Monday, April 17, 2006

Sideswipe

A van inadvertently edits the word "Speeders" from a LTSA message. (Murphy's bus company in Thames has an excellent safety record.)

By Ana Samways

A list of the most profitable dead celebrities, compiled by online magazine AskMen.com includes a few surprises. The top five: Elvis Presley, who died 1977 managed to earn $45 million in 2005 by releasing DVDs and television series. And then there's the money-spinner Graceland. Number 2 is cartoonist Charles M. Schulz who died in 2000, yet made $35 million in 2005. The syndication of his Peanuts strip to 2400 newspapers would've helped, but it's the licensing that makes the real money. Every appearance of Snoopy and the gang generates revenue. Third is John Lennon, who died in 1980 and earned $22 million in 2005. Album sales are the main cash source. Other sources include a Broadway musical, licensed kids toys, and memorabilia. Yoko Ono controls the Lennon estate. Artist Andy Warhol is fourth with earning of $16 million in 2005. He died in 1987. Using his art in more commercial products has also made the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, a non-profit organisation, a pretty penny. This year it donated $750,000 to help rebuild museums and arts centres damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Author Dr Seuss, who died in 1991, makes the top five earning $10 million in 2005. Of a catalogue of 44 books, many have been published in 20 languages and have sold more than 500 million copies. Merchandise and a couple of blockbuster movies has helped profits, as has the $49.95 entrance fee for the Seuss Landing attraction at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida. (read the full Top 10 at askmen.com).

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Barbara Martin from Kings Seeds (NZ) Ltd writes: "If we ever moan about delays in postage, spare a thought for this customer in Cambodia who is trying to get a parcel safely delivered to the following address: 'past the old market over the first bridge and 50 m on the left 5th house opposite the crocodile farm' ... Being a mail order seed company we see many strange addresses but this one takes the cake!"

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Missing the the Sopranos? In an unusual marketing move the makers of Eskimo Pies have made an ice-cream sandwich called the Sopranos Cherry Chip Bada Bing! to keep the show alive until it's screened here later this year.

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A reader writes to say the Issey Miyake customer was not ripped off. "I used to work in a high end pharmacy and the 7ml refill would have in fact been a concentrate Parfum, whereas the 50ml (which seemed much cheaper in comparison) would have only been a Eau de Parfum ... a watered-down version of the 7ml parfum, hence the huge price difference between the two."

Editorial: Waiting lists all smoke and mirrors

Is there any sadder collision between economic rationality and human need than the system of waiting lists now operating in our public hospitals? At any moment, many thousands of New Zealanders who are plainly in need of treatment and unable or unwilling to pay for private care are languishing on a labyrinth of lists. There are those waiting to see a specialist; those who meet the clinical threshold for surgery but not the financial threshold; those under "active review"; those waiting for surgery who might, just, get it; those being sent back to their GP for re-assessment. And, presumably, some of those waiting again to go from their GP back to a specialist again.

The much-documented failings of waiting lists are about as difficult a political problem as any government encounters. The state now spends around one in every five tax dollars on the health system. It is universally agreed that no government can afford to meet all of society's health needs. At its simplest, that means there must be rationing of services to those most in need, or the private sector must provide a viable alternative, or both.

Last week's news that both the Auckland and Hawkes Bay district health boards were about to tell qualifying patients that they would not soon be receiving consultations or operations may well be the start of a trend. In Auckland, some heart patients can expect the bad news of a letter telling them that they will, instead, be placed on "active review". No operation, but (in our words, not those of a bureaucrat) a six-monthly check to ensure they are still breathing. In Hawkes Bay, around 1800 people who have waited more than six months to get to first base, an assessment from a specialist, will now be sent back to their GPs. In many cases these will be the GPs who referred them for a specialist check in the first place. In virtually all cases, because they have waited so long on the public list, it can be assumed these patients do not have the money or insurance policy to pay for an operation - or even a specialist appointment - privately.

More boards can be expected to follow this path. The Ministry of Health has tired of the district health boards tolerating large lists and has written to them promising they will be placed under "intensive monitoring" if they do not clean up their books. There is an argument that it is better to be honest with the ill than to keep them waiting in hope of a visit to the theatre. There is another argument that constantly reclassifying people does not make them any less sick.

The Minister of Health, Pete Hodgson, huffs and puffs about the Hawkes Bay board having mishandled this latest round of smoke and mirrors. Yet the patients who have been on, and now off, the board's lists did not put themselves there. If what Mr Hodgson really wants is for the GPs at the start of the labyrinth to raise their tolerance level of how sick someone must be to go on to a specialist, he, and the ministry, should say so. If they want the specialists, then, to raise their standards for the clinical needs of patients to go forward for surgery, or active review, they should say so.

More importantly, if they want to improve the service that hospitals can offer the sick, they need to be open to that other factor in the health equation: private hospitals and specialists being engaged in a partnership with the state. The Labour Party is ideologically opposed to public-private solutions for hospitals but it is probably time that it got over itself and looked for practical benefits for patients. Otherwise, these patients, their families and communities will be putting the governing parties under "intensive monitoring", with the prospect of referring them back to the Opposition benches, for reassessment.

Hugh Ritchie: Deja vu in rural fight for access to broadband

To farmers around the country, the debate about what to do to Telecom to help drive competition in the telecommunications market has a sense of deja vu.

Electricity reforms a decade ago professed the same belief that regulation would somehow bring lower prices and better service to all New Zealanders.

The reality for rural New Zealand has been far from the vision espoused by the government of the time.

Hands up anyone who thinks they have a cheaper electricity bill or that we have a more reliable power supply. That concept could fit nicely on a Tui billboard.

If the Government moves to regulate Telecom in the manner at present being discussed, why should farmers expect the outcome to be any different to that experienced with their electricity supply?

One of the main regulation options being discussed is local loop unbundling. In simple terms, this is where Telecom's competitors can get access to Telecom's copper network and run their own broadband services over it.

If Telecom's network is unbundled, can farmers and their families really continue to expect Telecom and other companies to invest in getting broadband services to rural New Zealand?

It makes sense that increased competition would see companies try to cherry-pick the highest-value customers, customers who by and large live in the cities.

We hear from Telecom's competitors about how unbundling will price broadband more competitively, but we are yet to hear how much it will commit to invest in rural broadband coverage.

The reality is that real growth in rural uptake of broadband will occur only when rural people are paying the same lower prices that urban people pay.
As well, the telcos must recognise that it is important for salespeople in towns and cities to access farmers, just as much as farmers need to access them.

Good broadband access for farmers is good business for farmers and the businesses they do business with in cities. Banks, insurance companies, accountants, airlines - you name it - most businesses want to transact business online.

If you're the BNZ, AMP or Air New Zealand, you should want your rural customers online.

Federated Farmers is convinced there were significant failures in policy when assets were sold to Telecom. Too little regard was given to the needs of rural New Zealand and for the on-going investment in infrastructure nationwide.

If another review is on the agenda, it must take proper and comprehensive account of the need to deliver quality and affordable telecommunications for the 80,000 farmers and growers New Zealand depends on.

So let's get a bit of measure back in to this debate.

Let's look at the needs of all New Zealanders, and not just the city-dwellers. It's in this country's best interests that affordable, reliable telecommunications are accessible to everyone.

We have a unique opportunity to get this right for New Zealand. Let's make the best of it.

* Hugh Ritchie is a Hawkes Bay farmer and Federated Farmers spokesman on telecommunications.

Gwynne Dyer: Illegal migrants here to stay

Two things about American immigration are different. One is that the United States is the only large First World country that has a long land border with a Third World country. The other is that, among developed countries, only the US has a politically powerful domestic lobby that actively wants a large, steady flow of unskilled immigrants, preferably illegal ones.

Taken together, these two oddities explain why immigration in America is such an explosive topic and why Congress is unable to pass a law regulating the flow.

The collapse of bipartisan negotiations in the Senate on a new immigration bill probably marks an end for this year of the attempt to impose some order on what many Americans see as out-of-control illegal immigration.

What split both parties and ultimately doomed the law were President Bush's proposals for an amnesty for 9 million of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the US, and a new programme to admit an extra 400,000 temporary "guest workers" every year.

The House of Representatives passed a much tougher law involving serious penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants and the construction of a 1100km fence along much of the Mexican border, but with Congress in recess, that is probably dead, too.

There is probably neither the time nor the political will for the Senate to have another go at the issue before the elections that are due in November.

This is all about Mexicans. Contrary to local belief, the US does not have a particularly high proportion of recent immigrants compared to other industrialised countries.

No more than one person in eight is foreign-born in the US, considerably less than in neighbouring Canada, where the ratio is one in five, and not much more than in large European countries such as Germany, France or Britain. But nowhere else has so many illegal immigrants, nor so many who are unskilled workers, nor such a high share from a single country.

Mexican nationals make up the great majority of the "undocumented workers" - illegal immigrants - in the US economy. The language issue is largely a red herring: most newly arrived Hispanic families were fluent in English by the second generation, as did previous waves of immigrants.

But the argument that illegal immigrants take away jobs from many equally unskilled native-born Americans and drive wages down for the rest has never been convincingly refuted, even though it remains politically incorrect.

It's not that native-born American high-school drop-outs "won't do those jobs" they just won't do them for $5 or $8 an hour - or at least, a lot won't.

But many poor Americans simply have no choice and end up working long hours in miserable jobs for half the money that an unskilled French or German worker would earn for the same work.

Illegal immigrants are not a majority of the workers in most of the fields where they find jobs; unskilled Americans are. The only job in which there are almost no native-born Americans is seasonal agricultural stoop labour. Professors George Borjas and Lawrence Katz, of the National Bureau of Economic Research, calculated that the real wages of US high-school dropouts would have been 8 per cent higher in 1980-2000 if unskilled (and mostly illegal) Mexican workers had been kept out..

One of the most ridiculous myths is the argument that the US-Mexican frontier is too long to police effectively and humanely. This is a country that maintains an army of 140,000 soldiers in a hostile country halfway around the planet claiming it cannot build and maintain a decent fence along the Mexican border.

Instead, we have been treated to a 30-year political charade in which little bits of fence are built in the traditional urban crossing places, thus forcing illegal Mexican immigrants into the desert where many die - but enough still get through to keep America's low-wage industries fully staffed.

America's immigration problem has remained unsolved for decades because powerful economic interests in the US, with great influence over Congress, do not want it solved.

All the other business that has been so earnestly debated in the Senate - quotas for guest-workers, amnesty for long-resident illegal immigrants, and so on - is just the political cover that is needed to keep illegal immigrant labour plentiful and unskilled wages low.

* Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

David Garrett: Sex law does more harm than good

Despite being a member of the legal profession, I frequently find myself agreeing with the aphorism, "The law is an ass". That is not the fault of lawyers - most of our law is made by politicians, not judges.

Another favourite maxim of mine is, "If it ain't broke don't fix it". There is no better illustration of the wisdom of both those sayings than the Prostitution Law Reform Act.

The principal mover behind the bill that became the act was MP Tim Barnett, who said on a number of occasions that the philosophy behind his bill was "harm reduction".

There now seems to be a remarkable consensus - with the exception of the Prostitutes Collective, some politicians, and certain woolly headed academics - that the result has been exactly the opposite of Mr Barnett's stated aim.

Under the old Massage Parlours Act, the law maintained a useful fiction. Those who worked in brothels ("massage parlours") were "masseuses" and not prostitutes, and officially you went along to such an establishment for a massage from a scantily-clad young woman, and a chat. Yeah, right.

Everyone knew that massage parlours were not where you went to get treatment for a sore back, and the world's oldest profession got on with it behind closed doors.

Significantly, soliciting on the street was illegal, although the police rarely prosecuted that offence. Street prostitution continued - as it always has and always will to some extent - but the police retained the power to arrest street prostitutes if they had to.

Clients knew where to go if they fancied something a bit more picaresque than a parlour, and provided everyone stayed within limits defined by custom and changing social mores, all but the moral fanatics were happy.

Contrast that situation with what we have now.

There has been an explosion of teenage and pre-teenage street prostitutes in Auckland and Christchurch. Although the police could theoretically check the ages of street hookers, they would need vast resources to do so, and with false ID being so easy to obtain, there would probably be little point.

Not long after the act was passed, a street hooker in South Auckland was shot, presumably in a dispute over territory. There have been at least two murders of street prostitutes in Christchurch.

South Auckland business owners report coming to work to find "business" still going on near their premises, and the detritus of the previous night's activity in their doorways and backyards. Significantly, they all say that this did not happen before the new act.

Harm reduction? I don't think so.

It is relatively easy to make law in this country, but very difficult - and very rare - to unmake it. Part of the reason is that such a step involves politicians admitting they made a mistake - an even rarer phenomenon than ministers resigning in the face of some horrendous blunder in their department.

Repeal of bad law usually takes at least one full term so the repealers can blame the mistake on "the last lot."

This law is a disaster, and almost everyone can see that. The Prostitutes Collective - surely a union with very few paid-up members - remains stubbornly behind the "reform". Perhaps the reason is that their spokeswomen are - to put it delicately - perhaps no longer so active as they once were and may have little understanding of the reality at Hunters Corner at 3am. Those familiar with the streets - such as Mama Tere, of South Auckland - openly contradict the Prostitutes Collective's view.

It is unrealistic to return to the fiction of the Massage Parlours Act, but Mr Barnett and his cohorts need to find a face-saving way of undoing what they have wrought - and quickly.

* David Garrett is an Auckland barrister