Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sideswipe

Jae Frew shot this last month on a publicity shoot for TVNZ. While they were waiting for Helix Motorsport host Geoff Bryant to arrive, this gentleman rolled up next to their prop.

By Ana Samways

Greg Reid from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry responds to yesterday's picture story about the poor little pigs squished into the back of the ute. He says: "Although it's difficult to make an accurate head-count, my assessment suggests there might be a breach of the minimum standards code for the transport of pigs, which details the minimum square meterage per pig based on animal weight. Also, as pigs are prone to sunburn, they should be protected from the sun as well. This punter could easily be in breach of the Animal Welfare Act. Folk who see this type of dodgy animal activity should record as much info as they can and call the MAF animal welfare hotline, 0800 327-027."

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Just another windy day in Wellington: On Air NZ flight 434 yesterday morning the captain told the cabin crew to "prepare the cabin for one of those landings".

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Three best Golden Globe moments (from left):

1. British actor Hugh Laurie, who despite his inability to pull off a convincing American accent, managed to win a gong for his role in medical drama House. Laurie tells the Washington Post he had 172 people to thank, so wrote all their names on slips of paper and said he would choose three at random. On the night he thanked the show's script supervisor, hair stylist and his agent.

2. A blink-and-you-missed it shot on scurrilous website Defamer of hard-man Russell Crowe chowing on a burger, apparently delivered to his table in a Styrofoam container. The menu offered Chilean sea bass for the rest of the industry wusses.

3. Dennis Quaid's misfire joke about gay love story Brokeback Mountain: Quaid said: "Our last nominated drama tells the story of two young cowboys who meet in the summer of 1963 and forge an unexpected, lifelong connection that proves the endurance and power of love. It's a controversial film. It's ... let's just say it rhymes with chick flick." Cue a barely audible ripple of laughter.

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Former US President Jimmy Carter tells GQ magazine in a January interview that he saw a UFO in 1969 in southwest Georgia as he was preparing to speak at a Lions Club meeting. He recalled that it was a bright light that got "closer and closer to us", but then changed colour to blue, then red, then back to white, and then "receded into the distance". (Source: Newsoftheweird.com)

Editorial: Flu threat remote but care is wise

Seriously, do we need to prepare for bird flu? It is more than two years since the virus appeared in East Asia, where people fell ill from contact with infected poultry, and there is no evidence yet that it has mutated in a way that could spread rapidly through human populations. Now the northern hemisphere is well into winter when people are most susceptible to flu and the virus has appeared in Turkey. There have been 18 confirmed cases and three children have died, bringing the world toll to 150 infected people and at least 78 deaths.

The Turkish victims are the first human cases reported outside East Asia since the virus H5N1 re-emerged in 2003 but the outbreaks remain very localised and attributed to contact with diseased birds. British medical scientists have analysed the viruses from two of the dead Turkish children and found mutations that make it easier for the virus to attach to human cells but they say this is only one step in the process that could turn it into a readily communicable human disease. But the fear remains that the virus will undergo a genetic "shift", which can happen drastically or in a series of small changes, and present a new strain of flu to which nobody has developed immunity.

History has frequently seen new avian flu strains which sweep through populations killing as many as half those infected before the human immune system develops antibodies. There is every reason to assume it will continue to happen from time to time. The question is, does the behaviour so far of this bird flu suggest a new human virus is about to break out? No, say the British scientists who examined the Turkish cases. The genetic change they have observed in the bird flu virus was not enough to make it easily transmissible between humans. "The virus would have to change a lot more in other areas before it could cause a pandemic," said a British Medical Research Council spokesman.

Yet it is tempting to follow the precautionary principle and prepare for the worst. This is certainly the safest course for health authorities who know they will stand condemned if the worst happens and they had failed to ensure the population was prepared. It is also the most profitable course for suppliers of medicine and emergency kits, and indeed for news services who can retail precautionary advice. But there is no future for any of these in exaggerating the threat. Public credibility has already been severely tested in recent years by the "Y2K" computer failure that never happened and the "Sars" virus that did not reach the feared proportions.

This is indeed the danger of the precautionary principle much hallowed by health and environmental agencies today. Every time people go to the trouble of taking precautions for what turns out to be a false alarm, the population develops more immunity to the warnings. So it behoves everyone in control of the alarms to preserve their credibility for the times when danger is imminent.

The danger of a bird flu pandemic remains far from imminent. The precautions that might advisably be taken at this stage are no more drastic than those recommended in case of any natural disaster. Households could keep a sensible stock of durable food and fresh water. Schools and workplaces can seek advice about how to protect people in the event of an outbreak of the virus among them, and how to maintain operations as best they can.

There is much to consider and probably much that can be done. The Herald has begun a daily item of advice that we hope will help people to prepare for the worst if they wish. The advice is offered with the precaution that bird flu is still far from frightening. Preparations will probably turn out to be needless. But it is better to waste the effort now than regret the lack of it later.

Linda Herrick: Class act on retro night

Home on Saturday night and a humble desire to be entertained by the telly? This time of year, the annual TV wasteland, can make the History and Discovery Channels look - almost - riveting. However, you could do worse than turn to UKTV which offers an amusing little trio of retro Brit drama: The Saint, The New Avengers and The Sweeney.

Of the three, only the latter stands the test of time. More of that later. I remember The Saint because Dad used to read the books, confections about a modern-day Robin Hood churned out by Leslie Charteris. They were augmented by a Saint Mystery Magazine and a Saint Club, membership of which cost five bob a year.

Then, from 1962-69, The Saint became a popular TV series, featuring the suave Roger Moore. The odd thing about seeing the series now is how rigidly formulaic is each episode. One week in Switzerland, the next in Rome - to emphasise the Saint is a wealthy globetrotting crim.

There is no characterisation beyond the fact he is impeccably turned out, impossibly plummy in diction, and will inevitably triumph over baddies, bureaucrats and bungling cops.

The set-up is always the same. He sorts out some rough stuff, usually at an airport or hotel lobby, someone cries, "It's the famous Simon Templar!", Moore raises an eyebrow, smirks and a little halo pops up above his head.

The plots are as engaging as candyfloss. The most notable feature is Moore's hair, magnificent in its smoothness. The funny thing is during every dust-up, the hair puffs up into a bouffant, quickly smoothed down again. One unkind colleague advises looking closely at the hair in Moore's later incarnation as James Bond, the bouffant by then barely covering a bald spot.

No such danger for Patrick Macnee in The New Avengers, a tired mid-70s effort to revive The Avengers, which sparkled because of the witty chemistry between Macnee and Diana Rigg, as spy-busters Steed and Emma Peel.

Macnee is creaking in this series though, bowler hat jammed on as he's outpaced by his more youthful colleagues Purdey and Gambit. Again, the plots are formulaic and mad, with Nazi monks, Soviet sleepers activated by playing cards, and so forth.

The chemistry between Steed and Purdy is nil, with Joanna Lumley's upper-crust sex goddess act as alluring as a glass of Babycham. Like The Saint, it is ham, snobby ham.

But The Sweeney, that's in a class of its own. Working class. The series, which ran from 1975-78, established the brilliant John Thaw as a star, playing Flying Squad DI Jack Regan, an ill-tempered, hard-drinking cop who'll do anything to get his villain.

For those who might only have known Thaw for the Morse series, The Sweeney will be a revelation as the more youthful looking actor - before his hair turned white - dashes about the streets of east London dispensing rough justice to the lowlifes. Sure, it has dated in the sense that the cars are hilarious and there is virtually no technology, but the dialogue remains whippet-smart and the acting superb.

Macnee is now 83, while Moore is 78. Thaw died in 2002, aged only 60. So there's a sort of posthumous justice in seeing him alive and kicking butt in a show that could teach a thing or two to contemporary programmes whose wimpy heroes would be nothing without technology.

The Saint and The New Avengers are worth watching for the quaintness. But when Regan snarls, "Get your trousers on. You're nicked!" you don't get much better than that, any time, any place.

Brian Fallow: Lip service to Kyoto but no carbon tax

This country will pull its weight in the global effort to tackle climate change, the Government tells us.

After all, we have a climate-dependent economy, a tradition of being good international citizens and a national brand image of being clean and green.

The reality is more tawdry, however, and has become more so with the Government's decision just before Christmas to abandon what had been the central plank of its climate change policy: the carbon tax.

The global warming issue is one of those cases where everybody wants to save the planet but nobody wants to pay.

The upshot has been a series of exemptions and exceptions and carve-outs of which scrapping the carbon tax is merely the latest example.

It began at the geopolitical level with an agreement to exclude developing countries from any binding limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.

You only have to catch a glimpse of Third World poverty to understand the case for doing that, but it gave political cover to those in the United States, and its loyal sidekick across the Tasman, who do not want a bar of any quantitative restriction on emissions.

That has left the rest of the developed world, which has accepted emission limits under the Kyoto Protocol, in the unhappy position of collectively representing a minority of global emissions, and a dwindling minority at that. The problem is that such holes in the international system create the risk of leakage. Industries that use a lot of energy and generate many emissions will migrate to those countries where the right to emit continues to be free.

At the national level, it was the same story. The policy package announced in 2002 began by exempting the agriculture sector which is responsible for just under half of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. That policy has just been reaffirmed.

The rationale is that there is little farmers can do to reduce those emissions, which largely arise from the bodily functions of cattle and sheep, except to have fewer of them.

A quick look at our trade accounts shows the flaw in that approach.

Farmers contribute through levies to the cost of research into this problem but, after the successful "fart tax" campaign, they have got that contribution down to about 1 per cent of what the taxpayer will have to pay to cover the international cost under Kyoto of their sector's emissions.

Officials estimate that by 2010 agricultural emissions will be between 20 and 30 per cent above 1990 levels.

Under the 2002 policy package, the taxpayer is also liable for the cost under Kyoto's rules when forests are felled but not replanted. That is only fair, given the concomitant decision for the Government to retain ownership of the credits that arise from the establishment of new forests.

But the policy put a cap on the deforestation liability which the industry believes may well be breached. The result is uncertainty and a perverse incentive to deforest now before the new regime bites. This is the subject of ongoing negotiations between the Government and the industry.

Meanwhile, the decision to retain ownership of forest sink credits has proved something of an own goal in that it is at least partly responsible for the rate of new planting dwindling to almost zero.

A conditional exemption also exists for the smokestack industries, because of the leakage issue referred to earlier.

They can negotiate individual greenhouse agreements with the Government under which they are only accountable for emissions over and above world's best practice for comparable plant. That element of the existing policy may be retained.

The effect on national emissions may not be large, however. Because these are energy-intensive industries they already have an incentive to use energy efficiently.

The combined effect of exempting agriculture, deforestation and large industrial emitters was that only about a third of the country's greenhouse emissions were going to fall within the scope of the carbon tax.

In effect, households, smaller businesses and the transport sector were to bear the brunt. That was despite the fact that residential energy use per capita is the lowest in the OECD.

As electricity consumers, householders may still face a carbon tax, which would push up their power bills by about 6 per cent. A "narrow" carbon tax on large energy users, including the power companies, is still under consideration.

But electricity generation is predominantly from renewable sources. Power stations using gas or coal that would be hit by the tax represent about 8 per cent of national emissions, a lower proportion than in most developed countries.

The transport sector, representing about 20 per cent of emissions, is the main beneficiary of the decision to scrap the carbon tax.

At the indicated initial level of $15 a tonne of carbon dioxide, the tax would have added about 4c a litre to the price of petrol and diesel.

Modelling by the Ministry of Economic Development indicated that at that rate the tax would cut total emissions by just 1.25 per cent by 2020.

Even at the present low international price of carbon of about $8.50 a tonne, those extra emissions would cost the taxpayer about $115 million over the five years of Kyoto's first commitment period, 2008 to 2012.

It can be argued, however, that the faint price signal an extra 4c a litre would have given is drowned out by the resounding signal the steep rise in international oil prices has already delivered.

Petrol prices at the pump rose 17 per cent last year.

If people are not going to let that influence their next vehicle purchase decision, the carbon tax would not have had its intended effect on them either.

But the international oil price can fall as well as rise, with the changing balance of supply and demand.

The carbon tax was always a long-term game.

Even if the initial rate of the tax was low and its short-term effects on emissions correspondingly negligible, having one on the statute books would be seen as the thin end of the wedge that was liable to widen over time, just as the rate of income tax has.

To be effective that would have required support across the political parties, which was clearly not forthcoming.

Even so, in administering the coup de grace before Christmas the Government has sent a signal that it is not serious about reducing this country's contribution to global warming, small though it may be.

Instead, we will pay someone else to pull our weight.

Talkback: Putting the roar back into Lion

Thank goodness those puerile blokes who leered their way through pottery class, book group and the tennis club are to be consigned to Lion Red advertising history.

In their ads' own words: "Cheers, Lion Red." Now, how about bringing on some advertising creative that's a bit cleverer and a bit more engaging?

Lion Nathan has been doing some marketing soul-searching and one of the results is a new ad agency, Publicis Mojo, running its trophy mainstream beer accounts.

Agencies love doing beer and Mojo's arrival at the party is an opportunity for fresh creative thinking, particularly for Lion Red.

As Lion and Mojo point out, Red is a huge brand with a substantial following.

The trouble is that over the years it has been mucked around with so much it doesn't know whether it's Arthur or Martha. And that inconsistency drives drinkers away.

The TV ads over the years have been a real mixed bag.

Remember the brilliant tub-thumping "Red-blooded, blood brothers and we've all got different mothers" anthem?

Then there was the more serious but less sticky "What it means to be a man" campaign.

Then the creatively brilliant but polarising Chin Heads.

Then "Red-blooded" came back - this time in the guise of some country larrikins having a big night on the town.

In 2003, we even had the farce of ads pitched at a "younger, more contemporary" drinker which was shot but never aired because Lion had last-minute jitters about their appropriateness.

And, most latterly, we've endured the above-mentioned dorks who've offered us tips on how to impress the boss in the corporate box.

Speaking to the Business Herald, Mojo boss Graeme Wills tried hard to be diplomatic about what he was inheriting. But after containing himself for two seconds he declared the present campaign made the Red drinker come across as an Auckland dickhead and vowed to present the brand "in a more inspirational way".

Here's hoping.

Lion stablemate Speight's is a classic example of what can be achieved through a sustained and consistent message. Who would have believed 10 years ago that a beer drunk by, and promoted by, Southland men of the land, could grab a huge slice of the Auckland market?

It seems to have taken a major slide in market share to prompt Lion Nathan to review its whole marketing direction and, with it, its advertising focus.

Rival DB has been eroding Lion's position, in part by looking away from the TV screen. Their enduring "Yeah right" Tui billboard has achieved the ultimate in advertising success: becoming part of Kiwi culture (not to mention a coffee table book).

"Yeah right" has been backed by inspirational TV ads: most recently Davina and Brucetta infiltrating the women-only Mangatainoka brewery.

Again, who would have dreamed 10 years ago they'd be supping a provincial ale enjoyed by Manawatu farmhands in the Big Smoke.

Lion Nathan says it realises there's more to beer advertising than TV commercials and, with Mojo media partner Optimedia now on board, they have an agency with experience in successfully diversifying their media spend on the other side of the Tasman.

Clever billboards, promotions, internet campaigns and point-of-sale material aside, there's still nothing like a powerful TV ad to anchor a brand.

The Tui and Speight's case studies prove Lion Red can be saved. Let's see what Mojo can do to make it roar.

* Simon Hendery is a freelance business writer.

Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani: Iran needs nuclear power for people

Iran's nuclear programme and the vision of having nuclear technology were conceived and initiated by the Shah, with assistance and encouragement from the US and Europeans in the early 1970s.

The aim was to diversify the energy sources of the country and generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity up to 1994.

Since the 1980s, when the Islamic Republic of Iran restarted the programme, the US and the Europeans have been given every opportunity to participate in the development and completion of nuclear reactors in Iran, but always refused to do so.

Since 1979, the Iranian population has more than doubled, from 32 million to nearly 70 million, and is projected to be 105 million in 2050.

Iran's installed electrical capacity is 30,000 megawatts and the country needs additional generation of 2000 megawatts each year, which under the best possible circumstances, including the immediate lifting of US sanctions and a flow of vast investment capital into Iran, cannot be produced by oil and gas alone.

Iran's oil production is only 70 per cent of the pre-Revolution level and consumption has increased 8 per cent annually.

Currently Iran imports US$4 billion ($5.8 billion) of petrol each year from neighbouring countries because of increased domestic consumption. If this trend continues, Iran could become a net oil importer by 2010, a catastrophe for a country which relies on oil for 80 per cent of its foreign currency and 45 per cent of its annual budget.

Oil and gas are non-renewable assets and cannot be depleted recklessly, but this will happen if Iran's sources for energy are not diversified.

A study shows 57 of the 60 Iranian oil fields need major repairs, upgrading, and re-pressurising which would require, over a 15-year period, investment of at least US$40 billion ($58 billion).

Iran has significant uranium deposits that can be used for generating electricity. Its known uranium ore reserves can produce as much electricity as could 45 billion barrels of oil.

Since 1980, carbon emissions in Iran have risen by 240 per cent, contributing to air pollution which is blamed for causing 17,000 deaths every year in Tehran alone. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 reiterated that the safest way to combat carbon emission is the expansion of the share of nuclear energy generation globally.

According to the IAEA, 22 of the last 31 nuclear power plants completed were built in Asia, and of the new plants being built, 18 out of 27 are also in Asia, all driven by pressures of economic growth, natural resource scarcity and increasing populations. These are the same pressures faced by Iran.

Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article four of the treaty recognises the "inalienable right" of member states to have access to nuclear technology and develop and use nuclear energy, including uranium enrichment, so long as it is intended for peaceful purposes.

Iran is fully aware of concerns over its nuclear programme, takes questions about it seriously, and does its best to clarify to the IAEA aspects of its peaceful programme in accordance with the relevant safeguard agreements.

In so doing the following steps have been taken:

* Additional protocol to the treaty was signed in December 2003 and implemented, before its ratification by Iranian parliament.

* IAEA inspectors have had thousands of hours of access to all Iranian facilities.

* Iran voluntarily suspended tests and production of the uranium conversion facility, manufacture of components and assembly and testing of centrifuge in November 2004.

* President Ahmadinejad invited foreign countries and companies to participate in Iran's nuclear facilities as a joint venture.

* An agreement was signed with Russia to return the Bushehr nuclear reactor's spent fuel.

As a result, the IAEA reported: "All the declared material in Iran has been accounted for and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities".

Iran is the largest and most populous country in the region, with huge reconstruction needs and a young population requiring allocation of a large proportion of Iran's limited resources.

A costly arms race is contrary to Iran's security interests, and Iran's military doctrine is not drawn up to incorporate nuclear weapons.

Iran is the sponsor of a motion at the United Nations to establish a Middle East nuclear-free zone to rid the region of all nuclear dangers, including Israel's vast nuclear weapons stockpile.

The Iranian authorities have repeatedly given assurances that the programme is exclusively energy-oriented and have committed themselves to keep it under relevant international instruments.

Iran's commitment to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations originates not only from its contractual position, but also from its religious beliefs and ethical considerations.

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has reiterated on several occasions his religious verdict on the prohibition of producing, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons.

Iran has been the only victim of weapons of mass destruction in recent history (at the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime). Iranians are determined to ensure that distinction remains.

The particular attention paid to Iran's nuclear energy programme is unwarranted and unfair. It is disproportionate to the nature and goals of the programme and is a clear double standard.

The international community knows that Iran has not violated any international law and the issue does not merit referral to the UN. It is unacceptable to judge countries on mere perceptions and perceived "intentions".

Iran has started nuclear research with prior notification to, and 24-hour inspection by, the IAEA. We maintain close co-operation with the IAEA.

Nuclear research is different from enrichment. Iran continues to be responsive to allay concerns about the nature of the nuclear generation programme on the basis of the routine safeguard implementation matters.

Iran is still committed and keen to continue objective and unbiased discussions with Europe, as well as Russia and non-aligned countries. The best course of action is through dialogue and negotiation, not confrontation.

* Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani is Iran's ambassador to New Zealand.

Hugh Allan: Study of past vital to future

Current debate, the publication of books such as Michael King's History of New Zealand, and the screening of television docu-dramas, indicate growing interest in our history and an acknowledgment that those who do not know their past have no future.

The teaching of history is critical to New Zealand's continuation as an autonomous nation. To thrive in our growing, changing, complex society, our young citizens need to be conscious of how we got here.

The teaching of history will mature their judgment, preparing them for whatever eventuates in the future. They will recognise the changes happening and how issues will affect us.

The upholding of our identity should be the leading incentive for the teaching of our history as a required subject in the curriculum.

Our country is growing very quickly through a diverse influx of immigrants. All young New Zealanders must associate themselves with one commonality of knowledge relating to our society.

New Zealanders engaged in politics should know that our common essence needs to be considered anew by each generation if that identity is to continue to exist.

The teaching of history is essential for good citizenship. Good citizenship encourages responsible community behaviour. Being a good New Zealand citizen is an idea that must be imaginatively and expertly taught. What binds citizens together except a common empathy for the shared family?

"The Government's objective is that all persons have a right as citizens to a free education." These are the words of Prime Minister Peter Fraser (1940-49), who would likely have seen knowledge of New Zealand citizenship as essential to national cohesion and social stability.

History has a practical application. Its discipline is directly relevant to many analytical requirements and the capacity to explain trends.

Students would further develop research skills and basic writing and speaking skills. The consequence would be a historically aware generation that would plan, create and export wealth.

The type of history that should be taught is not, however, just based on autonomy, identity, citizenship and employment. The mandatory study of history would offer our children the tools to evaluate today's New Zealand and their future options.

Our young people will decide New Zealand's dealings with the rest of the world. Knowledge of the powerful - notably potential trade and military partners - should be recognisable to tomorrow's generation. If our young people are to make wise decisions for themselves and their children they must be educated about the planet.

When young New Zealanders are taught history they will emerge with realistic skills, be good citizens, conscious of their uniqueness, achieve as critical thinkers and be globally knowledgeable.

All young New Zealanders merit having their own heritage honoured by those who make the decisions today.

* Hugh Allan is an Auckland history teacher of many years' standing.