Letters 27 October 2012

by Listener Archive / 27 October, 2012
Youth wage; online learning; and aspartame.


As a pensioner who was never given the opportunity to go to university because of our family situation, I was interested in “Whole lotta learnin’ ’’ (October 20). Since retiring, I have completed some papers with NorthTec, and a Diploma in Creative Writing with Whitireia. In each case I was given constructive feedback and collegial support. Knowledge was added to my writing passion, and this year I was shortlisted for the Storylines Joy Cowley Award. I have researched some non-fiction subjects, which I would also like to write on, but to be taken seriously it seems a degree is also needed. No problem: I could do a degree online, but the costs of individual papers to complete this would be prohibitive on the income we now receive. (And at my age, a student loan would be ridiculous.) However, it is certainly more cost-effective than having to be on campus. I got the impression from the article that some academics are intent on protecting entrenched (and lucrative?) positions in their opposition to online learning. However, I’m pleased to see learning is becoming both more accessible and affordable. I would like to think that basic degree courses would continue to follow this trend. Maureen Sudlow


Satanic curses” (October 13) featured Salman Rushdie, his new book, his life and his motives for writing The Satanic Verses. He claims that by writing The Satanic Verses he wanted “to confront tyranny and injustice and power”. He simply defamed a prophet of millions of believers; he did not confront what he claimed to confront. He puts the threat on his life on a par with 9/11 and the recent murder of three American Embassy staff. This is laughable and pathetic. There has been, are and will be countless good authors, and for me, Salman Rushdie will never be one of them.
Kawther Hamdi
(Meadowbank, Auckland)


Regardless of your view on the new youth wage, you’d have thought the Government’s PR team would have suggested a different rate. Ten Eighty. Sounds like poison to me.
Don Higgins
(Akaroa, Christchurch)

Having a youth rate set at $10.80 an hour is tantamount to exploitation. Who in their right mind is going to believe the proponents of this have youth in mind? It is cost-cutting at its most insidious. This will exacerbate the social chasm and do nothing to stimulate a flagging economy. The minimum wage should be raised across the board. Companies can cover the costs by tapping into exorbitant executive salaries – smaller companies could manage if they had to. Price hikes and cutbacks in nonessential areas are among the options. Higher wages mean happier and more productive employees, so the spin-off for companies has to be positive. It would also mean more spending, boosting economic activity and again having a positive effect on business. So, it is a win-win situation. Forget about printing more money. We don’t need more wealth, we need more equitable distribution of existing wealth.
Miles Langdon
(Mt Eden, Auckland)


Congratulations to Jennifer Bowden for headlining what other media missed: that the Stanford study showed organic food contained fewer residues (Nutrition, October 13). That is not unexpected. What is strange to me is the apparent lack of interest in why: how is it that organic farmers can raise lambs, for example, without the regular drenching for internal parasites that occurs on non-organic farms? A Ministry of Agriculture report on organic farming in 1987 contained the remark “… if anything, animals were less healthy under conventional [ie, non-organic] management”. After that, a deafening silence. Where was the follow-up asking “Why?”, or “Does this apply also to people eating non-organic food?”? In my first year at high school, the science teacher, an agricultural scientist, told us the function of soil was to supply plants with “mineral salts in solution” and anchor their roots. It was many years before I discovered that soil is a complex system of living relationships, in which plants exchange substances with micro-organisms and those and other organisms make nutrients available. Unfortunately, the high school view of the soil seems still very pervasive, so that it is assumed if you supply nutrients to plants more directly (via soluble fertilisers), you get the same effect as if they are supplied only through nature’s metabolic pathways. What is the justification for that? Shouldn’t the presumption be that humans are adapted to eat food grown via those natural processes? Should we not presume chemical fertilising is an untested experiment? Where are the epidemiological studies to support it? Why don’t we start by asking whether plants grown with synthetic chemical fertilisers and pesticides are as nutritious as those fed only by natural processes in the soil?
David Wright
Secretary, Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in NZ (Inc)


Thank you, Bill Ralston (Life, October 13). Unfortunately, the absence of really clever scriptwriters and originality have led to the cheap option of made-for-television cooking shows. Of late they’ve featured gormless Brits stabbing each other in the back at dinner parties, and self-important “celebrity” chefs regaling us with the various ways to stew, bake, fry, poach and curry meat, poultry, fish and vegetables using basic ingredients relabelled with exotic names. It’s amazing how many times a basic recipe printed in several books can be republished as “their” recipe. Equally amazing are those who hang on every word and silliness uttered by the latest self-promoting media darling of the hotplate and oven.
Max Wagsta
(Glendowie, Auckland)


The Prime Minister is right when he waxes lyrical about the importance of infrastructure and the wisdom of being ready to attract business opportunities. The proposed Auckland International Convention Centre is an example. Why, then, is John Key allowing the destruction of the vital Gisborne to Napier railway?
John Darkin


Maanu Paul’s assertion (“Legend in his ownership right”, October 6) that Maori own all the natural resources in New Zealand would be laughable if it were not so dangerous and divisive. He mentions water, oil, minerals, coal, silver and gold, but before Europeans arrived, Maori did nothing to search for or develop these resources. Since the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori have benefi ted from European knowledge, resulting in the building of roads, houses, hospitals, schools, universities, etc. Unfortunately, the Waitangi Tribunal, drawn up in 1975 by Geoffrey Palmer, altered the original intent of the Treaty, taking out “all New Zealanders” and replacing those words with “Maori”. This opened the floodgates of claims and to date staggering amounts of money have been granted to Maori through fisheries, forestries, land, buildings, money, etc. Maori now claim ownership of the water that runs freely through this land and is there for all to use. Hypocrisy is shown by Tariana Turia being against asset sales and in the next breath Maori are claiming a share of them. This is a beautiful country, but Maori are turning it into an apartheid one. It is time to stop the gravy train – especially as the money given is not filtering down to those who need it. John Key, get some backbone and put an end to the claims.
M Brooks


“The absence of hard evidence” about global warming is a remarkable claim from climate sceptic Bryan Leyland, considering the “ugly facts” in his letter (October 20). Referring to Nasa’s site (1.usa.gov/XpQ3g), it can be seen that his 1.7mm a year sealevel rise is an estimate from 1870-2000 coastal tide gauge records. A more accurate average of 3.17mm a year has been measured by satellites over the past 19 years. In the past, this has mainly been caused by the slow process of warming 1.4 million trillion tons of ocean. However, the current decrease in land ice, especially from Greenland, will see an increasing volume of water entering the ocean, raising sea levels more quickly. The record sea-ice extent around Antarctica has been attributed to stronger winds blowing it further out. The stronger winds have in turn been attributed to the warming ocean and land temperatures to the north. Warmer currents are also melting the ice shelves that would normally block glaciers, allowing them to flow more freely, depositing huge amounts of “land ice” into the sea (see the detailed study co-authored by Helen Fricker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, bit.ly/Icdx1T). Many boats have threaded their way through the Northwest Passage over the past century, but ice extent is defined as 15% coverage and is difficult to measure from a boat, casting doubt on the reputed reduction of ice extent in the 1930s and 40s. Currently the Northwest Passage is virtually free of ice in summer. Further, carbon dating of the driftwood released from melting ice showed it had been blocking the passage for much longer than 100 years. Global warming is an extraordinarily complex phenomenon, but with increased range and accuracy of climate measurements, it is becoming much harder to deny. It is a pity efforts and initiatives to reduce the effect are being opposed so strongly by big business and climate-change sceptics.
Nick du Fresne

In 1798, the Rev Thomas Malthus predicted civilisation in the UK would collapse through mass starvation by the mid-19th century because the population was growing faster than food production. Just as he spoke, the first fruits of the Industrial Revolution were ripening, with a trebling of the efficiency of farms through the use of machines. On Earth Day in 1970, several predictions were made by learned men, of which here are just two: “Civilisation will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” – George Wald, Harvard biologist. “By [1975], some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” – Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist. As a deep sceptic of such dire predictions, I have history on my side. My scepticism is also bolstered by the failures of the 1970 Club of Rome about our running out of minerals before now, and of those espousing imminent peak oil when our known reserves have never been higher. The weather this summer in the US is just that, weather, not climate. The weather was worse in the US in the dust bowl era of the 1930s, resulting in a mass exodus from Oklahoma to California. Today, if a dozen people went the same way, it would be big news in the connected world. The globally averaged surface temperature peaked in 1998, and has been on a slight downward trend since then. If recent history has any lessons, it is that this trend will not change until 2025, and maybe even later if the current low solar activity persists. Although Arctic ice is at a recent minimum, Antarctic ice is at a recent maximum. This is at a time when CO2 emissions continue to rise faster than ever, proof that man-made CO2 is at best weakly coupled to the climate. History tells us it’s entirely rational to be an optimist about the future. Certainly, improve the efficiency of our lives by sensible means, but don’t panic about the climate and espouse unproven and uneconomic technologies for climate mitigation.
Michael Kelly
Prince Philip Professor of Technology, University of Cambridge, and visiting professor at the MacDiarmid Institute, Victoria University of Wellington


I was surprised at the summary way in which Margo White (Health, October 13) dismisses the philosophy behind acupuncture, when she says the flow of life energy (qi) through channels called meridians is “not something that would be taken too seriously by anyone with a passing understanding of human biology”. This statement seems to imply that the Chinese, who have used acupuncture for thousands of years to the benefit of millions of satisfied patients, should have discarded this type of treatment long ago, as it is clearly unproven nonsense. Which raises the question: why haven’t they? Or is it the West that is too easily discarding alternative treatments and viewpoints on health? The Western approach to health issues is becoming rather narrow in scope: specialised, scientific and exclusive, rather than generalised, holistic and inclusive. If a thousand Chinese were to tell me acupuncture has healed their back pain, and one Western scientist tells me it can’t, I know who I’d place my bets with.
Ragnhild Becker


Jennifer Bowden (Nutrition, October 20) gives grudging acceptance of aspartame. She argues that in the real world people don’t opt for nutrition, and, hey, at least sugar-free drinks help curb obesity. Woodrow Monte, a professor of nutrition at Arizona State University, has made it his life’s work to campaign against aspartame. Having readhis book While Science Sleeps, I no longer think aspartame is a free pass. The food industry should look into stevia and/ or glucose as sugar alternatives, and keep E951 where it belongs – as food for lab rats.
Carroll Muir
(Epsom, Auckland)


There has been a lot of publicity about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, but nowhere is anyone advocating for a distribution from the rich to the poor. Why? Our top tax rate is lower than the UK’s or Australia’s; we have no capital gains tax; we have no inheritance tax; we have no stamp duty on the purchase of expensive houses; family trusts ensure taxpayers pay for the care of the elderly wealthy. Why are we so reluctant to see the elephant in the room?
John Whitty
(Aro Valley, Wellington)


The October 6 Editorial raises the question of just what the national standards in literacy should be. At what stage should our children be literate? Waffly words from the Education Ministry tell us “[Year 2 students] need to be able to use their reading and writing as interactive tools to meet specific learning purposes across the curriculum”. In contrast, after a study across English, Finnish, Greek and Chinese, George Georgiou of the University of Alberta, said: “In Greece, parents intuitively know that as soon as a child goes to school, within three months … that child will be able to learn to read” (Science Daily, February 16, 2010). Professor Philip Seymour of Dundee University, in the British Journal of Psychology in 2003, claimed basic English literacy acquisition was three times slower than the European average of one year. Both say English learners are handicapped by our difficult spelling. Shouldn’t we also confidently expect spelling to help children be literate after one year at school?
Allan Campbell
(Bryndwr, Christchurch)
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