Monday, May 01, 2006

Sideswipe

This outstanding document was issued by the Government's Energy Safe Service.

By Ana Samways

Now this is where things get silly: A page from the NZ Electrical Code of Practice for Homeowner/Occupiers Electrical Wiring Work in Domestic Installations (above), spotted by a canny reader, who says, "I really didn't think electricity made any sort of cultural distinction, but apparently even the laws of physics are governed by the Treaty now ... "

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A reader writes: "Our daughter Kya, who is approaching 5 years old, was being shown around her prospective school in preparation for enrolment. She was unable to meet with the principal, which seemed to affect her more than anticipated until she mentioned wishing she had met the "Prince of the pool".

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Mark Bradman responds to CNN.com's list of worst songs ever. "Dated as these songs may now seem, and speaking as a person who is old enough to remember their release, you really had to have been there at the time. I wonder what people will be saying about the songs that are currently top of our charts (Beep by The Pussycat Dolls and T-Pain's I'm In Luv Wit A Stripper ) in 30 years' time?"

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Petrus van der Schaaf from Auckland says tuna browser James Marris is overlooking the fact that Swedish rounding applies to the grand total and not to individual items. He therefore "has missed a golden opportunity to save significantly more than 1 per cent on his tuna purchases. If he buys three cans, he will be charged $2.97 which rounds down to $2.95 - a saving of 1.66 per cent and a 66 per cent improvement on what he gets when he buys one. Go James!"

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Nurses have put posters of Brad Pitt and George Clooney on the ceiling of a hospital examination room to help women relax during gynaecological check-ups. Staff at Britain's Leigh Infirmary hope the heart-throbs will help patients' minds wander while procedures are carried out. They can also daydream about David Beckham and actor Jesse Metcalfe, the gardener in Desperate Housewives. (Source: Salon.com)

Editorial: Consensus needed over Iran

The International Atomic Agency's latest report on Iran goes some way towards confirming what most people have long suspected: Tehran is intent on building its own nuclear weapons. The report shows how the Iranians defied a United Nations Security Council deadline to halt the enrichment of uranium, a necessary step in the process of producing fuel for either power stations or nuclear weapons.

In itself this does not prove the case but legitimate suspicion is hardened by their less-than-frank dealings with the agency's inspectors, who were not allowed to find out enough about Iran's enrichment process to conclude that it was for peaceful purposes only. "Because of this and other gaps in the agency's knowledge, including the role of the military in Iran's nuclear programme, the agency is unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," wrote the director-general, Mohammed El Baradei.

For three years Mr El Baradei and his team have been trying to get to the bottom of Iran's plans and the fact that they are being frustrated so effectively points to only one conclusion.

If this all seems depressingly familiar, then so is the reaction of the international community. Most agree that Iran should not be allowed the join the nuclear weapons club. However, there are deep divisions on how to prevent Tehran from achieving its dangerous objectives. The United States and Britain, as usual, want a firm policy; a resolution under the section of the UN charter that allows for sanctions and even the use of force.

But arrayed against them are two other Security Council members - China and Russia, who insist on diplomacy short of sanctions. Both of these countries have important economic links to Iran - the former buys oil from there and the latter is helping the Iranians to build a nuclear power plant. The importance of their role cannot be underestimated because, as permanent members of the council, both have the power to veto its resolutions.

The Iranians, of course, exploit the disagreements for all they are worth. Their leaders spout contradictory statements - on one hand insisting their intentions are purely peaceful, on the other loudly rattling their sabres - which play well at home, in the wider Muslim world and even in parts of the West.

However, if one thing is certain in this sorry mess it is that the United States must resist the urge to act unilaterally. There should be no pre-emptive strike - as was recently suggested - and there must be no attempt to bypass the United Nations. Rather than relying on its military muscle, the United States should bring its considerable economic and political influence to bear on both China and Russia so that a consensus can be forged and the world can speak with one voice to send a clear message to Tehran.

There are signs that the regime there would bend to such pressure. At the weekend, for instance, Iran appeared to be anxious to avoid having its case debated in the Security Council, despite the divisions between the members. In response to Mr El Barradei's report the Tehran regime offered to allow the resumption of snap inspections of its nuclear facilities. This, of course, was too little too late. Nothing less than the cessation of uranium enrichment should satisfy the international community.

Achieving that will be a difficult task made so much harder because the United States and Britain squandered so much political capital and goodwill by their conduct in Iraq.

Helen Bain: Terns take priority over new houses

Fairy terns may be the most critically endangered birds in New Zealand, and perhaps even the world's rarest terns, new DNA evidence suggests.

But developers are proposing to build up to 2000 homes near Mangawhai Heads on the Northland coast at what the Department of Conservation describes as "the single most important breeding site in the world" for these birds.

Now new genetic research confirming the birds are unique to New Zealand means the threat posed to their survival is even more critical.

Research at Auckland University on DNA from New Zealand fairy terns has identified a unique genetic trait which shows they are a distinct population with characteristics different from Australian and New Caledonian populations.

The New Zealand fairy tern (Sterna nereis davisae) is already considered to be a separate subspecies of the Australian fairy tern (Sterna nereis) because of physical and behavioural differences, including a distinctive area of enlarged black feathering in front of the eye.

The Auckland University report recommends that New Zealand fairy terns should at least be considered a distinct population and that further research should be conducted to determine their species status.

The DNA research confirms the fairy terns are our most critically endangered birds, with only 35 adult birds left - less than half the number of kakapo, of which there are 86.

The IUCN (World Conservation Union) has produced a "Red List" of bird species threatened with extinction. It ranks the Chinese crested tern, with a population of 50, as critically endangered and the most endangered tern in the world.

If future research reveals that the New Zealand fairy tern is a separate species, it would overtake the Chinese crested tern for the dubious honour of being the most threatened species of tern in the world.

Either way, having thousands of new residents in the vicinity visiting the beach at Mangawhai would directly impact on the birds through disturbance or direct damage to their well-camouflaged eggs and nests.

Even brief disturbance of nesting parents leaves the eggs or chicks vulnerable to predation or over-heating by the sun.

The DoC report into the risks posed by the proposed development states that even the loss of one more tern as a result of human interference would be too much.

Given that New Zealand fairy terns breed only at four locations - Mangawhai Wildlife Refuge, Waipu Wildlife Refuge, Papakanui and Pakiri Beach - the proposed subdivision on the doorstep of their breeding grounds would pose a serious threat to their fragile existence.

And with only 10 breeding pairs left, the total population remains perilously close to extinction, even after a relatively successful breeding season during the summer, in which seven chicks were raised.

The last time such a healthy number of chicks were raised successfully was in 2002 when eight chicks survived to fledging. In 2004, only three chicks survived, and in 1984 numbers fell to just three pairs.

The terns nest between October and February and usually lay one or two eggs, which both parents take turns to incubate for between 22 and 24 days. The parents vigorously defend nests and chicks against human and bird intruders by dive-bombing and defecating on them - but even this interesting defence mechanism gives no protection against introduced predators.

Predator control is one factor behind this season's breeding success. Eight cats, seven weasels and five stoats have been trapped at Mangawhai Spit since October, and since the last feral cat was caught in December, no cat prints were seen for the rest of the season.

In 2004-2005, several chicks and a breeding adult fairy tern were eaten by a large ginger cat that evaded capture for the breeding season. As a result no chicks survived from the Mangawhai Wildlife Refuge that year.

The developers promise to ban cats and restrict dogs from the proposed subdivision, but these pledges are not enough to safeguard the terns from predation by these animals.

With up to 2000 houses planned, a ban on cat ownership and a requirement that dogs be kept on leashes, while well-intentioned, would be impossible to police.

Inevitably the regulations would be breached, either by the thousands of new residents or the increased number of visitors.

Human populations also attract feral cats, which are drawn to food sources and the presence of rats which are encouraged by human settlement.

Given the critically low number of fairy terns, just one extra cat or dog in the area would be enough to tip the balance and condemn these unique New Zealand birds to extinction.

* Helen Bain is Forest & Bird's Media Officer.

Brian Rudman: Don't change zoning so foreign sugar barons can grow rich

If there is one lesson to emerge from the Long Bay debacle it's the importance of forward thinking - by the general public as well as by public authorities.

If only we'd all clamoured for the purchase of the land behind Long Bay for a great new regional park 20 or 30 years ago, before population creep priced the land out of public reach.

It's fortuitous timing, then, that the latest skirmish in the Long Bay battle coincides with the closing, this Friday, of the public-submission phase of the plan-change proposal for the Chelsea Estate in Birkenhead.

The owner, New Zealand Sugar Company, seeks the change to ensure that if sugar refining ends on the site, "an appropriate form of development is potentially viable ..."

By that it means having the zoning to add up to 528 residential units, up to four storeys high, to the protected industrial buildings already occupying a 15ha prime waterfront portion of the estate.

In a statement in March when announcing the plan change application, sugar company general manager Bernard Duignan said it "recognises the significance of the site to the Auckland public and wants to ensure that the amenity and ecological attributes of the land and the heritage value of the buildings will be preserved for lifetimes to come".

Rather contradictorily, he added that "if refinery operations were to be relocated at a future date, Chelsea Estate's owners wish to secure the value of the site ..."

And there, in a nutshell, is the issue. Chelsea Sugar wants to ensure, after more than 100 years in this prime location, that if its Australian masters suddenly decide it's cheaper to produce sugar in Fiji or Queensland, they can maximise their returns on departing this commercially zoned property. Against that is the public-interest wish to incorporate this wonderful 52ha headland into a magnificent inner-Auckland regional park joining together four contiguous areas of coastal forest: Chelsea Estate, Kauri Pt Centennial Park, Kauri Pt Domain and the large Defence Force munitions dump.

Just before Christmas, Chelsea announced plans to sell the 36.7ha of parkland and lakes that surround the refinery to the Chelsea Park Trust for $20 million. The trust, headed by retired High Court judge Sir David Tompkins, now has to raise the funds.

The plan change now being sought involves the factory and adjacent land, including the "horse paddock", which occupies the most valuable coastal land jutting into the harbour across from Herne Bay.

The main factory building, built in 1884, and adjacent manager's house and workers cottages are listed by the Historic Places Trust and are presumably safe whatever happens.

The landscaped gardens, with their mature exotic trees, and lakes are part of the land under sale agreement to the trust and also seem future-proofed, as long as Sir David and his colleagues manage to raise the asking price.

But what every Aucklander should be concerned about is the 15ha that the owners want to upgrade into intensive residential land use.

If the North Shore City Council agrees to this plan change, it will potentially be pricing itself and future generations of Aucklanders out of ever realising the Uruamo headland regional park dream.

The land's existing business 9 zoning is for historic reasons. Now the owners want to tag it for future high-density residential use as well - obviously because that will be the most lucrative future usage. But if it's to be rezoned residential then a more appropriate guideline is - as the Chelsea Regional Park Association suggests - the residential 2A bush areas zoning, which is the classification of the neighbouring parkland on offer to the Chelsea Park Trust. This allows one dwelling per 820sq m and protects the bushland.

Such a zoning would be appropriate for the area. It would also keep the land price at a level the public purse could afford if it came on the market.

The good thing about this exercise is that ratepayers don't have to rush to their piggybanks just yet. But the outcome of the application will determine the price future generations will face when the land does come on the market - either through compulsory acquisition or voluntary sale. The Long Bay battle highlights the pitfalls of not thinking ahead.

Public submissions close with the North Shore City Council on Friday. Details and forms for submissions are at northshorecity.govt.nz.

James Russell: Quarterlife crisis? Come on

Is this some sort of joke? Can they really be serious? Apparently, the latest term to describe the agonising dilemma facing the 20-something throngs of layabouts incurring gi-normous debts and living with their parents is - wait for it - the 'quarterlife crisis'.

In a nutshell, the quarterlife crisis goes roughly along these lines: Teen leaves school, goes to university in order to defer making a decision regarding a direction for the rest of their life, graduates, goes back to study some more (see earlier reason), graduates again with a debilitating student loan, and goes out into the world. Suddenly, they are gripped with a inability to make decisions, decide on a career path or a clue how to even begin paying back their debts. They are firmly in the throes of the quarterlife crisis.

Author Douglas Coupland in his novel Generation X: Tales for an accelerated Culture defined 'mid twenties breakdown' as 'A period of mental collapse occuring in one's twenties, often caused by an inability to function outside of school or structured environments, coupled with a realisation of ones's essential aloneness in the world. Often marks induction into the ritual of pharmaceutical usage'.

TV3s John Campbell dubbed them 'the lost generation'; in Britain they have been called 'adultescents' and Dr Phil told them to 'grow up'.

According to the infamous Wikipedia, the term 'quarterlife crisis' was coined in 1965 by Canadian psychologist Elliot Jaques. However, Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner, authors of Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your 20s, beg to differ. They claim they were the first to devise the phrase when examining the futility of their own 25-year-old lives. The success of the book has gone on to generate another book from Wilner - The Quarterlifer's Companion - and a website - www.quarterlifecrisis.com - where all the troubling aspects of life over 20 are mused over by tormented young bloggers.

David Trought, director, Auckland University Careers Centre, says that a crisis of sorts (which come under a number of different banners) is a very common occurance for graduating students. "There there is a good 18 months to two years before people really get themselves in a proper career after they graduate. They don't know what to do when they leave and they flounder around and try some jobs and because they have a lack of awareness of what they could do or what the skills are they just end up jumping into something because they need money."

Could the troubled students be setting themselves up for a fall even earlier by rushing into the first university course they can think of? "There are some that are on the conveyor belt who've gone through school, like a subject and go on to study it at university. That's not necessarily a bad thing. If you're going to spend three or four years studying something you've got to do something you've got a passion for. At the end of the day there a lots of jobs where just getting a degree is important - not necessarily what the degree is."

Financial pressure is arguably the largest source of stress for young people. Student debt now tops $7b, with 60 per cent of the borrowers under the age of 25. On average, each of these students borrows $6120 a year. In addition, the number of students eligible for student loans has dropped from 70,000 in 2001 to 56,806 in 2005, this despite the fact that more people are in tertiary education than ever before.

Says Trought: "The financial pressures are extremely significant and increasing. When I was a student I had it easy compared to what people are faced with now. The fact people are doing part-time jobs to survive is another pressure because they are doing so many hours it could be affecting their study.

Advice for those that can't see past the quarterlife? "I think if you're really unsure you should get help as soon as possible because what often happens is people think 'I don't know what I want to do so I can't go and see a careers consultant'. That's actually part of the issue to try and support them with that. That can easily be dealt with through a careers guidance interview, or we can use computer-aided guidance to generate ideas based on interests and aspirations, psychometric testing and various other tools. At least it will get them to the starting point where they have some ideas."

Trought says that the Careers Centre is being used more now than ever, prompting the University to increase staff numbers from 4 to 14 over the past two years. Graduating students are also supported up to three years after they have left university. "The careers service has traditionally been seen as a Cinderella service. I don't think you could say that anymore."

So it really is true then - our 20-year-olds are under pressure. They aren't just having a whinge. Dr Phil can grow up himself.

Gwynne Dyer: Killing fields looming unless change occurs

The prophecy was almost right. It said that the Shah dynasty in Nepal would last for 12 generations, so King Gyanendra is pushing the edge of the envelope. His brother Birendra, whose murder in 2001 brought Gyanendra to the throne, was already the 12th generation. Even if Gyanendra was technically of the same generation, it already felt a bit like cheating.

It feels a lot more like cheating now. Three weeks of non-violent mass protests and 14 demonstrators' deaths have forced King Gyanendra to surrender the absolute powers he seized last year, and parliament has already been recalled.

Only fear of imminent overthrow forced him to make these concessions, but he is still trying to split the opposition - and he may succeed.

What forced Gyanendra to retreat was an alliance forged last November between the seven mainstream political parties and the Maoist rebels, who were the king's main excuse for seizing power and dismissing parliament in the first place.

But that alliance was a marriage of convenience and as soon as Gyanendra offered to reinstate parliament, the politicians fell over one another in their eagerness to say yes.

But the deal may play differently among the protesters, most of them under 30, who have no patience for the monarchy and no loyalty to the established parties.

It is certainly playing very differently with the Maoists, who promptly denounced the politicians as traitors to the anti-monarchical alliance the two sides had made.

"The minimum demand is a free election to a constituent assembly," said senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai last week. The Maoists said in a statement that the group would refrain from "offensive military action" for a three-month period, but would remain in an "active defensive position". Their 10-year guerrilla war has already killed 13,000 people and given them effective control of at least half the country's territory.

Taming the Maoists and bringing them inside the political system is the highest priority in Nepal, where the peasants are so downtrodden and desperate that a radically anti-urban, anti-foreign, anti-intellectual revolution like the one that devastated Cambodia 30 years ago is a real possibility.

There are alarming similarities of ideology and operational style between the Khmer Rouge of the early 1970s and the Nepalese Maoists today. Nepal needs change, but it does not need the killing fields.

Nobody knows how close the Maoists are to a military victory in Nepal, especially since India might well send in troops to prevent such a monster from emerging on its northern borders, but they have been making rapid progress.

They might ultimately win power in a democracy, too, for they have real support among the semi-educated rural young, but they would then be constrained by constitutional rules and democratic norms. (Surprisingly, the prize of democratic legitimacy often makes people behave better.)

If they won power through military victory, they could put even their most extreme political fantasies into practice.

The great virtue of Gyanendra's royal coup last year was that it enabled all of Nepal's other main political actors to unite behind the single cause of rolling back his take-over. The legal political parties never formally committed themselves to the overthrow of the monarchy, but that was implicit in their promise to create an interim assembly whose main job would be to draft a new constitution for Nepal.

The changes being considered were so radical they seemed likely to tempt the Maoists into giving up their revolt and entering normal democratic politics.

With parliament restored but no new republican constitution, the old-line politicos can resume their habitual games, whose principal function is to give each urban political party and faction a turn at looting the public purse. If their deal with a chastened king survives, the Maoists could go back to war and Nepal's future is grim.

The choice lies in the hands of the tens of thousands of young people who have been demonstrating in the streets of Kathmandu for the past three weeks. They wanted real change, a goal that they saw as linked to an end to the monarchy and a new constitution, although beyond that their ideas were not very clear.

If they press on, Nepal could end up with a more inclusive democratic system that brings the Maoists in from the cold. If they settle now for a return to the system that has failed Nepal for the past 15 years, the changes they may eventually face instead, after a Maoist military victory, would not be at all to their taste.

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

Allan Barber: PPCS still faces hard climb over debt mountain

The recent releases of half-yearly results by Affco and PPCS confirm what they had flagged. The first half is never as good as the second six months, especially for PPCS, whose financial year starts and ends one month later than the rest of the meat industry.

But the impact this season has been compounded by a series of factors that have conspired to make it a difficult period for processors, at the same time ensuring their suppliers felt totally unhappy at what they saw as deliberate misinformation from meat exporters and failure to take farmers' business concerns into account.

The exchange rate came down too late to have any beneficial impact on lamb prices, which had already hit a brick wall because of serious oversupply of heavy lambs. In addition, poor returns for wool, pelts and offals contributed to a taxing spring for farmers and meat companies.

Early in the season leading up to Christmas, after the heavy old season's lambs had been slaughtered, grass growth wasn't sufficient for decent volumes of lambs or cattle to fill the works. Then, after Christmas, the South Island's dry continued, while the North's weather was punctuated with infrequent, but sufficiently regular, downpours to allow farmers to hold stock on farm.

Meat companies starved, as shown by PPCS' half-year trading loss of $26.7 million and Affco's sharply reduced trading profit of $3.8 million. PPCS has suggested its balance date exaggerated its loss by $40 million; in other words, removing September's loss and adding its March profit would have produced a trading profit before tax and asset sales of $13 million.

How much a change of year end would have affected last year's profit is open to conjecture, but it would have produced a result barely above break-even after asset sales, but before pool payments to suppliers.

The March result bodes well for a good second half for PPCS, which is suggesting a positive trading profit for the full year. The combined impact of South Island lamb and venison and North Island cattle and lamb earnings is likely to produce for the first time some of the benefits expected from the Richmond acquisition.

Affco has performed well over the past two years, demonstrating the benefits of stable shareholding, capital expenditure and cost control. Shareholders now receive regular dividends and the share price is underpinned by Talleys' offer for a majority shareholding.

The big differences between Affco and PPCS are the ownership, size and geographic spread of each, and their respective levels of debt. PPCS is a national farmer co-op with 24 plants and a $2 billion turnover; Affco is a listed company with half the turnover and all but one of its plants in the North Island. However, each company has similar levels of equity but with total liabilities of $152.8 million and $694.5 million respectively.

Affco seems to have achieved a stability unknown during its 100 years and, while profits will expand and contract with seasonal variations, it only has to focus on plant efficiencies and cost structures to maintain a profitable performance. Union negotiations pose a threat.

PPCS, on the other hand, still has a mountain to climb to reduce debt and build its farmer shareholders' equity, so it can afford to maintain plant efficiencies and pay a competitive price for its livestock supply. It is projecting shareholders' funds in excess of $260 million, an improvement of $35 million, by year end, which will be a significant improvement on the present position, but will still entail debt of at least twice equity.

* Allan Barber is a freelance writer, business consultant and former chief operating officer at Affco.