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Better believers

As noted in the Editorial (December 5), self-esteem isn't a problem only in primary schools. Spend a week in my office and you'll see that hard work and achievement often go by unnoticed. Whether that's an attempt by our managers to make some of us not feel inadequate, or another dimension of Kiwi humility, I can't be sure. But for me, an American who's been working in Wellington for over two years, this lack of recognition is the biggest cultural difference I've encountered here, and sometimes it can be really demotivating.

Growing up in the US, we were always taught to "believe in ourselves". It sounds cheesy, but if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. So, come on Kiwis, the rest of the world knows you're great. Why don't you?

Diane Morgan

(Lyall Bay, Wellington)

The editorial referred to a missing "sense of urgency and cohesion in our business enterprises". Here's what happened in our family.

My nephew qualified as a lawyer 15 years ago. He was soon shown and at times told directly that to "get on" he would have to accept arriving home after his kids were in bed, having had expensive "working" dinners, and sacrificing weekends on a regular basis. He was working 70-80 hours a week when he left to set up on his own.

My two sons have had management jobs that demanded they work 70-plus hours a week, and both have decided family and a balanced life are worth more than a $100,000-plus pay cheque.

These three intelligent, highly qualified young men, not afraid of being compared to others, have their heads screwed on right and their choices demonstrate high self-esteem.

This is more than simply wanting "the boat, bach and BMW", more than "she'll be right". This is making mature, balanced, informed decisions to be part of family life and the community and have a decent income. These men are making our nation wealthy in human and societal terms.

New Zealand has some of the longest working weeks in the developed world.Maybe returning to some form of sanity - dare I say, the 40-hour working week - would bring our young talent back into influential roles that also make the nation wealthy in dollar terms.

Name and address supplied


Having so-called standards (Letters, December 12) didn't make much difference to New Zealand's estimated 80,000 leaky homes or the $11 billion cost to fix them or the health costs associated with damp and asthma further down the track.

Chris Prudence

(Remuera, Auckland)


The Green Party's negative response to proposals for "factory farming" of dairy cows in the South Island is strange. Such an approach offers great opportunities for the control of emissions, both greenhouse gases and nitrate pollution of waterways. The modern dairy cow is already an efficient factory, converting grass to protein and fat but, like any factory, it can be noisy and smelly and produce toxic wastes if not properly designed and maintained.

The Greens apparently think these new farming practices will harm our "clean green" image, and perhaps have concerns about animal welfare, as does the SPCA. Perhaps these organisations could explain their position to Forest and Bird, which recently expressed concern that too much welfare might be extended to wild deer if a Game Animal Council is created. Yes, it is sad (and embarrassing to the marketers) when a large trusting animal like a dairy cow is locked away for most of its life, but it is equally sad when a wild deer is chased to its death by a helicopter or poisoned with 1080.

Ian Henderson

(Palmerston North)

===here's a thought, SPORT===

I think Don Brash has been looking into the wrong corners of our national psyche for ways to uplift our economic performance (Letters, December 19). After all, many of his suggestions have been tried and abandoned in earlier such navel-gazing. Besides, it seems Australia now has such a head start (being 40% better off) that no amount of tax-cutting, beneficiary-bashing, public downsizing, etc, will overtake the speedy kangaroo across the Tasman.

But there is one hitherto sancrosanct area that could be addressed to narrow the economic gap: the abandonment of the entire sporting focus that underlies our national psyche. If one collected the entire national energy squandered in netball, cricket, yachting and especially rugby endeavours, and reapplied it to more productive activities, the economic disparity would vanish.

One could even argue it is the sporting focus that has kept our eye off the economic ball. Rather than worshipping the All Blacks, we could worship the Business Roundtable and the Reserve Bank governor. All our effort would then go into pushing the economic wheelbarrow. We would catch those Aussies in no time, especially if we sold them the All Blacks lock, stock and barrel.

Lorne Kuehn



What are we to make of the assertion that nearly a third of New Zealanders work for 50 or more hours a week (Health, December 12)? There may be some truth in the conclusion, reported on the Department of Labour's website, that 29-34% of the fulltime workforce (limited to those who answered the Census, and depending on how you define "fulltime") say they work those hours. By my count, at 415,641 people, that's about a 10th of New Zealanders.

The Listener is not alone in its loose reporting of statistics. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, reporting the results of its quarterly survey of business opinion, recently trumpeted the "highest level of business confidence in 10 years". The media, including Radio New Zealand, duly trotted out the same message. The truth? Twenty-seven per cent of those surveyed "expected better times ahead", and yes, in 10 years of surveys that was apparently the highest percentage to expect business to improve. Not all that surprising when you think about it.

Alison Paul

(Waikouaiti, Dunedin)


You were a bit too quick to name Alan Bollard to the list of New Zealand's great and powerful ("The Power List", December 5). Far from being quick off the mark with regards to the recession, he was six months behind the Federal Reserve's moves in the US. The Fed was dropping US interest rates like a stone in January 2008, something he must have missed.

Did he really think a US meltdown wouldn't affect New Zealand? He waited too long, and it caused a lot of hurt. To his credit, he did eventually come around once he stopped reading the previous year's inflation reports.

Andrew Straw



I was pleased to see the article ("Dark secrets of the universe", December 12) on cosmology following Bob Kirshner's lecture tour. However, he is not familiar with my work and his comments gave an incorrect description of my proposal for solving the mystery of the apparent acceleration of the universe's expansion.

Many theoretical cosmologists who are seeking alternatives to dark energy are exploring toy models that treat the expansion of the universe by assuming that we live in a special place in the centre of an unrealistically large low-density region. Kirshner has mistakenly assumed I am working with such ideas; however, that is not the case.

My approach, while accounting for the lumpy distribution of matter, is fundamentally different. It requires us to be in a location no more special than an average galaxy. The standard model of cosmology makes a drastic simplification in assuming the average expansion of the universe is identical to that of a uniform featureless fluid without structure.

Although such an assumption was well justified shortly after the big bang before galaxies formed, observations of the present-day universe reveal it to have a complex hierarchy of structures.

Galaxies are grouped in clusters, and these clusters form bubble-like sheets that surround voids and spider web-like filaments that thread the voids. Recent surveys of millions of galaxies reveal that 40-50% of the volume of the present universe is in voids of 150 million light years in diameter. Add to this copious mini-voids within the galaxy-rich sheets, and the present universe is void-dominated.

In human terms, the 150 million light years of the observed voids is gigantic, but the large-void model Kirshner criticises would invoke a single void 30 times larger than this. I agree that is not realistic. My thesis, however, is that it is equally unrealistic to ignore the present-day inhomogeneity that is observed to actually exist on scales less than about 500 million light years. The only reason we have done so is because Einstein's equations of general relativity are too difficult to solve for such a complex distribution of matter, even on a computer.

In recent years, however, mathematical relativists have made progress in understanding how the average evolution predicted by Einstein changes as structures grow more complex.

There has been lively debate as to whether this can alter the expansion history of the universe enough to be misinterpreted as being a result of "dark energy".

I find that observations such as those of Kirshner's team do make quantitative sense, provided we account not only for the changes to the average expansion but also for the range of different environments that exist as a result of structure formation.

We, and all the supernovae we observe, are objects in galaxies. Since galaxies must necessarily be dense enough to have overcome the expansion of the universe to form bound structures, their local environment is naturally very different to the ultra low-density environment in the middle of expanding voids unbound to any structure.

The way that different observers compare clocks and rulers is notoriously subtle in Einstein's theory. In particular, the way matter curves space can slow clocks. By thinking about this subtlety from first principles, I have found there is room in Einstein's theory for the average clocks of ideal observers in galaxies to grow increasingly out of step with those of observers in voids as matter density contrasts grow.

We only observe clocks in galaxies, giving a mass-biased view of the universe. But as structures grow most of the volume of the universe is increasingly in nearly empty voids. With my proposal, observers in voids using one set of clocks do not infer cosmic acceleration. But observers in galaxies - with slower clocks - do if they incorrectly assume all clocks are equal.

There is a cosmic coincidence that apparent acceleration is observed to begin only relatively late in the history of the universe - a problem for the standard model, as it means the amount of "dark energy" is very finely tuned. This problem has a natural solution in my approach. Quantitatively, apparent acceleration only begins once the growing fraction of voids reaches a critical threshold.

In science one must not only solve existing puzzles but also make new predictions. Such work is ongoing; in this month's Physical Review D I have an article detailing several tests that have the potential to distinguish my model from the standard one with dark energy. I am happy to agree with Kirshner that over the next decade new observations will decide the issue.

David L Wiltshire

Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Canterbury

===chicken clean-up===

In response to Dr Michael Taylor's letter (November 28), I'd like to note that preventing the ever-present campylobacter bacterium from entering poultry flocks on farms is a priority in our management programme. Our farmers now remove and change their footwear before entering the barns - a more effective step than using disinfectant. Our industry and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) have co-operated to make considerable gains in campylobacter management. We have an ongoing focus on managing the production chain from farm to plate.

This is one of many measures introduced on farms, into bird transportation and in the processing chain that have resulted in campylobacter detection rates on processed poultry dropping to levels that make us a world leader in management programmes - in fact, overseas colleagues are now asking how we achieved such low levels.

Taylor is right in saying human campylobacter infections remain high, but with the lower detection rates in poultry there are clearly other factors, including poultry, at play.

Finally, Taylor mentions the freezing option as a means to further reduce campylobacter. The measures introduced by the industry and the NZFSA produce results that meet or exceed results from freezing. Our efforts as an industry continue to focus on steps to manage the presence of the bacteria on raw poultry in the processing chain and educating cooks in the home on safe handling practices for raw poultry. Consumers need to be aware that cooking kills campylobacter.

Michael Brooks

Executive director, Poultry Industry

Association of New Zealand