growth is Auckland's loss

Auckland's prosperity is critical to New Zealand's prosperity, if only because it houses 33 per cent of the nation's residents and 30 per cent of employees. But, past performance does not mean that Auckland will automatically dominate New Zealand's growth rates in the future.

This may fly in the face of Statistics New Zealand projections discussed in the Herald earlier this month. But a few facts and figures raise interesting questions about the shape and significance of Auckland's future growth.

It is time, in fact, to rethink some of the assumptions about where and how people want to live in New Zealand. It is only because assumptions based on past behaviour are built into pop-ulation projections that they suggest Auckland will maintain an overwhelming attraction to the population.

Even in 2001 there were signs of change, though. According to census figures, Auckland grew by around 90,200 people between 1996 and 2001. Yet, many more than that, 131,000, said they had lived overseas five years earlier. Auckland's growth apparently depended on international migration. Without it, the region would have declined.

This immigration-based growth obscured some interesting undercurrents. The 2001 Census recorded 68,000 people moved out of Auckland to other places in New Zealand between 1996 and 2001. This was more than the 65,600 who moved in, resulting in a loss to the region of 2400 people.

This loss to the rest of New Zealand was a significant turn-around. According to a report from Professor Ian Pool of Waikato University Population Studies Centre, domestic migration added 5160 people to Auckland's population between 1986 and 1991, and 5010 between 1991 and 1996.

This reversal is even more telling when compared with what happened elsewhere between 1996 and 2001. For example, the Bay of Plenty gained 8700 residents from other parts of New Zealand. Tasman, in the north of the South Island, gained 2600, Wellington 2200, Waikato 1500, and Otago 1100. Most interesting for exponents of the northern-drift theory, Canterbury gained 8700 people from the rest of New Zealand.

Turning to the bigger picture, Auckland's natural growth (births less deaths) was 61,000 between 1996 and 2001. If we add international migration to natural growth and deduct the loss to other parts of the country, we end up with possible growth of 190,000. Yet, this is almost 100,000 more than the 90,200 gain Auckland recorded.

This means as many as 100,000 people who lived in Auckland in 1996 had moved overseas by 2001. In short, Auckland's growth now depends on a surplus of international migration arrivals over departures.

There are no guarantees that international migration figures will flow in Auckland's direction in the future. If sustained, the downturn evident since 2003 could lead to a population decline by the end of the decade.

On the internal migration front, Auckland can expect further net losses. Why?

First, Auckland is not immune to the international sea change driving mature families and empty nesters to sunbelt and lifestyle areas. This adds to an established retirement drift to places like Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Taupo, and Tasman.

Second, lower purchasing and living costs support such choices. People can cash up and out of metropolitan areas and buy into a less-pressured lifestyle. Doing this may convert some of their housing assets into cash or other forms of investment.

Even younger households may put lifestyles ahead of job locations when choosing where to live. This becomes more practical as technology supports more flexible business practices.

Third, employment is decentralising as firms move from costly, congested city sites to the metropolitan edge or beyond, to secondary cities and small towns. Growing tourism activity is also supporting provincial labour markets.

Internationally, the dispersal of employees by large organisations is now being touted as a means of risk reduction in the face of terrorism and pandemic jitters. Under these circumstances, New Zealand may even become a favoured destination for investment, although Auckland is unlikely to be top of the list for companies escaping the uncertainties of large cities.

The prospect of these shifts in employment is a revival of much of provincial and small-town New Zealand.

Business demographics statistics collected by Statistics New Zealand indicate that already Auckland's employment growth rate is well below other parts of the country.

New Zealand's employees grew by 16 per cent between 2000 and 2004, Auckland's slightly less at 15 per cent. By contrast, Northland gained 23 per cent, Bay of Plenty 21 per cent and Waikato 19 per cent.

In absolute terms, Auckland led the way. However, with 30 per cent of national employment in 2000, Auckland recorded only 15 per cent of new jobs created between 2000 and 2004 (73,000 in total).

Compare this with the rest of the northern North Island. Northland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty accounted for 14 per cent of national employment in 2000, but gained 21 per cent of the country's new jobs (46,000).

The economic revival outside Auckland means small cities and towns can again offer work and career prospects for people entering the workforce.

They offer a more affordable environment for young households. And, as satellite tertiary education institutions are established in smaller centres, migration to the big city is no longer the only option for people pursuing qualifications.

The movement of younger people to Auckland will slow down or reverse under these circumstances. The big lights will continue to hold an attraction, but will no longer be the only option.

By 2001 the tidal drift of people and jobs to Auckland had slackened. The notion that the region will grow at past rates at the expense of other parts of New Zealand must be revisited.

There is plenty to suggest that the flow is gathering pace in the other direction.

This raises some interesting questions for those agencies that see our planning problems as simply being how to cope with growth in Auckland and boost "the regions" elsewhere.

* Philip McDermott of CityScope Consultants is Adjunct Professor of Urban and Regional Development, Auckland University of Technology.

Don Milne: An ideal of harmony ripped apart

In the days of the ancient Greek Olympics, harmony prevailed during the Games. All conflicts were suspended, all arguments deferred; the universal theme was peace.

The Olympic Games in Munich aimed for that ideal. It took just a few blood-thirsty fanatics to destroy it.

Ironically, the day the crisis began, Tuesday, September 5, 1972, was gorgeous, I recall. The sun was bright, the air warm and still.

Munich, one of Germany's most attractive cities - as thousands of Kiwis who have caroused at the yearly Oktoberfest can testify - was looking its best in this last week of the 20th Olympic Games.

Other German cities, especially Berlin, still bore the scars of World War II, but Munich had been rebuilt, polished to perfection, a picture-book setting.

Germany, then divided into two countries, set great store on these Games.

Twenty-seven years after the war that had devastated Europe and almost destroyed its initiator, West Germany was determined to prove to the world that it was a free, democratic, peace-loving economic powerhouse in which such things could never happen again.

Another theme, rarely stated within the nation's borders, was to expunge the memories of the previous time the Olympic Games were held in Germany.

That was at Berlin in 1936, three years after fanatically racist demagogue Adolf Hitler had bullied his way to power.

New Zealanders remember Hitler's Olympics, if they think of them at all, for Jack Lovelock's epic victory in the 1500m.

Others recall the great feats of a Black American called Jesse Owens, who infuriated the Fuehrer by winning four gold medals and effectively demolishing Hitler's mad theories of a white super-race set in place to lord it over "subhumans" such as Africans and Jews.

Mad or not, those theories were to lead to a terrible war and some of the worst atrocities in history.

The 1936 Olympics were meant to be a propaganda exercise for Hitler, the Nazis and the so-called "Aryan Nation".

The 1972 Games had its propaganda element, too, setting out to cleanse the nation of that hideous past.

Munich, while ideal in many ways as a venue, also had its dark history.

It was here that Hitler established his Nazi party headquarters in 1919, and here that in 1923 he led his abortive attempted coup that ended in his being tried for high treason.

He was sentenced to five years in prison but served only nine months, using the time to write his notorious Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"), in which he set out his strategy for world domination and his anti-semitism.

Dachau, the first of the Nazi concentration camps, is just a few kilometres up the road.

And it was from Munich that an ineffectual British Prime Minister named Neville Chamberlain returned in 1938, promising "peace for our time".

Less than a year later, Germany was invading Poland.

Munich carries this baggage, but it was well in the background on that mild September day.

Why was I there? Not as an athlete, nor as a reporter covering the Games, but as one of many overseas guests invited to see the new Germany in action.

My group included Brazilians, Africans, Argentines, the odd Australian and an elderly Canadian sports reporter whose ancient blazer proclaimed that he had represented Canada in lacrosse at the Olympics in 1924.

We were taken to see the sights of Munich and many of the sports - generally given a good time. The atmosphere was great, the welcome warm and friendly.

The night before September 5 I had been a tiny, non-glittering part of the glittering crowd who attended the premiere of Italy's contribution to the cultural festival, La Scala of Milan in a spectacular performance of Aida.

A rising young Spanish tenor played Radames - he could go far, said the experts. His name? Placido Domingo.

When Tuesday dawned bright and clear, some of us were taken to horse-riding - dressage at the Nymphenburg Palace, a tram-ride from our hotel.

Now dressage, a discipline in which horse and rider go through a series of set, intricate manoeuvres, is undoubtedly enthralling to horsey people.

To ordinary folk, the third or fourth pair doing exactly the same thing is as enthralling as synchronised swimming.

So, late morning, my guide/interpreter and I set off back to the hotel. I had to prepare for a flight to the next stop, Hamburg, early in the evening.

As soon as we came in, it was clear something was wrong.

The hotel had set up a big television screen in the lounge beside the lobby. There were usually just a few people watching, a buzz of conversation and occasional applause.

This time the room was crowded, and not a sound was to be heard except from the grim-faced announcer on the screen.

"It's the village," said my ashen-faced guide Gisela. "Terrorists have got in, and are holding the Israeli team hostage.

"They're threatening to kill them; I think some are already dead."

"What demands are they making?" I asked.

Nobody seemed to know, nor what steps were being taken to rescue the Israelis. Munich - Germany, even - seemed totally unprepared for this.

I rang Mike Robson, head of the New Zealand Press Association team covering the Games. A few days earlier we had been together celebrating our rowing eight's wonderful victory; now, I asked, was there any way I could get there to help them cover this story?

Not a hope, said Mike. The whole place had been sealed off. But I might be able to cover what happened outside.

The NZPA reporters were perhaps the best-placed of the 4000 or so at the Games to see what was going on. Their accommodation actually overlooked building No 31 in the Olympic Village - the building that had been entered just before dawn, through an unlocked door, by a group of Palestinians carrying Kalashnikovs and grenades.

Some of them had been in the village all night; two even had jobs there.

Others had climbed the 2.5m wire fence. They were spotted by post office engineers, who thought they were party-going, curfew-breaking athletes.

Their attempt to break into the Israeli quarters was frustrated by weightlifter Joseph Romano, who held the door shut while yelling warnings to his team-mates.

He was shot down, as was Moshe Weinberg, killed as he ran from the building. Some - the lucky ones - escaped.

The terrorists - nobody was quite sure of their number - were left with nine hostages.

Their first demand was made soon after 5am - half an hour after the terrorists entered the building. Israel must release 200 Arab prisoners by 9am or the hostages would be shot.

The terrorists also wanted safe passage out of Germany.

None of this was clear to those watching in that Munich hotel, and round the world. Information emerged piecemeal, incoherently and was often wrong.

Nobody seemed to know what was going on. Everybody knew that Israel did not negotiate with terrorists. No deals, no trade-offs, no bowing to blackmail. Only a miracle, it seemed, could save the athletes.

As the afternoon wore on, the deadline kept being extended. I asked to stay on in Munich; my hosts were eager to get as many people out of the way as possible. It was clear that I was going on the flight to Hamburg, if I had to be frog-marched there.

Munich airport had been open and welcoming when I arrived, with hardly a uniform in sight except for fetching Olympic hostesses wearing dirndls in the blue and white of Bavaria.

Now it was full of armed, stone-faced police and soldiers in full combat gear carrying sub-machineguns. Again, people clustered quietly round television screens, waiting for the latest news.

The television was no more informative in Hamburg. Negotiations were continuing, progress was being made, the hostages were still alive. There was a suggestion that hostages and terrorists might be taken by helicopter to an airport for a flight overseas - to Cairo, the terrorists demanded.

But Cairo clearly did not want them; President Anwar Sadat had made himself "not available" to calls from German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who was co-ordinating the international efforts to free the Israelis.

It was later claimed that Germany had indicated to the terrorists, through the head of the Egyptian Olympic team, that it would pay any price for the Israelis' lives.

"Money means nothing to us," a terrorist spokesman is said to have replied. "Our lives mean nothing to us."

I watched the television in Hamburg until well after midnight. It was reported that all the hostages had been saved, after an airport shoot-out.

Next morning, that was proved to be hopelessly, tragically wrong. It still took some time for the truth to emerge.

That Tuesday night, nine Israelis and eight Palestinians had been flown in two helicopters not to the civil airport but to Furstenfeldbruck, a military airbase. A Lufthansa 727 was waiting there - with very little fuel, and with no crew. There was no way it could leave.

Also waiting, on the roof of the control tower, were five police sharp-shooters. They had been ordered to fire as and when they saw fit, but only when at least four terrorists were in sight.

They opened fire when two of the terrorists were returning from inspecting the 727, and two others had got out of the helicopters, holding their crews at gunpoint. Not all four were killed, and there were more in the helicopters.

The police, it seemed, had miscalculated badly, both in the number of terrorists and in the forces needed to put them down. They called for urgent reinforcements, but the die was cast.

It was a shambles, ending with one helicopter in flames after a terrorist had thrown a grenade into it, and all nine hostages dead. The so-called rescue had turned into a disaster.

Later, the Federal Government said that right from the outset it had never intended to allow the hostages to leave German territory without the certainty that they would be safe wherever they landed.

In the days that followed, there was much debate, and much recrimination. Some suggested the Games should be cancelled in tribute to the Israeli martyrs; in the end, they were suspended for a day.

A moving memorial service was held in the main stadium, shown all round the world. I stood with dozens of quietly weeping Germans outside a Hamburg shop window, watching the ceremony on television and overwhelmed by Beethoven's great funeral march.

They were days I will never forget. The world was introduced to the face of terrorism - or rather, the horrific image of the black ski-mask that hid that face. It learned a new name for murder: Black September.