Letters February 9 2013

by The Listener / 31 January, 2013
Sexism; alcohol; and Christchurch heritage buildings.


Like Karl du Fresne (“All you can eat”, February 2), I recall the invitations to gluttony posted outside many American restaurants. When I lived there as a graduate student on a limited budget, there was some sense in piling on hamburger “fixings”. But observing the physical dimensions of most patrons of such joints, I felt that “All you should eat” would be a wiser slogan for America than “All you can eat”.
Geo Lealand
(Hamilton East)


Congratulations to Roger Hall, as a leading New Zealand playwright, for stating his views so strongly (Letters, February 2). It is easy to see the factors that may have influenced Zac Guildford in his wrong choices. Our society is awash with positive messages about alcohol intake, largely financed by the alcohol industry. Sports clubs, academia, television and print media promote images of alcohol as the “thing” to be in, as it is so sophisticated, so much fun and so cheap. A fundamental change, starting with the NZ Rugby Union, is required in our society if we are not to have more Zacs. Unfortunately, the politicians have missed their chance to make a difference.
Dr Graeme Woodfield
(Orakei, Auckland)

The Advertising Standards Authority deemed that an ad for a beer bong did not breach its principle that all liquor advertisements observe a high standard of social responsibility. Apparently, legal status obviates any need for concern when it comes to our drug of choice. No wonder we have the Zac Guildford syndrome. Congratulations to Roger Hall for calling for change in our attitude to alcohol.
Dr Tony Farrell MBChB FRNZCGP
(Mt Maunganui)

I agree with all Hall’s sentiments. But I can’t see Guildford’s downfall as a tragedy. The real tragedy is the school-leavers with no prospects of employment who slip into the damaging drinking patterns society condones, if not encourages. For a start, let’s raise the legal drinking age to 20 and close the getting-drunk-on-site venues at 1.00am and see what happens.
Margaret Bongard
(Grey Lynn, Auckland)


Rebecca Macfie’s “Fears of mass destruction” (January 26) sounds a clear and timely warning about the future of New Zealand’s built heritage. For anyone concerned about heritage in post-quakes Christchurch, its message is all too familiar. Although the article is looking to the future implications nationwide, the part that Minister Gerry Brownlee and Cera have played in the development of a mindset to heritage buildings can’t be overstated. Numerous important buildings, including the former Public Library, Harald’s on Lichfield St, the Occidental, and the former Christchurch Railway Station (Science Alive!), have been demolished essentially because Cera has allowed owners unwilling to restore “non-dangerous” buildings to demolish them, and the normal Resource Management Act process for listed buildings to be circumvented. Naturally, the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission plays a key part in the story, current thinking being much shaped by its rigorous investigations into the performance of unreinforced masonry buildings. Of great relevance is Macfie’s reference to the statement by Associate Professor Jason Ingham to the commission on November 7, 2011, that had the September 4, 2010, quake not occurred, there could have been an extra 300 deaths on February 22, 2011. Ingham’s figure included the toll that he believes Manchester Courts (the subject of a fierce demolition debate in late 2010) would have inflicted – 20 in the street and 40 in the building – as a result of its “total collapse”. This sounds plausible, but what remains to be discussed in the open is the fact that Ingham’s calculations were based entirely on his early assessment of the building without any of the evidence uncovered during the long demolition process. Throughout this, it was clear for all to see and document that the building did contain considerable quantities of structural steel, including in the ring beams at each of the fi ve upper storeys. This, with other aspects of construction, would have meant a total collapse on February 22 was most unlikely, if not impossible. Given that the figure Ingham has used for Manchester Courts represents about 20% of the total extra fatalities he foresaw, one hopes his intended further investigation of this building’s capabilities will be done soon. The results may have a bearing on the present discussion about the future of unreinforced masonry heritage buildings.
Ross Gray


Children will get better jobs and have fulfilling lives if they focus more on non-cognitive skills (“Reared for success,” January 26). I agree. Here is a list of non-cognitive skills developed by my young granddaughter, indicating probable career options. 1) Eating a bag of chips immediately before the evening meal (marriage counsellor). 2) Shortening the official school-uniform skirt to a height redefining the word “cool”, because, “everyone is doing it” (financial adviser). 3) Applying eye make-up so thickly that the eyes can barely open (resource consent management). 4) Endless posturing and posing in front of the mirror and changing clothes 10 times a day (sex therapist). 5) Meeting in the mall to see if boys are about, then announcing to girlfriends, “Don’t look at them” (human resources). Don’t fret, parents, help is at hand … charter schools.
Christopher Bourn
(Richmond, Nelson)


Paul Holmes’s investiture highlights yet once more the illogicality and unfairness of the awards system. So many knighthoods are given to business tycoons for services to making themselves rich – or in the case of civil servants, just for doing their jobs conscientiously over a number of years. For example, why was Holmes given a knighthood but never Fred Hollows, who gave the best part of his life to saving the eyesight of hundreds, if not thousands of poor Pasifika people, based far away from civilisation as he knew it?
Frank Bailey


Readers may wonder why my relatively obscure non-fiction title on modernist aesthetics was selected as a Listener 2012 Top 100 title when, as far as I know, not a single copy has been available for inspection in any New Zealand bookstore. I have no excuse, except to say that for independent authors, getting published – let alone reviewed – is an uphill task. Avant Garde (Books, January 26) was offered to a number of leading publishers, and declined without explanation. An enquiry seeking assistance from Creative NZ was unacknowledged. New Zealand publishers refuse to account publicly for editorial decisions, just as they plead confidentiality in refusing to disclose actual sales figures of subsidised titles. A well-known Auckland literary agent offered an opinion of the synopsis and first chapter that such material was “unsuitable” for publication in New Zealand; then, having learnt of its successful publication abroad, shamefacedly declined the offer of an inscribed copy. Avant Garde has since been denied a review in the literary periodical New Zealand Books on the questionable ground that it lacks New Zealand content. Such administrative conveniences help explain why the Listener-quoted selling price [$110] in New Zealand of a 120,000-word title on offer in the US and Europe at a budget price has had to be inflated by 20 or more per cent to cover excess single-order postage and packaging additions.
Robin Maconie


Like Alistair Watts (Letters, February 2), I have spent time overseas and found it to be an educational, eye-opening, life-changing experience. I encourage anyone to travel and bring home good ideas. One of the things I learnt on my travels was that I choose to live here because it is not Singapore, Korea, China, India or any other fast-growing economy.
Ken Taylor
(Mangere, Auckland)


Hamish Keith (Cultural curmudgeon, January 26) has found that the new lighting at London’s National Gallery caused the paintings to look like “over-lit colour transparencies”, and he blames this on the use of light-emitting diode (LED) light sources. Although I’ve not seen this particular example of LED lighting, as a lighting designer, I am confident the cause of this unfortunate appearance was the distribution of illumination and not the use of LEDs. The effect described would have been produced by inappropriate use of “beam-shaper” spotlights. This type of fixture enables the light beam to be finely focused and shaped to match the perimeter of an object, such as a painting, so increasing its brightness and colourfulness. The effect may be enhanced by keeping the ambient illumination low and using dark-coloured, low-reflectance surrounding surfaces to create a “glowing in the gloom” appearance. Although this can be very effective for advertising or retail applications, it may be, as Keith has found, quite disturbing in art galleries. Beam-shapers have been used in stage lighting for many years, and their use has become increasingly widespread with the development of more compact and maintenance-free equipment. This is where LEDs come in. These new light sources have characteristics that make them well suited for museum and art-gallery applications, but designers need to exercise restraint in how they apply them. To avoid the appearance of “relentless, unforgiving light”, the important factor is how illumination is balanced within the space, rather than how electrical energy is converted into light.
Lighting consultant
(Havelock North)


I’ve been puzzling over the reported breakdown of Western civilisation, and now, thanks to Reg Fowles (Letters, January 26), I know the cause: tattooed women drinking pints. So come on, stick to the Babycham, there’s a good girl.
Ian Jenkins
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