Friday, February 10, 2006

Sideswipe

Ricochet Clothing in High St is having a sale. Saving negligible (snapped by Peter Lescher).

By Ana Samways

A 15-year-old and a group of friends were at Groove in the Park at the Domain last weekend. One of the group was threatened with a baseball bat by his girlfriend's ex and, a bit freaked out, he went in search of the police tent. He found an officer and told him what went down. The response from the officer? "You are going to get beaten anyway. I suggest you go out there and take it."

* * *

Roger and Vanessa Harper doubt the common sense of some council workers. "We live in Three Kings and on our designated rubbish/recyclable retrieval days the verge is littered with empty wheelie bins and recycle bins until people come home from work. It happens all over Auckland. Normal. What is not normal is the chap who mows the verges, who blindly carries on mowing, bumping the assorted bins on to the road, across driveways, up against parked cars, into the gutter. We retrieved one of our bins three driveways down the road where it had obviously been bunted like a dodgem in his blind quest for shorter grass."

* * *

Barbara from Mission Bay generously shares her most embarrassing moment: "It was some years ago now, while attending the Kumeu A & P show. I was in a large crowd admiring the Highland dancers when the man in front of me hoisted his small son on to his shoulders for a better view. I tapped him on the shoulder as I could not see and he obligingly dropped his little boy down his back towards the ground. I was wearing a fashionable (at the time) sunfrock which had domed straps on the shoulders and huge pockets. The child managed to slide down his Dad's back and get a foot in each of my pockets, which took my sunfrock to the ground with them, leaving me in a tiny pair of knickers and nothing else. The child and I, and his father, all grappled furiously with my dress, they trying to get small feet from my pockets and me trying to reclothe, with the immediate crowd's attention completely off the dancers."

* * *

What is chessboxing? A new sport/game hybrid which is a combination of the hardest thinking activity with the most demanding fighting sport that challenges its competitors mentally and physically. The two opponents play alternate rounds of chess and boxing.

Peter Griffin: Telcos out to create internet class system

Just when the internet is at its most useful, its most efficient, someone threatens to throw a spanner in the works - and it's all because of money.

Oh yes, not only is it enough to charge us to connect to the internet and to access premium content websites, now internet access providers want to charge for faster delivery of web traffic and certified spam-free email messaging, thereby creating tiered classes of citizenship for the internet based on how much you're willing to pay.

It's led consumer advocates and those who want to keep the web as open and democratic as possible to this week appear before a US Senate committee examining proposals from telcos to charge extra for preferential delivery of internet content.

Opponents of that scenario are applying to the internet the concept of "network neutrality", which would ensure all internet traffic is treated equally by internet providers.

It's a good idea and one that may have to be enshrined in legislation as telcos, furious at missing out on the internet bonanza, seek to re-engineer the web to favour those with the biggest chequebooks.

Just imagine the scenario if the proposals of the telcos came about: sign up with Telecom Xtra and get your email before everyone else in the country. Or surf the web via a Clearnet connection and download a file in two-thirds the time it takes on other connections. These are just random, made-up examples, but they point to what could be the norm if several classes of internet citizenship are allowed to be formed.

The likes of Microsoft and Google, terrified that competitors will pay to get preferential treatment on the web, are all in favour of neutrality.

The founder of the protocols on which the internet operates, Vinton Cerf, is giving evidence to the committee in his capacity as an executive of Google. He's already made his views plain: "The internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services," said Cerf, who ironically worked for WorldCom for years. There should be "a lightweight but enforceable neutrality rule", he added.

The telcos, on the other hand, are supported by various free-market think tanks and they're determined to introduce a tiered cost structure.

Verizon Communications' John Thorne showed the true intentions of the telecoms industry last week when he railed against "Google utopianism".

"The network builders are spending a fortune constructing and maintaining the networks that Google intends to ride on with nothing but cheap servers," said Thorne. "It is enjoying a free lunch that should, by any rational account, be the lunch of the facilities providers."

This argument has emerged as new services such as video on demand and internet telephony become more common. These "real-time" services require faster connections and transmission of data. The telcos and cable TV operators have spent billions upgrading their networks to provide them and now want speedy recovery of costs. That's fine, but the operators should bill users at each end - as has always been the case - rather than become middlemen as well.

The message from the US Government will hopefully be that it will do everything to maintain a level playing field on the web. But the same argument for differentiated service levels on the web is being presented by US internet providers when it comes to delivering email.

Any company targeting you in email marketing campaigns pays its internet provider for transmission of the email. Now internet providers want to charge extra to ensure those messages aren't passed through its powerful spam filters. America Online and Yahoo will introduce the optional email service that will attach a certified seal to email marketers send out, proving the email is the genuine article, not the spoof of a con artist. For the privilege, subscribers will pay between .25c and 1c per email message delivered. With direct marketers sending out millions of legitimate messages each month, the voluntary scheme could turn out quite expensive.

I can see the point of it: in the age of phishing, where sophisticated hackers mimic the websites and emails of legitimate organisations in order to steal your personal information and passwords, trust is a fragile thing.

But drawing a line between free and premium delivery of email is unnecessary, will be undermined by hackers anyway and strikes at what makes the email system so effective in the first place - its openness.

It's sort of like the difference between standard mail and fast post. You pay a premium to ensure your message gets there faster. But it penalises legitimate companies and means their marketing costs will increase and be shunted on to us.

Even if their emails get through the spam filters of your internet provider, there's a chance your personal spam filtering software will relegate it to the spam folder anyway. Both scenarios are just money-grubbing schemes that will erode the effectiveness of the internet, which should be left alone.

To the telcos and internet providers: come up with something that's worth buying and that really adds value, instead of trying to clip the ticket of others passing along the highways of our world wide web.

Editorial: Poverty poll falls short of science

An international survey has found New Zealanders more willing than people of 31 other countries to blame the poverty on laziness and a lack of willpower.

If that seems heartless, it needs to be remembered that the survey allowed its respondents only two answers to the question, "Why are there people in this country who live in need?" Either they were "lazy and lacked willpower" or they were poor "because society treats them unfairly". Take your pick.

This is possibly the most ludicrous exercise ever undertaken in the name of serious social science. At least, we presume it was serious. The New Zealand survey was led by a Massey University sociologist, Paul Perry, and he sounds serious.

The survey was held in 2004 and he thinks the results help explain the doubling of the National Party's vote at last year's election. He will know better than most of us that there are many reasons why some people in any country live in need. There are more reasons, in fact, than even sociology likes to study. One of the main reasons is divorce. Nothing reduces many a young family to hardship faster than a marital break-up. But sociology does not show much interest in finding ways to help people make better decisions about relationships and raising families. It is interested in family dislocations only in so far as these can be blamed on society rather than individuals' decisions.

Divorce of course is not poverty's sole explanation. Some make foolish decisions about education and employment. Some suffer poor health or mental illness. A few have tattooed their faces or otherwise refuse to compromise their appearance for the sake of employment.

People in these situations are likely to be given at least two or three hundred dollars a week by the New Zealand social welfare or accident compensation systems, plus accommodation grants if they need them. It becomes very hard to say they are poor because society treats them unfairly.

They will be poor if they squander the assistance on drugs, alcohol or other addictions. But it is hard to blame society for those afflictions. If forced to choose between personal and social blame, it is no wonder 73 per cent of New Zealanders opt for the personal. "Lazy and lack willpower" seem specific faults but they probably cover more cases than "society treats them unfairly".

The survey is interesting for the comparison it offers over time. In 1998 just 50 per cent of New Zealand's opted for the "lazy and lacks willpower" explanation. Mr Perry thinks that this shows "neo-liberal" sentiment increased from 1998 to 2004 but it may show quite the opposite. In 1998 a neo-liberal National Government was still in office and the plight of the poor was being proclaimed almost daily by social, political and religious groups. At the end of 1999 the present Government came to power and poverty immediately disappeared from the news. Possibly Labour's introduction of income-related rent for state houses made all the difference. Nothing much else changed before 2004.

Labour Governments always make great play of their intention to look after the less well-off. The public assumes, rightly or wrongly, that when Labour is in power poverty is not a problem. That probably explains why far more New Zealanders today think that if people are needy it is likely to be their own fault.

The resurgent neo-liberalism Mr Perry finds in the figures is his own spook, nothing more. Charities say poverty is still here, but with compassion in power people are less likely to care.

Te Radar: Why Australians can't rest easy in their beds these days

My mother used to bid me goodnight with the phrase Night-night, sleep tight, mind the bed bugs don't bite. To be honest, it wasn't the biting of the bed bugs that worried me so much as their sexual antics.

The male bed bug possesses a large scimitar-like sex organ which, in a fit of entomological passion, he uses to stab through the female's body wall, whereupon he fills her with semen, some of which finds its way to her reproductive organs. The rest is absorbed as nourishing protein.

Thankfully I never had to deal with plagues of bed bugs, unlike our trans-tassie cobbers, whose sleep-clobber is, it seems, infested with them. This is causing a hell of a hullabaloo in the land of the Dreamtime.

The plague is costing the Aussie tourism industry more than $100 million a year, which is why the Queensland Tourism Industry Council hosted a summit for representatives from the hotel, motel, backpackers, caravan and charter boat industries.

To be honest, the word summit seems a little grandiose for what was a four-hour meeting. It was presumably this short as none of the attendees wanted to spend the night away from home, exposing themselves needlessly to the pandemic of bed-nits.

As with many of the Australians' other scourges, the cause is being blamed on foreigners.

It clearly hasn't been a very good week for the Ockers, as worse was to come for the Aussie battlers when an international survey found them to be not only the world's booziest daters, but also the least likely to say that intelligence turns them on.

In fact, not one Australian man in the survey, and only 10 per cent of their women, listed intelligence as being more important than either physical appearance, a sense of humour, or confidence, in a potential mate.

Certainly there are valid reasons for this. They clearly need to blow the froth off so many coldies while courting to steel themselves for the attack of bed-lice which inevitably occurs when they find someone foolish enough to go to bed with an Australian.

Even the humble kangaroo has been in the firing line this week, literally. Footage was revealed of a rather confused-looking kangaroo, (are there any other kind?) being executed. Its joey was then wrenched unceremoniously from its pouch and walloped till kingdom come with some form of roo-bat, before being skinned and turned into a pair of adidas Predator football boots.

Still, at least the poor little critter wasn't destined for a childhood plagued by bed bugs in its parent-pocket.

So, although Australians may be paid $200 a week more than the average New Zealander (as the National Party insists on reminding us), it seems that alone cannot buy them a peaceful sleep. They are no doubt hoping that their current woes will disappear faster than a fart in a fan factory.

Brian Rudman: Saving Old Vic gives Shoreites chance to redress balance

North Shoreites seem to enjoy their culture as much as the rest of us. More probably, because they get it on the cheap, thanks to the generosity of the Auckland City ratepayers who fund the theatres, art galleries, orchestras and other performing groups they flock across the harbour to enjoy.

Now, with the Victoria Theatre, Devonport, they have a chance to begin rebalancing the ledger and investing a fairer share in Greater Auckland's arts infrastructure. In so doing, they also have the chance to protect a heritage landmark, the oldest purpose-built cinema still standing in New Zealand according to the comprehensive conservation plan prepared by Salmond-Reed Architects.

Since it was built in 1912, Devonport's Old Vic has been through a fair few makeovers, reflecting the advances in technology and tastes within the entertainment industry over a century, and the ups and down of economic life. Somehow it has survived - just - while almost all of its suburban and down-town contemporaries have not.

But it's not so much as a museum piece that it deserves saving from the ignominy of becoming a block of flats. To me, it's more that it still has plenty to offer as a potential performing and entertainment centre, and Auckland is so short of such facilities it can ill-afford losing any more, however dilapidated they might appear.

The proposal before North Shore City is that it buy the building and pay for some basic maintenance work such as reroofing and installing a disabled lift, and then lease it to the local enthusiasts currently keeping the place ticking over, the Victoria Theatre Trust.

The present owner is willing to accept $1.55 million for the property, which seems a bargain given Quotable Value's 2005 valuation of $2.8 million. The trust estimates that the new roof etc will bring the cost up to $2 million. Of this cost, $500,000 could come from the Narrow Neck Endowment Fund, which is available to fund such projects within the Devonport area.

The trust is already breathing new life into the building, running movies and shows in the 306-seater and 270-seater cinemas and has, dare I use the word, a vision or two for what might be. Part of that involves voluntary activity. Trust chair Sarah Burren already has a group showing interest in upgrading the seating. Further away is a grand plan to remove more recent "improvements" to give a 400-seater performing space for cinema or theatre plus an intimate 70-seater cinema.

Before the council hearings, which continue today, the city received 4579 written submissions, of which 70 per cent supported the council purchasing the building. Just under half came from Devonport residents, of which 91 per cent were in favour. Submitters from the rest of the city were less enthusiastic, some opponents writing, "Let Devonport residents buy it, as they are the ones that want it" and "Who will pay for the maintenance?"

As an Auckland City ratepayer who doesn't begrudge some of my rates going on institutions that make a city worth living in - and I include sports fields, which I never use, and the Aotea Centres and libraries and so on - could I suggest the whiners in North Shore who say Devonport should pay, think about getting a life.

How short-sightedly parochial can you get? The Victoria Theatre is not just a Devonport asset, it's a North Shore asset and an Auckland asset. And surely the community lucky enough to have such an asset in their midst should be the ones to care for it, be proud of it, and make good use of it.

Auckland Festival chief executive David Malacari emphasises Victoria Theatre's importance to greater Auckland in a letter of support for its redevelopment. He politely doesn't mention the miserable $5000 grant from North Shore towards last year's festival, but says "because of its close proximity and ferry services, Devonport is in an ideal location to present festival events and to relate them closely to the festival programme in Auckland". Greater Auckland "lacks sufficient spaces for the presentation of intimate work" and a new Devonport venue "would give the festival additional flexibility in its programming and better foster the development of local artists and independent productions".

As I implied at the start, North Shore City culture vultures have been feeding off Auckland City's generosity for decades. Saving Victoria Theatre would be a small step towards redressing the balance.

Jim Hopkins: Conversations with a conservative fundamentalist

When my dear old, long-suffering aunty rang up and said, "You should come round and keep Norm company", I knew she'd reached the end of her tether.

So, mindful that the old grouch still hadn't decided who'd inherit the bach I surreptitiously swallowed one of Irihapeti's tranquilisers and set off.

He was at the computer when I arrived, studying a full set of those cartoons which he'd found on some inflammatory website.

"Well," yelled Norm, cutting straight to the issue du jour, "do y'reckon they shoulda been published?"

"To be honest, Uncle," I said, bracing myself for the inevitable tirade, "I'm deeply conflicted about this. Deeply conflicted. On the one hand, there's free speech - and no one could be more in favour of free speech than I am. But ..."

"That's right," interrupted Norm. "Free speech is just free will with the volume up, inn't? You can't tell me any self-respecting religion would complain about that!"

"Ah, but, they have!" I replied. "And that's why I'm conflicted, you see. I just wonder if perhaps we shouldn't be completely free with our free speech. Perhaps this is one absolute right we should only exercise in moderation. Especially when you consider the outrage these scribbles have caused."

"Fair enough," said Norm. "If you throw a big enough tantrum then you should get your own way."

"No I'm not saying that!!!" I snapped. "What we're seeing is not a tantrum. It's a genuine expression of violated beliefs, Norm!!! Something you probably wouldn't understand!!!"

"Oh, I understand it all right," he chuckled, picking up the phone.

"What are you doing?" I asked apprehensively.

"I'm ringing the monsigneur," he said. "I'd better tell him his lot made a huge mistake just lodging polite protests over that bloomin' Virgin in a Condom. They shoulda burnt down Te Papa! Then they mighta got some respect. An apology, perhaps. Or a summit meeting with the Human Rights Commissioner - and a promise it wouldn't happen again!"

"With respect, Uncle," I snapped, "no one's advocating intemperance or anarchy ..."

"Except in Beirut ..."

"... but this is a calculated affront. I mean, drawing a bomb in his hat is a gross insult to the Prophet Muhammad."

"Don't be daft," scoffed Norm. "Look, boy, that cartoon's not about the Prophet, it's about the way people have twisted his teachings. Even I can see that. It's no different from puttin' the Star of David in the word 'apartheid' in that cartoon they showed on telly the other night, you know, the one the Herald did publish. They're both using religious symbols to criticise what some fanatics do in the name of faith. And there's nothing wrong with that, sonny Jim."

"Look, Norm," I responded, "we must understand, in the Muslim world, any image of the Prophet is regarded as offensive and blasphemous."

"And blowing up holiday resorts or flying planes into buildings isn't?" roared the old codger.

"Norman," I said, firmly, "it's entirely improper - and culturally insensitive - to condemn a whole faith because of the actions of a militant few."

"A militant few million, you mean," he retorted indignantly. "Say what y'like," he continued, "I don't see thousands on the streets protesting every time Mr bin Laden lets off another bomb!!"

I could see he wasn't going to change his stubbornly mono-cultural, Eurocentric view so I decided to change tack.

"Well, like it or not, Norm," I said ruefully, "we trade with them, and publishing these images could cost us millions of dollars."

"Okay," retorted Norm, still belligerent, "suppose Uncle Sam turns up next week and says, 'You guys can have a Free Trade Agreement worth two billion dollars and y'can have it by lunchtime provided you drop this nuclear-free nonsense. Should we do it?"

"Definitely not," I replied indignantly. "That is a fundamental point of principle which defines us as a nation and we should certainly not abandon it for some dubious financial benefit!!!"

"Fair enough," said Norm. "And I guess you'd wanna keep the principle of free speech right up there too, yes?"

"Ummmm ..."

"Tell you what," he continued, "I'll tell Mr Jihad and his chums that we'll stick up for his religious freedom if he'll tolerate our irreligious freedom too. Sound fair?"

"Not at present, Norm. Not when things are escalating out of control. Not when they're running a competition in Iran to see who can draw the best cartoon about the Holocaust. What we need now is moderation and restraint."

"You mean people should stop killing Dutch film-makers who dare to expose wifebeating?" he snorted.

"No ... well, yes," I spluttered, "but I was really thinking of the need for Western societies to temper their pluralistic, secular liberalism with a financially prudent appreciation of the spiritual sensitivities of other ethnicities."

"You mean censorship?" he said brusquely.

"It's a complex world, Norm," I retaliated. "... There are no simple ...

"I suppose you're in favour of those Yankee gridiron jokers censoring the Rolling Stones, too?" he interjected.

"Of course not!" I protested, finally losing my temper. "It's absolutely absurd. There's no way we should pander to the puritanical sensibilities of a bunch of conservative fundamentalists. It's utterly ridiculous."

And you can just imagine what he said next.

Terry King: Drink problems no fault of ads

We mark 15 years of alcohol brand advertising on television in New Zealand with all too predictable calls for its abolition on the grounds that this will help heavy drinking Kiwis cut down.

I have to declare that as an ad man and a recovering alcoholic I do not believe that such restrictions would speed a shift to more moderate drinking among New Zealanders.

It's an article of faith for me that advertising does not increase alcohol consumption and neither does it lead to an increase in alcohol abuse.

But it's more than my own experience. There is no solid evidence from scientific research that advertising in any medium increases consumption.

Research in the US, where broadcast advertising of alcohol has a much longer history than in New Zealand, regularly reports a lack of correlation between advertising and overall consumption.

A study by the US Federal Trade Commission found there is "no reliable basis to conclude that alcohol advertising significantly affects consumption, let alone abuse".

And a US Senate subcommittee reported that it could not find evidence to conclude that advertising influences non-drinkers to begin drinking or to increase consumption.

The US Department of Health and Human Services in a report to Congress concluded that there is no significant relationship between alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption. It did not recommend banning or imposing additional restrictions on advertising.

A two-year study by researchers at the University of Connecticut of just under 2000 young people aged between 15 and 26 found that youths who watched more alcohol adverts on TV tended to drink marginally more alcohol too, but the researchers did not look for any links between other forms of alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption in youths.

It is contradicted by a University of Texas study of alcohol advertising over a 21-year period, which found that the amount of money spent on alcohol ads had little relationship to total consumption in the population.

A definitive review of research from around the world showed that advertising has virtually no influence on consumption and no impact whatsoever on either experimentation with alcohol or its abuse.

And we know from our own experience that this is true. Alcohol brand advertising was introduced in New Zealand in 1992, and I don't believe that one extra bottle of booze has been sold as a result. While advertising in New Zealand continues to increase, consumption continues to fall.

It really is quite simple. Alcohol is what us advertising folk call a mature product category. Consumers know it is there and what it does. Advertising it does not alter that.

Our aim as advertising specialists is to encourage consumers to switch to our client's brand and create brand loyalty. We do this very well, and the best advertisers gain market share at the expense of others who do not advertise or do it badly and lose market share.

More than that, advertising 101 principles mean there is no incentive to try to increase the total market for the product in a mature market.

The total retail value of alcoholic drinks sold annually in New Zealand is about $1.6 billion. If I produce an advertising campaign which increases a client's market share by one per cent, its sales would increase by $16 million.

However, if the total market for alcohol increased by 1 per cent, a brand with a 10 per cent share of the market would experience a sales increase of only $1.6 million.

So it is clear that our client has a significant incentive to increase its market share, but little to increase the total market.

This is why most of our campaigns for advertisers in mature markets focus on existing consumers by strengthening their loyalty to our brands and trying to persuade consumers of other brands to try our client's products.

In Britain, which has some similar drinking patterns to New Zealand, new rules came into force in September 2005 which ban adverts from having a strong appeal to under-18s. In particular, TV adverts cannot have a strong link between alcohol and youth culture.

However, some British studies point out that while television partly shapes children's attitude to alcohol, films may have more influence.

And health workers are adamant that social conditions and price are likely to have the strongest influence.

In fact viewers are much more likely to see alcohol (as they do smoking) portrayed during TV programmes and films than during advertisements.

An analysis of US prime time TV found that alcohol advertisements appeared at the rate of 0.2 an hour while drinking portrayals during programmes occur more frequently at five times an hour.

While it is easy to blame alcohol advertisements with emotive rhetoric there is no escaping from the fact that the greatest influence on our beliefs, attitudes and behaviour are our parents.

Another US study, the Roper Report, asked young Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 for the six most influential things that might affect their decisions about drinking.

Sixty two per cent identified their parents as the leading influence, way above friends (28 per cent), teachers (9 per cent), what they see on television (7 per cent) and what they see in ads (4 per cent).

It is parents, rather than alcohol ads, that have the great influence over young people.

* Terry King is the chairman of the BKA communications group. He has been involved in advertising campaigns for Steinlager, Heineken, Lion Red, Export Gold and Speights.