Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sideswipe

The Langham Hotel

By Ana Samways

The Langham Hotel (above) is offering packages to entice mothers for a pampering on Mother's Day. Is this the same hotel which was outed at the weekend as the place where Customs takes drug mules who have swallowed the evidence while they wait for them to, er, download the narcotics?

* * *

Yesterday Sideswipe revealed that Ahmed Zaoui needs a diary co-ordinator to handle his busy schedule (Sarah at zaoui_volunteers@xtra.co.nz). Thank you to all those who contributed to this first instalment of Zaoui's Day:

Tuesday, May 2:

6am: Arise early at the Dominican Priory, Newton, and ponder peace in the Middle East.

6.05am: Mint tea. Return to my book, Repressive Tolerance, by philosopher Herbert Marcuse.

7am: Breakfast.

8am: Regular discussion with Father Chris "that America is a neo-colonial, repressive, intolerant regime which is perpetuating most of the evil in the world."

8.11am: Finish agreeing with Father Chris.

9am: Talk to Deborah re legal aid.

10am: Must attend prayers to show inter-faith respect.

11am: Check with Sarah about upcoming diary commitments.

12: Take Algerian cooking class for the Arts Collective at Grey Lynn Community Centre. Must remember to take copies of my Conversations over Couscous: Cooking with Ahmed Zaoui (retail price $20, including postage).

1.30pm: Meet Deborah re legal aid.

2.45pm: Must phone David re speaking at opening of the Human Rights Film Festival.

3pm: Coffee at TVNZ about new ad campaign.

4pm: Meet "Friends of Ahmed". Remember to read latest poem, The Shackles of Internment. (Might keep Stroking the Neck of the Penguin in reserve.) Discuss Marcuse.

5.30pm: Fax Deborah the legal aid sheet.

6pm: Speaking engagement at the University of Auckland political studies department. "Internment, Shackles and Repression: The Islamic Viewpoint".

8.30pm: Lost, TV2.

9.30pm: Bed.

To Do: Buy more couscous; check the Algerian for rugby; email the Inter-denominational Support Group against Internment of Muslims among the Dominicans. Didn't quite understand what they want. Must ask Deborah why my poems about penguins had Father Joseph sniggering. Look up carrot cake recipe. Ask Father Chris to tape Dragon's Den. AND thanks to all the observant techy geeks who pointed out that Thursday afternoon's computer calendar reading of 01:02:03 04/05/06 will not be unique. It will happen again in 100 years. May you live to see it. ON the subject of Dragon's Den, who will be the millionaires who get to savage the budding entrepreneurs when the programme comes to New Zealand? Sideswipe bets it will be Bob Jones, naturally.

* * *

Sideswipe usually tries to steer clear of giving out weird websites (too many, too contrived) but rules are made to be broken. So check this out: http://members.aol.com/hearseq/movies.htm. A couple of guys were playing a drinking game of thinking up movies with hearses in them. They put it on a site and the rest, as they say, is history.

It even has its own Yahoo category - Hearse Enthusiasts. Best entry: A Gnome Named Gnorm: features a chase scene about seven minutes long, in which the cop in the movie commandeers a hearse from a funeral train to pursue a suspect in a Corvette. The hearse appears to be an all black 1971-72 Superior. The hearse unfortunately gets shot up but it makes for a good scene.

John Armstrong: Opposition MPs wear expletive as badge of honour

There is only one thing worse than being called a "bastard" by the former chairman of Television New Zealand. That is not being called a "bastard".

For all the huffing and puffing around Parliament over Craig Boyce’s unfortunate choice of expletives, TVNZ’s stocks are so low that being described as a bastard by the state broadcaster’s top brass is credibility enhancing, rather than politically damaging for an Opposition MP.

Act’s Rodney Hide went as far as declaring he would have been more worried had Mr Boyce thought he was not a bastard given it was his job to ensure accountability from state enterprises like TVNZ.

This tendency to wear the "bastard" label as a badge of honour undermined Don Brash’s attempt to maintain a high "outrage" quotient in Parliament yesterday. He demanded to know why Mr Boyce was still serving on New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s board, given that his "contemptuous" attitude to Parliament made him unfit to do so.

The Prime Minister agreed Mr Boyce’s language had been "inappropriate". But Helen Clark did not buy Dr Brash’s proposition he should be dumped from the board of another state entity.

Since the contents of his embarrassing emails had been exposed, she said Mr Boyce had "clarified" things by insisting he was not contemptuous of Parliament - just Opposition figures like Murray McCully, the MP who got the emails under the Official Information Act.

Mr McCully’s response was the beaming smile of someone, who, having landed a king-hit, could not care less what he was called.

Dr Brash then questioned Helen Clark on the email in which Mr Boyce cautioned TVNZ’s former chief executive Ian Fraser not to discuss undisclosed matters that occurred midway though last year between Mr Fraser and former board member Dame Ann Hercus, saying "that would be a disaster for everyone".

Was it acceptable for directors of state enterprises to suppress politically damaging information? Would the Prime Minister reveal the nature of that information?

Unfortunately, she could not. To National’s disbelief, she insisted Dame Ann, a former Labour Cabinet minister, had not kept her appraised of what went on at the TVNZ board.

That brought Mr Hide to his feet - immediately realising the worst fears of Act supporters that his appearing on Dancing with the Stars gives Act’s opponents every excuse not to take him seriously. Worse, it seems to have given those opponents licence to drag out every dance-related joke possible.

Stand-up comedy is not Helen Clark’s forte. But she had rehearsed a line in readiness for Mr Hide nevertheless.

He suggested no one should be surprised by TVNZ withholding sensitive information given the Labour Government had been doing that ever since it had been elected.

The Prime Minister noted Mr Hide’s dancing lessons. "But dancing on the point of that particular pin will only prick his balloon."

Labour MPs dutifully broke into laughter as if this was the funniest thing they had ever heard.

"That wasn’t even witty," Mr Hide grumbled, before arguing with the Speaker, accusing Margaret Wilson of failing to uphold Parliament’s standing orders by requiring the Prime Minister to address his question properly.

Margaret Wilson could have taken justifiable umbrage at this serious challenge to her authority.

She let it pass - maybe because it was Parliament’s first day back after a three-week recess; maybe out of sympathy for Mr Hide facing his own date with performance-related accountability next Sunday night courtesy of none other than TVNZ.

Editorial: Break this cycle of bad behaviour

Few incidents in this country’s sporting history can have been handled so ineptly as that involving drunken cyclists at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. The initial attempt to cover up what CyclingNZ now describes as a "dirty, grubby" episode was foolish in itself. As was the ongoing determination to prevent the details becoming public. But all that has been trumped by the decision not to punish Marc Ryan and Tim Gudsell, the two cyclists found guilty of breaching disciplinary policy. It is little wonder that the mother of Liz Williams, the female cyclist involved in the incident, has lashed out at the failure of the sport’s administrators to eradicate a "destructive, unsafe" culture of drinking and abuse of women.

Cycling will invite such criticism until that environment is tackled. The treatment of Ryan and Gudsell suggests that time has yet to come. The pair can hardly have been chastened when told to seek counselling and a session with a sports psychologist. Such token punishment will not be the catalyst for a dramatic improvement in their behaviour, or that of others of similar ilk in the national squad. Likewise, CyclingNZ’s statement that it did not want to harm the cyclists’ careers sends precisely the wrong message. It suggests their future wellbeing outranks their participation in a particularly tawdry episode.

We still do not know, of course, exactly what happened in Melbourne. But an Australian newspaper reported at the time that two New Zealand cyclists had tried to strip a teammate and urinate on her during post-competition celebrations at the athletes’ village. The report has never been denied, even though, in perhaps the most shabby response, Liz Williams was prevailed upon to describe the episode as a "non-event". Her real reaction, and the nature of the incident, can be gauged by her disinclination yesterday to say she remained friends with Ryan and Gudsell.

CyclingNZ’s president, Wayne Hudson, says he has dealt with 15 complaints about drunken behaviour during the past three years. Despite that, he had yet to conclude that cycling was different from any other sport. Most others, however, reached that verdict some time ago, based on cycling’s long history of behavioural problems. They also deduced that that history was the product of a tolerance that extends now to what even Mr Hudson acknowledges could be interpreted as a limp response to serious allegations.

Cycling should not have to resort to independent managers to oversee its squad, or appoint chaperones to safeguard female riders. The answer lies in the effective punishment of those who breach its disciplinary policy. It does not have to look far for guidance. Consider, for example, the way that Australian rugby player Matt Henjak was sent home for drunken conduct in South Africa last year. Or how Wendell Sailor was suspended, and then sent home from the republic for a repeat offence this season.

But perhaps the closest parallel lies with cricket’s treatment of Stephen Fleming, Dion Nash and Matthew Hart after they smoked cannabis on the 1994 tour of South Africa. They were suspended for three matches when the incident became public on the team’s return to New Zealand. In the case of Fleming, in particular, careers could not be said to have been damaged.

Ryan and Gudsell’s unsavoury antics, perpetrated in a public place, were hugely embarrassing for both cycling and this country. They should have resulted in suspension from the national team and a loss of funding. Their non-punishment can only mean the bad habits in cycling are set to continue.

Brian Rudman: In matters of life and limb, professors should lead the way

When it comes to protecting CBD trees, Auckland City does do a great inquest! The felling of the much admired, Parliament St jacaranda after Christmas has been marked by not one, but two official reports.

The latest, entitled Desktop Analysis of Trees in the Private Realm, will be presented at Friday’s meeting of the environment, heritage and urban form committee.

The message is that the 274 (give or take a few) "unscheduled" trees on private property in the central area should be very afraid. The report reiterates that they are at the mercy of the nearest property developer’s chainsaws.

Unlike trees in the rest of the city, CBD trees don’t enjoy any general tree protection. Out in the suburbs a property owner has to go through a lengthy rigmarole to get permission to chop down, trim or dig near the roots of any native tree over 6m in height or with a girth greater than 600mm. For exotics, the height trigger is 8m and the girth 800mm. It’s a much-needed restraint on our settler instincts to slash and burn, and permission is often not granted.

But that’s only in suburbia. In the central city, unless a tree is marked out as "notable" on the district plan, it’s fair game. David Sanders, senior planner, explained it thus in a report in February. "In the Central Area environment, with its intensive urban form and associated high land values, the emphasis of the tree protection methods ... is on ensuring that trees contribute to the amenity of the public realm."

Thus the emphasis is on tree protection in public parks and streets, with a total of 500 protected in places like Albert Park, Old Government House grounds and other public areas, and another 65 on private property.

None of this is new. I remember back nearly five years ago writing about the furore associated with Manson Developments hacking down anything green immediately upon buying a development site at the corner of Emily Place and Shortland St. A few months later, a century-old London plane tree was felled to make way for a new lecture theatre at Auckland University’s engineering school. Auckland Museum’s curator of botany, Ewen Cameron, was upset at the lack of consultation, noting it was one of only a few large, well-formed plane trees in the city.

Friday’s report, based on an analysis of aerial photographs, highlights how "a large portion" of the unprotected trees in the CBD are concentrated to the east, on the slopes of Grafton Gully, and up into the grounds of Auckland University. The analysis estimates there are 39 unscheduled large trees with canopies greater than 12m in diameter, 39 trees with canopies between 8m and 12m and 82 with canopies under 8m. Of the 39 large trees, 19 are in university land "or clustered on the railyard land in Quay Park".

Given the horrors that have occurred on the Quay Park site, my surprise is that any tree has survived intact. Those that remain deserve to be awarded the arboreal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, and be granted protection for life.

As for the university trees, I’m amazed they remain unprotected under the city’s scheduling process. Sure, it’s hard to imagine the professors out with their chain saws doing damage to the university greenery, but the felling of the century-old plane tree and the removal of historic houses over the years, were timely reminders that PhD and Philistine share the same page in some dictionaries.

Five years ago Tony Palmer, the university’s grounds superintendent, rang me with his concerns for the unprotected state of the virtual botanic garden of native plants surrounding the original university campus. Since the 1920s, successive professors of botany had gradually brought the bush to the CBD. Mr Palmer feared for what might happen to this treasure after he had gone.

On Friday the committee will be ask to authorise further study to flesh out the details of the unprotected trees. Could I suggest the university bush is already one of the most studied pieces of greenery in the land. What is needed in its case is a decision to give it some protection. Suggest to the professors they set an example to the other private owners of central city trees by applying for scheduling themselves. Then let’s get serious about the others.

Ross Wilson: National plans to give bosses licence to sack

New Zealand workers got a taste last month of what a National government might have dealt to them had it been elected last September. A member's bill introduced by the National Party would enable employers to sack workers without reason and remove personal grievance rights for all workers in their first 90 days on the job.

National's Wayne Mapp is calling this the Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill. This is disingenuous. It is a complete removal of any employment rights for the first 90 days, not a genuine, agreed probationary period between an employer and employee as the Employment Relations Act already provides.

If the bill passes, employers will be able to dismiss employees for any reason they choose - they need not provide any basis or reason for their decision.

Regardless of how well an employee is performing or how much effort is put in, if the bill becomes law, an employer will be able to terminate his or her employment at any stage in the first three months.

National's bill is truly the thin end of the wedge. Given the chance, National would also do away with the highly successful network of workplace health and safety reps, throw up the fourth week of annual leave for negotiation, and abolish time-and-a-half for working on public holidays.

The 90 days bill is totally unjustified. Employers can already employ people on a casual basis. They can already employ people for a fixed term. And they can already start someone on a probationary period, provided it is conducted and terminated fairly.

The Employment Relations Act already provides for all of these things, and all National is doing is giving employers a free pass to sack workers at will.

National's approach to employment is a stark contrast to the system we have. It is no coincidence that the Employment Relations Act has coincided with the strongest economic growth and the lowest unemployment in the OECD, and for the second year in a row the World Bank ranked New Zealand top out of 155 countries for ease of doing business.

Companies are continuing to enjoy good profits, and despite a slowdown in the economy, the labour market is predicted to remain tight for the foreseeable future.

Unions argue for an investment approach - in skills and training, in capital, in sound health and safety procedures - to move our country to a high-wage, high-value economy.

The National bill is a direct challenge to this approach. It is a strategy that failed the New Zealand economy in the 1990s and would fail it again now. The key issue facing the labour market right now is how to attract workers with skills, not how to sack them.

Workers have, on average, about six job changes in their lives. So six times in a lifetime, the average worker would be denied their employment rights, as we would all be turned into casual workers for 90 days.

Why would workers take the risk of a new job when they knew that they would be without employment rights for the first three months? The National bill will add to labour market rigidity, not ease it.

The National Party has introduced this bill saying that the removal of personal grievance procedures for new employees will encourage employment growth. But unemployment has gone down substantially in the past 10 years without such a provision.

It is mischievous and untrue for the National Party to use this as a reason for the introduction of this bill.

The bill is a major attack on the rights of all workers. It removes basic employment rights for every worker in our society.

Although this bill would particularly affect short-term, casual and seasonal workers it would apply to every single one of us each time we started a new job.

National's bill is not conducive to building positive and trusting employment relationships in the workplace but instead would create a climate of fear and suspicion.

We certainly hope that the select committee, presented with the evidence, will see fit to reject this bill, as it adds nothing to our workplace relations.

* Ross Wilson is President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.

David Lowe: Committed employees have nothing to fear

Wayne Mapp's bill providing a 90-day grievance-free period means employees will be given a chance to show they can do the job. Some employees are missing out on jobs because employers are not prepared to take a chance on them.

A whole range of people need employers to be able to take a chance on them, including people with overseas qualifications, new immigrants, those with no recent work experience, as well as those wanting to step up in their careers or change their career path.

Under the present law, moving on an employee who is not working out can take a long time and be very hard on a business and other staff.

The huge employment grievance industry is one of employers' biggest problems.

An initial trial period to see how things work out is commonly used in other aspects of our lives and makes sense in employment too.

Many countries overseas have very similar legislation, including Australia, Britain and Poland.

Fears that a grievance-free period will be abused by employers are unfounded because good staff are hard to find and no reasonable employer will invest time and effort in taking on new staff just to avoid the risk of a future grievance.

Employees prepared to put in a good day's work would have nothing to fear from the type of probationary work period envisaged.

The Employers' and Manufacturers' Association is recommending that some features of the present Bill unrelated to the grievance-free trial period are removed, to ensure employees' minimum statutory employment conditions are not compromised.

In its "scorecard" of the Government's performance in helping small and medium-sized enterprises, the Small Business Advisory Group called the introduction of a probationary period the "single most important change needed in employment law".

The group has consistently identified the fear of hiring new employees as a significant impediment to business growth, since its establishment by the Labour-led Government in 2003.

The Ministry of Economic Development has found that small businesses' inability to grow into larger enterprises is one of the biggest roadblocks to New Zealand's economic performance.

Successful claims for unjustifiable dismissal cost employers an average of $8790 in awards, and more in terms of legal fees and time off work defending the allegation.

Though a finding of "unjustifiable dismissal" suggests an employer has sacked an employee without any good reason, in most cases the employer has simply failed to follow the strict formal procedures required as laid down in the somewhat arcane formulations of the Employment Court and the Court of Appeal.

Currently, the Employment Relations Act allows employers and new employees to insert a so-called "probationary arrangement" in their employment agreement.

However, the Act specifically states that the agreement between the parties does not change any of the law relating to unjustifiable dismissal. In other words, it allows for probationary periods but stipulates they can have no practical effect.

Because the consequences of employing the wrong person can be serious, many employers adopt a low-risk approach to recruitment. For example, teenagers currently have an unemployment rate four times the national average.

The frustrations often faced by highly qualified immigrants in getting their first chance in the job market are well documented.

Other disadvantaged groups, employment-wise, also stand to benefit strongly from such a provision, including people with interrupted work histories, such as long-term beneficiaries or parents returning to the workforce.

All these groups deserve the chance to prove themselves. Employers want to give them a go, but they don't want the expense if things sour.

Though unions may sometimes act as if a no-fault probation period is the end of the world, this is not borne out by experience in other countries. Many of our major trading partners have probation periods, and many also have strong trade union movements.

In Australia, while each state has its own governing legislation, all allow for probation periods of at least three months. A recent review of federal labour laws means that soon all states will share a common six month no-fault probation period.

In Britain, every employee is subject to a "qualifying period" of 12 months. During this time, the employee cannot bring a claim for unfair dismissal (the same as an unjustifiable dismissal).

Even Germany, which has some of the most strict unjustified-dismissal laws in the world, does not extend these protections to workers until six months' service has been completed.

In fact, all OECD nations except Denmark - and New Zealand - have legal probationary periods in some form.

Employers do not want open slather to tread on the rights of employees.

Where lengthy probation periods are available overseas, employees are still protected from discrimination on the basis of sex or race. They cannot be dismissed for exercising their rights under other laws, such as joining or refusing to join a union, taking parental leave, or whistle-blowing for health and safety reasons.

Employees have every right to claim unpaid wages during the first three months of his or her employment or any other time.

A fine-tuned bill that meets the needs of employers, encourages more job creation, and protects employees' fundamental rights would be like a lottery where everyone won.

* David Lowe is Employment Services Manager for the Employers' & Manufacturers' Association (Northern) Inc.

Graham Reid: Unfortunate in many ways

She was what my mother would have charitably described as unfortunate. I saw her first on the promenade deck as the ship slipped its lines and slowly headed for the open sea.

She was standing alone, but even in a crowd she would have been hard to miss: overweight, in her 30s at a guess, her dark hair pulled tight at the temples and hanging in a long and unruly ponytail, thick glasses, a sour expression on her round face ...

I thought of my mother's likely description - then thought no more of her.

Some 1200 of us happy travellers plus 600 crew were on a 10-day cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia aboard Pacific Sky, a ship I once knew as the Fairsky but is now refitted to traipse lazily around the Pacific offering an affordable holiday-cum-escape.

The passengers on this cruise may have been typical: the aged, the infirm and the chronically obese who would find air travel uncomfortable, if not impossible.

But there was also, to my surprise, a large number of young people who partied on the deck until well after the rest of us had made for our cabins, worn out by sleeping in the sun, swimming, eating and reading.

The mood afloat was relaxed and friendly. By day, games and competitions were held on the deck, and every night entertainment came from the band, the DJ or the energetic dance company in the stateroom. There were talent quests and karaoke, a 24-hour pizza parlour and a cinema.

At meals in the two dining rooms - the Savoy and the Regency - or at the Outback Grill on the deck you would find yourself seated next to former strangers and would inevitably chat.

I chatted with lively and good-humoured senior citizens from Otaki and Dunedin, Oamaru and Christchurch, and young people from the North Shore and Melbourne.

And as you lolled by one of the two pools, lay around on the expansive deck under a clear canopy of blue, or sat in one of the many bars, you would also chat with fellow travellers.

Late one afternoon with Auckland hundreds of kilometres and a couple of carefree, sun-tanned days behind us, I went to check my emails in the internet centre by the library.

I had a little trouble logging on and a typically helpful crew member rebooted the terminal. Behind me a woman began to complain that she couldn't get on to the website she wanted, so the young man moved on to help her.

He couldn't figure out the problem so asked if she would try another terminal. She did but again couldn't get on to the site she wanted.

He was apologetic but she was becoming increasingly annoyed. He tried again and failed, her frustration turned to anger and the small room filled with palpable tension.

He politely asked whether this website had download potential because the company didn't allow for access to such sites.

No, said the woman with a bark. And then she demanded to know why the company didn't warn people of this before they bought their access code number.

The man remained polite, but the woman turned nasty and whining.

When she explained the nature of the site she was trying to log on to he had the unhappy task of telling her the company didn't allow for access to such sites either.

Away she went: passengers deserved better and should be told this; she had wasted her time and money; she was being made to feel it was her fault because the company probably wouldn't give her a refund ...

I, like the others in the room, turned to see who was making the fuss.

And I suspect we all shared a single thought. Why, when you are on a boat of 1200 people with get-together nights and a friendly camaraderie where people ate, talked and danced with previous strangers, would you want to get into a chat room?

Do what everyone else does on board. Just chat.

She was even more unfortunate than I first thought.

David Leggat: Something stinks in hidden details of cycling incident

Cycling is the latest sports body to try avoiding bad news by ducking its head.

Whether it reached an appropriate punishment for two drunken Commonwealth Games riders is near impossible to assess as it won’t reveal what it discovered about the activities of pursuit pair Marc Ryan and Tim Gudsell and women’s national 500m champion Liz Williams early on March 19 in Melbourne.

There’s a common thread among many sports administrators in New Zealand. When there’s a whiff of trouble, go into lockdown. Say nothing and hope it will all go away. Here’s a news flash: It doesn’t.

Cycling NZ has done the men no favours with its decision.

Ryan and Gudsell have been put on good behaviour for the next year, told to get counselling and visit a shrink. Williams was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Yes, it’s a bit wet bus-tickety, as Williams’ mother, Patricia, claimed.

Then again, giving them 50 lashes and throwing them out of the national team for a couple of years would have been at the draconian end of the scale.

If Ryan and Gudsell’s behaviour was truly blown out of proportion, why not reveal it, therefore putting the matter to bed and putting the swirl of allegations in their place?

Keeping lips sealed only allows imaginations to run rampant.

If they are chosen for the Olympics in 2008, in many minds it’ll be, "Aren’t those the guys who ... ?"

Cycling administrators should also look hard at themselves over president Wayne Hudson’s comment that heavy drinking in post-competition celebrations had played its part and he’d dealt with 15 disciplinary and doping complaints in three years.

Come again? Fifteen? What the heck is going on in this sport?

In truth, maybe not much different to several other sports, but that’s not the point.

Let’s not get too prudish. Throw men, women and booze together in an unsupervised environment when they have completed a job for which they have been preparing, often monastically, for months and things will happen.

I’d wager there’s never been an Olympic or Commonwealth Games where new, often brief friendships are made. It will always be the way.

Hudson yesterday talked of not washing dirty linen in public, of not wanting to feed voyeuristic minds, which is precisely what has been done.

He also mentioned "bad aspects of behaviour amongst a certain type of cyclist". What type is he referring to? Young and male? Track riders? Road? Lefthanders? South Islanders?

You might think athletes are grown ups who should know how to behave while on national team duty. The reality is often you’d be dead wrong.

Should chaperones, as Mrs Williams insisted, be introduced? For 15-year-old gymnasts, absolutely.

For 20-something cyclists? No, but a sensible set of guidelines imposed by an independent manager, not a one-of-the-boys, turn-a-blind-eye official, would be a decent step forward.

Soon after the incident, Nick Hill, chief executive of Government sports funding agency Sparc, remarked that "it raises questions round the culture of cycling and the extent to which culture, performance and results are all tied up together".

Cycling, by most expectations, was an under-performer in Melbourne.

Cycling NZ deserves a pat for revealing what action it has taken. But it could have done much more.


WHAT HAPPENED?

* The allegations which circulated at the time of the incident include:

* Drunken cyclists Tim Gudsell and Marc Ryan strip naked and sprint laps round the Commonwealth Games village.

* They urinate on teammate Liz Williams’ shoes, which are subsequently thrown in a fountain.

* They try to strip Williams and threaten to urinate on her.

Tracey Barnett: Suicide bombers follow a morality of their own

When her third son died during a terrorist action, bereaved mother Umm Nidal Farhat prepared boxes of halva and chocolates and handed them out to his friends.

"At first I did not cry. I said, 'Allah Akbar', and bowed in gratitude. The truth is I was ashamed to say, 'Allah, help me in my tragedy', because I consider this a blessing, not a tragedy," she told Egypt's Dream2 TV.

She was proud that her son broke into an Israeli settlement and spent 22 minutes going from room to room killing 10 and injuring 23 until he ran out of ammunition.

If civilians get in the way, "these are war necessities", she said.

"We cannot stop sacrificing just because we feel pain. My children are the most precious thing in my life. That is why I sacrificed them for a greater cause - for Allah."

She has 10 sons and will sacrifice them all if Allah deems it, "even if it costs me 100 sons".

Female suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat's mother feels differently. She lost a daughter and a son.

"If I had known, would I have let my daughter die? I already sacrificed one child, would I sacrifice another? Even if they offered you all of Palestine, you would rather give it all up than lose your son," she told Al-Jazeera TV.

"If you had known, what would you have said to her?" the interviewer asked.

"I would not have let her go. I would have tied her up. I would have locked her in her room and stayed with her for an entire year."

Meet the new mothers of "martyrs". We in the West can't touch the relentless passion, commitment and effectiveness their children are bringing to the ways of war.

Whether we like it or not, "terrorist" and "martyr" have become bastard synonyms. Decades have passed since terrorism and suicide bombing were aberrant individual acts by those on the margins.

Turn on television in the Arab world today and you don't have to look far for a culture nurturing martyrdom that we never get to see.

There's Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Is there art that is more beautiful, more divine and more eternal than the art of martyrdom?" (Channel 1, Iran); a Yemen cleric on how Yemenite women should reach out to their Palestinian suicide bomber sisters (Yemen TV); or a Lebanese information minister on martyrdom as an "art" that creates a "strategic balance" (NBN, Lebanon).

There are music videos, a national holiday and even children's animated cartoons all honouring the sanctity of what we would call a terrorist act.

Frightening? You bet. They are breaking all our rules:

War should be fought between soldiers. Involving innocent civilians is wrong. A soldier's goal is to live, not die, right?

But their moral surety is crashing head on into ours.

They argue they are using the most effective weapon of war - their lives - against a larger power.

There are two sides to this bloody tale and we're afraid to admit it.

Why is it so incendiary in our culture even to suggest they are ready to die for what they perceive as the greater good? We are both working from a moral imperative. Each of us can point to a holy reference that justifies our moral stance.

The reason we dismiss terrorism is because they aren't killing in the manner that the West kills. Who is to be applauded here for moral supremacy?

Because their methods are repugnant to us, it is easy to forget that suicide bombers in Iraq, Israel, Chechnya, Sri Lanka - or even London - are fighting a war for what they see as occupation of their homeland.

In Slate magazine, Fred Kaplan cites three new academic studies - diversely from America, Israel and one commissioned by Saudi Arabia - that independently say the same thing.

These young men - and now more increasingly women - are not blowing themselves up for some grand pan-Islamic rhetoric. They are doing this to resist what they see as foreign occupation of their homeland.

Does that make the killing of innocent civilians any more morally palatable to us? We in the West scream "no" without hesitation. To us the image of Iran's 40,000-strong Special Unit of Martyr Seekers marching with explosive packs around their waists and holding detonators is the stuff of sci-fi nightmares.

If we begin to see terrorism for what it is - a freshman entry into the arsenal of war - that doesn't mean we're likely to get any closer to holding hands and singing Kumbaya together anytime soon.

What it does mean is that as citizens, as voters, we can be asking our Western governments to see the bigger political picture and recognise that terrorism is a terrible symptom of a larger political disease.

It is our instinct to see the terrorist act itself as an inflammatory catalyst. But there is a dead end to our indignation. Effective governments can create a response that pushes past that.

Constructing policy based on immediate incitement is itself an act of political suicide. George Bush did it and now everybody is losing.

Sadly, the sheer effectiveness of suicide bombers is now battling for cultural credibility for an entire region of the world - and slowly winning.

Terrorism may be just a snapshot of our time, an ugly freeze-frame of war today. But perhaps the greater dirty truth is that the lines of morality in war may have forever changed.

And that is just about as scary as handing out halva and chocolates for murder.

* Tracey Barnett is an American journalist working in Auckland.