Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sideswipe


By Ana Samways

Makers of the iconic cartoon show The Simpsons have filmed its opening titles using real actors (The Simpsons live) It's brilliant and worth watching, even if it's marketing to promote the new series, about to screen in the UK and screening here later this year.

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A reader named Marilyn writes: "To the person who lost their long-haired neutered cat in the Mairangi Bay area, they may not have recognised it in the Lost Pets column in a North Shore community paper last week - 'Found, grey and white long head cat, muted male'. Same paper has also managed to print 'a spade dog'. Perhaps the person who takes the phone ads could be encouraged to learn some animal terms."

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A 29-year-old man was convicted last month after he jumped over a fence at the White House to meet up with Chelsea Clinton. According to an officer, the man seemed unfazed at being told that the Clintons no longer lived there, but did say that "George Bush told me to jump the fence, and I jumped the fence." (Source: News of the Weird)

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Sitting at the lights on the corner of Central Park Drive and Lincoln Rd, a reader named Rose noticed the typical Kiwi family in the clean, late-model family wagon - mum and dad and the two kids in the back. All very respectable until dad lights up a filthy fag. "How can people think it is acceptable to smoke in the car with small children when you're legally prevented from smoking in bars?" she asks.

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Shopping tips from Victoria Beckham, courtesy of Britain's Glamour magazine.

Tip one: Do your shopping all over the world. "I was in Japan not long ago, and I went High Street shopping and picked up loads of great clothes," she enthuses in a piece called "10 commandments". She helpfully adds; "It's fantastic because they make everything in tiny sizes."
Tip two: One should never, ever leave home without one's "sunnies".

Tip three: Idolise Audrey "Breakfast at Tiffany's" Hepburn.

Oh and by the way, it helps to spend about £100,000 ($267,000) a year on your wardrobe.

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Richard Foulkes-Austin was another mug who paid $4 for chips at the cricket. He writes: "Responding to NZC's lament of slow tickets sales, I took my 2-year-old daughter to the game. After paying $11 for her and $37 for me plus two cartons of chips at $4 a pop (I got a few of them) plus a fruit juice for $5, we left 1 1/2 freezing hours later to go home and warm up. She did enjoy the Mexican waves, though."

Editorial: Homework key link for parents

It seems increasingly fashionable to condemn homework for primary school children as a waste of time. Dunedin psychologist Nigel Latta has added his voice to the disapproval, and in Australia a new Government junior school has been declared a homework-free zone. The theory is that the school's pupils will spend more recreational time with their families, rather than being forced to do work that makes them resent learning. As with rather too much modern theorising, it fails to place its subject in anything like a proper perspective.

Homework can, of course, be of dubious value. But only if it is set with no specific purpose in mind, is devoid of clear instructions, is not tailored to the pupil's ability, or fails to enhance relevant knowledge or skills. One or any combination of such shortcomings could alienate a child from learning, and provide parents with a justifiable grievance. But their complaint should be with the teacher setting the exercises, not the concept of homework.

Homework, if assigned correctly, is an important learning device. Equally important, it is a means of connecting parents to their children's education. It may not, as critics suggest, be linked to academic performance at the primary school level, but it imposes study practices and disciplines that stand children in good stead in the higher realms of education. At those levels, research suggests pupils who complete more homework perform, on average, to a higher academic standard.

Getting into the habit of doing, say, 30 minutes' homework at an early stage is, therefore, clearly beneficial. Self-discipline, organisation and personal responsibility are encouraged, as can be a love of learning if the assignment is stimulating and its successful completion draws constructive feedback from the teacher. This is also the time when parents can stress the importance of education, and become, in effect, a partner to the school.

For some parents, it may be the only link with their child's learning. For any of a number of reasons, they may, unfortunately, have little contact with the school. Sometimes this may relate to their own circumstances and lack of success at school. But what they do in terms of encouraging a love of learning is more important to their child's prospects than the size of their own bank balance or whether they, themselves, studied to a high level.

The subject matter at primary school means parents can usually offer help and encouragement. Some assignments, indeed, can be set with the expectation that the family will play a role. Those involving parents and children reading together are an obvious example. If parents show a keen interest, it can spark enthusiasm in a child. And the parents, for their part, may be encouraged to become more interested in, and involved with, the school. At the very least, they gain an insight into what their children are learning, and how they are faring.

In some instances, of course, pupils do not return home to a suitable study environment, or to supportive parents. In such cases, there may be little prospect that they will complete their homework successfully, let alone be encouraged to value education. That can mean, as critics suggest, that homework creates a resentment of learning. But that, again, suggests not so much a fault in the concept as a failed home environment.

Given the obvious pluses attached to homework, the fad for criticising it seems astonishing. The critics would not, presumably, dispute the notion that families play a crucial role in education.

Homework is an important part of that equation. The more so when parents have the chance to make their mark.

Fran O'Sullivan: Black mood takes hold of country too readily

For A man who professes not to enjoy putting his "head up over the parapet", NZX boss Mark Weldon is getting to be a tiger for punishment.

Weldon's profile is strengthening as he mounts a broad-brush campaign to talk New Zealanders out of their propensity for negativity. He can't understand why the business fraternity and the investing public lose confidence due to cyclical economic downturns.

News media and economists are too quick to scream "Downturn"; "Horror story"; "Recession" when negative figures present.

Weldon believes this is simply overreacting.

He points out that in the US - which has seen the ravages of September 11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq invasion, trade deficits, inflation and Hurricane Katrina - business does not slump to the same degree as New Zealand.

Businesses there continue to grow rather than fall prey to the type of fears prevalent in our own small economy, which admits defeat too early.

Weldon raises a good point.

It's ironic that New Zealanders - who do tend to go into national depression when the All Blacks suffer a major defeat - will kick the players all round the paddock if they also pack a sad when they lose a game.

But we don't expect our business players to demonstrate the same fighting spirit. Instead, we join them in their cavalcade of misery when the latest drop in confidence is registered.

It's difficult to see how Weldon's jaw-boning will have an effect in the short term.

The problem is that once a negative mindset becomes embedded, confidence tends to be chased down before it is restored. Those business people who think they are doing OK wonder what might be round the corner when the great bulk of them believe their company's fortunes will not be so bright.

Partly it's a chicken and egg thing.

People stop spending when confidence goes. Those businesses exposed to domestic consumers suffer. Exporters cut back when a high dollar erodes their profit margins. There is less money to go around within the local economy.

There is a discrepancy between how investors here perceive sharemarket value compared with those offshore.

But irrespective of Weldon's chivvying, the reality check makes itself felt pretty quickly.

Where the NZX boss is getting a bit of pushback is from journalists and brokers who are not so sure about the messages he is pumping out about their role in maintaining confidence.

Weldon has had quite a bit to say about the role of this country's business press, including the Business Herald, in relation to maintaining investor confidence. He's grumped about media playing up the controversial boardroom differences within Vector - instead of its strategies - at the time of its float.

He's had a whack at some brokers for panning the Goodman float in their pre-listing research analysis.

Weldon has chivvied journalists on what he sees as the need to be sure they maintain balanced reporting in a small market where local companies receive a lot more day-to-day coverage than they could expect within Australia for instance.

There's an element of truth to this, of course.

Major companies like Telecom for instance do get a lot of column inches. No other company comes close to it in size. There are few blue chips compared with 10 to 15 years ago.

But it's also true that if Telecom dominated the Australia market, it would also get plenty of media play there too - and it would by no means be adulatory.

Right now market perception is that Telecom will be penalised by the Government for its "failure" to drive aggressively enough to provide business with access to broadband of sufficient bandwidth and speed to underpin future growth.

Telecom boss Theresa Gattung could argue that the "market" has already factored in the Government's "intention" to somehow open access to its local loop - the stock price is already off some 50c since the Beehive jawboning began.

But astute analysts will point out that the company's failures across the Ditch are the real issue.

Sure journalists have a role but I'm not sure Weldon has got it right yet.

My inquiries suggest he is often too quick to take the side of the companies - not quite a cheerleader - on their home patch.

Any journalist who has worked both sides of the Tasman can attest to the reality that New Zealand company bosses tend to be fragile indeed when subject to even mildly penetrating (let alone incisive) questioning of their company strategies and results on their home patch.

See those same chief executives in action across the Ditch and it's a different matter.

Journalists are treated like skilled professionals. They are assumed to be in command of their stuff. There is less tendency to do a runner behind their backs to newspaper management when coverage is critical.

But, more to the point, the chief executives frequently put more information on the table in the first place in their offshore roadshows.

This is the area I would urge Weldon to put some focus on - chivvying chief executives about the lack of transparency that occurs here - before whacking the press.

Then there are the brokers.

Weldon is right about the old game that occurs where brokers sometimes issue relatively conservative forecasts before companies float. This is part of market massaging.

If the stock floats up well above listing price within just a few days, the stags can profit.

His exchange's "ticker tape" may not tell lies - but more than a few of our share prices do.

As in most things, value is in the eye of the beholder.

Share price volatility - even so-called cyclical rises and falls - do not necessarily reflect the underlying health of a listed company.

What drives on-market value in the short term is perception, not fundamental reality.

It is surely the role of independent broking analysts to dig beneath those perceptions and mine out the telling information that gets to what really affects underlying value and future prospects - not just puff the stock.

US stock analysts and financial journalists took a beating after the much-hyped tech stocks tanked at the end of the Dow's historic bull run of the 1990s.

Same thing happened here much earlier with the 1987 sharemarket crash.

Neither journalists nor analysts can do their job without exhibiting scepticism.

Where Weldon needs to turn his attention is to his backdoor.

Right now, he is having to fight off incursions by the NZX's "co-regulator" - the Securities Commission - which wants to inspect its supervisory processes at market and non-market levels.

Neither side is being particularly frank about the behind-scenes jostling which may yet end up in court.

Surely if Weldon wants us to lift our game, he should put more information on the table about his "co-regulator's" threat to his own business.

The NZX is a listed company after all.

Brian Rudman: Jostling contenders good argument for supreme arbiter

Mayor Dick Hubbard's vision for the Tank Farm includes "some strategically located canals", which conjures up a very relaxing picture.

But with Transit New Zealand's vision, including a harbour tunnel entrance popping up somewhere in the same vicinity, "strategically located" could well be the operative words. Otherwise Mr Hubbard's Venetian dream could suddenly disappear down the gurgler to become part of a rapid underground gondola service.

With Auckland City and the port company and Transit, to name just three, each jostling for their vision of this precious piece of waterfront to gain supremacy comes another argument in favour of establishing a single controlling authority for the area. An independent body to act as referee between the various competing interests, and to be the champion for the interests of Aucklanders as a whole.

It's true that Transit has made no decisions on when or where, or even if, another harbour crossing is in the offing. But it is slowly edging its way in that direction. Just over two years ago, working in cooperation with the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland and North Shore City councils, Transit came up with two "preferred options" if another crossing was to be "constructed in the vicinity of the existing harbour bridge".

Of the two, one was a bridge, 500m west of the existing harbour bridge, linking into a tunnel under Ponsonby. The other was an "immersed-tube tunnel under the harbour" which would emerge "near the cement silos on the Western Reclamation". The tunnel would "link with a southbound cut-and-cover tunnel to Halsey St and a northbound cut-and-cover tunnel from Beaumont St". There was also to be a connection somehow to the "central motorway junction".

The report admits these cut-and-cover tunnels would "impact" - an understatement to end all understatements - on any future redevelopments in the area from Fanshawe St the length of the reclamation, down to Wynyard Wharf.

In addition, the cut-and-cover tunnels left and right across to Halsey St and Beaumont St would have "significant impacts". Then there's the little matter of 20-30m high ventilation shafts.

The October 2003 report acknowledges it would take 13-16 years to plan for and construct any crossing. In August last year Transit announced Tommy Parker had been hired as its "additional harbour crossing study director".

Since then he's been busy working to get agreement amongst "stakeholders" as to the objectives and methodology of the feasibility study. He's hoping to begin the investigation proper in the next financial year.

With the passing of the Land Transport Management Act in November 2003, well after the earlier study had been published, Mr Parker says all options are now back in the mix. That said, as far as Wynyard Wharf is concerned, Transit "would like to protect our interests". As a result, Transit has asked Auckland City and Ports of Auckland "to safeguard the option of landing the tunnel at Wynyard Point".

He says one possibility, if a tunnel were built, would be to include a public transit tube linking the North Shore busway with the Tank Farm and the Britomart transport centre.

Admittedly, much of this seems little past the "dreaming aloud" phase, but it does draw attention to the fact that drawing up plans for apartments and office blocks on the Tank Farm could be a little premature, at least until Transit has indicated what its preferred plans are. But in the present climate, who sets the priorities? Who does the road builder refer its preference to when it arrives at one? And who decides which vision is more important?

The problem is we have four publicly owned cooks - ARC, Ports of Auckland, Auckland City and Transit - all busy trying to create their own recipe for dish of the day. The potential for ending up with something less than palatable looms large.

This is a 30-plus year project. The thought of generation after generation of new local politicians and bureaucrats being bloodied in continuing warfare on the fields of the Tank Farm is hardly a vision to savour. Especially when it's a nightmare we could so easily avoid.

Tapu Misa: Ethnic Census status tells the whole truth

Every time I describe white New Zealanders as Pakeha or Palagi, I get at least one complaint from someone, objecting either to their supposed pejorative origins (not true) or to my audacity in using labels without the permission of those I'm describing.

One woman took her complaint to the Human Rights Commission, not so much because she found the meaning of Pakeha or Palagi offensive (they're not, and are much friendlier than "white"), but because they are not English words. She was European, she insisted, and brown people had no right to inflict their names on her.

Tough, I thought at the time, dismissing her as a dyed-in-the-wool bigot (which she was). History is full of examples of ethnic groups who have been named, and defined, by contrasting others.

Yet I understand the visceral reaction, up to a point. I feel the same way about "tau iwi", meaning alien or outsider, which excludes rather than includes, and defines me by what I am not rather than what I am.

(By the same token, I've never understood why anyone would want to be called a non-Maori, a term once promoted by Don Brash, to replace Pakeha.)

But, like it or not, we're defined as much by what we're not, as what we are. Maori didn't become Maori until others arrived on these shores and they were forced to describe themselves as "ordinary" (maori).

And I wasn't a Pacific Islander (a Pacific person, Pasifikan, or whatever else is in vogue) until my family moved here and it became necessary to differentiate my lot not just from Pakeha but also from Maori.

Labels can be emotionally and politically loaded. My identities include Samoan, Pacific Islander, Polynesian, New Zealander, Kiwi, mother, wife, daughter, sister, mother and journalist.

I have no difficulty managing them. When you're a minority, juggling multiple hyphenated identities, ambivalence becomes second nature. But don't call me a Pacific or Samoan journalist rather than a journalist who is Samoan or Pacific Island - there is a subtle but important difference.

Why does identity matter? Why does so much of contemporary politics converge on identity? This question is posed by the editors of New Zealand Identities (Victoria University Press, 2005), in a book of essays exploring our conflicting notions of identity.

They write that "our concepts of ourselves affect our daily lives, from high-level political decisions about whether or not to participate in the American-led invasion of Iraq, to personal decisions about where to stand on the seabed and foreshore debate, to mundane choices about who to invite for dinner, which schools to send our children to and what music to fill our airwaves with".

Paul Morris, professor of religious studies at Victoria University, posits that "identity is always about the exercise of power - that is, it is political. The power to exclude or include lies at the heart of the process of the generation of a dynamic national identity".

So it shouldn't surprise us that there's so much angst over identity and the naming game that accompanies it. The call by Gerry Brownlee and others to declare "New Zealander" as an ethnicity in this year's Census form is just the latest example of that.

We all know that "New Zealander" isn't an ethnicity. It's a nationality that I can lay claim to, and not just because my passport says so.

Brownlee wants us to stop pretending we're "ethnically divided". But who's really pretending here? Is the term New Zealander intended to unite us - Pacific Island New Zealander, Chinese New Zealander, Somalian New Zealander - or to divide us into the white, "mainstream New Zealand" that Don Brash promoted during the election, versus the alien others?

Some who declared themselves "New Zealanders" and nothing else will be like Chris, who wrote to me explaining why he objected to being called a Pakeha.

"It is a label that robs me of my heritage and culture. My father's family came from Tonga and my mother's family originate in France. I am white, my sister and brother are brown. We would be considered by most to be Pakehas yet we consider ourselves to be full-blooded New Zealanders. There is no such place as Pakehaland, and I am not a Pakeha. I am a New Zealander, a white New Zealander."

Fair enough, but as a colleague of mine argues, "New Zealander" is a given, a tag available to all New Zealanders no matter their ethnic make-up. "New Zealand European" carries no resonance for her, whereas Pakeha, cleansed from the Census, is the term that best describes her.

Like Chris, my colleague is driven by the need to stake her claim as someone who belongs to this country and nowhere else - someone who is indigenous.

They wouldn't have had any argument from the late historian and author Michael King, who held that Pakeha are the "second indigenous people" of New Zealand, or Trevor Mallard, who declared last year that he was indigenous because he was born in Wainuiomata.

It doesn't help that there's no consensus among Pakeha/European New Zealanders on what to call themselves. James Liu, a senior philosophy lecturer at Victoria University, who describes himself as a Chinese-American-New Zealander, confirmed this in 1999 research.

He and others found that the labels people choose tend to be revealing. For example, those who identified themselves as Pakeha (about 20 to 25 per cent) were more likely than those who called themselves New Zealand Europeans (40 to 50 per cent) to be sympathetic to Treaty claims and see their relationship with Maori as an important part of their own identity.

Liu concludes that while Maori and Pakeha are two social categories that are intimately related, "psychologically some people want to distance themselves from this relationship and others embrace it".

Maori, Pacific and Asian New Zealanders had no such issues. "It is only the majority group that seeks the prerogative and has the power to go ethnically unmarked," Liu says.

Maybe being "ethnically unmarked" is the way to go. Imagine police bulletins where a suspect is described as "a solidly built New Zealander of medium height". Imagine cursing "bloody Kiwi drivers".

I recall being excited after reading a story saying Pacific Islanders were the most academically successful people in the United States. On closer inspection, I found that their Census lumped Asians and Pacific Islanders together for statistical purposes.

Perhaps they knew we originated in Asia. All I know is that since they decided to separate us into separate categories, a less rosy but more truthful picture has emerged.

* tapumisa@ihug.co.nz

Jim Eagles: Travellers take notice

There's great entertainment to be had from the signs you see as you travel about. Toilets that open only at night. An area where parking is restricted to 2880 minutes. A passing lane that has been deleted. A "menswhere" store.

These were among the flood of entries to our competition for entertaining signs.

My personal favourite - probably because I entered it myself - is the sign North Shore City has put on the two sets of toilets on Balmain reserve in Devonport. "These toilets," it proclaims, "are locked from dawn to dusk" (though I note that the council has recently tried to cover up the mistake with pieces of masking tape).

Alyse Foster from Whangarei sent in several entries.

One, which she dubbed a "run like hell sign", was erected at the foot of a set of stairs at the Manapouri Power Station and appeared to show a man running very fast, begging the question, away from what?

Another is not so much a sign as the entertaining artwork used to indicate the unisex toilets at PR's Cafe in Hokitika.

Winsome Mitchell of Whakatane also provided a number of offerings.

While in Switzerland she was amused by a sign indicating male, female and dog toilets. And while driving round the East Coast she enjoyed an innovative sign seeming to warn of skateboarding cows.

Adrienne Smith of Mangere Bridge offered a picture of a parking sign from Ocean View Rd, Waiheke Island, limiting parking to "48 hours (2880 minutes)" and wondered, "Who keeps a count of the minutes?" Very bizarre!

A. M. Paterson of Ngunguru sent in a picture of a sign - presumably erected by a fed-up farmer - on the fence of a farm at Pyes Pa, Tauranga, declaring, "Don't dump your rubbish here you dirty bastard."

Deon Kotze provided a photo of a collection of signs on a pole at Ruakaka pointing to an interesting cluster of activities including the racecourse, the ambulance, the Catholic Church and - a little the worse for wear - the Police.

Brian Fairchild from Albany sent in a picture of an advertising sign in Canterbury offering "Deer pies, wrapped in doe, 2 bucks."

Des M sent a blurry picture of a Colonel Sanders' effigy outside a KFC establishment in Pakistan bearing a sign requesting, "No smoking please. No food or drink from outside. No arms and ammunition." As he comments, "This puts new meaning into the colonel's military rank."

Des also sent a sign from McMurdo Base in Antarctica which sits at the top of a ramp leading into the icy sea and requests, a tad unnecessarily, "Slow." Des was further bemused by a sign on the Sydney Harbour Bridge warning of a $1000 penalty for jumping off the bridge structure. "Is the risk of a fine going to stop a jumper who has given up on life?"

Deigh Davies offered an example from his collection of misspelled signs, taken in Papakura, advising that "Teletubbies can be picked up from menswhere."

Sharron Goodwin Browne reported a sign south of Featherstone which announced, "Passing lane deleted," and asked, "Who knows why?"

Gemma Cartwright from Hawera was entertained by a couple of signs she saw during a recent trip to Australia. One, on the side of a highway, warned, "If you are able to read this you are on the wrong side of the road."

The other was on a winding road and explained, a little unnecessarily, "Water on road during rain."

Ken Klitscher forwarded details of "the most effective sign I ever came across." It was in a park near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and said, "Respect the rattlesnake's right to privacy. Keep to the paths." The surrounding lawn was clearly unsullied by human feet.

Each of our contributors - apart from me - has been sent copies of Signspotting: absurd and amusing signs from around the world, compiled by Doug Lansky, and published by Lonely Planet ($19.99).

Harry L. Julian: City wharf vital for trade

I write to express my strong concern about the changes Dick Hubbard wishes to make at the Wynyard Wharf Tank Farm.

Hubbard speaks from ignorance and is being totally unrealistic when he compares the Port of Auckland with Sydney and London, to take just two of the ports he mentions.

London has Tilbury Port, miles down the Thames River from London, and Sydney has Botany Bay Port, separate but adjacent to Sydney for bulk, liquids and container cargoes.

The Port of Auckland's commercial facility is constrained between Wynyard and Ferguson wharves, with nowhere else to go apart from a multibillion dollar expenditure for a new port on the western side of the Hauraki Gulf, possibly 50 years down the track.

In the foreseeable future, wharves within this area will require continued upgrading, and possibly in one case being removed completely to handle increasing trade.

Auckland is a rapidly growing city, as we all know.

More than 500,000 tonnes of bulk liquids and cement cargo pass through the Wynyard Wharf area, employing more than 4000 personnel and earning port revenue of $1.5 billion annually.

This trade cannot be handled through other areas of the Port of Auckland. Expansion ideas for liquid, bulk and container port facilities in the Te Atatu upper harbour area have long been abandoned.

How and where do we handle special and other liquid products when we lose Wynyard Wharf?

Sure, we have an oil pipeline from Marsden Point, but what happens to Auckland if there is a massive disruption to the oil refinery or pipeline and Auckland is forced to import bulk liquids by sea?

The Port of Auckland is a river port, with continual sediment build-up, requiring regular maintenance dredging.

A few years ago we were dredging the Ferguson container terminal and the Princes Wharf passenger wharf with an overseas dredge, because sediment build-up from the upper harbour forced draft limitations on large passenger and container vessels.

The present chairman of the Auckland Regional Council, Mike Lee, and a few others of his ilk chained themselves to the dredge hoping to force the Auckland Harbour Board to stop essential dredging. They were unsuccessful.

There are some elected local body members presently in power who are unfortunately members of the Flat Earth Society.

Along with a few other like-minded people I battled and won the fight to develop the Viaduct Basin to its present condition.

I am strongly apposed to diminishing the Port of Auckland by removing Wynyard Wharf as a commercial facility.

Auckland is on its present site because of its harbour. Auckland needs its harbour.

Roll on the next elections.

* Harry L. Julian is a past chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board.