ARMS AND THE US
One’s heart genuinely aches for the parents of the school-children murdered in Newtown, Connecticut. Any parent can understand the life sentence of grief they have just been burdened with – and yet a different feeling persists. What a relief it is not to live in the United States where it seems collective insanity has become an inevitable byproduct of residency. What other description applies for a people who permit any random citizen to exchange money for semi-automatic weapons, thereby facilitating those citizens’ mad impulses? Americans are proud of their constitutional rights, hard-won in a battle for independence and framed over 200 years ago. The right to bear arms is one of them. Nowadays this right, which once perhaps was a rational response to the challenges of a pioneer society, reads from this safe distance more like an anachronistic justifi cation for entrenched paranoia.
The interview with Peter Bland (Books, December 22) underlines how extraordinary it is that none of his work was included in the Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature (“The Kelburn Kitchen Table Anthology”). This and other exclusions suggest that £10 Poms were ineligible and that the anthologists need to get out more.
- Click here for a review of Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature
Congratulations on the recent article on the value of defibrillators in public places (“In for a shock”, December 8). It reminded me of an elderly relative in a nursing home who was talking to her daughter on the phone recently. “Guess what, dear? They’ve bought one of those defi brillator things for our home. I don’t know why, ’cos we are all nice old people in here and none of us tell fibs.”
I can’t buy Peter Kammler’s arguments against electric cars (Letters, December 15). Even if the electricity to power the car were to be generated using fossil fuels, the fossil-fuel usage would be considerably less than that used to power the vehicle directly using the internal combustion engine. And the argument that electric cars are most efficient in city driving is exactly why and where we should be using electrically powered vehicles. Much of the fossil-fuel energy we waste is in city driving, where millions of vehicles drive short distances, spending much of their time moving slowly or idling at intersections. An electric engine doesn’t use power while stationary. Another point to take into consideration is the distribution of fuel. Electricity is already distributed the length and breadth of the country and should not require fuel importation, which involves shipping and foreign exchange, or tanker trucks driving all over the countryside distributing fuel. We need to fi nd alternatives to our reliance on fossil fuels. We need to fi nd ways of using less. And we should acknowledge the power and self-interest of the oil companies in keeping us hooked into the status quo. As I heard someone on Radio NZ National say the other day, “We are in the middle of a game change, but we’re not changing our game.” I believe we have to change our game, and quickly, if our civilisation is to survive without deteriorating into a Mad Max scenario.
(Blacks Point, Reefton)
TRADE AID’S VOLUNTEERS
It was a joy to read the good-news story “It’s about dignity” (December 22) about the
extra ordinary vision and indefatigable work over 40 years of Trade Aid’s Vi Cottrell and her co-founder husband, Richard – a truly inspirational couple. Mention was made of their manager and the success of their trading model. But a glaring omission was the absence of any acknowledgement of the legion of volunteers who have managed and continue to assist in the Trade Aid shops around the country. The work of the volunteers has enabled the expansion and success of the company. Congratulations to all involved in this marvellous Kiwi venture.
EDUCATION AND VALUES
The debate about values and non-values in an education system seems to be informed by modern understandings of their importance and how values are formed. When our forefathers asserted in 1877 that education should be free, compulsory and secular, their understanding was informed by first-hand experience of the importance of education to new world ideals of equality and justice, and the ways sectarian values in their old one deprived them of freedoms of thought and association. What they did not foresee, however, was the way the mixed term “secular” would come to be defined as anti-values or a life drained of values, including civic or civilised ones. The problem with the word “secular” today is that it can have at least three different meanings – and that it has ceased to mean “the common ground upon which all values can meet, be tolerated, learn from each other”. In a pluralistic or multicultural society, values collide on a daily basis, some with tragic consequences – such as so-called honour killings or shame suicides. To enjoy the benefits of such societies, surely the value of this common secular ground must itself be taught within a compulsory subject of civics, philosophy or comparative religions.
NOT A CURE-ALL
Is Modern Medicine Killing You? This ridiculously named TV1 series would be far more appropriately titled “Is Your Unhealthy Lifestyle Killing You?”
It is frustrating not to have access to Gavin Maclean’s whole letter, rather than Linda Sanders’s extracts from it, since he seems to make sense about the “real world” (Money, December 22). He questions the concept of economic equilibrium, which Sanders does not answer. Rather, she accepts the premise of the neoclassical economists, that the economy is a stand-alone artefact, independent of human foibles and irrationality. She asserts that “if governments meddle in one area, they inevitably cause a distortion somewhere else” as if the economy is some precious system that we tinker with at our peril. In fact, we believe that at our peril. Neoclassical economics has proved itself fatally flawed, having denied that such an event as the recent financial crisis could happen. But even economists accept the existence of various cycles, booms and busts, which they cannot adequately explain. And one is impelled to wonder, what exactly is it that is cycling in their models? If it’s the point of equilibrium itself that is cycling, then chaos theory will be much more use to us than neoclassical economics. We hardly pause to think twice about the column’s subtitle “Money makes the world go around.” But if we do pause, we may remember that money has a complex history stretching back at least 5000 years. And there is good evidence that originally it was not a medium of exchange but a token to signify a rearrangement of social relationships between two parties. In other words, that from the beginning it was a political instrument in a hierarchical system. Surely it’s time to wake up in the real world, cast aside our strange notions about being passive objects in an illusory equilibrated system we ourselves created, accept that we have agency even in the face of uncertainty and apply some political nous to using money to create the kind of society we’re always saying we want.
REACHING FOR THE STARS
I see the December 29 letter of the week is about an interview with astronomer Brian Cox. How ironic. I must be one of the handful of people in New Zealand who saw both Cox’s programmes on [now off-air] TVNZ 7 a couple of years ago.
(St Heliers, Auckland)