Sunday, February 12, 2006

Peter Griffin: Music on the move too costly

Talk to any music executive embittered by the rampant piracy of their labels' songs and they'll tell you growth in the industry in the next couple of years is going to come from song downloads to mobile phones.

You can see why. Mobile music services are impossible to pirate and the mobile provider and label always get paid.

Many phones already come with MP3 players built in, allowing you to load your music and listen to it as you go about your day. Vodafone and Telecom are now offering something a little different - the ability to buy songs on the move rather than set out with your selection of pre-bought songs. The music service is expected to appeal to the same impulsive buyers who happily spend a few dollars to download ringtones.

Vodafone launched its mobile music service last year. It was competent except for the fact that most of the phones were supplied with low-capacity memory cards, so a decent songlist couldn't be built up.

Motorola's tie-up with iTunes produced the ROKR music-playing phone but this failed for the same reason - it didn't have enough capacity to store music.

Now Telecom has the Telecom Music Store, accessible from the Sanyo 9000 clamshell phone.

The 9000's best feature is a 1GB mini-SD memory card for holding several hours' worth of songs.

The $699 phone has everything you need - a digital camera, a WAP internet browser, picture messaging, video player, MP3 player and push-to-talk messaging.

The non-standard earphone jack is annoying as the supplied earphones are poor quality and the music distorts at the least hint of bass. I can live with playing the music at a lower volume when I'm out and about.

The 9000 is a good phone and the download service is fast and efficient.

You can listen to the first 30 seconds of a song before buying it, while genre categories help you choose.

The selection of 300,000 songs, while not as extensive as Coketunes', is still good and the interface for searching the back catalogue is user-friendly.

What doesn't work is the $3.50-per-song charge, which is a shame as it is a pretty good service in other respects. Telecom has matched Vodafone's pricing for music downloads.

A Vodafone spokeswoman told me that the pricing was in line with that of overseas operators and research showed consumers were willing to pay it.

Really? I haven't come across one person in my informal research who'd cough up.

"Yeah, right," was the most common answer I got as I handed the Sanyo 9000 around among friends and told them eight songs would cost them the price of a new-release, full-length album.

Sorry, but it's got to be $1-$1.50 a track, at which price these types of services have a chance of appealing to more than the impulsive.

But maybe I'm wrong and people are prepared to pay.

After all, the mobile players added a whopping 200,000 new connections in the three months to December alone.

Deborah Coddington: Time for a clear Maori message

Even rednecks must admit the behaviour of the Maori Party has thus far been exemplary. Cassandras who hoped to see them disgrace themselves at Waitangi are probably disappointed their parliamentary presence is credited with the fact this year's celebrations were peaceful.

But as I said in this column late last year, clever teachers know if they promote the schoolboy trouble-makers to duty monitors and give them responsibility, then classroom disruption dissipates.

Similarly, dress Hone Harawira and Pita Sharples in suits, surround them with a bit of Westminster discipline, and they find more persuasive ways to effect change.

So hopefully the Maori members will use this positive reinforcement to their advantage and move on to another area where they could make a change for the good.

For starters, they could shout loudly against cannabis abuse by Maori, and the appallingly highrates of violence towards childrenin Maori families. The weed andthe bash - two issues too often directly connected.

The names of the abusers and the abused say it all: Wharewera, Tito, Karaitiana, Tawa, Whakaruru, Manukau.

Yes, non-Maori beat and kill their kids too, but the fact remains that Maori children are four times as likely as non-Maori to require hospitalisation from domestic assault, and Maori women between the ages of 15 and 24 are seven times more likely than non-Maori to be hospitalised for the same reason.

In the past few months this country has witnessed some truly macabre cases, so bad it almost contorts the brain trying to imagine such brutality. Try this one from Whakatane: a two-year-old boy being forced to eat dog faeces, taken to a cell and pummelled like a punching bag, and jumped on from windowsills by two "men" aged 23 and 24.

All while the boy's mother did virtually nothing to save the child.

Where the boy's father was when all this went on, or even if the wretched mother even knew who the father was, we do not know. Suffice she'd already had one child taken off her by authorities.

Do those same "authorities" sit down with women like this, and their parents, and lecture them on the realities of parenthood? Tellthem they don't have a right to breed, that children are a gift and a responsibility, not a two-legged pitbull-cross?

If that fails, try marching them down to the local doctor and getting them injected with a long-acting contraceptive.

And what, if anything, was done about the parents of these two abusers (one hesitates to call them men, and animals don't behave as they did), one of whom admitted he'd had the bejesus beaten out of him as a child? The Statute of Limitations doesn't prevent prosecutions being taken against whoever inflicted such violence, which in turn begat more violence.

One 13-year-old reportedly witnessed some of the abuse but was too scared to report it in case someone else "got the bash".

Well it's time someone in Maoridom, someone with mana, stood up and called for an end to "the bash", and who better than a politician with a big megaphone.

Nearly six years ago one man made a difference when he stood up for the rights of children from his culture to be free from violence. In the late 1990s, violence against Pacific Island children was excused as a tradition, and a politically correct media was cowed into acceptance. But then along came Fa'amatuainu Tino Pereira, broadcast journalist, chairman of the Samoan Council, who called on the Pacific Island community to stop "beating the shit out of" their children.

He told of a childhood filled with memories of beatings and fear, and of his mother who, he said, was a victim of domestic violence. Pereira's message had resonance. Here was a politician of sorts, quietly spoken and looking no more violent than a golden hibiscus, admitting that he thrashed his three-year-old daughter. "With a screaming six-month boy and a three-year-old girl, all that stuff about the most gorgeous object I had ever laid eyes on had vanished."

Pereira got into trouble with his elders for speaking out, but he refused to back down. He'd sought help in parenting, why couldn't others do the same?

Today he's reluctant to take any credit for the shift in attitude brought about by his stance, saying instead there are many others in the Pacific Island community who took up the cause for kids.

Nonetheless, he had the guts to make a start.

Some eminent Maori have spoken out - Alan Duff and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait to name just two. But in Parliament it's been the Green Party leading the charge when it comes to protecting children against violence from adults. Sue Bradford's Members Bill seeks to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act, which allows adults to repeatedly bash children with pipes or pieces of wood. It's time for Maori MPs with street cred, like Sharples and Harawira, to publicly support Bradford and do for Maori what Pereira did for Pacific Island kids.

Matt McCarten: Public invited to unique workers' rally

At certain times in our lives, we come to a point where we choose to support a just cause or ignore it while rationalising that it has nothing to do with us. At 2pm today is one of those times.

Many of you will know that for the last few weeks, hundreds of minimum wage workers in the fast food restaurant industry have been putting themselves on the line. They have been engaging in ongoing public action in their stores to bring attention to their abysmal wages and conditions. Their claims are simple: $12 an hour (most adults are on $9.50), end youth rates (equal pay for equal work) and more security of hours (there is none).

They've called their campaign Get it? As the young technologically smart generation, they named their campaign after their website.

Almost 2000 of them are involved and they have financed the campaign themselves. This is an incredible feat. They say support from their customers is high.

The campaign so far has been a series of short actions to publicise their campaign to their customers. Their campaign has now come to a critical point. The three big fast food employers have agreed to sit down and negotiate their employees' claims.

Just over two weeks ago, their campaign committee asked me to book the Auckland Town Hall and ask people to come and show their support. I pointed out no union held public meetings or took the risk of booking a hall for 2000. "Maybe that's why our wages are so low," they chided. Point well made.

I said we'd need community leaders and MPs to come and speak. What we want is bands and humorous speakers, they said. So we reached a compromise and decided to have both.

They claimed Imon Star from Rhombus was the coolest musician around and that he should play and host the event. Imon agreed.

Then some of the younger women said that NZ Idol Rosita Vai once worked in their restaurant and we should ask her to come. Rosita agreed immediately to sing a couple of songs for these young workers. You can't get bigger than that. In the end, we had so many musicians agreeing to help that we decided to hold a free outdoor concert in March as well.

Green MP Sue Bradford was having her bill to end youth rates introduced into Parliament this month and was obviously pleased to come. The committee wanted the Labour Party and the Maori Party as well. Disappointingly, we couldn't get a Labour MP to front but Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples is coming.

They all agreed that as we had several serious speakers, we should also have some comedians. Michele A'Court came to our rescue and will lead a couple of her colleagues in making sure we keep a sense of humour.

It seems we have another first today - politicians and comedians speaking at the same meeting. Hold the thought.

Other leading community leaders will address the rally. Council of Trade Unions secretary Carol Beaumont is speaking on behalf of the rest of Auckland's trade unions.

We'll hear from Laila Harre from the National Distribution Union on her supermarket campaign. The nurses union campaign for aged care workers will also be discussed.

But I couldn't convince any of these young workers to speak. After all, people want to hear from them. They came up with an ingenious way to avoid having to speakin public.

A short film which interviews rank and file workers will screen at the meeting.

Not a day goes by without our office being contacted by several stores wanting to take action in support of this campaign. But despite their courage, these minimum wage workers can't do it without community support. These workers have little if any industrial muscle in the traditional sense. They don't want to inconvenience their regular customers, nor damage their close working relationships with their store managers.

Without your support, these workers will find it that much harder to win. They can't do it on their own.

If you do one thing this yearto support low-paid workers,make it attending this rally today at 2pm.

After all, this generation of low paid workers have to fight to get even minimal conditions we once took for granted. They have to put their jobs on the line. All they're asking is two hours of your time this afternoon.

Kerre Woodham: A lot of life left in Hewitt's story

Who can blame Helen Clark's office for firing off a letter of condolence to Norm Hewitt on the death of his brother?

All but the most hopeful had given up Robert Hewitt for dead after he'd been lost at sea for more than 75 hours.

Thankfully however, like Mark Twain, reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

And the news this week has been full of the Navy diver's miraculous and courageous survival.

How often do we get to write, or indeed read, good news stories in the media? Which is a rhetorical question because you know the answer. Not very often. Bad news sells. Bombs, deaths - preferably multiple deaths, epidemics, wars, idiocy on the part of bureaucrats - that's the bread and butter of a reporter's life.

So to be able to report that Hewitt had been found alive and well was a red letter day for journos around the country - and in fact, the world.

The story has been reported in Australia, Britain, the United States - everyone loves this story. Not only is it good news, it's also one of those great yarns with all the elements - the fears of his family, the persistence of his friends involved in the search, the courage and mental fortitude of a man battling the elements, and finally, the happy ending, Hewitt being reunited with his fiancee and children, and the search and rescue team going home knowing that they'd achieved the nigh impossible.

Some people seem to be having trouble getting their heads around the fact that this is a fantastic story of human courage and endurance.

Skeptics who really shouldn't be given the time of day have aired their doubts that Hewitt could have survived that long in the water. Aside from the fact that what in God's name did they think he was doing for the past three days, these people are not the sort of supreme athletes or strong characters who could make any sort of judgement on the matter.

Those in the know - rescue divers, doctors and Navy officials - say there are a number of reasons Hewitt survived. There was his training and experience as a Navy diver, the fact that he could eat the crayfish and kina from his catch bag, and the fact he didn't panic - even when he saw the rescue craft disappearing from the horizon on the first day.

And then there's his incredible spirit.

I can't imagine what it would be like to feel so utterly alone, drifting in the open sea for three days, knowing that your chance of surviving was getting slimmer by the hour.

Credit too must go to his mates, who refused to give up the search for him, and whose knowledge of the waters around Mana led them to the area where Hewitt was found.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a jump in the number of applications to join the Navy. Hewitt would make the perfect poster boy for Navy recruiting - once the sunburn fades and blisters are gone.

His ability to survive and his mates' refusal to give up on one of their own is a great advertisement for this branch of the armed forces.

Believe in the story and rejoice in the happy ending, because as the bumper stickers of the white witches in the People's Republic of Grey Lynn say, Magic happens.

Kerre Woodham: Appeasement and the art of living in a multiculural world

I've always thought Neville Chamberlain was a bit of a twit. The famous image of the British Prime Minister, emerging from a plane after the talks in Munich with Hitler, waving a piece of paper triumphantly in the air and later proclaiming that "peace with honour" had been achieved and promising that there would be "peace in our time" looks so naive, so hopelessly wishful with the benefit of our knowledge of what came next.

How could he have believed Hitler's promises and assurances? Was it incompetence or obdurance that led him to believe Hitler was a good bloke at heart, who meant no real harm?

You can imagine the Tui billboards if they'd been around in London in 1938.

Latterly, historians have offered a revisionist version of the Munich accord, suggesting that Chamberlain had agreed to appeasement in a shrewd move to allow the British armed forces more time to prepare for a full-blown war.

Which is a charitable interpretation. But now, in the midst of the furore surrounding the publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims and the subsequent organised agitation by those Islamists who love any excuse for a good, old anti-Western stoush, I have a bit more sympathy for Chamberlain and the appeasement policy.

If you have a choice between confrontation, aggression and alienation or mediation, tolerance and understanding, who wouldn't go for the soft option?

Thank heavens there are people around the world who feel the same. The Co-existence Exhibition opened at Britomart on Friday night, showing the works of 40-odd artists from around the world.

So far it's travelled to 22 cities worldwide, trying to get across the message that the world needs more co-operation between different cultures and ethnicities and a whole lot more tolerance, understanding and love.

Given there are more than 180 different ethnic groups living in Auckland alone, a little co-operation and tolerance will go a long way towards creating a truly multicultural city.

If you're sick to death of debating the rights and wrongs of Danish newspaper cartoons and offended Muslim sensibilities, this exhibition will act as a balm to your soul.

Jim Eagles: Why we are waiting

One aspect of travel that really irritates me is being told to report to the airport hours before the flight, then having to spend most of the time wandering around the shops looking at things I'm never going to buy, having cups of coffee I don't need, or sitting bored in some sterile departure lounge.

Why do the airlines ask you to get there two hours - or three in the case of the United States - before your flight when your check-in takes only a few minutes?

I have sometimes suspected it's a cunning ploy to force passengers to spend money in the airport shops.

But the other morning I reported two hours in advance for a red-eye flight from Auckland to Melbourne and not only was it too early for the customs and immigration officers but most of the shops and cafes hadn't opened.

Why did the airline tell me to turn up so early that the airport wasn't ready for me? Why couldn't they let me sleep in?

For that matter, what is the point of airlines having bigger and faster planes, or introducing fancy internet booking and electronic check-in systems if the end result is that you spend more time in the terminal?

Ed Sims, general manager of Air New Zealand's international airline, says the answer to all my questions is that the extra time spent waiting is necessary to comply with security regulations - especially those emanating from the United States since September 11, which can be "very time-consuming".

"Sure, sometimes you'll have the experience where there are no problems and you're whizzed straight through with a lot of time to spare. But other times, if there's a hiccup of some sort, even three hours may not be enough."

Sims, and other airline people, point out that there's a lot that has to be allowed for in the two or three hours, including:

* The possibility of check-in delays because of a sudden rush of passengers (at Auckland International Airport the biggest bottlenecks are from 9am to noon).

* The need to allow time for extended family farewells before checked-in passengers head to the departure area.

* The requirement for check-in staff to carry out more thorough identity checks and, in the case of the US, for passengers to provide a street address, including a zipcode, for where they'll be staying.

"This is adding considerably to check-in times because a lot of people don't know about the requirement and sometimes don't actually know exactly where they'll be staying," Sims says.

* The requirement to send information on each passenger to the US Transport Safety Authority so checks can be carried out before the aircraft arrives.

* The requirement to x-ray all bags, and check each piece of luggage and reconcile it with the passenger list for each aircraft - especially if there are problems with the automated baggage system, as has happened at Sydney and Auckland.

* The possibility of bottlenecks at border control at peak times, although passenger flow has been improved by the new facilities at Auckland.

* The need to allow time for passengers to do their duty-free shopping.

"There are always some people who think they have more time than they really do, or who get so immersed in the shopping that they forget about time altogether." Sims says.

* The need to allow time for people who forget their gate number or have difficulty finding their way there.

* The requirement to do a further passport and identity check in the departure lounge before passengers board the aircraft, which has extended the boarding time.

* The time needed to get between 300 and 400 people on board a plane, a problem which will be exacerbated when the new Airbus A380 planes, capable of seating up to 600, come into service.

* The reality that some passengers will arrive late and have to be rushed on board. "People don't very often miss out," says Sims. "That's one of the advantages of an airport the size of Auckland. The queue-combing for late passengers is effective and we almost always can rush latecomers through - though we don't recommend passengers counting on it."

* The fact that aircraft doors have to close 10 minutes before departure time.

When you go through that list, it's hardly surprising that, although the regulatory authorities don't actually decree how long before the departure time passengers should report, the airlines feel, as Sims puts it, "they have filled us so full of requirements that have to be complied with that we don't have much room for manoeuvre".

So it seems in the short term there's no great prospect of that changing.

Sims says New Zealanders will just have to join the rest of the world and accept that they can no longer turn up at the last minute.

"In the United States or Britain, people are so used to congestion that they build in extra checking-in time to allow for the fact they they will be held up at some point.

"I'm afraid that in the present security environment Kiwis are going to have to be educated to do the same and turn up when they are asked to."

But, in the long term, there is some hope. Sims reckons the advent of fully automated baggage checking, increased online booking and seat allocation, and greater use of electronic systems for check-in will save time eventually.

In the meantime, the good news is that something may at least be done to make the gate lounge a better place to wait.

"Part of our thinking in terms of encouraging people to go to the gate earlier is to work with the airport companies to make the lounges more enjoyable environments," Sims says.

"That's obviously a matter for the airport company but it's also a matter of us indicating what sort of investment we'd like them to put in.

"For instance, when we know there are going to be delays we already move plasma screens into the lounge to give people something to look at, but I think that should become standard practice."

Until that happens, your best bet is probably to take an extra book to read in the lounge because, unless you're a keen duty-free shopper, you're likely to be spending a lot more time in the gate lounge.