Sunday, April 30, 2006

Peter Griffin: Choice is solution to piracy

It was a publicity stunt designed to highlight the battle against music and movie piracy. Thousands of counterfeit CDs and DVDs seized by customs were crushed last week in an Auckland ceremony organised by the New Zealand music and movie industries which have joined forces to fight piracy together.

Most people innately know it's wrong to burn CDs and DVDs for mates or download albums and movies from internet file sharing services without paying a cent. That's not the point.

People are sick and tired of paying high-street prices for full-length albums that only have a handful of decent songs on them. They're annoyed that music lovers overseas get a range of options to buy music and we continue to get taken for a ride.

The only way to cut down piracy is to give people no excuse to break copyright law. Give them decent value.

First, the music industry and Apple need to sort out their differences and get the New Zealand iTunes music download store up and running. A growing body of evidence overseas, iTunes' billion song downloads included, shows that legal download websites are making an impact on piracy.

The iTunes service is so far overdue here, I'm starting to wonder if Apple's policy of having a download service in every country it sells its iPod music player is genuine. Until iTunes is a fixture of the local music industry, I'll have little sympathy for the record labels. One thing's for sure, the lack of a download service to work with the iPod, the most popular music player on the market, isn't doing anything to dissuade people from taking the easy option of downloading songs for free.

The movie industry needs to shrink the time between when movies are released in the US and when they screen in cinemas here. Some releases are out on DVD and in many cases available for download free on the internet, before they make it into NZ theatres. DVDs also need to hit the shelves sooner following theatrical release.

The movie and TV industries should support online services such as Google Video, which offers US TV shows for viewing, streamed over the internet, for US$1.99 an episode. They should be lobbying Telecom and TelstraClear to set up video-on-demand services so that people can pay for content when they want it.

There seems to be little strategy to deal with the illegal-download threat.

But you can understand why the entertainment industry's first priority is disc-burning counterfeiters.

A dream run at the box office for Sione's Wedding was tainted when some scoundrel nicked a copy of the film and distributed it around South Auckland on DVD. Producer John Barnett estimated the movie's takings would take a $500,000 hit as a result.

But counterfeit discs are the tip of the iceberg compared to the Great Illicit Download that's going on 24 hours a day in this country.

The scale of it is only really known by the internet providers who can track the level of file sharing going on. It's for years been a sizeable percentage of internet traffic.

Increasingly, people are going online to get what they want for free. The DVD and CD peddlers are occasionally nabbed in high-profile cases, but the download-fest on the internet carries on unabated.

It's virtually unstoppable, the Bittorrent peer-to-peer file sharing system so pervasive and decentralised it's impossible to shut it down. As more people get high-speed internet connections it's becoming less of an effort to download albums and even full-length movies. Educating people about the ills of flouting copyright law isn't going to turn the tide. What we want is choice, better value and the chance to use the technology legitimately.

Paul Buchanan: What makes special forces soldiers so special?

Special forces travel light, far, often out of uniform, and operate in small units using deception, stealth, speed and surprise to their tactical advantage. They can stay in the field for weeks and, being self-sufficient, can deliver surgical blows to an unsuspecting enemy at a time and place of their choosing - then escape to fight another day.

These forces are considered the best weapons in counter-insurgency campaigns.

To accomplish such missions takes a special type of soldier. They are drawn from the most intelligent and physically fit military men, undergo months of gruelling physical training and psychological stress tests. They face regular, rigorous tactical tests in the classroom and the field, and are constantly refreshed, reviewed and updated on their combat skills.

They are required to demonstrate expertise in several combat and non-combat disciplines, such as medics and foreign language intelligence gathering. They must also be complete team players.

Should they make the grade and gain entrance into Special Forces units, these troops are rotated frequently into a varied array of combat zones and spend more time in them in order to harden their mental resolve and hone combat skills.

These are soldiers whose headlights are always set on high beam. Due to their special skills, Special Forces troops like the New Zealand Special Air Services or US Green Berets and Navy SEALs take three times as long and cost 10 times as much to train and equip than the average soldier. In return, in most countries they tend to be better paid and receive bonuses and hazardous duty pay.

Because of their long-term and frequent deployments, there are often special benefits for their immediate families.

Their unique qualifications make special ops troops prized assets in the growing field of private security contracting. Demand for them is great precisely because they are not mercenaries but supreme professionals, dealing death while protecting lives.

The going rate for ex-special forces serving as private security contractors in Iraq is between US$800-1000 ($1200-1500) per day, plus expenses and large bonuses.

Faced by private sector competition, the US military is offering its special forces troops re-enlistment bonuses of up to US$150,000 ($235,000) to keep them in uniform.

All of this should factor into the Government's approach to the 200-300 SAS troops in New Zealand. They are among the world's best and shoulder a disproportionate amount of the combat burden of the country's foreign military commitments.

It is imperative that the Government ensure their retention and recruitment. Deployment of these troops sends powerful political messages to friend and foe alike. And that alone is worth the price.

Matt McCarten: Paying homage to our working heroes

New Zealand workers have never been big participants in May Day celebrations of international worker solidarity like other countries.

May 1 is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere but always seems to be wet and cold here. So it was probably a smart move to change our workers' day to October 25, when we're more likely to get a bit of sun.

But there's always a couple of hundred old stalwarts with a few hangers-on who turn out every May Day in the rain to wander up Queen St, make a few speeches acknowledging past workers' struggles and then nip down to the Maritime Club for a few beers.

The first time I saw a real May Day rally was in New York. The day started with an official breakfast attended by hundreds of union bosses and politicians and then we stood on Fifth Ave to watch the parade pass us by.

The most controversial dispute of the day was whether the police union or firefighters union would lead the procession. The cops won the right and more than 1000 led the way with their precinct banners.

The only time we see members of the police union on a march here is to keep on eye on us.

The New York mayoral campaign was on at the time and Rudy Giuliani somehow muscled his way in and got pride of place, despite being a Republican. My host noted my raised eyebrow and said New York was a union town and every politician knew they couldn't get elected without the worker's vote. After fours hours, the procession was still going, with every occupation imaginable represented.

Our union, Unite, has sent three of our leading organisers to wealthier parts of the world to raise money from other trade unions for our upcoming campaign to win a union employment agreement for McDonald's workers. One will go to Venezuela on the way to the United States as a guest of the organisers of a march in their capital city. They're expecting more than a million workers to march in their parade.

But New Zealand workers' leaders needn't hang their heads in shame this year. Sue Bradford's bill to end youth rates has mobilised youth and more than 1000 are marching with the unions after school tomorrow. In some ways, it's symbolic that the students are marching down from Aotea Square to meet up with the official trade union rally and then back up the street with them. It's a symbolic act of the torch being passed from one generation to the other.

The current generation of workers, particularly in the private sector, are slowly realising that they have to get their act together and organise themselves if they hope to get meaningful change in their circumstances. Apart from Unite's campaign for fast food workers, the Service and Food Workers' Union has three significant campaigns under way: Aged Care, Healthy Hospitals, for auxiliary staff in hospitals, and its international campaign, Clean Start, for office cleaners.

The National Distribution Union led by Laila Harre is soon to launch a supermarkets campaign. And our biggest union, the Engineers, Printers and Manufacturing Union, is embarking once again on its 5 per cent wage increase campaign. It's also heading up the campaign against Wayne Mapp's bill that would give bosses the right to sack new workers in their first three months on the job.

All this means that there is a deliberate and conscious decision by the trade union movement to promote a series of concerted mass campaigns to help the most vulnerable workers.

We haven't seen this sort of confidence in years. Workers are joining unions in bigger numbers than we've seen in a long time.

The emerging confidence and stroppiness of young people is adding momentum to these new mobilisations. It won't happen overnight but it's finally dawning on workers that unless they get off their butts, then they will stay at the bottom of the food chain.

Tomorrow's May Day march is a modest new start. But give it another year and workers will fill Queen St and pay proper homage to our working class ancestors.

* Matt McCarten is the national president of Unite.

Deborah Coddington: 'Gummint' can't fix everything

Quality of life, according to a poll conducted by the Business Council for Sustainable Development, will determine which political party gets to be the Government after the next election.

Chief executive Peter Neilson said the survey results indicated "a stunningly loud message from 86 per cent of New Zealanders that they understand sustainable development to be important because they want to look after the things that are good about our country and make sure they're there for future generations".

Any survey will tell you what you want to know if you just frame the questions the right way. I doubt 86 per cent of New Zealanders would say they want to trash the country and ensure there's nothing left for future generations - no fresh water or electricity, old people dying in the gutter, scorched-earth environmental policies, and a drug-addled unemployed youth population.

Sustainable development sounds lovely, but what is it, exactly? Sustainable yield? And by whose standards is sustainability measured? An Auckland property developer who crams the maximum number of cheap houses on one piece of land? Or the alternative-lifestyler who builds a mud-brick house with composting loo, solar heating, wood-fired stove and organic gardens?

Most environmentally sensitive Kiwis would opt for somewhere in between, but I'm deeply suspicious of those urban liberals who dutifully recycle their chardonnay bottles and airfreighted New Statesman mags while shoving food scraps down the wastemaster. Whatever happened to composting?

The Business Council defines sustainability as "growing the economy and developing the country in a way which balances growth, protects the environment while also exercising social responsibility".

Weasel words - shallow, meaningless and trite. They look harmless but make perfect fodder for political parties wanting to mould us in their image of what constitutes the New Zealand Quality of Life.

"Social responsibility" - what's that when it's at home? Grabbing millions of dollars from the pay packets of the workers to spend on snails? Tax-paid MPs assuming celebrity status and stitching up exclusive media deals? A party that moans about US trade deals but is too scared to entertain a referendum on the nuclear-free issue?

There's not a huge difference between the two old parties - Labour and National - when it comes to government-speak. "Grow the economy" means "spend more taxpayers' money"; "develop the country" is licence to get involved in business ventures about which they have few clues - broadcasting, airlines, railways, venture finance. And "protect the environment" is an excuse to spend public millions on buying up private land which the taxpayers themselves are then excluded from using. Meanwhile, private property rights are breached with impunity.

Then they neglect to deliver on the basic necessities individuals need if they want a better standard of living. Learning to read, write and add up properly, for example, is now considered quaintly archaic. Some 18 per cent of New Zealand school leavers go into the world illiterate, yet we blithely continue to pretend this isn't happening; if they just go on to tertiary education and get some doozy qualification they'll be okay.

As someone who'd happily read books all day and night, I believe denying children skills to immerse themselves in a good book is nothing short of child abuse.

What did the slaves want most when they were freed after the American Civil War? To learn to read.

But increasingly our education system favours those with enough income or savings to be able to choose their children's school. If you're Mr and Mrs Low-to-Medium Income with five children and you don't fancy their chances at the local school - tough.

What's more, according to one female principal interviewed on TV3 recently about the NCEA and the Cambridge exams, those parents who want their children to sit the latter are snobs.

"It's like wanting a Mercedes car in the garage," she said.

Tell that to the uneducated family of the future who can't even afford a bicycle.

And speaking of transport, isn't the ability to get to work and back - fitting in the supermarket, picking up the kids, seeing the doctor - essential for a decent quality of life? So what's the point of having pristine beaches, clean and green pastures, preserved native forests, when our roads are too clogged for anyone to enjoy accessing the great outdoors?

Parks and recreational areas for city dwellers contribute to quality of life, but with a public transport system so seriously deficient and unreliable, where's the incentive to leave the car at home?

I hope political parties will dismiss this poll result as nothing more than a device to attract more companies to join the 51 members of this lobby group - and they should be congratulated for that.

But encouraging voters to look to gummint for the good life is a futile exercise. No one in their right mind would willingly assign their choice of car, design of house, style of dress, or gardening habits to their local MP.

To preserve the New Zealand Quality of Life, it's to ourselves we should look, not a bunch of representatives in one or another political party.

Kerre Woodham: Cops need to do more than run fast

What do we want in this country? A police service that is representative of the community, comprising individuals with many and varied skills, or a force of buffed, young men and women who can run faster than speeding locomotives and leap tall buildings in a single bound - but who might not have the smarts or the empathy required to be a good officer.

A story out this week that hundreds of would-be police officers are being rejected because of their failure to pass the pre-entry fitness test is not new - there have been complaints about the toughness of the test for years. Men must run the 2.4km track in 10 minutes, 15 seconds; women 11 minutes, 15 seconds - with no allowances made for age.

Police recruiters reckon the high failure rate can be put down to the nation's growing problem with obesity and the fact that for many schools, physical education is not a priority.

Now the recruiters say they're going to have to relax the fitness test - bringing it into line with the test in Australia - and start recruiting younger people to meet the Government's target of 1000 extra police over the next three years.

National's police spokesman, Simon Power, says the fitness test should not be compromised as "only the best will do", but buffest doesn't always mean best. To be a good officer, you need intelligence, common sense, empathy, dedication, courage and good communication skills.

I would far rather be served by a flabby force of men and women with those attributes than a squad of super-fit 18-year-olds swaggering with testosterone and attitude. Besides, when was the last time a serving copper had to run 2.4km in 10 minutes? That's why Holdens were invented. So you don't have to run fast. And I've never seen a posse of Keystone Kops running down the streets in hot pursuit of the bad guy. Making use of modern technology, the police helicopter circles overhead until the vehicular reinforcements arrive.

Successful companies don't have a workforce of employees with exactly the same skills and abilities - they employ individuals who are able to complement one another, ensuring the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By all means have a fitness test. Make it a tough one, and give extra marks to those people who fail initially and then have the willpower to do the work required to pass.

But it would be foolish to automatically write-off individuals who can't run 2.4km in 10 minutes. There's more to policing than that and police are doing themselves and the country a disservice by sticking rigidly to such an arbitrary rule.

Kerre Woodham: Hard to see how postponing inevitable can save us money

Okay, so my degree wasn't in policy and planning. And I don't pretend to know the first thing about money. I don't even have signing rights to my own chequebook.

But could somebody please tell me how the decision by the Electricity Commission to turn down Transpower's controversial power pylon project is going to save us all money.

The commission chairman acknowledges that it's only delaying the inevitable - at some stage in the near future a new transmission line will have to be installed - but he says that "postponing the inevitable has enormous financial benefit to the country". Right. Like postponing upgrading the roading infrastructure has had enormous benefits for the country. Like delaying the construction of a half-way-decent public-transport system has had huge benefits for Auckland city.

Does the commission chairman think it's going to be easier to get people's support in the future? That no matter what option is chosen a few years down the track, it's going to be cheaper to build than it would be now? It's madness.

He also alluded to the fact that there are other alternatives. Presumably the more eco-friendly ones. But I wouldn't get too carried away with those options either. Look at the furore going on in Australia over the Bald Hills wind farm overlooking Victoria's Gippsland coastline.

The $260 million, 52-turbine farm has been vetoed because a greenie study concluded there was a risk that at least one endangered orange-bellied parrot a year would end up a feather duster thanks to a rotating turbine.

So on that basis the wind farm's been nixed. It's not going to be easy deciding which power generation option to go for.

And you can guarantee that although we don't have endangered orange-bellied parrots, we'll have some precious example of flora or fauna clinging precariously to existence that will need to be protected from whatever proposal is planned.

And wherever the project is sited, there will be hundreds of discontented New Zealanders who don't want it in their backyard.

But tough decisions have to be made. They should have been made years ago in relation to public transport and roading, and they need to be made now in relation to power to ensure Auckland and Northland's continuity of supply.

If not the pylons, then another option. We should be taking responsibility for our current and future needs rather than bludging off the work of our grandparents and expecting our children's generation to make the hard calls we were too selfish to make.