Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sideswipe

Call yourself a foodie? (At least it's not KFC).

By Ana Samways

Former Critic editor Holly Walker, responsible for the handy How to Rape guide in the Otago student magazine, has just been appointed the Greens' media officer. Wonder what Green MP Sue Bradford, who talked publicly about being raped when she was 16, thinks about that?

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There are two sides to every story: This week an anonymous reader complained about a mother and a grizzling baby being reduced to tears after being kicked out of a Parnell cafe by the owner last Thursday. Today the affronted mother writes wanting Sideswipe to name the cafe to warn other mothers not to go there. Sideswipe contacted the Verve cafe for its side of the story. Owner Andrew Burley remembers vividly that the women were at the farthest table outside, but he could still hear the crying in the kitchen. After 10 minutes and three separate complaints from customers, he asked his manager to go out and ask the mother to take the baby for a walk around the block. Burley says the woman and her heavily pregnant friend refused. When Burley went out himself and asked again, tempers on both sides flared. "I get babies in here all the time and this is the first time I've had to ask someone to leave," he said. "Normal parents get up and take baby out [so as not to] inflict the disturbance on other customers. These women were determined to make something of it." He suggests the first letter to Sideswipe claiming to be from customers near the women who were not disturbed was probably written by the women themselves.

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A reader was cleaning a dead insect off her outside pillar using a Handee Ultra paper towel. After a swift wipe, she noticed the green dye from the decorative pear design on the towel had stained the pillar. Looking closely at the packaging she noticed a tiny warning stating: "To reduce the possibility of ink transfer while using paper towels, use the unprinted side." So, who would have thought you had to read the paper towel manual first?

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On his bFM show on Saturday, World fashion designer Frances Hooper gushed over the salacious news that Hollywood director Lee Tamahori had been arrested for prostitution on Sunset Boulevard while dressed in drag. But he confused the movie man and the former MP, starting his what's-the-big-deal spiel with: "John Tamihere, he's my idol."

John Armstrong: McCully drive shows National's getting one thing right

National MPs seem to be so busy squabbling over leadership and contradicting one another over the Muhammad cartoons that it has been hard to discern anything constructive emerging from their Taupo retreat.

But the party is getting something right. With Don Brash's backing, Murray McCully wants to bring National's policy on port visits by nuclear-powered warships back into line with Labour's ban.

His push for National to give unconditional support to the status quo follows a review of last year's election campaign and is part of a wider effort to "inoculate" the party against falling victim to self-inflicted headaches again.

Another example of National making itself too vulnerable to attack was Government spending - a large chunk of voters being convinced National's tax cuts would inevitably entail the slashing of taxpayer-funded health and education services.

Senior MPs believe the inoculation campaign must be completed this year, rather than leaving potential problems hanging around until election year when attempts to fix them may look less than convincing.

For his part, Mr McCully has to convince defence hawks in the caucus that he is not merely putting political pragmatism ahead of his new responsibilities as National's shadow spokesman on foreign affairs.

He is conscious of the sensitivity. It is understood all he sought yesterday was the caucus okay for a discussion on nuclear policy at a later date.

He has carefully framed a likely policy shift within a wider rethink of National's foreign and defence policy, including such vexed matters as whether National commit itself to spending more on defence.

He has also consulted widely - from American officials to Jim Bolger, both as former party leader and former Ambassador in Washington.

A policy compromise had National going into last year's election on the back foot, trying to reassure voters there would be no change in the law banning nuclear ship visits unless National got a public mandate - either by referendum or the party making an explicit commitment in its election manifesto.

It was complicated and confusing - and put Dr Brash on the defensive.

His stock response was to say National had "no intention" of removing the ban. However, that begged the question of why he was mooting the possibility of a referendum if there was no intention to change the law.

His difficulty in mounting a convincing argument was also compounded by Labour constantly highlighting his alleged remark to visiting American senators that the nuclear ban would be "gone by lunchtime" if National won.

Mr McCully wants the party to expressly oppose port visits. He has not set a deadline but the whole point of the exercise is to clarify National's position as soon as possible so it is a non-issue long before the 2008 election.

Labour's reluctance to allow National to close down the issue could be measured by Phil Goff yesterday calling a press conference before the National caucus had even discussed Mr McCully's proposition.

The Defence Minister instantly turned the issue from merely being about whether National would keep New Zealand nuclear-free, into the wider question of National's overall credibility.

National had made so many "flip-flops" on nuclear ship visits that the public would not believe National had really changed its mind. The overall impact was to reduce public trust in National - not increase it.

Mr Goff may have a point. But Mr McCully's game-plan is to stop National from constantly gifting him and other Labour ministers easy opportunities to keep making it.

Editorial: Muslims' restraint admirable

The controversy over the Danish cartoons must not be allowed to pass without an acknowledgment of the maturity and restraint of the Muslim community in this country. When the reaction in some other places has brought flag burning, petrol bombs and even death threats on placards, it is to the great credit of Auckland Muslims that they made their feelings known with a march in Queen St last Sunday that was passionate but peaceful and entirely unobjectionable.

Over following days they sent letters and articles to this and other newspapers that conveyed their hurt with fairness and reason, a notable contrast to the hateful tone of many letters of the opposite view. Local Muslim spokesmen and women have contributed to radio and television discussions in the same manner. And leaders of their community here have taken it upon themselves to write to Muslim countries in an attempt to defend New Zealand and its trade from the potential damage done by the decisions of some of its media.

In acknowledging the restraint of Muslims here, we run the risk of implying that we expected worse. We did not. The possibility of violent reprisals never entered our consideration when reaching our decision on the offensive cartoons. Nothing that Muslims in this country have said or done gives anyone here any reason to fear that their response to religious provocation would exceed the bounds of intense debate.

Those who reprinted the Danish rubbish claimed to be bravely defying threats and intimidation but they were referring, presumably, to reactions abroad; here we take for granted the civilised culture of all communities in New Zealand, and long may we do so. But it does no harm to recognise their good citizenship at times such as this when it must have been sorely tested.

How galling it must be for members of these migrant communities to be reading and hearing daily lectures on the freedoms and tolerance of this country from people who then proceed to display their ignorance and intolerance of the migrants' religion. Minorities in any country inevitably understand the majority better than the majority understands them. They know the freedom that prevails here; that is probably a reason they came.

They also can tell the difference between free speech and a calculated insult. Free speech can cause incidental offence in making a point. A calculated insult has no purpose except to give offence. The Danish cartoons were a classic example. They were commissioned simply to challenge Islamic sensitivity. They were intended only to hurt.

The newspapers which have picked up the cartoons months after their publication in Denmark did so for the avowed purpose of solidarity with the Danish editors whose country was beginning to pay a diplomatic price for their dubious courage. The material could not be published anywhere without being regarded by Muslims as an endorsement of its original offensive purpose.

Some of those who have displayed the Danish cartoons now claim their intention was also to do no more than show people the images at issue. But they knew the publication of the images would cause offence and they had to weigh that against the marginal informational loss of simply describing cartoons that, after all, were not very clever.

The drawings served only to test the self-restraint of free media and of Muslims everywhere. In this country Muslims have passed the test well.

Garth George: Islam's followers must learn to live with blasphemy

If the worldwide furore over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad is nothing less than astonishing, then the defensive, even cringing, reaction of the leaders of Western nations is even more so.

And if the reason for the Muslim angst - if that's not too mild a word - is alleged to be blasphemy, how come it took several months after the cartoons were first published for the virulent reaction to come?

That indicates to me that the uproar is not religious but political, and I suspect that it has been encouraged by the same people who encourage Muslim radicalism, including persuading suicide bombers and other terrorists to do what they do.

Because if the real reason for the widespread Muslim reaction - with the violence and destruction that invariably accompanies any perceived insult to Islam - is against blasphemy, then that simply shows again just how far behind the times the Islamic world has fallen.

Not that I consider that the cartoons should ever have been published - and certainly not widely reprinted in Europe - but having seen them on the internet I wonder what all the fuss is about.

This newspaper and its sister Herald on Sunday made the right decision not to have a bar of them, and the editors down country whose rags did print them proved only that they lack the judgment necessary to do their jobs.

I don't know whether there is still a law against blasphemy in this country, but if there is I wonder how long ago it was used, if ever.

In the past half century or so in most of the Western World, blasphemy - defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as "profane or sacrilegious talk about God or sacred things" - has become so common that it is invariably ignored.

There are exceptions, of course, for some of the blasphemy committed from time to time has been so blatant and base as to arouse in even the most tolerant people feelings of hurt and disgust - the movie The Life of Brian, the so-called artwork Virgin in a Condom and the TV series Popetown to name a few.

And while I'm on that subject, I've seen some specious arguments in my day, but this newspaper's justification of itself in a sub-leader on Monday for running pictures of Virgin in a Condom must take the cake.

It obviously didn't occur to the champions of free speech who made that decision that if newspapers and TV hadn't run pictures of the sickening statue, then only those who bothered to go to that museum in Wellington would have seen it, and hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders would have been spared the offence of looking at it.

And what about that poor (not financially), sad woman Susan Wood, who used the cartoon controversy deliberately to present a blatantly blasphemous skit mocking Jesus Christ?

(Not that anyone should be surprised, since television seems to employ the most ignorant, arrogant and insensitive of people. It's the nature of the medium, I suppose - pushy, intrusive and so far up itself that one day it will disappear into its own orifice.)

Did we have riots and burnings and violence and destruction? No, but I sometimes think that if Christians had persistently tried to protect their beliefs and their deities the way Muslims do, then the Western World would be a much nicer place.

And there's something appealing about the thought of a determined radical assault on that citadel of secular shallowness up in Hobson St with all the satellite dishes poking out the roof.

As I say, blasphemy against Christian deities - my Lord Jesus in particular - is so common these days that it passes pretty much unnoticed. How many times a day, for instance, do you hear somebody utter "Jesus Christ!" as an oath?

But we have learned to live with it and take it on the chin no matter how often it happens, because we know that if God depended on us to defend him he would have been out of business long ago and that he is more than capable of looking after himself.

Really, I guess, what we have here is not a religious issue but a clash of civilisations, one living in the 21st century and the other back in the days of witch-hunts and burnings at the stake.

I have no argument with Muslims who protest at what they see as denigration of their Prophet and their faith.

What I do object to is the manner of some of the protests, and I see it as significant that the most violent and sustained of them have come from those living in countries that are to all intents and purposes at war with the West.

It is significant, too, that in Turkey, that predominantly Muslim country dragged into the 20th century by the sheer vision and will of Kamal Ataturk, reaction to this latest Muslims v The Rest stoush has been muted to say the least.

Christianity has put up with blasphemy ever since it began to make its mark on society two millenniums ago. Now that Islam has begun to spread and proselytise, its believers are just going to have to learn to live with it, too.

God is, after all, great, and certainly great enough to survive unharmed the doodlings of a two-bit cartoonist for a tinpot Danish newspaper.

Michele Hewitson: Almost as good as it gets

The thing about comedy: you need a really good idea, or a really good character. Sounds simple? Ha, ha.

With Fawlty Towers you had a really funny character. No, you didn't, actually. You had a really despicable character - and a really funny cast of characters to enhance his ghastliness. That was funny. With Seinfeld you had a really good idea. And a cast of really despicable characters to enhance his ... We know how funny that was.

The trouble with TV3's new Wednesday night offerings I Hate Chris and My Name Is Earl is that all you have is a good idea.

Despite their intended flaws we're meant to like these characters. They're goofy, anti-heroes. The over-riding demand of these shows is that we love these two: they are idiots, but they are lovable idiots.

Fawlty, and Seinfeld, never asked you to love them. If you did, you needed therapy. Just like they did.

UKTV is re-playing, again, repeats of Men Behaving Badly. If you love Gary, you really do need help. Men Behaving Badly doesn't have the pure genius of Fawlty and Seinfeld, but it's as funny as hell..

Men love Men Behaving Badly because it gives them an excuse for laughing about men behaving the way they wouldn't dare to. Women laugh at it because it gives them an excuse for laughing at how men still haven't evolved. That's sexist on so many levels that it has to be funny. I guess that's a form of nostalgia.

I Hate Chris is set in the 80s. There's nostalgia, sort of, set in a place where crack meets family values meets a geek.

Maybe those Fame kids are better than the nerds. Maybe there's more to being a black kid than being able to play basketball.

The best characters are Mom and Dad. Mom is the ghetto snoot who doesn't serve instant coffee; she serves freeze-dried. Dad is into money. As in counting how much an uneaten bowl of porridge is worth. Chris gets to eat it. Chris gets all the crap. Chris is Chris Rock, the famous comedian. We know he'll get to grow up to become the famous comedian.

Is this show funny? Maybe if you find this funny: "Much like rock'n'roll, school shootings were also invented by blacks and stolen by white men."

Earl, like Gary, will never grow up. He's a deadbeat who discovered karma. He has a list of all the people he robbed - of money or dignity or, in the case of his even more moronic brother, a touchdown in a football game.

Earl had fixed it back in college days; he wants to fix it to make it right now. The plot is simple: every week Earl makes a right wrong. Along the way this is funny, and immoral means are employed to make wrongs kind of right.

At the end there is an, "aw, hell, these guys are bad bastards with big hearts" scene. This is probably all right but it is as cheesy as that stuff they squirt in really yucky sausages. There is nostalgia - for a time when even bad guys could go good.

In I Hate Chris there's nostalgia for a time when you could make racist jokes. But only if you're a black guy. Some of this is funny. How funny?

The laughs are mostly ones of relief that American sitcoms can, after the candy-dross that was Friends, still be a bit edgy. And, yes, there are morals. But The Simpsons, still the funniest, smartest show about the male species (Homer; Bart et al), has morals.

Chris and Earl are not those very rare things: really good sitcoms. But they are those almost as rare things: pretty good sitcoms. Well, they make me laugh.

Brian Fallow: By George, he's got it: biofuels

There's one for connoisseurs of irony. In his State of the Union speech last week, President George W. Bush pledged to increase funding for research into the production of ethanol, not from things we can eat like corn or sugar but from cellulosic materials such as wood chips and corn stalks.

The goal was to make ethanol from such sources practical and competitive as a transport fuel within six years, the President said.

Never mind that the justification he advanced was all about energy security and reducing America's reliance on imported oil, rather than reducing its contribution to global warming. Advocates of biofuels can only applaud such an initiative.

The irony is that in New Zealand, a land-based economy, precious little similar research happens. The taxpayer is confronted instead with the prospect of having to find hundreds of millions of dollars to cover a burgeoning liability under the Kyoto Protocol's rules for deforestation.

A country earns credits under Kyoto when land is switched from a low-carbon use like grass to a high-carbon one like forestry

But the reverse is also true. When a forest is felled and not replanted, the country is liable for the emission of that stored carbon.

That is happening more and more.

Officials warned the Government in a Cabinet paper in December that: "Latest indications are that forest owners intend to deforest about 47,000 hectares during the first Kyoto commitment period (2008 to 2012). If this level of deforestation occurs it will add around 32 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to New Zealand's deficit, in effect nearly doubling it."

The Government confessed last June that New Zealand was likely to fall short of its Kyoto target by 36 million tonnes, a turnaround from previous estimates which, assuming continued planting of new forests, had us comfortably exceeding it by a similar amount.

The Treasury estimated the shortfall would cost the taxpayer $300 million.

But that is a low-ball estimate based on an international price of only US$6 a tonne for "carbon" (tradeable rights to emit greenhouse gases) and an exchange rate of 70USc.

The price of carbon is much more likely to rise than fall from such a level and exporters desperately need the exchange rate to drop, which would make buying credits more costly in NZ dollar terms.

Officials tacitly concede as much when they advise the Government to start buying credits soon, before the price rises.

Current climate change policy towards forestry is calamitously bad.

By retaining ownership of (foresters would say swiping) the credits engendered by Kyoto forest sinks, the Government gives no incentive to plant more of them.

At the same time, for fear of an uncapped fiscal liability, it has not had the decency to accept responsibility for all of the liability that arises from deforestation. It will only pick up the bill if less than 10 per cent of the land cleared over the period 2008 to 2012 is switched to other uses.

What happens if, as seems increasingly likely, that cap is exceeded, nobody knows. It is a perverse incentive to deforest early, just in case.

Jim Anderton, the Minister of Forestry, said: "It is clear that the current policy does not send strong signals to encourage landowners to keep their land in forests and establish new forests."

Talks are continuing between the Government and the industry.

We can only hope that what they come up with recognises that forestry, or more precisely the sequestration of carbon by growing trees, is the best contribution New Zealand can make to reducing net greenhouse gas emissions, short of figuring out how to stop cows from belching methane.

A passionate advocate of the role of biomass in addressing climate change is Massey University's Dr Peter Read, an engineer turned environmental economist.

His starting point is to avoid the "plausible fallacy" that just because man's use of fossil fuels for energy is the problem, solutions will have to come from developing whole new technologies for propelling vehicles and generating electric power. We haven't got that sort of time.

Rather than abandoning carbon-based fuels and the massive capital stock of machines that use them in favour of a hydrogen economy or the like, we should develop sustainable sources of carbon fuels.

You might say that for carbon, as for food and information, fresh is best.

The natural flows of carbon between the atmosphere and plant life dwarfs the billions of tonnes of fossil carbon we mine, burn and dump in the atmosphere to meet our energy needs.

The trick, in Read's view, is to increase the amount of carbon taken up by growing plants, and to make better use of it before it returns to the atmosphere.

The obvious questions are: Is there enough land and is the technology required available and affordable?

After all, the demographers tell us there will be another 3 billion mouths to feed before the world's population stabilises. And as it is, some pretty marginal country is being farmed already.

But Read cites an estimate from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that 2.3 billion hectares of potentially arable land globally is not being used that way, mainly in Africa and Latin America. Would changes in land use increase the amount of carbon sequestered (taken from the atmosphere and stored) compared with what's there now? Hasn't nature already optimised that?

No, says Read. "Nature goes in for resilience. It survives by developing eco-systems that are robust against changing circumstances. If you raise the efficiency the system becomes less resilient and you need good management to protect it. But mankind gets far more per hectare out of the land than nature ever did," he said.

"Nature is in stasis. If you go to the Amazon you say, 'Gosh what a huge amount of biomass'. But it is no more next year than this year. It's stuck. Mankind can and does through cropping take biomass off the land, which nature cannot do."

Read advocates developing a global biofuels industry by diverting the flow of investment from an overcapitalised industry - the search for oil - to an undercapitalised one, agriculture in the Third World.

For such a change to make sense from a climate change point of view you would have to ensure that you did not create more emissions by, for instance, clearing rain forest to plant oil palms, than you saved by using the subsequent palm oil as biodiesel.

International agreement on what is sustainable practice and a monitoring regime would be required.

Read is also attracted by the idea of taking some of the biomass produced, carbonising it into stuff similar to charcoal and using that as a soil conditioner, to reduce the leaching of nutrients and act as a sort of microbial coral reef in the ground.

Amazon Amerindians seem once to have used that technique to allow continuous cultivation of their land but the knowledge has been lost and scientists are trying to rediscover it.

In the meantime, to return to President Bush's initiative, techniques for the hydrolysis, fermentation and distillation of cellulosic material have been around for decades. It is already being done on a commercial scale in Canada and Finland, Read says.

"Is it competitive with oil at $60 a barrel? I don't know."

But it is an invalid comparison, he argues. "What it costs to get oil out of the ground in 10 years' time depends on how much effort you put into finding more oil."

And on how much more oil remains is to be discovered. Chevron points out in its advertising that we consume two barrels of oil for every new barrel of reserves discovered.

Read says if we stop spending money looking for oil in extremely inconvenient places like Central Asia and spent it instead in developing bio-energy, then very soon ethanol will look cheap. Learning by doing would ensue.

"So relative prices now are a poor guide to what relative prices will be in 10 years' time."

Investors will not want to commit to building biofuels plants until they can see where the raw material is coming from and have some comfort about a market.

So it makes sense for policymakers to encourage the building up of a large stock or reserve of biomass. In short, in the New Zealand context, forests.

"The Government could say we are going to have a biofuel obligation in our transport fuels mix and it is going to be 2 per cent in 2008 and 4 per cent in 2010 and 8 per cent in 2012. These are commitments,"aid.

"And we also have the aspiration for 2020 that it will be 30 per cent and for 2025 that it will be 50 per cent. If those signposts were put up with a clear obligation in the near-term and signals about long-term aspirations, then the industry will sort it out."

Gautaman Bhaskaran: Railway blow to hope and spirit of Tibet

Railway lines fulfil dreams. At least in modern times. But the one about to link central Tibet with China threatens to dash hopes. When passenger trains begin running on this stretch in 2007, hundreds of Han Chinese will emigrate to Tibet.

Tibetans are already in a minority in the cities. This new influx will just swamp them. And this is precisely what Beijing wants: a less gruesome form of ethnic cleansing.

The railway line is merely one of the many threats that the Tibetans face.

Since their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, escaped to India with about 80,000 followers in 1959 after China put down a rebellion in Tibet, the simple largely pastoral race has been in deep despair.

This agony does not appear to go away or even diminish.

At a recent gathering of Tibetans in Dharamsala in northern India, where the Dalai Lama lives and runs a government in exile, he rues that his people are "facing extinction".

Out of a total of six million Tibetans, 130,000 live outside their land, three-quarters in India. These men and women dream of returning home some day, and they continue to keep alive their traditions, sometimes even their way of daily existence.

But the Dalai Lama, who acts as a catalyst to the Tibetans and their aspirations, will not live forever. He himself says that his death will be a serious setback. It is an understatement. Lobsang Nyandak Zayul, a minister in exile in the Dalai Lama's government, feels that there will be chaos after the leader's death.

This unrest will probably affect China deeply as well. The Dalai Lama no longer seeks independence for Tibet. What he now wants is limited autonomy for his people that will allow them to practise their customs without fear or hindrance.

Analysts aver that Beijing should not let go this opportunity for one very important reason. No leader after the Dalai Lama can ever hope to enjoy the respect and love that the Tibetans have for him.

The spiritual leader's command over and loyalty from his people are enormous. Besides, the Dalai Lama is a true Buddhist who seeks peace, and has until now somehow managed to keep the Tibetans from the path of violence.

Sometimes one does get the impression that the present leadership in Beijing is trying to forge some kind of peace with the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama.

The question now is will the Dalai Lama reincarnate himself as the 15th leader? He says that he will not unless the Tibetans themselves want the institution. Yet, most Tibetans believe that the reincarnation will take place. China knows this too, and has already begun to meddle in this process.

A senior lama is traditionally involved in identifying and tutoring a young Dalai Lama. His is the Panchen Lama. The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989 and two young men - one recognised by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans and another by the Chinese - carry the title of the 11th.

The Chinese Panchen has been in jail since 1995 (for his own protection, says China).

The stage, it seems, is all set for drama and intrigue.

Yes, some aver that the 17 Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley (barely 20 years of age) - who belongs to the Black Hat School of Tibetan Buddhism, which in the 17th century lost state power to the Dalai Lamas' Gelugpa School - recognised by the Chinese Government and the present Dalai Lama - may be able to bring peace after the spiritual leader's demise.

Trinley was born in Tibet, but fled to India in 1999 in the hope of freedom.

But the Indian security around him is heavy and he is not allowed to visit his predecessor's seat. In the days to come, both the Dalai Lama and Beijing are bound to get more and more suspicious of the Karmapa's exile.

For a long time, India thought that he was a Chinese spy. Perhaps it still does. And Beijing is uncomfortable with the idea that he is living in India.

* Gautaman Bhaskaran is a journalist based in Madras.

John Morris: School zoning may seem fair but in reality it fails

In 2000 the Labour Government reintroduced school zoning, the aim of which was to use the existing network of schools more effectively and efficiently.

It sounds like a good and fair idea. But unfortunately it is not quite as simple as it sounds, and in the larger metropolitan centres it is plainly not working fairly or even legally.

In the 1960s and 1970s every school was zoned and every school had the right to take approximately 40 students from out of zone. No doubt some schools were in greater demand than others even in those days, but there was certainly a far greater homogeneity across the secondary school sector.

All schools seemingly provided the same quality of education and the same opportunities for children to succeed. Zoning in that meritocratic society worked acceptably.

The world, however, has changed. Attitudes have changed, aspirations have changed, and the composition of New Zealand's population has also changed along with the social mores.

All this has had an impact on education and schools and what was once a fairly homogeneous landscape of secondary schools is now one of huge diversity. No longer do all schools have the same philosophies, expectations, resources, ethnicity.

The days when a one-size-fits-all education policy, like geographical zoning, may have suited our country, are gone.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we are being regulated as if nothing had changed.

Education is a prominent issue, qualifications are more important than ever.

Many families will do whatever they can to ensure their children get what they consider is the best education possible and if that includes using deception then so be it.

A case in point is Auckland Grammar School. Regardless of your own personal opinion about Grammar - and most people have one - Auckland Grammar School holds a special place in the education landscape of New Zealand. It is the oldest school in Auckland (137 years old) and has an incomparable history and tradition of academic excellence and sporting success.

Anyone who understands Grammar's place in the New Zealand education scene would realise what the result would be of drawing a firm line around the school and stipulating that anyone who lives within its borders could go to Grammar, and then not putting any accompanying requirements on these people.

Predictably, there has been a mass migration into the zone and consequently a huge roll increase (600 extra students since the legislation was changed).

Our roll increase has little to do with natural increase within our zone and everything to do with deliberate migration to the zone from families whose children are already at other schools in Auckland.

This is why the idea of shrinking the Grammar zone would not work. Families will still move into the many apartments and units that are everywhere within our zone.

Neither should the board of trustees be responsible for suggesting such action because it is a strategy that would impact greatly on property values in the area.

The ministry's demographics indicate that AGS should have a falling roll. And our own research tells us that our main contributing schools had lower numbers of boys living in our zone last year, and yet our form 3 roll has increased yet again.

Over the week before school started we had nearly 80 additional applications for places, most of them for form 3, from families who had just moved into the zone from other suburbs in Auckland.

The legislation allows families to leave their enrolment that late and the school can do little about it.

The impact on our school from such inconsiderate, but legal, behaviour is huge, with class sizes, teaching timetables and provision of facilities all compromised hugely.

The fact that we cope and still provide a style and quality of education that is in great demand is a superb tribute to the staff and board of the school, but it should not, and need not, be like this.

The enrolment legislation that we have to endure is based on a bygone assumption that all schools are the same and all student learning needs are essentially similar.

This is patently not the case today, and it also fails to take into account unique local circumstances.

In 2000, AGS made a strong submission to the select committee on the Education Amendment Bill No 1, chaired by Liz Gordon, and we suggested improvements to that bill.

Our suggestions fell on deaf ears. Over the succeeding five years the weaknesses of the bill in operation have been plain to see, especially in Christchurch and Auckland.

The school has made further representations to the minister and ministry over those five years, but without making any headway.

I am sure a meeting of principals of affected schools with ministry staff could end up with some sensible and pragmatic solutions and, while it will not be universally popular, I do believe that some element of parental choice must be part of any discussion.

Much research has been done on this in the United States, Britain and Australia, and three main arguments for choice over a strict area assignment to school come to the fore.

First, there is the libertarian notion of choice for its own sake.

Second, there is the argument of equity. Choice of school extends to all a privilege that under zoning is available only to those able to afford houses in desirable suburban catchment areas (selection by mortgage) or send their child to a fee-paying school. Children from poor and ethnic minority groups should be able, in principle, to break the iron cage of zoning.

Third, there is the argument that market forces will drive up educational standards. Successful schools will be popular; weaker not so, and consequently their funding will drop until they either improve or close. Over time, therefore, the general standard of schools will be higher.

Given all this it is surely time for the Government to reassess this legislation and have a discussion regarding the whole concept of zoning and choice, and it should be urgent before our so-called more successful schools become too large and unwieldy to cope with ever-burgeoning rolls.

* John Morris is headmaster of Auckland Grammar School.

Mirko Bagaric: Free movement of people is the way to global prosperity

Free people movement, not the free movement of goods, is the way to achieve the World Trade Organisation's principal objective of improving the welfare of the peoples of the 149 member countries. The Doha Round of trade talks predictably stalled on the thorny issue of abolishing protection of agricultural products, which prevents African farmers selling their products to the west. Talks will recommence shortly and are due to finish on April 30.

It is time for some clear thinking and straight talking when it comes to evaluating the goals of the debating club that has become the WTO. People matter, goods don't. A pair of sneakers or bunch of bananas are indifferent to whether they are located in Africa or the United States. Goods are only valuable to the extent that they enhance human flourishing.

Rather than indirectly trying to enhance net global flourishing by eliminating protectionism on local goods, we should directly pursue this aim by freeing up the flow of people so that they can travel to where the goods are located.

It is only once this occurs that we will effectively deal with the dispiriting irony of 30,000 Africans dying daily from hunger and poverty, while much of the First World gorges itself to ill-health. The ongoing starvation crisis has nothing to do with a food shortage. The problem is simply one of distribution. There is enough grain produced on earth to make every person fat.

The rhetoric of free trade has done nothing to cure the ills of the largely starving Third World. The number of chronically hungry people has hardly changed since the 800 million or so recorded approximately a decade ago. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair was correct when he noted several days after the tsunami that there is a tsunami-scale tragedy in Africa every week.

The WTO ideal of free trade has little prospect of improving the plight of the Third World. All deals struck as part of this pact are on the basis of negotiation, not principle. As with any negotiation, self-interest prevails and the stronger party nearly always comes up trumps. Thus, it is not surprising that as a result of subsidies European cows earn $2 a day, while people in sub-Saharan Africa subsist on less than $1 a day.

The best way to ameliorate Third World poverty is by massively increasing migration to the West. Left to their own devices many people would gravitate to life-sustaining resources, leading to a rough equilibrium between the world's resources and its population.

That's not to suggest that Africa would empty overnight into the Western World. Some of its citizens are too destitute to hobble to a more plentiful border. Some will not want to come. But huge numbers will follow the yellow brick road to prosperity in the West.

There is one fundamental obstacle to Western nations relaxing border controls: racism. Discrimination on the basis of race is the linchpin of the whole of Western migration policy. Nationhood and the practice of excluding others from our shores is so embedded in our psyche that many will find it jarring to contemplate that this practice is morally objectionable. No doubt our forefathers would also have found disconcerting the suggestion that precluding aboriginals from voting and taking their children from them was founded on a racist ideology.

While most of the Western world has made remarkable strides by eliminating most forms of discrimination and ensuring most people enjoy something approaching adequate (if not equal) access to the nation's resources, there is a fundamental failing with this enlightenment: the benefits are limited to people within the borders of the nation.

For most of human history there have been few migration limits. Now we are moving to an age of anti-migration. In 1976 only some 7 per cent of UN members had restrictive immigration policies. This rose to 40 per cent in the early part of the 21st century. Advanced (Western) economies are at the forefront of this regrettable trend.

We must accept that restrictive immigration policies are racist unless there is a morally relevant basis for tightly limiting the number of people we permit to join our privileged society.

A relevant reason cannot be a person's birth place. This is merely a happy or unhappy accident. Much of what is important to a person's flourishing should not turn on so little. Morality requires that to the maximum extent possible, luck is taken out of the benefits and burdens equation.

National security is commonly used to justify a tight migration policy. While we have a legitimate right to security, this only justifies a policy of strict security checks. This is tacitly accepted by governments. Western nations accept a far greater number of tourists than migrants. In 2004 Australia had approximately 4.8 million tourists and only approximately 130,000 new migrants. Tourists have ample opportunity to commit crime. Rarely do they use this opportunity.

We are relaxed about tourists because we derive positive economic advantage from them. But this gain is not a moral justification for consigning much of the world to a life of destitution, merely a Western expedient. It has been claimed that too many foreigners would diminish our material prosperity. Research is equivocal about this. Some models suggest the opposite: immigrants have a positive effect on the economy.

In any event, a slight diminution in the living standard of Western countries is a small price to pay to reduce global destitution. To determine whether a more relaxed approach to migration is justifiable, one cannot look at the situation only from the perspective of the locals. There is no ethical basis for ranking the interests of one person higher than another.

Arguments that open migration would lead to cultural dilution are unsound. What for one person represents cultural dilution, for another amounts to cultural enrichment. There is no objective point of reference from which these positions can be set off. They are by definition culturally relevant. Morality on the other hand consists of universal principles, which apply to all people equally.

This vision represents a vastly different world. People ought to be able to travel and settle in any country of their choice so long as they do not present a security threat and the nation has the resources to sustain them.

Is this likely to happen in the foreseeable future? No. Patriotism and materialism are such powerful forces that no amount of moral persuasion is likely to significantly reverse existing Western migration policies. We must at least start seriously debating the notion of the free movement of people.

Close our mind to this debate and we are forced to confront the racist within us. The quest for universal economic prosperity will have been halted by invisible lines on the earth's surface called borders we have built up to the size of near insurmountable mountains. This will ensure we will continue to live in a world where economic reform based on a desire to improve net global flourishing continues to be a sham, except of course for European cows.

* Professor Mirko Bagaric is head of Deakin Law School, Melbourne, and author of Principles of International Commercial Law (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Zain Ali: Respect the key to harmony

It is Sunday afternoon and there are 500 to 600 Muslims gathered at the intersection of Queen and Custom Sts in Auckland.

There is a middle-aged European man seated next to me. He eyes me cautiously and turns toward me rather nervously.

"So are you Muslim?" he asks.

"Yes, I am."

"So you're part of the protest?"

"No," I reply. "I'm merely here as an observer."

He has a puzzled look on his face. "So why are Muslims so upset at these cartoons of Muhammad?"

There are the stock replies: perhaps Muslims lack humour or suffer from an inferiority complex and can't handle satire; perhaps it's multiculturalism gone wrong.

So what is it that has offended Muslims so much?

The Danish cartoons were first published four months ago, and only now are Muslims reacting. Why the delayed reaction and why the outpouring of such violence and hatred?

These are tough questions, but speaking for myself, and as a Muslim, I didn't find the cartoons offensive. Sure, they were in bad taste, but not offensive.

The point was well made by an Iraqi cleric, who noted that Muslims had to take responsibility for the violent, hate-filled image of Islam. This lack of responsibility was evident in scenes of violence in the Middle East and Europe, once again revealing the dark underbelly of the Muslim world.

The rally in Auckland was different. There was no violence, no chants calling for the death of America or Israel.

But there were two chants that remain etched in my mind: respect the prophet and respect all religion. They reveal the rarely seen, genuine face of Islam.

These slogans also pinpoint the heart of the debate, where freedom of expression and moral responsibility clash. In a true democracy we must have the right to speak freely, but we also have a moral obligation toward the welfare of others.

The caricatures of Muhammad as a terrorist undermine the notion of moral responsibility. You may believe Muhammad was a cut-throat, but be aware that there are other opinions. Caricatures seem inappropriate when dealing with such a serious issue.

Similarly, the Muslims who resort to violent protest are also morally guilty. They have chosen to override their obligation for the welfare of others, the results being destruction and death.

I did eventually join the rally, though I largely remained ambivalent as to the effectiveness of such a protest.

There remain so many tough questions. Can Muslims see themselves as Kiwis? Are Muslims willing to integrate? Is the dark underbelly of Islam present in New Zealand?

I see these issues revolving around one question: is a multicultural society possible?

I think it is, though we have be very careful how we define multicultural.

It won't be enough to say that a multicultural society is a place where all cultures are equal, because all cultures are not equal; there are some cultures or cultural practices that are clearly wrong.

Consider a culture where women are ill-treated. That cannot be considered equal to a culture with equity for males and females.

I prefer to define a multicultural society as a place where all cultures are equal before the law, the legal framework which captures the social and moral norms of a nation or people.

This model has its weaknesses. In Nazi Germany hate became part of the law.

But definitions aside, I think we have some good insights as to what would underpin a multicultural society.

Consider the Jewish philosopher Immanuel Levinas, a Holocaust survivor. For him the most fundamental encounter is when we are face to face with another person.

Facing a person is not like looking at a cup, which is nothing more than an object shaped from plastic or glass. A person is much more than an object and should never be treated or thought of as an object.

Caricatures of Muhammad treat him as no more than an object of satire. And violence fuelled by hate only dehumanises the victims into objects to be broken and silenced.

Our first step must be to face each other as people. Only then can we truly begin to discuss the tough questions.

* Zain Ali is a PhD student in the department of philosophy, University of Auckland.

Talkback: How gift cards can transform way we shop

By Mark McGeachen

The emergence of the gift card in retail has been an amazing phenomenon.

In the space of only a few years the humble paper gift voucher has been transformed into a convenient and eminently "give-able" plastic wonder. Yet there is more to this than a simple piece of plastic.

As recent statistics indicate, shoppers love giving gift cards and, in the lead-up to Christmas, The Warehouse reported that its new gift card was its top-selling product.

In the United States, meanwhile, the National Retail Federation estimated sales of gift cards during the Christmas season reached more than US$18 billion ($26.5 million).

And according to a survey by accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, more than two-thirds of US shoppers expected to buy nearly five cards on average this year and that more than half of those will not be fully redeemed - which no matter how you look at it could represent a great deal of money.

Never one to miss an opportunity, this is about where government steps in. A number of US state governments have introduced legislation to govern gift cards, including in some cases mandating that the unspent balance of an expired gift card is "found" money, and therefore must be forfeited to the government.

Others have banned the expiry of gift cards, creating an administration nightmare for retailers, and increasing the cost and complexity of the very scheme designed to eliminate the cost and administration overhead of paper-based vouchers.

Not everyone wants to receive a gift card as a present - in the US the trading of unwanted gift cards has become a big on-line business, with sites like SwapaGift.com allowing users to sell or swap unwanted gift cards for a flat fee of US$3.99 per card. Not to be outdone, CardAvenue.com allows the same thing, but with no fee involved, while gift cards also feature strongly on eBay.

To protect consumers, these sites validate the actual balance remaining on higher denomination cards, which leads to an interesting question - how do consumers do this?

With some cards this requires holding on the phone to get through to an operator who tells you your remaining balance, and then promptly debits your card with a transaction fee!

There is also an unanswered question about the potential dilution of the retailer's brand value when on-line trading allows their premium gift card offering to be purchased at a discount to the actual value.

Gift cards are also starting to bring about a subtle - yet profound - change in retailer behaviour.

They are only recognised as revenue when they are redeemed, so their growth means traditional December revenues have declined, and effectively been moved in part to January, when a large percentage of the gift cards are redeemed.

Yet January has historically been a "quit stock" month, where stock is dramatically marked down to clear it out and make way for the new season's stock.

Some savvy US retailers have recognised the impact of gift cards on this trading, with firms like Guess, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Federated Department Stores introducing their new season ranges at full price in early January to cash in on the gift-ard redemptions.

If this strategy proves effective and catches on with other retailers we may yet witness the end of the Boxing Day sales.

Gift cards may have caught on because they provide convenience and simplicity for shoppers, recipients and retailers alike. Yet there is more to this phenomenon than a simple piece of plastic.

These humble cards have the potential to reshape both retailer and consumer behaviour.

It will be fascinating to see what effect the phenomenon has in this country.

* Mark McGeachen is managing director of Auckland-based retailing software company AdvanceRetail. Contact him at: mark.mcgeachen@advanceretail.com

Graeme Reid: Blame the Spanish for Naples' woes

Alfonso lives in the hills behind Sorrento, and is Neapolitan by birth.

"But the two places are very different, you know. I don't want to say anything against the Spanish ... " he says, but the pause is the giveaway.

"But when that pope, you know the one maybe 400 years ago, when he came to be pope he appoint a Spanish king - and all the trouble in Napoli come from then.

"The Camorra," he says, referring to the local Mafia, "they start back then with the Spanish, but now it is genetic in the people I think.

"So I don't want to say anything against the Spanish because I have many Spanish friends, but you know ... I think maybe it was the Moorish Spanish, actually."

We have met Alfonso - late 50s, educated, well-travelled, including three business ventures to Japan and a holiday in Melbourne to see a distant cousin - in Pompeii and his non-stop conversation is full of wit and polite qualifications.

"I like the English, I have been to England many times and know I could have a good life there, so I don't want to say anything bad about the English - but they have a ... I think a higher-up attitude because they like their royalty.

"Me? I don't like the royalty and the Italian people are happy not to have any more kings after the war. But the English, it is part of their culture so they are proud of that. It is good for them, maybe, but not for the Italians."

Alfonso jokes about his attempts to sell mozzarella and wine to the Japanese through a business partner there - "but they don't like cheese and wine then, maybe now they do and I was too soon" - then gently, in a few phrases of Danish, he ribs some Danish tourists who walk past.

"Danish think they are number one, but now Italian number one."

A Dane laughs back, "But now we give you money to keep you number one - so maybe we are really number one."

It's all harmless and meaningless - unless it is about soccer and goes right past me - but Alfonso gets irritated when a woman sees us coming up the lane towards her and clutches her handbag to her chest.

"Madam, please," he says with an exaggerated whine of pain. "We are sophisticated people, not like you read about in your tourist books."

He turns to me genuinely hurt: "So many people they come to Napoli and Pompeii and they hear about the pickpockets or the thieves and they think we are all like that. This is wrong, you must tell your people this. We are good people.

"Oh look, there is the Casa della Venere, it has a wonderful fresco we should look at."

The lazy afternoon rolls by and there is much banter, the odd break for a cigarette, and plenty of effortless local history and politics pouring off Alfonso's tongue as we walk among the ruins of a city once home to 20,000 citizens but which was wiped out in a day.

"This was a cosmopolitan city," says Alfonso, who speaks five languages. "People from all over the known world would be here."

And he looks around the visitors from all nations pointing their digital cameras at the ancient stones. "Just like it is now again, maybe," he laughs.

* Graham Reid's website is www.elsewhere.co.nz