Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sideswipe

A Cell Citation pad which can be left on a colleague's desk or hand delivered, politely steers offenders toward better mobile phone etiquette (Source: www.knockknock.biz)

By Ana Samways

A couple of Romanian tourists stopped two Aucklanders on the edge of Lake Tarawera to ask where they could find the pink and white terraces. Their brochure clearly showed a picture of the terraces, famous in their time as the eighth wonder of the world. The Aucklanders explained that the Romanians were 120 years too late and pointed to Mt Tarawera, explaining how it erupted and the lava covered the terraces. The Romanians looked slightly bewildered and wandered off, leaving the Aucklanders wondering about false advertising.

* * *

It's no surprise that following the critical success of gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain, some Hollywood producer is now thinking of a lady-lovin' version based on the life of Dusty Springfield. Charlize Theron (who played a dyke serial killer in Monster) is rumoured to be taking the role of Dusty, and in her film debut, model Kate "Cocaine" Moss will play the singer's first lover.

* * *

Lew Daltry of Green Bay gets fired up about yesterday's story about resin facial features being nailed to trees for decoration. "The pathetic people who think they can improve on nature, and exhibit their retarded sense of humour by driving nails into trees to display their revolting kitsch, deserve to have nails driven into them. The results would be similar. In humans the wounds produce blood, in trees sap, latex or resin. In both cases the punctures are likely to induce infections, in the case of trees frequently lethal fungi. And if the nails are driven well in, the timber may be harmed."

* * *

Keith Hamilton of Milford says the picture of the cars sandwiched together in Paris may not be as silly as it looks. He writes: "I saw exactly the same thing in inner-city London and I was told the cars belonged to local residents who didn't need the vehicles during the week because they either walked to work or used public transport. At the weekend the co-operation of everyone was required so cars could be accessed but this inconvenience was tolerated because the bumper-to-bumper parking virtually eliminated car theft."

Editorial: Offended? Then use the remote

During the discussion of cartoons that Muslims found offensive, many Christians wondered whether the same sensitivity would be extended to Christianity. Sooner rather than later, a possibly comparable issue has come along. A cartoon show, South Park, which screens on the television channel C4, has an episode tonight called "Bloody Mary" which shows blood coming from a statue of the mother of Christ.

The blood is taken to be a miracle until a character representing Pope Benedict proclaims it to be simply menstruation. At that, the bleeding becomes spurting. The item is plainly ridicule at Roman Catholic belief in one or two sacred relics that are said to bleed at certain times. Is it offensive?

New Zealand's Catholic bishops believe so. In a letter read at Catholic services last Sunday the bishops describe the item as ugly and tasteless and demeaning not only of the Virgin Mary but of women in general. They urged their congregation to respond to the insult by boycotting the channels operated by CanWest - TV3 and C4 - and the products advertised on them.

The programmers do not dispute that it is offensive. Rick Friesen, chief operating officer of CanWest's subsidiary TV Works, said: "We absolutely expect there are segments of society that would be offended by the programme."

That, in fact, was the reason he was running it. It was "edgy", he said. "C4 viewers expect an edgier channel ..."

Like the media editors who decided to run the Danish cartoons, Mr Friesen casts the issue as one of press freedom. It is not; nobody in this country will stop him running material offensive to some Christians if he wants to. It is entirely his decision, just as every editor in this country was free to run the cartoons they knew to be offensive to Muslims. If every decision on offensive matter was treated as an issue of press freedom, there would be no decision to make; the only option would be to publish every time.

Mr Friesen has decided to offend a certain religious group because by doing so he hopes to appeal to an audience for "edgy" material. That is his right, but it does not leave him immune to criticism or protect CanWest's channels from the kind of lawful retaliation the Catholic bishops have suggested. That is the bishops' right, too, though they ought to wonder whether the attention they are giving C4 will be worth more than any revenue it might lose.

Decisions of taste cannot be divorced from the context of the material, the purpose of its publication and the character of the media outlet. We know little of the context of the "Bloody Mary" item which CanWest has provocatively, and opportunistically, decided to screen tonight. The bishops' letter does not suggest they have viewed the episode either. Conceivably it could be an attempted parody of stigmatic miracles; unlikely, though, given South Park's wanton, shock iconoclasm. While cleverness can mitigate offensiveness because it suggests the creators have a better purpose, a bare description of the item makes it difficult to ascribe a mitigating value to it.

And neither we nor the offended Catholics were ever likely to watch it. It is one thing to be offended by an image put in a newspaper or on a television channel with a mass audience, but less clear-cut when the item is intended for a niche publication or channel where it will be in character, however unappealing that might be, and not offensive to much of its regular audience.

Christianity remains the most prominent religion in this society and, as such, it probably can expect more satire than most. Satire is one thing. Gratuitous offence is altogether different. CanWest is free to make its choice. Catholics can choose, too: to take offence, change the channel and not change back.

John Armstrong: Peters stands the heat and survives

Normally as cool as a proverbial cucumber, Winston Peters mopped his brow and complained about the temperature.

The Foreign Minister was feeling the heat yesterday. However, it may have had as much to do with his audience as the stuffy lecture theatre in which he was speaking.

The membership of the Institute of International Affairs is a veritable "who's who" of foreign policy - the cream of New Zealand diplomats past and present, foreign ambassadors, senior bureaucrats, academics, trade specialists, representatives of lobby groups and so on.

Like Caesars about to deliver the life-and-death verdict on a gladiator's performance, there they sat, a wall-to-wall panel of experts poised to offer silent judgment on his handling of the detail and nuances of his portfolio after four months in the job.

In Mr Peters' case, his first major speech outlining his foreign policy priorities was a competence test made more complicated by the special political circumstances surrounding him being a minister while not being part of the Labour-led Government.

If he stamps his imprint too firmly on his portfolio too soon, he gets accused of flouting Labour policy which he is obliged to uphold.

If he strictly follows the line, he is labelled a puppet.

However, this audience was inclined more to caution than adventure. Mr Peters consequently seemed to get the thumbs up for his address - a bland, cover-all-the bases outline of policy objectives which bore all the hallmarks of being authored by his officials.

The speech made special note of his priority "for deriving greater mutual benefit" from New Zealand's relationship with the United States.

But he then departed markedly from the script to chide the US for not giving New Zealand enough credit for its work in the Pacific. It was a reminder to his critics that he is no ventriloquist's dummy.

The real test came afterwards during questions, the content of which he had no prior warning.

The first probed whether Mr Peters thought democracy was always preferable even if it threw up results which other countries found impossible to stomach - such as the victory by Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections.

The immediate response was more Winston Peters, leader of New Zealand First, than Winston Peters, foreign minister. He typically quoted his namesake, Winston Churchill, who had famously declared: "Always trust the people."

Mr Peters added that "the acquisition of power always changes people, it brings an enormous sense of responsibility" - but he did not say if that applied as much to him as it might to Hamas.

Firmly donning his Foreign Minister's hat, he then urged that Hamas be subjected to that firm course of action favoured by diplomats down the ages - a wait-and-see approach.

The next questioner wanted to know what New Zealand could do to persuade the US to view the United Nations more favourably. Grappling for an answer, Mr Peters finally opted for the honest one: "Not a great deal."

He comfortably handled two more questions before time ran out. Waiting for him outside the lecture theatre were the media - an audience which holds no fears for Mr Peters, but a bilateral relationship which he could also do well to work on normalising.

Tapu Misa: Trust your gut on nutrition

My sister has been making a lot of chicken soup lately. It's just like mother used to make. She raves about how delicious it is, but we both know that she's feeding her soul as much as her tastebuds.

It's just as well her choice of comfort food is healthy or she'd have to swallow the guilt as well. And there's enough of that going around already.

She and I made resolutions last month, promising, in front of witnesses, to give up unhealthy habits. Thankfully, we've already discovered the loophole that allows us to back out of our rash undertakings without too much shame.

We've been saved by the fact that the supposed health experts are in confusion about what is and isn't good for us. Apparently, and despite the gazillions spent on research, the jury's still out.

That's okay. I've never heeded those conflicting studies purporting to provide the answers to a long and healthy life - unless it suited me to. Thus, I've been diligent about giving my heart the beneficial effects of wine, but I never did get round to taking iodised salt off the table or making the switch from butter to margarine. Turns out I was right all along, in my own slack way.

Besides, some studies seemed silly, even if the British Medical Journal saw fit to publish them. I could understand nightshift workers having an increased risk of cancer, but could women in high-stress jobs really count on a reduced risk of breast cancer?

Still, I expected more from those Rolls-Royce studies which were supposed to provide the definitive answers to women's health. The US government-funded project, which began in the 1990s as part of the Women's Health Initiative, cost $725 million and involved 49,000 women aged 50 to 70.

All that to prove not much. The studies found that a low-fat diet had no effect on lowering the risk of heart disease and colon cancer, and that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements made no difference to bone density or breast cancer.

This hasn't stopped some experts stubbornly maintaining that a low-fat diet, calcium and Vitamin D don't have benefits. Just that these studies failed to prove it. Evidently, it's not the hypotheses which are flawed, but the design of the studies. You'd think $700-odd million would have ironed out those little creases - but apparently not.

So what else is new in the conflicting world of health studies? Last April, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention admitted overestimating the number of deaths from obesity by 365,000. It downgraded obesity from the number 2 cause of preventable death in the US to the number 7 spot.

And it found, controversially of course, that while extreme obesity was definitely unhealthy, moderately overweight people lived longer than people of normal weight, who in turn lived longer than thin people. Apparently, you really can be too thin.

(As you'd expect, there is more recent research, from the Northwestern University in Chicago, that contradicts this.)

So what's a moderately health conscious but not excessively obsessive person to do about all this?

Harriet Brown, writing in the New York Times this week, says the best diet advice is to trust your gut and enjoy your food. Eating well and with pleasure is more than hedonism: it's good nutritional policy and practice.

Brown says that when we eat something we like, our bodies make more efficient use of its nutrients. Which means that choking down a plateful of steamed cauliflower (if you hate steamed cauliflower) is not likely to do you as much good as you think.

(Thank goodness I've never forced my children to eat their greens; one less thing to feel guilty about.)

Brown cites a 1970s study in which researchers fed two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, a spicy Thai meal. The Thai women, who presumably liked the meal more than the Swedish women did, absorbed almost 50 per cent more iron from it than the Swedish women. When the meal was served as a mushy paste, the Thai women absorbed 70 per cent less iron than they had before from the same food.

Never mind the study, anyone who has sought solace in a peanut slab, as I have, knows that food isn't just fuel. It is pleasure and enjoyment and yes, comfort - something those joyless food nazis fail to appreciate. Food is emotionally loaded, which is why I've been cooking up a storm recently, preparing dishes of flounder, snapper and taro to lift my father's spirits. Potatoes would be cheaper than taro and probably as nutritious, but it would be tantamount to saying that I didn't care about him.

Perhaps it's going too far to describe good food and drink as spiritually uplifting, but it is certainly more than the sum total of its calories, fat grams and nutritional value.

I'm not sure our health authorities understand this. My well-meaning health worker friend, who is engaged in the battle against the obesity epidemic, thinks education is the answer, but I think that goes only so far. I don't know a single smoker who doesn't know that smoking is bad for them. But it fills a need, just as eating does, and as long as the need is greater than the risk, they'll keep on puffing.

I know a youngster who is officially obese. She is so conscious of the disapproval of those around her that she has become adept at sneaking food. She eats, I think, to fill an emotional need, which isn't being met.

The fattest woman I have known, fat enough to feature in a Xenical ad, fell into that category. I think she over-ate because she felt unloved by her adoptive family. In her case, Xenical wasn't the answer.

The need is greater and more complex, and the choices more limited, when you're poor. I always want to slap people who bang on about how deficient in character and intelligence poor people must be to eat so unhealthily. Spend a day in their shoes and I'm sure they would be dialling KFC.

If the way to some people's hearts is through their stomachs, maybe the reverse is equally true.

Brian Rudman: The irony, as Winston sets up in old social hotbed

Now I'll believe anything. Winston Peters, the scourge of unemployed layabouts and scrounging immigrants, is setting up home in central Auckland's Peoples Centre. Sadly, for those of us hoping for a bit of free entertainment, this one-time hotbed of social activism is presently as dormant as the city's volcanoes.

All that remains are the cheap medical and dental services for the poor, with the Tenants Protection Association, a lawyer, a copy centre and a dairy. But advocacy organisations such as the Unemployed Workers Rights Centre and the Domestic Violence Centre have gone.

So has feisty Green MP Sue Bradford, who helped found the Peoples Centre in 1990, after a decade with the Unemployed Workers' Rights Organisation. But even having moved on, Ms Bradford was "taken aback" on hearing of the new tenancy.

Acknowledging the New Zealand First tenancy would help the struggling centre pay the rent on the building, she joked that "exposure to what the Peoples Centre is doing can't do him [Mr Peters] any harm."

True enough, but will it be enough to alter New Zealand First policy that requires training or work for the dole for all unemployed, including "military-type discipline training" for those judged to be "at risk"?

Still, now that he's setting up home next door to the Herald staff's favourite watering hole, he won't have to denounce our "mindless mental meanderings" by press release. Instead, he'll be able to pop in and do it over a nice glass of water.

Talking of new homes, it's fast approaching three years since Te Papa announced plans for a $10 million ship-in-a-bottle Viaduct Basin memorial to slain sailor Sir Peter Blake. After a stormy debate about the grandiosity and design of the proposed tribute, Te Papa withdrew to Wellington to lick its wounds and think again.

Since then there's been several reassurances from Te Papa that revised designs and the naming of sponsors were just round the corner.

On Friday, publicist Paul Brewer was again hopeful the "absolute final design" would be available around Easter this year, and that there would be significant reductions in the cost, and significant changes in the design. He confirmed it would still be alongside the Maritime Museum, would house the yacht Black Magic, and would tell the story, both of Blake and of New Zealand yachting.

Having waited three years, I'm happy to wait another few weeks to see what Plan B brings. However, it's worth mulling over the alternative that most Aucklanders considered a more suitable memorial - the purchase and restoration in Blakes' name of Kaikoura Island, which nestles alongside Great Barrier Island opposite the mouth of the Hauraki Gulf.

We could end up with both.

Aucklanders' enthusiasm for Kaikoura Island as a Blake memorial was the nudge needed to convince Conservation Minister Chris Carter to buy the island regardless, to protect it from foreign ownership. That done, there is still the question of funding the eradication of pests and restoration of native wildlife.

The original Te Papa memorial was to cost $10 million, with the Government pledging $2.5 million, Auckland City $2 million and the national museum organising the difference.

Restoring Kaikoura Island, on the other hand, is going to be a bit like doing up an old villa. One of those "how much have you got?" sort of projects. Eliminating the deer and the rats are top of trust chairman Geoff Davidson's list of chores. After that he's open to proposals that come with cash attached. He doesn't feel renaming the island after Blake is appropriate, but given Blake's post-yachting conservation crusade, he suggests the restoration project could be named after him. As a visible monument, he points to the simple stone cairn mounted on neighbouring Cuvier Island honouring an earlier adventurer, Sir Robert Falcon Scott.

Alternatively, New Zealand is a major nesting habitat for the great wandering seabirds such as the albatross and the petrel, and Kaikoura Island is one of the key sites. "These birds live the same sort of wandering life that Peter Blake led. Why not set up the Peter Blake Pelagic Seabird Research Centre?"

Why not? And this doesn't need to be a contest. With Te Papa promising a smaller budget for its memorial, why not aim for both?

Graham Reid: Patience is a virtue

We were in a crowded post office in Venice when I said to my mother-in-law Sue, "You know the first thing you pack when you travel? Patience." We needed it that morning. We were sending home unwanted clothes and a few souvenirs. We had queued to buy the box, queued again to have it weighed and get the necessary paperwork (in duplicate, not to be filled in at the counter), then queued again to pay for the stamps and have it posted.

It took an hour, and all the while the grand exoticism of Venice lay just out of reach. It was frustrating, but the kind of thing you experience when you travel. Most often I have travelled alone, sometimes with a partner, but this was the first time I had travelled with in-laws.

Some of my friends, when they heard about this, laughed and said I was courageous. Maybe so, but for six weeks through London, France and Italy, I had the chance to see the world through their eyes. My father-in-law Horst had never been to Europe, and Sue had been once, but only briefly.

It was also an opportunity to learn things older people might need to know when travelling, particularly those who haven't done it before or in a while. Some tips:

* Before you go, get a thorough medical check-up, including dental. It might even be an idea to get your dentist to give you a prescription for antibiotics which you get filled before you go. Toothache is hell at home, but its worse in Taiwan or Turin.

* Pack your bag early and try carrying it up a flight of stairs. Still think you need all that stuff? Toss things out. Don't take towels or T-shirts (hotels have towels, you can buy cheap T-shirts anywhere), think in layers of clothing rather than outfits. Thermal underwear is good for colder climates and don't take up much space.

* One smart outfit is enough. Gentlemen, take a jacket which can fold up, plus a good shirt and tie. Women can wear black pants and a jacket all day and add a brooch and earrings for dinner.

* Take a small, fold-up umbrella and a plastic coat that comes in a tiny bag. An overcoat will weigh you down.

* A suitcase on rollers is essential. Make sure the wheels are sturdy because some streets you'll drag it down will be rough. Cobbles might be quaint but they will rip apart cheap rollers.

* Nothing will ever replace a good pair of walking shoes. Be comfortable and sit down at every opportunity, even if it is just one stop on the underground. Rest up, you'll need your energy.

* Yes, you should drink water, but don't be a slave to it like those in their 20s. You are older, wiser and know the consequences so . . .

* If you see a toilet, use it. One might be hard to find while wandering through a small Mexican village or when you are fit to burst in a charming old monastery.

* If you are on medication take enough to see you through, and consider that you might need pills for constipation (or its opposite) if those things have troubled you. Unless you are good at Chinese or German they might be difficult to get in Beijing or Berlin.

* Make your needs known. If you are tired say so. Better you do so early than when you are dead on your feet and a long way from the hotel. Pace yourself, and if you feel like lying in bed for half a day, do so. The Tower of London will still be there tomorrow.

* Accept that you won't see everything, so just see what you can. You can always go back in a year or so.

* Ignore beggars. It's tough,, especially if a woman is carrying an undernourished baby. If you give to her, be prepared to be surrounded by others with equally undernourished babies. Charity begins at home, so give to credible international organisations in New Zealand, and travel with a clear conscience.

* Gentlemen, do you really need a wallet? Especially one which has your local library card, video club membership and so on? Wallets are cumbersome and obvious. Why not just carry a small card wallet and cash.

* If you are a couple don't let one person carry all the money. If you are separated, one will have a problem and the other will be worried. Take enough for a cab fare, phone call and food.

* If carrying cash on the streets keep large bills in one place and smaller bills for drinks and trinkets in another. Don't flash your big money around.

* Always carry the card from the hotel you are staying in.

* Always carry ID, and that doesn't necessarily mean your passport unless you are intending to change travellers' cheques. If you are just out seeing the sights leave the passport at the hotel, in a safe if necessary. Your New Zealand driver's licence is an adequate photo ID and almost universally accepted. Photocopy the important page in your passport and stow it separately in your luggage.

* Get mobile phones or a worldwide SIM card for booking hotels in advance if you are on the move. Keep them charged and turned on.

* In hotel rooms don't unpack and put things in drawers or the cupboards. It just increases the chance of leaving them behind.

* If you have a spare pair of reading glasses, take them.

* Take photos but don't be a slave to your camera. Better to see the real world than a reduced image of it through a lens.

* If nothing else, learn the local words for please and thankyou and use them. Your best efforts, no matter how bad, will be appreciated.

* And remember, people do things differently. They may smoke in restaurants and bars if they are allowed to; waiters may take longer to serve you than you expect; in some places people push past rather than form a queue, and don't expect to find the meals you would eat at home at the time you would eat them. Be flexible, if in doubt do what the locals do, keep a sense of humour, and smile.

Take reasonable risks with food and adventures, make the most of the rare opportunity, and enjoy yourself.

But know this: posting a box in Italy - or Vietnam - can take an astonishingly long time. So pack patience.

Was it courageous of me to travel with my in-laws? Maybe. But in retrospect, given how arduous travel can be and that this was a long haul for them through unfamiliar territory, I think they were the courageous ones.

They did it, loved it, and are planning more travel soon.

Don Donovan: Revisionist view of future an absurdity

They are wonderful plants for holding sloping ground in place, in the front of the border, among shrubs and flowers, entranceway plantings to the house, around the swimming pool and in cool, green tropical plantings."

Thus spake Colin Hutchinson in The Art of Gardening published in 1991 and described as New Zealand's finest gardening book. The plant Mr Hutchinson was describing was agapanthus.

Only 15 years later that wonderful plant that graces our motorway medians and can fill a vase with a single head of blue or white blooms, is facing the chop because the biosecurity apparatchiks at government and local level have decided that they are invasive and/or poisonous and crowd out native plants.

Now, although agapanthus grows in all the otherwise dead spots of my garden, I don't know much about floriculture, and it's not the particular attack on those plants that bothers me.

What makes me nervous is that hiding inside the biosecurity police's statement is a politically correct, blinkered yet starry-eyed philosophy that New Zealand should outlaw anything that isn't native.

Not long ago moves were afoot to restore parts of Canterbury to its pristine, pre-pilgrim state. It was asserted that large areas of native bush had been supplanted by what is now the characteristic patchwork of British agriculture.

It was misleading to a degree and although it is true to say that Canterbury has undergone an enormous change, its farmlands have mainly replaced swampland and tussock.

The surveyor of Canterbury, Charles Torlesse, writing in 1849, described large areas of bush, but made much of a country the most part ready for the plough.

This revisionist urge to take New Zealand back to its beginnings is absurd. It has moved on, developed, improved, become productive.

Inevitably, in its forward march since human occupation around the 14th century, there have been casualties: moa, huia and other species have gone, and others are, or have been, under threat.

Some we can save, but the idea of returning New Zealand to a golden age by taking a huge, politically correct leap backwards is nonsensical.

To start with agapanthus is like sacking the tea lady at Fonterra to improve the bottom line.

And after agapanthus what? Rabbits, stoats, rats, cats, dogs, cattle, sheep, deer, trout, deciduous European trees? We'll have to get rid of them all. Maori, European, Pacific Islanders, Asiatics, they'll all have to go home.

But before they go we'll need to rip up the roads, wipe out transport, raze the cities, eliminate power and telephone lines and, because they won't be needed ever again, shut government departments. Hmmm.

Perhaps all that might be left would be a self-sustaining remnant of the biosecurity police trotting around planting kauri, totara, kowhai, flax and tussock seeds, and warming tui eggs in their hairy armpits.

Finally, as they self-destructed or paddled away in raupo rafts, they would leave these islands to sleep once again awaiting discovery.

There would be only the forest and the birds. Just as it was in the belle epoch before that despicable species Homo Sapiens came and used its intellect, courage, flawed human wisdom and ingenuity to change it all. And then, perhaps, a latter-day Thomas Gray might imagine a land where:

Full many a bird of iridescent sheen
The black-green boughs of hidden
bush doth bear:
Full many a rata born to blush unseen,
Now wastes its scarlet on the man-free air.

Yeah, right.

* Don Donovan is an Albany writer and illustrator.

Fran O'Sullivan: Ducking the hard questions

Finance Minister Michael Cullen and Australian Treasurer Peter Costello were down to enjoy a private tete-a-tete over dinner in Melbourne last night before they tackled the next wave of single economic market reforms.

It's likely that the pair - Cullen (waspish) Costello (narcissistic) - would have enjoyed more than a bit of sport at their senior Cabinet colleagues' expense. Helen Clark has only recently become publicly keen on Cullen's drive to form a single Australasian market. Costello would rather he was the one persuading Clark - not his own PM - to come around.

But even before shaking hands, Cullen had wimped out on making urgent progress on the key policy issues that the single market's promoters want: An Australasian common border and the removal of taxation impediments.

Even his decision to put Australia on a "grey list of one", meaning only the dividends rather than capital gains that Kiwi shareholders receive from Australian portfolio investments will be taxed (unlike other offshore investments, which still attract a blatant capital gains tax) is a small nod to the imperatives of a neutral transtasman investing regime.

But, frankly, it remains a joke.

Cullen still plans to put more obstacles in the way of New Zealanders seeking to diversify their international risk away from this part of the world.

Early last year, 80 leaders and opinion formers from politics, business, bureaucracy and academia put a stake in the ground at the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, saying mutual recognition of dividend imputation credits would be the biggest unifying factor the two Governments could take to build support for the single market.

But the ball simply dropped.

Costello has shamelessly used public put-downs to intimidate accountancy professionals such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers John Shewan, who took him to task on Australia's refusal to consider mutually recognising dividends, let alone a full-on transtasman taxation agenda.

He has also privately dressed down players such as Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Adrian Orr, who ran a strong campaign against a Costello-backed proposal for a single Australasian banking regulator.

But Cullen cannot afford to let vital taxation issues die simply because he fears Costello might tip the entire chess board over rather than get the pieces moving, as he threatened when New Zealand baulked at the Australian banks' push for a single banking regulator (theirs). Last night, he planned to "update Peter" on where the Government was going with its review of business taxation.

Cullen and Revenue Minister Peter Dunne have previously signalled an intention for bold changes that will not just be "at the margins" of lowering the 33c company rate.

Cullen was relatively coy about his remit before talks.

But up for grabs in any sensible discussion over the transtasman tax regime would also be:

* Non-resident withholding taxes.

* The transtasman tax rules governing superannuation.

* Employee share purchase schemes.

* Dual residency of companies.

* GST on cross-border supplies.

* Aligning the approach for obtaining binding rulings.

The more crunchy issue is why a double taxation agreement - simply a common regime - is not likely to be a runner in the short term.

I hope Cullen did find it within himself to quietly chivvy his bigger transtasman "sibling" and at least get a commitment for this issue to be resolved by the time New Zealand implements its new business tax regime in April 2008.

In this world, where taxation is the currency for how Governments conduct global war, it is understandable that Costello wants to have his cake and eat it too. For instance, it would not be easy to unravel just where the tax flows would end up under mutual recognition of franking credits and dividends.

Nor will he want to forgo any lift his federal coffers get from the "profit-shipping" some Australian corporates allegedly indulge in by using transfer pricing to ensure kiwi-based profits are taxed at their home country's lower company tax rate, rather than in New Zealand.

If New Zealand slashed the company tax to, say, 20 per cent the tax warfare would get interesting. But that's at least two years away.

Despite clear support from business, the issue presents some complexities for the two Treasurers.

But in a relationship where it is taken as a given that most of the drive has to come from the smaller partner, it is incumbent on Cullen to ensure that the taxation redundancy does not continue to be at the expense of efficient capital flows in what aspires to be a single economic market.

When they embarked on their adventure to turn Australia and New Zealand into one "single economic market", just getting across to Melbourne for that first meeting in the Australian Treasurer's office at Parliament Square entailed the usual exercise in irritation for New Zealand businesspeople - waiting unbelievably long times in the "foreigners" queue before clearing Australian Customs.

Two years on - that irritation has gone. A joint Anzac lane now speeds up arrival for Kiwis entering Australian international airports.

It shows that even though Australian businesspeople had enjoyed the same advantage for years at our airports, there was huge official resistance in Canberra to this logical step. That's why the single economic market promoters hail the joint queue as proof positive that major difficulties in the transtasman environment can be overcome if "good policy process" is followed.

There has been a big buy-in from business on both sides of the Tasman. Corporate leaders such as Kerry McDonald, the Bank of New Zealand chairman who heads the New Zealand side of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum, and, his Australian counterpart, Qantas chairwoman Margaret Jackson, have provided strong business leadership.

The pair were invited to join a private lunch that Costello is hosting for Cullen at his ornate Treasurer's office today. Others on the invitation list include top representatives from the two stock exchanges, Westpac CEO David Morgan, Telecom CEO Theresa Gattung and Reserve Bank of Australia Governor John Macfarlane.

The feisty Jackson - who cannot attend - and the pragmatically focused McDonald are not likely to let either Cullen or Costello off lightly if they feel either Treasurer is deviating from the single market path.

Jackson, in particular, is concerned that the common border symbolism is not being underpinned quickly enough by policy changes she wants to bring the two countries within a virtual single market, even though they do not share a physical common border.

For his part, McDonald takes quiet pride that, at a practical business level, change is humming: Areas including securities laws, company registrations, mutual recognition of companies and accountancy rules are just the tip of a policy iceberg that officials from both sides are moving along.

But the big-picture issues, such as joint programmes to tackle third markets - which involve clear sibling rivalries - and the really difficult policy areas, such as a common telecommunications regime, have so far been ducked. This is the growing edge of change that Costello and Cullen must embrace if our two economies are to compete within the fast-moving regional economies we live alongside.

Angela Gregory: The islands that said no to freedom

A couple of boxes of sparkling white wine were shipped off to Tokelau with the voting papers for last week's referendum on whether New Zealand's last dependent territory wanted to be self-governing.

Presumably intended to toast a celebratory coming of age for the country, the bubbles - like the vote - didn't make it.

The United Nations Development Programme in Apia had provided the wine, but the cartons went missing somewhere between the wharf in Samoa and the Fakaofo atoll in Tokelau which was the last stop in a nearly week-long sea journey.

It wasn't needed anyway.

The 600 or so people of Tokelau registered to vote in the referendum did not say yes in sufficient numbers to reach the two-thirds majority needed to carry self-determination through, with only 60 per cent support for change.

The far flung territory of New Zealand, which initiated the process to reconsider its future, lost its nerve and decided to remain a colonial outpost instead.

The decision surprised pundits and the reasons for it may never be clear. Relevant factors seemed to range from healthy scepticism and caution through to fear of change, personality clashes and scaremongering.

And even though a proposed treaty would have locked New Zealand into providing ongoing funding to Tokelau, that due to international law could never be slashed without agreement, many locals were distrustful.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs officials and United Nations representatives had insisted they were not expecting or hoping for a vote for change.

But it was clear they were confident of a "yes" vote and their disappointment at the negative outcome was palpable.

There was even talk of a repeat referendum in a year's time.

Tokelau administrator Neil Walter wasted no time in telling the elders, or senior grey hairs as they call themselves, what they would now miss out on.

For instance, the country would not be able to become a full member of the Pacific Forum and they would not be eligible for the next cycle of European Union funding which starts this year.

A message from Prime Minister Helen Clark said she respected the wishes of the people of Tokelau but was disappointed with the result.

The senior grey hairs on the Fakaofo atoll where the referendum result was announced last Thursday just kept their heads down.

Earlier that day Mr Walter had sensed that something was "not right" at Fakaofo during the morning greeting of officials by village elders.

Locals told the Herald there had been a sea change in the previous few days with a swing against the proposal to become self-governing, and a rattling of people's confidence in such a move.

That contrasted to the upbeat attitude of the locals on Nukunonu atoll, 64km away, who from their leader down were all but celebrating a positive outcome.

Mr Walter, who has a highly competitive streak to his nature, could not have been happy with the final result.

He had strongly believed Tokelau would be better off under the new regime, even though he viewed the move to self-governance as basically confirming the status quo.

His arguments for change included giving Tokelau a more equal footing with New Zealand, a stronger voice internationally, and a sense of pride.

At each atoll Mr Walter had emphasised that Tokelau would continue to be supported by New Zealand but could seek extra funding from more countries if it voted for self-governance.

Tokelau's new-found status could have been his swansong in a long and distinguished career, which included serving as Foreign Affairs secretary.

It was not to be.

Mr Walter's voice faltered and he had tears in his eyes when he presented a greenstone pendant in appreciation of the dedicated work of Falani Aukuso, the general manager of Tokelau's public service, the night of the referendum decision.

It was a touching moment that had probably been expected to be one of joy, not sorrow.

Mr Walter later told the Herald there was a misalignment between authority and responsibility in Tokelau.

Tokelau wanted the authority to run itself but appeared to not then be prepared to take international responsibility for its actions and wanted to leave that to New Zealand, he said.

It would take some time for him to come to terms with the country's decision not to progress.

Mr Walter in part blamed the country's leadership with its elders who were not unified and were being challenged in their villages.

"A couple of helmsman broke loose."

His view agreed with that of Mr Aukuso who said the leadership should have been more cohesive.

The general fono (national council or government) had supported the proposals which included a carefully prepared draft constitution and treaty.

"Some in the public service forgot their official responsibilities to follow the Government policy and crossed the floor to become politicians."

Mr Aukuso also believed some Tokelauans were swayed by the views of New Zealand relatives who were against the country becoming more independent of New Zealand.

Ioane Teao, a Tokelauan community leader based in Porirua, said he was sure many of those in New Zealanders would have been in touch with their relatives back in Tokelau.

"I certainly did. My Dad is still alive in his eighties."

While there would have been some for and against the proposal, many did not believe Tokelau was ready to change.

Mr Teao also believed there was not enough explanation in Tokelau of some of the issues involved.

The Herald witnessed some confusion in Tokelau over what self-governance meant, and was told by one public servant there that the information provided had been one-sided.

Mr Teao said those in New Zealand, however, did comprehend the distinctions between integration, self-governance and full independence.

There was some concern New Zealand Tokelauans were not given the option of participating in the referendum, but they had finally accepted that.

"They are relieved Tokelau has now made a decision.

"And while all may not be happy with the outcome, it has their blessing," he said.

Mr Teao said while there was criticism that an estimated 30 per cent of eligible voters aged over 18 never registered, he felt there was good participation, given the almost full turnout of those who had.

Others argue that 30 per cent who boycotted the process (given it was virtually impossible not to be aware of the referendum on each highly consulted atoll of about 500 residents), when added with the 40 per cent of those who voted and said no, demonstrated a stronger opposition than was painted by New Zealand officials.

Joyce Yu, of the United Nations Development Programme, believes it was a landmark vote for Tokelauans who in her view had never undergone a fully democratic process before.

Tokelauans had not before actually gone into a polling booth and made their mark completely privately, she said.


Tokelau

* New Zealand's last dependent territory.
* Voted last week not to become self-governing.
* Population of 1500-1600.
* Comprised of three atolls lying just south of the equator.
* Receives NZ Aid of about $9 million a year.
* Area about 12 sq km
* Administered by New Zealand since 1926.
* Remains on United Nations' list of colonised countries.
* Has no airport, roads, cars or harbours.
* Has little scope for economic development.

Mirko Bagaric: Give the chicks the ticks to make life run smoothly

Equal opportunity is fine but not when it means that our flourishing continues to be impaired by the fact that the people who make all the important decisions come mainly from the wrong gene pool, with the obvious exception of Helen Clark.

Brace yourselves fellas, it's time we delegated up and required all political parties to introduce minimum 50 per cent quotas for the number of female candidates.

This isn't reverse discrimination, designed to make it up to women who have been repressed throughout much of history. Rather it is blatant self-interest. We should let chicks have a bigger role in running the country because research shows they are likely to do it better.

While us blokes might not be that smart when it comes to the important things, hopefully we're bright enough to know when we should call in the big guns for expert advice.

Studies show that women have more of what it takes when it comes to nation and community building qualities. For men, politics is typically about themselves, whereas for women it's about others.

It probably won't come as much of a shock to you but, yes, blokes are self-centred. A good illustration of this comes from a study that looks at lying. Men and women both lie during approximately a quarter of their social interactions.

But they lie for different reasons. Women are likely to fib to protect someone's feelings. Men are more prone to lying about themselves - the typical conversation between two blokes contains about eight times as many self-oriented lies as it does falsehoods about other people.

We also have confirmation that women are more compassionate. A study published in Nature revealed that while women showed signs of empathy with people they both liked and disliked, men appeared to enjoy pain being inflicted on their foes.

In explaining these results, one of the researchers, Dr Colin Wilson, stated it might be that women tend to have more reflective, thoughtful responses, and are less likely to make quick, punitive judgments.

Now, if you have a choice between a compassionate, thoughtful and considered leader or one that was reflexive, self-focused and punitive, who would you want making the decisions? Even us blokes should be able to get that one right.

And there's no need to fear that chicks are a bit flaky when it comes to the mundane stuff such as balancing the books. Although blokes have bigger brains, studies show that men and women have the same average IQ.

If the chicks are so switched on, then why are they so grossly under-represented in politics and senior jobs? That's because they're smart enough to know that often the price to be paid for securing a high-flying position is too high.

There's lots of competition for such gigs. That means lots of people putting in seemingly endless time and resources into acquiring them. Many women, however, opt out of the running early in the competition for high-status positions. A London School of Economics study showed that men are three times as likely as women to regard themselves as work-centred. Women want opportunities, but not a life dominated by work. Again, the chicks are right on this score.

Studies into human well-being show that there is only a modest link between wealth and status and happiness. Far more important to happiness are fit and healthy bodies, realistic goals, self-esteem, optimism, an outgoing personality, a sense of control and a tight-knit family.

Thus, paradoxically, the people in our community who are best served to lead us are discouraged from doing so because they realise that the path to getting there is so burdensome that it is best not travelled. We need to clear the path for them.

Those of you who have had a hard-nosed female boss or have failed to detect a compassion injection into the community since Helen Clark took over the reins might still not be convinced that more chicks at the top is the way to go. The explanation for this is that a lot of women who make it to the top understandably feel the need to work within the dysfunctional hierarchical system and therefore adopt and implement strategies identical to those of their male counterparts.

So the key to securing a better-run country is to have more women at the top and ensuring that, en route there, they are not required to kick and scratch against the blokes. This will make sure that they don't adopt our misguided motivations and strategies. That's why we should set aside at least 50 per cent of the positions in all political parties for women.

This will even make us blokes better off. That's not to say we are the lesser sex. We still have it all over the chicks when it comes to bragging, lifting heavy things and drinking lots of beer. What's more, if we let them get on with running the show, we will have lots more time to do all these important things.

Until the quotas get introduced, whenever it comes to voting, unless you're confident that the male candidate is an absolute star, back the odds and give the tick to the chick and hope she hasn't felt the need to think like a bloke along the way.

* Professor Mirko Bagaric is head of Deakin Law School and author of How to Live: Being Happy and Dealing with Moral Dilemmas.