Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sideswipe

A clever marketing initiative from the herbivores at an intersection in Hillsborough.

A group of unknown and undistinguished New Zealanders (known as the masses massive) have sent a letter to Sideswipe about the state of TVNZ. "We are all under 30 and have never heard of Close to Home or McPhail and Gadsby (was he the guy what got done for drunk driving?) and we don't want our tax money spent on a middle-class oldies channel (they've already got Prime, UKTV and Antiques Roadshow). Surely they can find something they want to watch if they look outside the box - literally. Some suggestions: DVDs are not sexually transmitted diseases; they are ad-free entertainment. And there's always listening to the gramophone or going for a ride on your Penny Farthing."

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Forgetting where you parked your car is one thing and leaving your dog tied up at the supermarket is another, but this one takes the cake. Alicia Marsh of Auckland writes: "My friend had popped over for afternoon tea with her 2-year-old son so our boys could play together while our older daughters were at hip-hop class. When the time came to pick up the girls, I suggested that she leave her son at my place while she collected the girls. She agreed and off she went. When she returned, some time later, she was sheepish. She had picked up the girls, got in the car, and then couldn't find her son (who she'd left at my place). Frantic, she had been running around the shopping centre, enlisting the help of all the people she could, to find her missing son. She even called the police before she realised."

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eigoTown (an ESL website in Japan) has released the results of a survey that asked Japanese which English accent they found the sexiest. Blogger Charlie Tan says the New Zealand accent didn't fare well at all. Over 2000 of the website's users participated and 50 per cent chose British accents as the sexiest, with American accents second with 17 per cent. Ireland scored 13 per cent of the vote and Canada 12 per cent. The Australian twang and the New Zealand thud came in last with 6 and 5 per cent respectively. "Respondents noted that they enjoyed the 'boastful' sounds of the British, the American accent in movies sounded 'voluptuous', the Irish accent was 'mysterious', Canadian pronunciation was 'easy to understand', and 'the raised endings' of Australian sentences were 'cute'," says Tan.

Editorial: A welcome take on the jail debate

Great things can happen when a fresh mind is brought to an old problem. Damien O'Connor, the West Coast MP appointed Minister of Corrections in the last Cabinet reshuffle, has begun to tackle the problem of New Zealand's imprisonment rate in a most promising way. Late last month he went to a conference in Finland and took along two men who were likely to be on opposite sides of penal policy debate. One was Kim Workman, a former assistant secretary of corrections, now director of the Prison Fellowship. The other was Garth McVicar, chairman of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

There appears to have been a meeting of minds on the other side of the world. All three heard New Zealand cited as an example of what not to do. New Zealand's high rate of imprisonment has not, as we well know, reduced the crime rate in this country. It is not only failing to rehabilitate, it is failing to be a deterrent. All three agree it is time this country adopted alternatives for certain sorts of offending - and not soft alternatives. Mr McVicar's refrain has always been that the punishment should fit the crime and he recognises that alternatives to prison can meet that demand better than prison has done.

Not everybody is in step with this thinking. The National Party's corrections spokesman, Simon Power, says the Government is merely trying to cut costs. If that is so, more power to it. Imprisonment is a massive cost to the taxpayer for very little social gain. As fast as the Government has been building new prisons in the countryside of Northland, Waikato and other regions, the courts have been filling them. A high proportion of those in jail at any given time are serving short sentences for repeated minor offences. Others are serving longer terms for non-violent crimes. If ways can be found to punish criminals in both categories without providing them with free food and lodging, taxpayers should applaud it.

But the proviso is important; punishments must be found that are as severe in their own way as imprisonment. Since prison is the ultimate loss of liberty, alternatives can make almost unlimited demands on the offender's time. For crimes such as fraud and repeated drunk driving, which now incur a prison sentence, alternatives could require the convicted to give up their preferred employment for the same period and work as directed for the benefit of their victims or the community.

One difficulty is, of course, that if an alternative does not permit the criminal to provide for himself and his dependants, the state will have to provide for them. But the state usually has to support the families of prisoners and the cost of sustaining the offender on a standard benefit as well would still be less than imprisonment.

When the work is well-chosen the criminal might find it socially instructive and rehabilitative, but that need not be the requirement in all cases. If the work is boring or unpleasant and no more rehabilitative than prison it would still be preferable to the high costs of custody.

Another difficulty is that it is always easier to invoke the idea of community service than to find suitable work. As with schemes to occupy the unemployed, it is not easy to find work that does not take jobs from those who derive their livelihood from them. The work must be such that it is unlikely to be economic for anyone to do. We should, therefore, not expect the Corrections Department to show a profit on punitive work programmes. Savings in the prison budget would justify subsidies for the alternatives.

Most important, the alternatives must not be "soft options". Mr McVicar's presence, we trust, can see to that.

Graham Reid: Midnight in the garden of liberals and tories

Savannah had drawn us like a magnet, pulling us to its historic centre of charming squares, Spanish moss dripping from its trees and luring us with the story of its survival.

Savannah was one of the few cities to survive Sherman's pyromaniacal march at the fag end of the Civil War. So the buildings in the old part of town near the river - those which survived a century of neglect until the advent of the Historic Savannah Foundation and the coincidental arrival in the city of restorer Jim Williams in the early 1960s - have stories to tell.

Our oddly named 17Hundred90 Inn on East President St had its resident ghost, and that wasn't uncommon in this city, where one of the most popular tourist attractions is the Ghost Tour which takes in old homes and the local cemeteries.

But there is another attraction, one that the locals tolerate but try not to engage with.

Savannah was the setting for John Berendt's remarkable book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which explored the story of Williams, his wild lover Danny Hansford, whom Williams was accused of murdering, and a colourful cast of characters including the famously flamboyant lady-boy Lady Chablis.

All these things - and a desire to see a city renowned for its Southern charm, mint juleps and fine restaurants - had pulled us across the country.

Many will say Savannah locals are slightly aloof but that was far from our experience. We were engaged in conversation, made to feel welcome, and thoroughly seduced by the lazy ambience of the old part of town.

The suburbs were something else, of course - urban sprawl is much the same anywhere - but out on the coast (and even at the famously touristy Crab Shack on Tybee Island) was the same relaxed, sometimes casually indifferent, atmosphere. We loved it.

On our final night at the 17Hundred90 Inn - the ghost of Anna Powers who threw herself off the roof in the 18th century after her married lover sailed away hadn't troubled us - we had dinner in the hotel's sophisticated restaurant.

It had a reputation for its candlelit fine dining, consistently rated as one of the top three in town, and again we were won over.

Savannah, we concluded, was one of the most interesting, enjoyable and friendly places we had been in our two-month drive.

After dinner Megan went to bed and I, still buzzing with the feeling that I could happily make this city my home if I could only afford it, decided to go to the bar for a brandy.

It was a warm and inviting room of dark wood and polished brass so I sat at a stool and ordered my drink.

The only other patrons were a young couple who were in the latter stages of their evening out. I chatted with the woman at the bar and left them alone.

Then, from the other side of the room I saw a movement, a previously unnoticed middle-aged man had raised his glass in my direction with an invitation to join him, so I moved around, introduced myself and we got talking.

He lived nearby and had dropped in for a nightcap, and he asked what had brought me to this fair city.

I told him and he seemed genuinely interested in some of the other - and lesser - places we had seen in the past few weeks. He had also had the misfortune to have once passed through Cameron, a shrimp and petroleum town on the Gulf Coast, and we laughed about that smelly and unattractive place.

We were enjoying each other's company, so ordered another drink, discussed the local architecture about which he seemed to know something, and I got some pointers on a good route to take when heading south tomorrow for Boca Raton and eventually Miami Beach.

And then he asked me what I did. I told him I was a journalist. "Now," he said eying me warily, "would you be a liberal journalist, or would you be a conservative journalist?"

The question stumped me a little and so I muttered something to the effect that I guessed I was somewhere in between, because on a personal level in some matters I was liberal and in others conservative.

He looked at me for an unnervingly silent few seconds then said with cold and unequivocal certainty, "Well, I am a Bush-supporting conservative Republican and I think you are a liberal journalist".

And with that he finished his drink in a gulp, stood up and walked out of the bar without a glance backwards at me, where I sat dumbfounded, wondering where friendly Savannah had just gone.

David Thornton: Political penalty should fit the crime

In a democratic society the power of the people lies in their right to vote in a fair and lawful election process. Any illegal or corrupt practice in that process diminishes the value of that basic democratic right.

The uproar about alleged election overspending by Labour has largely centred on the issue of where the money came from - in this case taxpayers through the Office of the Leaders' budget.

With National's alleged overspending the issues are, failing to allow for GST in broadcasting expenses, and responsibility for the cost of the leaflet campaign by the Exclusive Brethren.

Another disturbing element in this alleged overspending is the role of the Speaker who is responsible for the Parliamentary Service Commission, including its expenditure.

And it is also worthy of note that the Auditor-General raised a whole raft of concerns he had on election issues in a report to Parliament in June before the election.

All the issues raised thus far are about detail whereas voters should be looking at the more important issue of the penalties for breaching the law governing the election process. Will the punishment fit the crime if a crime has been committed?

The probability that Labour will be found to have exceeded its spending limit at the last election by almost 20 per cent is startling in itself, but the worst aspect is the derisive penalty that the law allows. The lightest of slaps with the wettest of bus tickets.

If Bob Clarkson had been found to have spent more than the legal limit on his election expenses he would have lost his Tauranga seat and been debarred from standing in the ensuing by-election.

The logic is that by spending more than the legal limit a candidate gains an unfair advantage over other candidates. The limits are imposed to ensure that money is not the dominant factor in the electoral process.

However, if the Labour Party is found to have exceeded the expenditure limits in gaining the largest number of seats in Parliament [just] all those Labour members will retain their seats in Parliament until the next election whenever that may be.

So who does face the music for crimes against the democratic election process?

The law states that only the secretary of the offending party can be held accountable to the tune of up to 12 months' imprisonment and/or a fine of $3000 or $4000, depending on the nature of the offence.

If National is found to have exceeded its spending on television broadcasts it is liable to be punished under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, a fine up to $100,000.

If the Exclusive Brethren alleged intervention is upheld then it is possible that that organisation could be adjudged to have broken the electoral law and be held accountable under that law. If National was found to be a guilty party on that issue its party secretary would be open to the 12 months' prison sentence and/or the minuscule fine.

This crime of illegal or corrupt practice strikes at the heart of our electoral system where, under MMP, the party vote is the deciding factor as to which party will dominate the Parliament. Any illegal or corrupt action in relation to canvassing for that party vote should, if proven beyond reasonable doubt, warrant severe punishment.

But, under our existing laws, any Party can, with impunity it seems, blatantly disregard the law and then continue to benefit from the wrong-doing.

With the party vote being the deciding factor in the make-up of Parliament, surely any party exceeding the spending limit should be expelled.

But that would seem to be an unworkable solution. What punishment should there be?

In this case the crime is to use unfair means to gain control of the nation's law-making assembly - the supreme governing body in a democratic society. Surely such a crime should not be rewarded by letting the culprits retain their ill-gotten positions.

If the penalty for breaking electoral law by a winning party was a fresh election, any party deliberately flaunting that law would surely face the wrath of the voters at an ensuing fresh election. Minor parties could have their party vote disallowed and their list seats redistributed among the remaining parties.

Draconian measures are needed to defend our right to a fair and honest election process.

* David Thornton is a commentator on local government and chairman of Glenfield Ratepayers & Residents Association

Garth George: Drink-driving and abuse are perennial problems

There are two things I can tell you with absolute certainty: no matter how hard they try, the police and road safety authorities will never eradicate drink-driving; and the amendment or repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act will do nothing whatsoever to alleviate this country's appalling shame of child abuse.

It is generally accepted that, of every 10 people who at some time in their lives taste alcohol, one will become addicted to the stuff. I was one who drew the unlucky 10th marble, so I know what I'm talking about.

And a general rule of thumb in the medical profession is that one in every five hospital beds is occupied by a patient whose underlying problem is excessive alcohol consumption, irrespective of whatever other ailment is being treated.

That's not surprising. Alcohol is a mind-altering chemical, a brain poison and an addictive drug. And, were it invented today, it would be available only on prescription, and probably confined to hospital pharmacies at that.

Because there will always be alcohol addicts among those who drive motor vehicles, there will always be drivers who drive over the limit.

So it is not, as police said this week, that the message is not getting through; it is that those among us who are addicted to booze are incapable of receiving the message.

There is no doubt in my mind that any man or woman who receives a second conviction for drink-driving has a problem with alcohol. And the same likely applies to anyone whose reading is more than double the legal limit.

Normal people whose probably accidental over-the-limit offence leads to a conviction will make absolutely sure it never happens again.

And normal people rarely drink enough, particularly if they know they are driving, to put them too far above the limit.

Thus it is likely that anyone caught these days for a second time, or way over the limit, is addicted to the drug alcohol and even immediate licence suspension and the impounding of vehicle aren't going to do any good.

The alcohol addict will simply wait out the time of the suspension and the impoundment then get in his or her vehicle and do it again. They can't help themselves.

I have, of course, known of cases in which the shock of a drink-driving conviction has led the offender to seek help with his or her booze problem. But not often.

What needs to be done is for the police and the courts to be empowered to compel those whose licences have been suspended and/or vehicles impounded to attend a course or courses on the dangers of alcohol.

A simple lecture on alcohol - what it is and how it affects the mind and body, and the consequences of prolonged overconsumption - should suffice.

The display of some bottled livers destroyed by cirrhosis and atrophied brains from those who have died from Korsakoff's syndrome might help to get the message across.

Such courses would have a better chance of carving down the rump of the drink-driving problem than the punishments in place - and if such courses turned even one person back from a descent into the evil and generally fatal disease of alcoholism, they would be worthwhile.

And now to the unnecessary and unwanted debate on smacking. I wonder how long the public are going to put up with politicians who, confronted with the evidence that the majority of the electorate don't want it and know it will have an adverse affect on society, will persevere with legislation simply to impose on the populace their own agendas.

We had it with prostitution reform and with civil unions and now Green (and rabidly socialist) MP Sue Bradford has the bit in her teeth, galloping ahead of public opinion in her determination to remove from the Crimes Act the provision that parents may use "reasonable force" to discipline their children.

It is obvious, however, that the Government is using Ms Bradford as camouflaged point person for this little exercise, for we learn this week that Government, through the Ministry of Justice, has paid for an anti-smacking Canadian psychologist to come here to be the keynote speaker at a conference on abuse and neglect.

I find it highly significant that in this debate on smacking there is never any mention of the word love, no acknowledgment by the anti-smacking brigade that discipline - and sometimes physical discipline - is an act of love.

In well-regulated families in which physical discipline is appropriately applied in the interests of establishing life-protecting parameters, the children will more often than not do well at school, stay out of trouble, contribute to their communities, society and the economy and eventually themselves become good parents.

Parents who fail to discipline their children are failing in their responsibilities, whereas those who gently, firmly and promptly apply discipline, be it physical or oral or by means of a temporary deprivation of some sort, are showing their children they love them.

And the funny thing is that that principle guided family life for generations in this country and it is only since it has been cast out - with a lot of other traditional beliefs - that we have developed the vast problems with children and young people we have today - child abuse and neglect foremost among them.

Brian Fallow: GM ruling important for trade

A World Trade Organisation disputes panel has found in favour of the United States, Canada and Argentina in cases they have brought against the European Union over genetically modified crops.

They claimed it had a de facto moratorium on approving "biotech products" which was a breach of international trade rules.

US Trade Representative Robert Portman hailed the decision, saying agricultural biotechnology was a safe and beneficial technology that was improving food security and helping to reduce poverty worldwide.

At the other end of the spectrum, the decision will reinforce the conviction within the anti-globalisation movement that the WTO is the compliant tool of multinational corporations, a threat even to the safety of the food we eat.

Reality, of course, lies about equidistant between these two extremes.

For one thing, the disputes panel expressly said it did not examine the question of whether biotech products were safe or not.

Rather, its concern was whether the Europeans had breached the WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement.

The agreement gives countries the right to adopt measures necessary for the protection of life or health of people, animals or plants.

But it seeks to balance that right with rules to ensure that those measures do not restrict trade any more than is necessary.

Measures have to be based on scientific principles and cannot be maintained without sufficient scientific evidence. (Australian apple growers please note.)

The agreement also requires approval processes to be undertaken and completed without "undue delay".

From a New Zealand point of view, it is the precedent value of the ruling that matters.

It adds to the body of international jurisprudence bearing on the delicate balance that has to be struck between countries' rights to ensure their food is safe and their environment protected on the one hand and the risk that such procedures are exploited as non-tariff barriers to trade to protect local producers on the other.

It is about how far Governments can take the precautionary principle, that a new technology such as genetic engineering should be treated as harmful until proven safe, rather than the other way around.

The panel has concluded that the EU did have a de facto moratorium on approving GM crops between mid-1999 and August 2003 (when the WTO dispute procedure kicked in), and that that constituted undue delay under the agreement.

The US et al had also challenged prohibitions imposed by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg on particular biotech products which had already been approved at EU level.

The panel thought there was sufficient scientific evidence available to permit a risk assessment as required under the agreement.

"For each of the products at issue the European communities' relevant scientific committee had evaluated the potential risks to human health and/or the environment prior to the granting of community-wide approval, and had provided a positive opinion. The relevant EC committee subsequently also reviewed the arguments and the evidence submitted by the member state to justify the prohibition and did not consider such information called into question its earlier conclusions ... Hence in no case was the situation one in which the relevant scientific evidence was insufficient to perform a risk assessment such that the member state might have recourse to a provisional measure under article 5.7 of the SOS Agreement."

The panel's full reasoning will not be known until its report, said to run to more than 1000 pages, is released in a couple of months. What we have so far are the leaked bottom-line conclusions of its interim report, sent to the parties for feedback. And it is almost certain to be appealed.

In one sense, the issue has been overtaken by events.

At the EU level - where the commission has tended to be more permissive and pro-biotech than at least some member states where public opinion is strongly anti-GM - the regulatory approach has switched to requiring labelling and traceability. The Americans are expected to take a case to the WTO over that too.

More to the point, if there is little demand for GM foods, indeed a positive aversion to them, there is little reason for farmers to grow them or supermarkets to stock them.

This has led some commentators to conclude that the US's main reason for taking its case against the Europeans was not about the European market and all about making it easier for its agribusiness companies to gain or keep access to markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

New Zealand is among the countries that attached themselves to the cases as third parties.

Not because it has GM produce to export to Europe or anywhere else. It doesn't.

Or because it has a problem with countries regulating in the cause of food safety and environmental protection. We have our own Environmental Risk Management Authority after all.

But, as a food exporter, New Zealand has a systemic interest in maintaining the integrity of a science-based, least trade restrictive regime for such matters.

On the preliminary evidence available so far the WTO's decision does that.

Joseph Daul, chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture and rural development committee and a possible future French agriculture minister, during a visit to Wellington last week cited popular concerns about food safety as one of the reasons European consumers and taxpayers tolerate a system that pushes up the price of food and disburses nearly half of the EU Budget on agricultural subsidies.

"I am convinced the European citizen is ready to continue to pay to have food safety and maintenance of the land and environment," he said.

The concern appears to be that without subsidised farming, large tracts of France will revert to forest and be swept by forest fires, for which the citizenry would have to pay anyway. Critics of the Common Agriculture Policy and this notion of multifunctionality, of course, argue that if the Europeans want to pay their farmers to be custodians of the countryside they should do that directly and not through trade-distorting subsidies.

To which the Europeans reply that the latest reforms of the CAP, still in the throes of being implemented, move in exactly that direction through decoupling subsidies from production.

The brutally swift axing of New Zealand's subsidy regime 20 years ago could not be replicated in Europe, Daul argues. Here it took place amid comprehensive reform to the whole economy.

"If we could do that too, I think farmers would take the bet," he said.

But as it is, European farmers face stiff local land taxes and the costs of the European social model, which funds generous levels of social spending from taxes which create a wide wedge between what it costs to employ someone and his or her take-home pay.

Even if there were the political appetite to change all that, it would have to be agreed by 25 member states under a constitution which still requires unanimity for much of what the EU does.

Gwynne Dyer: China's affluence its worst enemy

It's exactly the sort of document that an American think-tank would have produced in the year 1900, if they had had think-tanks in 1900.

This time it's the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the leading research institute in the world's most populous country, and the document is called China Modernisation Report 2006.

That imaginary American think-tank of a century ago would certainly have predicted extensive urbanisation and far higher incomes in the United States by 1950, because those trends were already well established at the time.

It might not have forecast that half the American population would own cars by 1950, or that tens of millions of Americans could afford to travel overseas by then - but a bold forecaster might have done so.

And when it all came true, nothing terrible happened.

This time the predictions won't come true, because terrible things will start to happen long before 2050. This is deeply unfair, because all China wants for its citizens is the same lifestyle that most Western countries had achieved by 1950.

They got away with it because they were the first countries to industrialise, but China won't because it is so big and because it has come so late to the game.

The report glows with enthusiasm for the predicted rise in Chinese incomes (tenfold by 2050, to $1300 a month), for the 500 million peasants who will move to the cities, for the 600 million city-dwellers who will move into hi-tech suburban homes.

Half China's people will own cars and be able to afford overseas travel, the report predicts. But I don't think so.

The Chinese people deserve prosperity and they have waited too long for it, but they cannot have it in the classic Western style.

Take the cars. Within a decade, China will be the second-largest car manufacturer on the planet - but for half the Chinese population to own cars, the world's total stock of vehicles must almost double. For half of Indians, Brazilians and Russians to own cars the planet's car numbers must triple.

It doesn't work at the local level (nine of the world's 10 most polluted cities are already in China), and it doesn't work at the global level.

At the beginning of World War II the world had two billion people, of whom about 25 per cent lived in industrialised countries - but few of them had cars, ran air-conditioners, or travelled.

Forty years later there were four billion people.

Those who lived in fully industrialised societies by now consumed far more energy and produced far more waste, because a "modern" lifestyle now included cars, meat in most meals, electrical appliances galore and, for many people, foreign travel, although they were still only 25 per cent of the population. Total human pressure on the environment? Up fivefold or sixfold in 40 years.

Now we have six and a half billion people, and we are still running at 25 per cent of the human race living in developed countries, so the pressure on the environment is 10 times that of 1940.

But the predicted development of China by 2050 (and the comparable growth of India, Brazil and Russia) will raise the share of the human race living in high-consumption industrial economies to more than half the global population - which will then exceed eight billion. Total human pressure on the environment could well be 25 times higher in a single century.

It's China's turn, and it's monstrously unfair that it cannot just follow the same development path that Britain carved in the late 1800s, and all the rest of the West followed in the 1900s.

But it can't. You cannot get away with that style of development any more when the world is as damaged as it is now.

The most frightening map I've ever seen is in James Lovelock's book Revenge of Gaia. It shows what proportion of the globe would remain suitable for agriculture if the average temperature went up by 5C.

None of China would support more than desert-population densities, except Manchuria. None of India makes it either, except the Himalayan foothills, and none of the United States except the Pacific Northwest.

That is a completely unacceptable outcome of headlong "modernisation" in the old style, so the China Modernisation Report 2006 is just a fantasy.

Somewhere between now and the future it envisages for 2050, the negative consequences of continuing down the present path will become so large and undeniable that the present development pattern will be abandoned.

It may not be abandoned soon enough to avoid terrible consequences for China and the world, but the day will never arrive when half China's population owns cars.

On the other hand, the day must arrive when the people of China, India, Brazil and Indonesia live as well as Americans, or else there will be hell to pay.

So the day may well arrive when more than half of all Americans don't own cars either. The future, as usual, is not going to be like the present.

Linda Herrick: Larger than life little gem

If you blinked and missed Little Britain when it screened on Prime last year, the good news is that C4 is now home to the sublime British comedy series on Tuesdays at 9.30pm.

To call it a comedy is an understatement; it is a completely mad celebration of the people of Britain and has made a fortune for its creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas, who play many of the characters.

The trick is that Walliams and Lucas have homed in on stereotypes that have made the Brits the butt of affectionate international mockery, then given them a twist of surrealism.

Podgy Dafydd, of the Welsh village of Llandewi Breffi, is its only gay, and fiercely jealous of his isolated position, although one suspects his experience is virginal and based entirely on his costume of unflattering red vinyl decorated with the Welsh flag.

Vanity plays no part in Little Britain. Walliams is most unattractive as transvestite Emily Howard, wearing a dress and a six o'clock shadow, who enters a bar for a ladylike drink shouted by a young yob who fancies her - until he goes off for a slash and finds Emily doing the same in the men's loo.

I'm torn between poofy prime minister's adviser Sebastian, also played by Walliams, a hissingly unctuous aide who fancies his boss, and school girl Vicky Howard (Lucas). Sprawled on a chair in the classroom, legs akimbo, Vicky's response to the teacher's demand for her essay on Lord Kitchener is incomprehensible, as are all her utterances.

Worryingly, her catchcry, "Yeah, but no, but yeah!" has caught on in British schools.

Denis Waterman is not spared either, portrayed as a very small man in his agent's office, unable to find work because of his insistence on writing, and singing, theme songs. The real Waterman must hate Little Britain.

This is exactly the sort of comedy that deserves a wider audience than it is likely to get on C4, which to many viewers' mindsets means music channel.

And that is a shame because it is edgy and clever as opposed to comedy on mainstream channels - Joey, Everyone Hates Chris, Two and a Half Men. Although A Place in France is hilarious and deserves a primetime slot.

Speaking of which, I was looking forward to Making Italy Home on Fridays at 7.30pm TV One.

The first episode saw the Waters family of Hastings, who have never been out of the country, make ready to live in Italy for six months. Lucky devils.

They chose the little town of Reggio nell'Emilia as their new home. Why was never explained.

There didn't seem to be much preparation as they set off, with the mother apparently the only person trying to learn the lingo.

They didn't seem to be ready for the food either, except to say there'd be pasta.

When the family arrived in Rome, "Ooh its dirty", muttered Dad. Well, Rome is kind of old.

Something else didn't ring right. Despite the fact that these days you can go on the net and find accommodation in advance, this had not been done, so the first days in Reggio nell'Emilia were spent searching for a home.

The family would have been stuffed if it hadn't been for the help of some kind locals.

The promo for tomorrow night's next show promises tears and drama. The penny - or the euro - dropped by the end of the first episode. This is not a good-life show about a family spending six months in one of the most wonderful countries in the world.

Mamma mia. It's a reality show, narrated by Jason Gunn.

Doug Myers: Big Business needs to put apathetic policy to the sword

Doug Myers, the exiled eminence grise of the Business Roundtable, reflected on two decades of economic advocacy with this polemic on the state of the country, the Government, the media and the Herald. It was delivered, in his absence, to a Roundtable dinner at Waiheke by fellow traveller Alan Gibbs:

Worrying I might not be gainfully employed in January, Roger Kerr asked me to think back to how New Zealand was 20 years ago; about the Business Roundtable's role in the changes over this time; and how New Zealand looks from an overseas perspective.

It's proved a more enjoyable task than I'd thought. Although I've been back briefly over the summer for the past four years, New Zealand hardly makes the front pages of the Anglo-American print media I'm addicted to, and inevitably one loses contact. I'm conscious of that and also Tom Stoppard's line about Russia that one must be careful about becoming a spurious expert about any place just because it has an airport.

In a talk at the University of Auckland last November I spoke of the New Zealand to which I rather reluctantly returned in 1965. Smug, colonial, the extensive barriers to contact with the rest of the world. Life was highly institutionalised; individual expression was subsumed by unions, business, trade and sporting associations.

Discourse between groups was limited and lacking in spontaneity. Competition was artificial and people seemed content. And yet gradually over the next 20 years our options were foreclosed, our disengagement from the rest of the world became a trap and people came to see life as we'd known it had run its course. Few understood why ... nor what was in store.

In 1984 I'd recently bought into Lion, when New Zealand, jolted by crisis, embarked on a political programme that allowed the country to rejoin the world a freer and more secure place. Threats and opportunities were transformed, many companies took advantage of the new freedoms, some did not cope well, and others lost the plot.

The Business Roundtable had recently been established, based on foreign models of chief executives' organisations. I was offered my predecessor's place and willingly accepted, interested to sit with older men but no women, and in the early days I didn't see it offering anything especially different - a group established to put forward the interests of Big Business. Big Business in those collusive days, with some good reason, was not a popular place to be. Sir Ron became chairman and I worked with him in finding a fulltime executive. Felicitously for us, we hooked up with Roger Kerr and - 20 years on - New Zealand is a different and better place.

The "old model" of self-interested lobbying was out and, no doubt like what happened in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everyone was scrambling for new stabilities. There were, I believe, only two groups that handled these changes well. Not surprisingly, both supported the Government's free market thrust: Federated Farmers under Peter Elworthy and the Business Roundtable under Sir Ron and Roger.

As Roger Douglas himself subsequently said, without the support of groups like the Business Roundtable outside Parliament, New Zealand's comprehensive reform programme may well have foundered, so that alone justified its existence. After all, there's nothing inevitable about history; individuals do make a difference. How was the Business Roundtable in that period? Stimulating, smaller, there were more major industrial companies and fewer service organisations than today, no doubt reflecting economic changes over the past 20 years.

My memory is that a lot of the older CEOs were confused by the political changes but in the main were supportive if often silent. There was a feeling New Zealand was undergoing a revolution, that it was exhilarating and that, if sensible and robust policies were developed, the Government would be supportive of promoting them. Ministers were open and collaborative - about 180 degrees from where things are now.

For nearly 10 years New Zealand was an exciting place to be, witnessing and participating in an extraordinary surge of thinking and activity after largely writing itself out of the world script.

With Ruth Richardson's ouster after the 1993 election the scene changed, few further reforms advocated by the Business Roundtable got implemented, and those that did - like producer board reform and ACC - took an eternity to materialise. Our frustrations grew, and perhaps we made them a bit too obvious at times. In hindsight it shows the necessity for political leadership; without it momentum was lost.

While MMP has made policy formulation and execution more complex, I believe the Business Roundtable's presence and vitality, with the support of other business organisations today, has helped to minimise policy slippage.

It has been a tough, largely thankless task, faced with an apathetic and often hostile media and, until recently, low-quality, timid leadership by the main opposition party. The National Party has seldom been the party of reform, nor has it ever been especially interested in promoting freedom but rather a "soft porn" version of socialism.

I've now been resident in the UK for four years. My overall impression is how good life is for most people in New Zealand. I misread the sustainability of the Douglas/Richardson reforms, although I don't believe the country can continue to run on autopilot forever.

To read the Herald, New Zealand is a contented, multicultural, high-tax-paying society, at peace with itself, untroubled by the outside world, and self-satisfied with its institutions. The major debate in the Herald since my return has been whether or not exotics should be retained in Queen St. And yet, the fact that high emigration rates continue, and that a Labour Government presiding over a buoyant economy barely scrapes back into power, indicates that not all is rosy in spite of the Herald's lobotomising attempts to portray it otherwise.

While a lot has been made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand's reform fatigue, I don't subscribe to it. The third way, so keenly promoted, must be the shortest-lived political philosophy in thousands of years of human thought.

I would hope the Labour Party could rethink its directions. The Business Roundtable is apolitical and interested in policies, not politics.

We were seen - wrongly - as aligned with Labour in the 1980s. Mike Moore has recently said: "Isn't it good that the last two governments have not changed the fundamental reforms of the 80s?" - despite the earlier rhetoric about "failed policies". Labour could easily adopt more reforms and policies like Labour parties in the UK and Australia. It has taken decisions to scrap the carbon tax and reduce business taxation, but only under duress: it has a long way to go.

If Labour does not do these things, how else does the National Party win other than by clearly identifying itself with policies the Government cannot or will not replicate? I don't believe a losing party will reverse its fortunes merely by adopting policies and slogans of the party that keeps beating them.

And surely there is an enormous list to choose from: mal-performing public institutions, an over-extended welfare state, and the mindless political correctness that is consuming the country. As well on the economic front it's hard to think of any area, be it over- taxation, employment or regulatory policies, that isn't going to be destructive of enterprise over time.

In the UK after the July bombings, multiculturalism - all the moral equivalence stuff - is going out of fashion. There's a new assertiveness of Britishness and of traditional values of justice and freedom, the very things that attract migrants to our societies. There's also a much greater appreciation than in New Zealand of the importance of being prepared to defend and fight for values so different from those around us, rather than turn from traditional allies we've worked with successfully in the past.

Yet overall New Zealand seems in remarkably good shape to me.

The country is well positioned post the 1984 reforms, low-skilled secondary industry has largely gone, we have extensive natural resources and high-grade temperate agriculture.

Europe being eclipsed after 500 years hegemony, the CAP's imploding, the growth of China - these are the big developments and they're all positive for New Zealand. In fact, after 10 years' drift since the early 1990s one can only believe that supportive rather than destructive government policies would propel New Zealand into the top half of the OECD pretty easily.

Our problem, it seems to me, arises from the ease of life, and a media unwilling to focus the community on the inevitable impact of current policies on our place in the world.

The contrast with Australia is striking. There much of the media is far more pro-reform, conscious of the need for Australia to stay competitive and dynamic, and so are the community and political parties in general.

Here the absorption with domestic life, and a Government determined to shelter citizens from being in control of their own lives, enhances the probability that over time the country will drift into another crisis or just gradually lose competitiveness as we did in the decades prior to 1984.

The Business Roundtable's role is to keep the faith, to raise the awkward and difficult issues, and to keep them before the public, media and politicians. It's a role many find unappealing, and it doesn't lead to popularity, but it is necessary and it does work. At least next time we'll know what to do.

Talkback: Time to put the ad agencies' butts on the line

By Jenny Stiles

After five years as a client of advertising agencies the world looks oh so different to me now than during my days in advertising.

The difference: The "my butt's on the line, not your's" difference - quite a big one really. The difference is in who fronts up to shareholders, has the potential to lose the sales director his bonus, to lose face, to lose her job.

In the cold light of day as marketing director, you are ultimately responsible with a capital "R" for helping to achieve sales.

Your business raison d'etre is to devise strategies that will lead to company success - short and long term - and to deliver ultimate financial return to your shareholders, who have put their butts on the line by investing in your company in the first place. But I wonder if agencies always get how it works.

The noose is tightening as the pressure for quick returns steps up. In the cycle of business fashion, the beanies are "out" and "sales" firmly back in - witness the bundling of "sales and marketing" manager jobs and the sheer volume of sales promotions - everywhere.

Win a fridge down aisle one, a car down two and a holiday by the fruit and veg department. With the need to deliver return on investment ever lurking, it is a brave marketing director who eschews the need to build sales these days in favour of "building the brand".

No wonder there are so many promotions, they seem safer. But are they really?

Increasingly promotions cease to work as consumers shut their eyes as they walk around the supermarket and flick channels on the box and radio. So where does advertising and the agency come into this?

On frustrating occasions, a sort of version of the words of Henry Higgins have flitted through my mind (sad but true): "Why can't she think like a man?"

My version? "Why can't the agency think like the client?"

Well, actually, I'm quite happy not to think like a man. And I certainly don't advocate that agencies should think entirely like clients. But the point is that there still appears to be something of a disconnect going on.

My own experience and discussions with several other marketing directors brought me to the conclusion that, generally, there is still not enough focus from the agency on taking responsibility for achieving return on investment within advertising campaigns - ever more critical as the sales pressure goes on marketing.

Clients need agencies to do what agencies do best, come up with a brilliant idea that touches on a human truth, engages and entertains the consumer and captures them in a special media moment.

But these days creative has to be effective. It has to move stuff from shelves, get the phone ringing. Remember it's the marketing director's butt that's on the line, not the agency's (well not until they get a new marketing director).

So, in my view, the ad industry needs to move further to truly embrace the concept of effectiveness.

The kind of effectiveness that can only be achieved through genuinely working in partnership with good market research to understand the target market, by gaining real insight into the business issue and objective at hand and then applying a highly creative approach.

In fact, given rampant information overload, mass commercialisation and media fragmentation, outstanding creative and effectiveness should be symbiotic.

So get responsible with a capital "R", apply creative brilliance and, yeah, for the Effies - they're on the right track.

* Jenny Stiles is head of planning for Lowe New Zealand.