Friday, April 07, 2006

Sideswipe

"Just the two thanks..."

By Ana Samways

Grey Lynn's Delicious - named by this month's Metro magazine as Best Italian Restaurant and a regular winner in the Herald's Viva awards - must be doing a roaring trade despite a lack of popularity with citizen journalists reviewing the eatery on DineOut.co.nz. According to a healthy majority of these diners, while the food generally lives up to the name, the service seems to be indigestible. As one reviewer put it, "Vicious Delicious. For masochists only. Avoid."

Out of the 26 published reviews, posted between March 2004 and October 2005, 16 are scathing about the service. One reviewer claims he was unimpressed at not being able to buy a bottle of wine (it's offered by the glass only) and his party was kicked out for querying the policy. Another had "a run-in" when told by staff they could not make a reservation "and no, two of us could not be seated. We had to wait for the entire party to arrive."

Tales of being ejected from the premises, intolerance of children and general arrogance don't paint a pretty picture: "The rudest person there being the owner who seems to suffer from bouts of PMS (I can say this being a woman!)" proclaims a former diner. "The male staff member was very abrupt and rude...told us to get out and not come back...One member of our party went back to get his name so he could inform the owner...it turned out this guy was the owner!" said another. One couple complained they were told the restaurant "wasn't a creche and they didn't want children there". Surprisingly, Delicious still managed a 6.5 out of 10 score overall on the site.

* * *

A reader called in to say how appalled she was with the Holmes interview with Lucy Lawless on Prime on Wednesday night, in which the f-word was thrown back and forth. Of Lawless, Sideswipe's lady caller said : "Lovely looking, in fact beautiful. But a foul, foul mouth."

* * *

With yesterday's Stagecoach bus fire, the fifth in recent times, perhaps they should be selling travel insurance as an optional extra with your ticket...

* * *

No, Stones Unturned: Apparently some folks are still confused by last Saturday's TimeOut report about the Rolling Stones not playing their old songs at their concerts here next weekend. There have been phone calls all week. But last Saturday was, of course, April 1 - and while there were a few clues in the item, the writer of said hoax had hoped the last paragraph reference to Fool to Cry might have given it away. Not to mention the very thought of the thing - the Stones not playing their old songs? So yes, Satisfaction is guaranteed. And here's some good and very real news for Stones fans - tomorrow's TimeOut carries Graham Reid's interview with Keith Richards and an appreciation of the band by guest writer Oscar Kightley of Sione's Wedding fame.

Editorial: TVNZ job harder this time round

Rick Ellis' return to the chief executive's desk at Television New Zealand is a slap in the face for the Government. Not that you would gather as much from the comments accompanying his return. According to Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey, the TVNZ board had chosen well in appointing "a good safe pair of hands". How different things were when Mr Ellis left the state broadcaster in circumstances that now have become even more of an embarrassment for the Government.

At that time, his considerable successes, including making TV One profitable for the first time, boosting viewer loyalty to TV2, increasing television's share of the advertising market and reversing a ratings decline, counted for little in the Beehive. Its sole focus remained TVNZ's hiring and then sacking of John Hawkesby, and an arbitrator's subsequent $5.3 million finding in favour of the newsreader. Seemingly, it was irrelevant that Mr Ellis had just taken the reins when Hawkesby's $750,000-a-year contract was signed off in 1998.

The Prime Minister described the episode as catastrophic, and declared herself "so mad" that the money was not available for local content and better-quality news and current affairs. The culture at TVNZ was one of extravagance, she said. What followed, driven by the Government, was a concerted effort to cut the pay of TVNZ presenters. With the board and management effectively sidelined, those presenters became, in effect, the fall-guys for the Hawkesby debacle. Mr Ellis, himself, was quizzed by the then Broadcasting Minister's staff on his employment contract and the cost of ending it early. It was hardly a surprise that he left when that contract expired in 2002.

His reappointment only emphasises the folly of the Government's approach. Rather than harass the management and board, it should have reflected on the fact that the commercial model which underpinned such contracts was engineered by successive Governments. And that, no matter how much it disapproved of the grossly inflated salaries of presenters, or to what degree many of its supporters were stricken by envy, this was not an area in which it should be involved. TVNZ, far more than it, knew the worth of the people who provided its human face, and their importance to its ratings and profitability.

The repercussions of the interference have merely confirmed the lack of judgment. Over the past few years, falling confidence inside TVNZ has been matched only by a slump in popular esteem. Finally, the assault on the "culture of extravagance" culminated, somewhat bizarrely, in the resignation last year of the previous chief executive, Ian Fraser, after he was instructed by the board to involve himself in key contract negotiations.

New chairman Sir John Anderson and the TVNZ board have chosen Mr Fraser's successor for the right reasons. Mr Ellis' previous tenure and experience as a manager of corporate operations suggests he has the wherewithal to stabilise the company, restore confidence, respond to TV3's challenge and lead TVNZ into digital broadcasting. The job this time is tougher, however, because of the public broadcasting charter introduced in the wake of his departure.

But it should help that by now the Government must surely have learned a lesson. Its interference succeeded only in cultivating a dysfunctional culture and significantly eroding shareholder value. The broadcaster's board intimated as much with the barb that is implicit in this appointment. TVNZ once had a winning formula. Mr Ellis' task is to rediscover it. The Government can help by butting out.

Brian Rudman: Secrecy over preschool soil-testing led only to over-reaction

You can't fault Auckland City Council for checking for contaminants in the soils of certain preschools. But why did they ruin all the good work by banning the news media from the public meetings where the results were unveiled?

Perhaps if the parents were being advised their kids were at risk of their arms and legs falling off, I could appreciate the need for a little privacy. But why have highly paid bureaucrats lurking about, accusing journalists of eavesdropping through keyholes, when the news being announced was basically good.

Sure, testing soil at two Freemans Bay preschools had revealed elevated levels of potentially cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). But the risk to the health of children who were current - or past - pupils is, given current knowledge, minuscule. Council health adviser, environment health specialist Dr Tim Sprott says the kids are 10 times more likely to contract cancer from breathing Auckland's polluted air than they are from ingesting or breathing in any playcentre PAHs.

All the secrecy did was encourage speculation and over-reaction. Such as that of the mother of a 13-month-old daughter, who has linked her baby suddenly erupting in red blisters and developing a temperature of nearly 40C on Tuesday with the soil contamination.

Once the council had tested the soils and discovered it contained higher levels of benzo-a-pyrene (BAP), the PAH involved, than recommended by Environment Ministry guidelines, it had to act conservatively and arrange to have it replaced.

But the episode does raise again the vexed question of how far we go, as a community, to try to protect ourselves from the risks of living in the modern world.

To return to Dr Sprott's example, pollution levels in Auckland air will probably be responsible over a lifetime for an extra 30 cases of cancer per million people. One of the major pollutants in the air is the same chemical as found in the playschool soils. The airborne culprits come mainly from internal combustion engines, whereas the city council assumes the playcentre BAP comes from soil brought on to the site from the old Beaumont St gasworks.

BAP, it seems, is everywhere, a product of the burning of organic material. One can absorb it from smoked, grilled, barbecued or burned foods, from second-hand tobacco smoke and even roasted coffee, cereals and vegetable oils. And, to raise a specifically Auckland source, volcanic eruptions. Of course if the local volcanic field got suddenly restless, I suspect avoiding excess BAPs will be the least of our worries.

Still, raising the risk of volcanic eruption does put the present scare into some sort of perspective. With death by car and shark attack.

The last time we fretted about our soil was back in November 2004 when Environment Minister Marian Hobbs got us all a-twitter with her demand that we prepare a Domesday Book recording the history of every bit of soil in Auckland. She was hot on the trail of any traces of DDT and other toxic nasties left over from former market garden activity, and wanted to identify the hot spots. The Auckland Regional Council got into the act with a report saying up to 6000ha of the region was ex-horticultural and thus suspect. Various councils then followed through with plans to label suspect lands unclean.

Eventually, a certain degree of sanity was restored, and Auckland's soils were left to lie unchecked. Early in 2005, Auckland City and the ARC did endeavour to embark on a pilot study and wrote to 100 owners of sites identified as potential pesticide hot-spots - sites of old glasshouses or spray sheds - asking for permission to test. Less than 10 per cent agreed and the project was abandoned because there were too few properties for a scientifically valid trial.

The reluctance to participate was hardly surprising. The sting was that if a property proved to be contaminated, the owner had to reveal the fact on the property's "warrant of fitness" type LIM report.

Returning to the preschools, it was good of Auckland City to single their soil out for priority testing, but it is curious it shows no interest in testing the soil of adjacent properties, which presumably share the same BAP-polluted fill. Mind you, if I was the property owner, nor would I.

Te Radar: Policing stupidity can mean policing stupidly

The police seem intent on making life more difficult for themselves by trying to thwart the principles of Darwinian evolution, and its central concept of the survival of the fittest.

In an attempt to manufacture some much-needed good news, the police this week launched their latest initiative to crack down on people flagrantly breaching the laws of both the land and common sense.

Members of the constabulary will now travel in randomly selected train cabs to ensure that those ignoring warning bells and crossing perilously close to the front of trains, are prosecuted. One has to ask: Why?

Certainly, it is traumatic for train drivers who have the misfortune to hit someone, but for the followers of Darwin the police's actions are throwing a major spoke in the evolutionary wheel by allowing the stupid to continue to live, perchance to breed.

It was said that having police travel in train cabs would reduce these accidents, of which there are clearly too many. Personally, I suspect it won't, but at least the police will be able to be on the scene quickly.

What was most perplexing about this initiative was that the police made no mention of how they would pursue the offenders. It isn't as if they can commandeer the train.

It seems to me that while it is virtually impossible to police stupidity, it is possible to police stupidly.

Thankfully, the police were not dragged into the crime story that led the news earlier in the week; that the dastardly Russell Crowe had, during the course of his oddly entertaining concerts, smoked tobacco on stage.

Given the reaction from the anti-smoking zealots, one would have thought that he had thrust the cigarettes into the mouths of children and forced them to inhale, exclaiming: "Are you not entertained?"

To be honest, if he had done that, I probably would have been.

Given the disdain which the David Brent of Australian pub rock appeared to be feeling at being on stage in the show I saw in Auckland, I began to suspect that he was only smoking in a desperate attempt to end both his, and our, suffering. Not for our Russ the glorious ignominy of autoerotic asphyxiation. Rather he seemed to prefer the slower suicide of tobacco.

Of course, Australians appear to be not averse to committing crime.

For those still unsettled by Australia thrashing us in the Commonwealth Games, it appears they have upstaged us again.

An OECD report says Australia has the highest rate of victims of crime in the developed world. Before you gloat, we were second.

In response to their ad campaign "Where the bloody hell are you?" the answer seems clear. We are all staying home to stop people from robbing our houses.

Perhaps this is why Australians are also the world's largest consumers of Ecstasy. No wonder they are so infuriatingly cheerful.

Graham Reid: Devoted to his father's eye-catching images

Among the trinkets and souvenirs at the Chinatown Heritage Centre in Singapore the photograph caught my eye: a lone boatman, standing up in his small craft, is rowing between some other vessels as dawn light catches in the ripples off his oars.

The image, obviously taken many years ago, has a strange golden tone and in the ripples the camera has captured the instant when shadows make patterns which look like fish and dragons.

I study it for a long time, and then flick through others in this stack of photographs, framed in cardboard and ready for tourists to purchase. Another catches my eye, it is a black and white photo of an elegant Chinese woman in traditional costume holding a stringed instrument like a lute.

These are marvellous images - as is the one of a man in a coolie hat pushing a barrow through a downpour - and I say as much to the old man standing beside me.

He agrees enthusiastically and draws my attention back to the one of the lone boatman. "Think how long he must have waited to get these shapes?" he says. "This man was a great photographer, this photograph has won many prizes."

He turns it over and there on the back is a sheet about the photographer - Yip Cheong-Fun - and how this image, taken in 1955, with the auspicious motifs of fish and dragons, and the quality of the new dawn, suggests good fortune.

It won numerous international awards and the Photographic Society of New York acknowledged Mr Yip as an honorary photographer of the century (seascape specialist).

The old man beside me shows me other images by Mr Yip and talks me through them.

He is bent and educated, speaking excellent English. I ask him if he works for the Heritage Centre. He is slightly evasive and introduces himself as an author, then produces a book of his writings from beneath the counter. It is about the life and work of the photographer.

I tell him that I would like to buy copies of the lone boatman and woman musician photographs, and his book about the artist who did them, and mention that I do some writing also. He is excited by this and shakes my hand vigorously.

He insists that he gift me the copy of his book and he will sign it.

He does so, laboriously: "Andrew Yip, M. Ed. Major."

"Yes, I am still a major," he smiles, "but I will retire next year."

Of more interest his name, it is the same as that of the photographer.

"You have noticed," he laughs. "He was my father."

He tells me how his father was born in Singapore to an immigrant family from China who then moved to Hong Kong when their son was 2. Work was hard to find so the boy was sent back to China for a few years and at age 6 rejoined his family. His father died when he was 10 and his mother brought him back to Chinatown in Singapore.

He came to photography slowly, had hidden his cameras during the Japanese occupation, and only after the war did he seriously take up his craft and then go on to international fame.

I say this is a remarkable story, and with a flourish he pulls out a calligraphy pen and inscribes his book with my name in Chinese.

And so we talk further and he tells me briefly of his own life, this soldier-cum-author whose book is peppered with his poetry. He has an embarrassing collection of university degrees and he was educated in Scotland (where he was a psychologist in a clinic), Singapore, and in Pennsylvania. He headed an education programme for officers in the Singaporean armed forces and travelled widely. Now he helps out at the Heritage Centre, selling prints of his father's photographs.

I tell him that he, too, has had a remarkable life and at some time I would like to tell his story to people in New Zealand.

"Oh no," he says as he hands me the book about his father, who died at 86 in September 1989. "I am not important, but father's life is very much. You must tell people that he still lives. See? Here, in his photographs."

Jim Hopkins: Elephant-tie wearer may well stave off the inedible

On Anand Who? did Helen Clark

A pleasure dome decree

And so this mystery man is now New

Zillun's new G.G.

("Well, goodness gracious me!!")

Anxious to avoid accusations that he may be the Dan Brown of blank verse, our extinguished poet laureate Mr Jam Hipkins has requested full acknowledgment of the (unwitting) contribution made by the opiated Mr Coleridge, not to mention the lovely Sophia Loren and the late Peter Sellers, to his most recent poetical eructation, a work that has already been hailed, if only by himself, as "the best thing since Whale Rider was scratched at Ellerslie".

And, for once, the great man is right. Only a brutish soul would deny that Mr Hipkins' lyric tribute exactly captures the wave of indifference which swept across the nation when the grand announcement was made on Monday that Mr Anand Satyanand was to be our next Governor General.

Not cap in hand, good Satyanand

But the cream of those unseen

Now the undetected ombudsman

Moves omboards with the Queen.

The fact that an accident of birth was deemed the most newsworthy feature of his appointment suggests that "Satch", as he is apparently known, has done little in the intervening years to capture the hearts and minds of Outer Roa.

It's not as if the headlines screamed Aja Rocks Into Government House or Jubilant Jackson Wins Royal Oscar or Kiri To Sing for The Queen or Pinetree Our First Rugby Royal or even Cullen Says "I'm Not Surprised"!

Yet a case could be made for any such headline. After all, if there is a G.G. job description it would surely be: "Must enjoy scones, world peace, have a nice smile, no obvious psychiatric disorders, a proven ability to snip ribbons in all weathers and the good sense to do exactly what you're told!"

The position is, let's face it, almost entirely symbolic. Like the Queen herself, the monarch's representative is a prisoner on home detention. Much pampered, but still the guest of her commoners.

Or his in the case of our Anand

Proud pictured sipping tea

Darjeeling? Bushells? Choysa? Which?

"No, it's my cuppa haka, see!"

True, the G.G. can buck a dysfunctional gummint but given that our leaders are usually tossed out long before they've achieved anything more than mendacious mediocrity this authority is a power almost certainly honoured in the breach.

So we return to the symbolic aspects of the role; being a guardian of tradition, a link with the past, a bridge to the future, unifying, uplifting, inspiring, that sort of stuff. On the face of it, such duties would seem tailormade for an iconic, heroic figure - Peter Snell perhaps, or Sir Murray Halberg, Paul Holmes or Judy Bailey, Dave Dobbyn or Xena Warrior Princess. Sir Howard Morrison springs to mind, as do Buck Shelford, Norm and Carol-Anne, or finally, heaven help us, that most pre-eminent symbol of our present confusion, Mr Ahmed Zaoui.

Any of them would do the symbolism proud. They could inspire, uplift and unify our (un) united nation and become, over time, loved and revered as a Special Rapporteur of Hope.

Which makes the gummint's determination to appoint invisible members of the judiciary as Governors General all the more mystifying.

Of course, politicians do tend to be vainglorious and petty creatures and, when selecting their notional superior, their choices may simply reflect a deep reluctance to have anybody stealing their thunder, hogging their limelight or dulling their indubitable lustre.

The prospect of a Gareth Morgan Harleying through the heartland and bestowing charitable largesse upon every hapless rates and tax payer he encounters would likely send the poor dears into an apoplectic frenzy.

Then again, however charismatic a chap (or chapess) might be, they're only allowed to do what's planned and say what's written for them, so endless visits to broadband relay stations and insufferable speeches about "moving up the value chain" and "rolling out the knowledge wave" should take care of that problem.

So we turn to explanation Number 2, this being the John Tamihere Secret 15-Year Plan theory.

By this hypothesis, it could all be a cunning plan to bore us into republicanism.

Our political elite may have calculated that a sensation-hungry public, wearied by the populated vacancy of Government House, will eventually clamour for balloons and hoopla and cheesy party conferences and silly straw hats and all the other repellent trappings of presidential elections.

If so, good luck to them.

Every generation is sustained by the oxygen of its own arrogance and ours more obviously than most - particularly them as runs the cutter.

And the day may indeed dawn when they can finally administer their constitutional coup-de-grace but, meanwhile, it might be worth noting, as the laureate has, that His Imminent Excellency does have a rebellious streak.

When asked, "What stirs in your

bosom unusual?"

Mr Satch said, with pride in his eyes

That he did have a most harmless liking

For the wearing of elephant ties.

And provided, like that noble beast, he never forgets that he serves a legacy much greater than those who retained him, old Satch may even feel empowered to cast aside judicial reticence and give his tenancy such Earl Grey zest as to stave off the inedible for a good five years.

Chris Barton: Snappy shots getting better

It's been four years since I took up with a digital camera. What have I learned?

I still take lousy photos much of the time. But when I do I immediately delete them, so I now have no lousy pictures, a lot of mediocre ones and an occasional few that pass muster. Slow progress, I know, but I am photographically challenged.

The next stage of my photographic development involves the purchase of a new camera. Actually - having done my market research - I was poised to hand over about $600 when I spotted a similar-but-different model on special.

I hummed and hahed comparing the two, trying not to sound like a moron to the sales guy who didn't really help.

"This [the one on special] is aimed at the prosumer market," he informed me. I felt inadequate and fled the shop buying nothing. Anxiety took hold. Was I ready to step up to the prosumer (professional consumer) role? Did I want to? Did I even know what one was?

Four years is an epoch in the digital camera world. When I bought my Panasonic Lumix DMC-F7 (2 megapixel 2x optical zoom) in 2002 its retail price was $1299 and a 16MB SD storage card cost about $100.

Today I can get a 5 megapixel digital camera with 12x optical zoom for about $600. And a 512MB SD card can be had for about $80. In short you get a heck of lot more for half the price - making my F7 look quite pathetic.

But as we all know (and have the discarded hulks of numerous PCs and attendant peripherals to prove it) these are the rules of the digital age.

Time and technology wait for no man. What you buy today is already on tomorrow's scrapheap.

On reflection I decided I didn't have the patience or inclination to be a prosumer - all that fiddling with manual controls sends me insane, mostly because I have no idea of what I'm doing. Point and shoot are the instructions I understand.

But I quickly became confused again when I learned that the $600 camera I was originally looking at is, depending on your definition, also apparently prosumer.

As far as I can figure out, the term means better than a compact-point-and-shoot but not as good as a digital SLR (single lens reflex). More on the taxonomy of camera types here (Wikipedia.org).

By now I didn't know whether I was a pro or a con, so I went back to first principles. What did I want? I found this site (DP Review) very useful in sorting out my priorities, which were really very simple - better-quality pictures and more zoom, but keeping the compact size for ease of carrying.

I've become obsessed with having more zoom on my camera ever since I snapped the flip of a whale's tail while at Kaikoura. The problem was that even though it was a marvellous shot capturing the moment of the whale beginning its dive, the image is terribly disappointing - a tiny blob amidst a vast expanse of sea. And because it was only 2 megapixels, the image quality deteriorated as I tried to blow it up. So more megapixels are also on my shopping list.

But the question you'll never get a straight answer to is: "How many megapixels is enough?"

Ultimately it comes down to the size you wish to print your images. If you want them really big, more megapixels is better. But there's also a point where - looking at a postcard size printed image - many people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a 3 megapixel and 6 megapixel photo.

Then there's the issue of blurry shots - something I'm particularly adept at. Some of this is down to my poor technique and camera shake, but it's also because of shutter delay - that annoying pause between depressing the shutter button and the click of when the photo is taken.

I have learned that half-depressing the button - which makes the camera choose focus, colour balance, and exposure - helps a lot.

As this interesting story (robgalbraith.com) about a professional photographer using a point-and-shoot while in the Congo and Iraq shows, the boundaries between professional and consumer, like too many of my photos, are becoming very blurred.

Jane Norton: UN imbalance thwarts aim of moral fairness

The United Nations states that its central purpose is to preserve world peace. To this end it has played a major role in helping to defuse international crises and resolve protracted ones. It has worked to prevent conflicts from breaking out and, where a conflict breaks out, takes actions to redress the underlying causes and lay the foundation for durable peace.

Or so it says. And so I thought until I was present - at the 50th session of the Commission on the Status of Women - for the passing of a resolution that was so biased and irrational that I wondered how the UN could make the claims with a straight face.

That resolution was the one condemning Israeli treatment of Palestinian women.

We all accept that the situation in the Palestinian territories could be better. Much better. I wonder, then, how this resolution helps solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict let alone helps Palestinian women. I have tried to think how it does help, but could not. I could, however, find four reasons why it does not help.

First, the resolution is horribly one-sided. It condemns Israeli treatment of Palestinian women but omits to condemn Palestinian treatment of Palestinian women and Palestinian treatment of Israeli women.

I am a fierce advocate for women's rights regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. That is largely why I found this resolution so galling.

Once again a political battle is being waged with women's bodies as the weapon for political attack.

This resolution was not really concerned with Palestinian women and their suffering. If that had been the case then it would have deplored the practice of encouraging Palestinian women to become suicide bombers and human shields. It would have condemned the limited citizenship rights given to Palestinian women living in Jordan. It would have criticised the treatment of Palestinian women labourers throughout the Middle East.

Instead, it solely condemned Israeli treatment of Palestinian women.

Second, the resolution breached a fundamental principle of the rule of law. If it is thought important to be governed under law rather than the whim of an individual or government, then the law must be the same for everyone. This is the case in the UN. Here it is also essential that the language of these resolutions be general.

All resolutions passed in this session of the Commission on the Status of Women were in this general form - except one.

Third, it prejudges the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus hindering future negotiations. If the UN is truly serious about playing a role in fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians then it is counterproductive to repeatedly pass resolutions condemning only one party to the conflict.

To persist in doing so makes it nearly impossible for the UN to present itself as a mediating body in peacemaking.

Fourth, resolutions of this sort threaten the credibility of the UN and the willingness of states to participate in the future. As most of its resolutions are not binding, the UN depends on member states to implement the resolutions themselves.

If the UN demonstrates constant bias against one member state then that state's willingness to participate in its processes is severely diminished. And the credibility and effectiveness of the UN is threatened.

So why is a resolution that is ridiculous at best, and dangerous at worst, able to be passed?

The answer lies in the composition of the UN, whose 191 states have agreed to the obligations of the charter. Each state has one vote. There are almost 60 Muslim states and just one Jewish state, so you don't need a doctorate in mathematics to figure out why a hugely disproportionate number of resolutions are passed against Israel.

Research by Professor Anne Bayefsky, of Columbia University, shows that more than a quarter of the resolutions over 40 years condemning human rights violations have been directed at Israel. Yet there has never been a single resolution about repression of the civil and political rights of 1.3 billion people in China, or the million female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia kept in what amounts to slavery.

Every year, UN organisations are required to produce at least 25 reports on alleged human rights violations by Israel, but not one on an Iranian criminal justice system which mandates punishments such as crucifixion, stoning and amputation. Or against Nigeria whose Islamic courts have sentenced women to death by stoning for adultery (ironically, it was Nigeria who proposed a very similar resolution against Israel), or against Muslim nations that give impunity to men who murder female family members in the name of preserving the family's "honour".

Or against Libya, which has arbitrarily imprisoned women and girls indefinitely because they were seen as "vulnerable to engaging in moral misconduct".

All this means that while the UN claims to be neutral - with each state having the same voice as any other regardless of wealth, size or population - it is open to the same sort of manipulation as any other political forum. The difference is that the UN presents itself as being above all that.

Since working at the UN, I have seen behaviour more akin to that of petulant teenagers rather than that of an organisation boasting the lofty ideal of promoting world peace. I have seen states argue for days over the irrelevant matter of a document's punctuation in order to stop the passing of resolutions protecting the rights of women. Examples of such stonewalling are endless, but the resolution against Israeli treatment of Palestinian women shocked me the most.

I had naive faith that the UN might actually have the potential to create a better world - a world committed to resolving conflicts between states, not fuelling them.

Sadly, it is now hard to see the UN as anything other than a vehicle for manipulation by member states with their own political agendas.

If that is the case, the UN should relinquish its claim to moral legitimacy.

* Jane Norton, an Auckland lawyer, is an associate-in-law at Columbia University in New York and a Fulbright scholar studying for her master of laws.

Stock takes: Tell them they're dreaming

By Liam Dann

Despite the wishful thinking of a couple of Australian-based analysts at Credit Suisse, the suggestion that Telecom might be a takeover target any time in the near future is wildly implausible. The report - while making a sound financial case for a takeover - manages to underestimate hugely the political significance of the Kiwi Share legislation.

"With strong cashflow and a balance sheet under-leveraged, we view the potential of a leveraged buyout of Telecom as increasingly likely," analysts Justin Cameron and Mark Storey said in the report.

But under present rules, no individual or company can take a stake of more than 10 per cent in Telecom without the approval of the Minister of Finance. And no foreign entity can own more than 49.9 per cent of Telecom - end of story.

That is enshrined in legislation and the likelihood of this Government changing that is ... well there just is no likelihood.

Even a resurgent right-wing coalition would probably think twice given the kind of public uproar it would create. The sense of ownership people feel for the lumbering telco is easy to underestimate - particularly from the outside looking in.

Kiwis spend a lot of time beating up on it. But that is because we feel it is ours to beat up. We do it with the All Blacks too. It's how we express love in this bleak, cynical and overly negative nation.


Energy heating up

The Contact Energy share price is still rising. It hit $7.98 yesterday. Sources close to the Contact side of the merger plan have been quick to point out that currency movements have been the key driver of that rise, not a surge in speculation by arbitrage players. Basically, the divergence of the Aussie and Kiwi dollars (ours has fallen faster) is making the Contact stock price rise relative to the Aussie dollar valuation of the merger deal. They say the price is still almost exactly in line with the original value ascribed by the deal.

But local brokers remain sceptical.

"There is a clear consensus among domestic fund managers that the deal will not be done on its current terms," said one. "If there is a premium, then it's because they expect a sweetener. If there is no premium, it's because people think the deal won't be done - full stop."

Others were even more emphatic ... choosing to use words we still don't print in the Herald.


Rating game

Pyne Gould Corp-owned finance company Marac scored an investment grade S&P rating on Tuesday. That could be a significant step for them, said Mark Lister of ABN AMRO Craigs. A whole range of institutions have rules saying they can only invest in entities that have an investment-grade rating and this puts Marac on their radar screens.

"It should also go a long way to reduce Marac's cost of funds, widen the funding base for its debentures, and increase the margin between their lending and borrowing [so great for Marac's bottom line and its shareholders]," Lister says.

A few of the other smaller-sized finance companies have gone out and got themselves ratings of late. And that could have implications for the sector, Lister says. It may widen the gap between the high-quality operations and the rest.

It seems to have paid off in the past couple of days. PGC was already having a good run but has risen 15c since Tuesday to close at $4.39 yesterday.


Big bickies

Even those who were unsurprised by news last week that Pacific Equity Partners has bought biscuit-maker Griffin's (hopefully, that's anyone who reads this column) must have raised an eyebrow at the price that was paid. The final Kiwi dollar price of about $391 millon was somewhere between $50 million and $100 million more than anyone was picking.

The price is yet another example of the amount of excess capital floating around in Australia.

And while Griffin's was never a listing candidate, that was one big factor limiting the potential for local IPOs, said Wellington broker Ian Wadell. "Trade sales are going off at bigger prices than they would get on the stock exchange."

Unfortunately, the issue keeps coming back to the compulsory superannuation in Australia - now worth about A$800 billion ($950 billion). Those funds are looking for stable companies with good yields - exactly the kind New Zealand specialises in.


Meat in the sandwich

The spectacular dive in the dollar still seems to be doing little or nothing for the Affco share price. For some reason, the listed meat processor and exporter - which will certainly benefit from the low dollar - can't get past the 11 per cent premium that has been offered by its largest shareholder Talley's for majority control. Many of the other export stocks such as Sanford, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Appliances, have put on in excess of 20 per cent in the past six weeks in recognition of how far the dollar has fallen and how far it still has to go.

Affco looks like it's probably due a pretty good second six months, says industry analyst Allan Barber. But there is not a lot of broker coverage of the meat industry and investors seem to be slow to react to changes in operating conditions. Last year, when margins were getting seriously squeezed, the share price got ahead of itself trading up to 47c in November. Now when the news is looking good, it seems negative sentiment about the sector is scaring investors off. The shares closed up 1c at 39c yesterday - the same as the Talley's offer.


Floating to the bottom

What do Kazakhstan, Thailand, Lebanon and Guernsey have in common? They all have stock exchanges that raised more money through IPOs than New Zealand did last year.

Yes, if you thought the Commonwealth Games medal tables looked grim, check out New Zealand's performance in the 2005 Global IPO activity report put out by Ernst & Young last week.

Seems like last year was a boomer for new listings almost everywhere but here.

There were 29 countries with IPOs that totalled more than US$1 billion ($1.6 billion). New Zealand doesn't make that group - although the likes of Kazakhstan did.

We had just four IPOs valued at US$439 million. Take out the US$415 million Vector float and that number looks sickly. Australia, on the other hand, was fourth overall by value but was a silver medallist in the actual number of IPOs done. That's ahead of heavyweights such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. For the record, the United States took the gold then in the finishing order were China and France.

Tim Howe, a partner of the local Ernst & Young arm, sees some positive signs despite the bad result.

He is picking the number of IPOs will grow steadily in the next few years as pressure builds on the supply and demand side.

Given the number of delistings the local market has experienced, there is clearly a lot of capital looking for a home. Okay, a lot of that may have headed offshore in the past few months to take advantage of the high dollar. But there is a growing number of investors (such as Waste Management holders) who will soon be looking for somewhere new to put their money.

On the supply side, there is a big demographic trend that will work in the favour of more IPOs. Basically, the country has a large number of reasonably-sized businesses that are privately held by entrepreneurs nearing retirement age.

A lot of them are going to be looking to realise some cash and one of the obvious exit strategies is clearly going to be NZX listings.


Rakon running hot

That's probably not surprising, given that it offers those with an interest in technology stocks the chance to get on board with Navman founder Peter Maire, who holds a 20 per cent stake. Maire is the closest thing New Zealand has to a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-style tech guru.

Also, Rakon is easy to get your head around. It has real products. It has developed what it claims is the smallest GPS receiver in the world.

That sounds like pretty cool technology - what parent wouldn't want their child's mobile phone to transmit exactly where they were at any given time? It is expected the company will have a prospectus out around Easter.

Alan Lewis: Biker's penalty seems unfair

I got a ticket on my way to work recently, and now I'm confused! I was riding my motorcycle between the slow-moving middle and fast lanes of cars on the motorway on my rush-hour commute and out jumps a cop and nabs me. "That'll be $150 for passing on the left," he says.

I was riding steadily between the rows of traffic. It's called lane splitting - when motorcyclists ride between the rows of cars jammed on the motorway at rush hour. Isn't everyone passing on the left when the inside lanes are moving faster than the fast lane?

When I took the decision to sell my car and start commuting by motorcycle, I felt this was a win-win situation. Even a small percentage increase in the number prepared to commute on bikes instead of in cars will generate a significant improvement in Auckland's traffic problems.

Why are the traffic authorities acting against the very vehicles that can help them improve traffic flow? What is the Government trying to achieve, forcing motorbikes to behave like cars? If every motorcyclist takes up as much space as a car, the traffic will continue to get worse, making the congestion tax a certainty. Is this the aim?

Commuting by motorcycle needs to be encouraged. If the Government is to find solutions to our transport problems, it must stop removing the advantages a different form of transport offers. What's the point of commuting by bike if the only difference from commuting by car is increased risk and the occasional drenching?

All motorcyclists are acutely aware of the dangers from motorists. If safety is the concern, please target red-light runners, those who fail to give way and indicate - i.e. drivers who endanger my life every day on the road.

I was going to spend the $150 on an advanced-rider training course to help me improve my skills and safety. Perhaps my money will help our new roads get built more quickly. Let's just hope it's not being spent on planning congestion taxes.

* Alan Lewis is an Auckland commuter.